Mark 2: “Roof Crashers”

As we begin today I want you to be aware that this reflection is inspired by the writing of John Ortberg in his book, “Everyone’s Normal Till You Get To Know Them.” John Ortberg is one of my favorite authors and I recommend any of his writing, especially my favorite book, “Love Beyond Reason.”

Alameda County Study:

A group of Harvard Social scientist conducted the most extensive research study on community a few years back. They tracked the lives of 7,000 people over nine years.

Researches found that the people who were in isolation were 3 times more likely to die then people who had strong relationships. People who had bad health habits such as: Smoking, poor eating habits, obesity, and alcohol, but had strong social ties, lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits but were isolated. If you think about it, it’s better to eat Twinkies with good friends then to eat broccoli alone. I don’t know about you, but I’ll take that scenario any day of the week.

Robert Putnam the Harvard researcher says that if you are not a member of a group but decide to become a member, you will cut your risk of dying in half.

An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reported the results when 276 volunteers were infected with a virus that produces the effects of a common cold. The study showed that people who had strong emotional connections did 4 times better fighting off illness then those who were more isolated. These people were less susceptible to colds, had less virus, and produced significantly less mucous than isolated people. This means it’s true what they say, unfriendly people really are snottier.

Roof Crashers

There was a guy in the bible that had one of the best group of friends of all time. His relationships with four guys would be the envy of any close-knit groups. In fact, these four friends were the only thing this man had. We find his story in Mark 2

Mark 2:1-4 (NLT) When Jesus returned to Capernaum several days later, the news spread quickly that he was back home.Soon the house where he was staying was so packed with visitors that there was no more room, even outside the door. While he was preaching God’s word to them, four men arrived carrying a paralyzed man on a mat. They couldn’t bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, so they dug a hole through the roof above his head. Then they lowered the man on his mat, right down in front of Jesus. 

Picture this with me… Jesus is in the room teaching as many people as could fit in the room when suddenly mud, thatch, and straw starts dropping on their heads. Suddenly light starts to stream in from the ceiling and people begin to realize that there is a hole being ripped open through the roof. Then as people were sitting there looking up they notice a silhouette of something being lowered down. They must have wondered what it was, when they realized, it’s a person! Scripture indicates that Jesus was looking up at the hole in the ceiling as well.

Mark 2:5 (NLT) Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”

If a bunch of guys ripping through a roof in order to lower a paralyzed man to Jesus isn’t amazing enough, if you’re not careful you’ll miss another amazing fact! This is the only story in the entire bible where it was the faith of others that healed someone else of their sin!

The four men knew the best place for their friend was at the feet of Jesus. They were willing to do whatever it took, even breaking open a roof, to get him there.

The Challenge Today

Our reflection of Mark 2 raises two important questions:
Who are you carrying? Who is carrying you?

Who are you carrying?
Are you the type of friend that would be willing to do anything to get your spiritually paralyzed friend to the feet of Jesus? Here’s the other challenge, when you get there and Jesus looks at you, will your faith be strong enough to heal your friend?

Who is carrying you?
The other portion of this story is recognizing that we all have a mat? Our mat’s all look different and come in all shapes and sizes, but at the end of the day, we not only need to carry another’s mat, but we need people who will be willing to care our own. Think about this question today, do you have have people in your life who are mat carriers for you when you need it; and more importantly, if Jesus saw their faith, would their faith heal you?

Matthew 5: “Salt and Light”

Sermon on the Mount

From years of research and scholarly work, we have come to understand the section between Matthew 5-7 to be known as “The Sermon on the Mount.” This title is in reference to the multiple days Jesus taught on a hillside near the city of Capernaum. It’s here in this “sermon” that Jesus reveals the connection between the Law of Moses and His teaching of both repentance and forgiveness. Jesus’ hope is to move the people from a legalistic understanding of the law to a more sincere obedience by faith. Plainly put, this is where we can see Jesus trying to move people from Religion to Relationship.

It would have been easy for me to write a reflection on the Beatitudes, but that’s not the passage that caught my eye. Instead, I want us to look at the familiar portion of scripture between verse 13-16. If you’ve spent any time in the church, you’re probably familiar with the traditional reading the this passage in the King James, or NIV, but I want us to look at this with a fresh set of eyes. Let’s take a look at Matthew 5:13-16 from the Message.

Matthew 5:13-16 (MSG)

Before we jump into the implications this scripture has on us today, we need to first understand the context of the story.

To Who is Jesus Preaching?

Like I mentioned earlier, this particular passage and story is found right smack-dab in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, but what I didn’t indicate was that this sermon was only meant for 12 people. I know what you’re thinking, “say what? Pastor, scripture says that large crowds followed him wherever he went (v. 4:25). This is true, but keep reading… (5:1-2)

Matthew 5:1-2 (NLT) 1 One day as he saw the crowds gathering, Jesus went up on the mountainside and sat down. His disciples gathered around him,and he began to teach them (the disciples). 

This might not seem like the most important thing you’ve ever read in the bible, but for us as a body of seekers and believers, these are important words. We need to recognize that although Jesus’ audience was a large crowd, his teaching was directed to the disciples. Jesus wasn’t asking everyone who could hear him to do these things, he was looking at his rag tag group of stinky fishermen, zealots, and tax collectors to listen and do.

Salt and Light

So after Jesus works through what we know to be the Beatitudes, He follows up with two practical examples. Again, Jesus is a visual teacher in a world of visual learners and he uses to objects to make his point.

  • Object #1:   Salt
  • Object #2:   Light

The important thing to consider when reading about being salt and light is to remember who he is speaking too. Jesus was saying to the disciples, “You are the salt, You are the light of the world.” Jesus was making this personal for the disciples. It gets real personal when in verse 16 Jesus shares the ultimate “why.”

Matthew 5:16 (NLT) 16 In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, SO THAT everyone will praise your heavenly Father.

Can you imagine being a disciple and hearing all this for the first time? Can you imagine your teacher, your rabbi, saying these things in front of the people you were to live this out for? Remember, Jesus was teaching to the disciples, but there was a HUGE crowd listening in, including the Pharisees and the Teachers of the Law.

So in front of ALL these people he says, let your light shine, not for your benefit, not for your glory, but for my Father’s. Oh, and by the way, do it for them.

Challenge

And so today we are challenged by the same words to us individually:

  • (your name) is the salt of the earth
  • (your name) is the light of the world
  • In same way let (your name’s) good deeds shine out for all to see

Re-read the passage today and I want you to do something for me. Every time you see the word “you,” I want you to replace it with your name.

 

2 Timothy 1: “Just a Small Brush Fire”

South Philadelphia, July, 1989

If you’re just joining us, I’ve shared a couple of stories growing up, but for this story it’s important to know that I grew up on the South Side of Philadelphia. In fact, I grew up about 75 yards from the busiest set of railroad tracks on the east coast that ran from New York to Washington D.C. called, “The Northeast Corridor.”

One day in the middle of summer, my friends and I thought it would be fun to light spinners and throw them in the air. (FYI: Spinners don’t spin when you throw them in the air.) We would often go to the end of my street to perform these shenanigans because it was a dead end. Well, on this particularly hot and windy day, one of the spinner blew over the fence near the rail road tracks. Realizing, “wait, this could start a fire,” we ran around the fence onto the tracks to stomp out the spinner. Feeling the adrenaline rush of that moment, we decided to keep going.

Unfortunately our 4th grade minds didn’t take into consideration the very tall dead grass less than twenty feet from where we were standing. Needless to say, one of the spinners got carried away in the wind and fell into the dense covering of really tall dead grass.

We thought we had the fire contained and stomped out, so we all decided to put down our incendiary devices and go back to playing in the street. Suddenly we could see smoke starting to peak over the large bushes and fence down by the tracks. You may be thinking, “what did you do?” WE RAN, of course! All of us ran home and tried to pretend that nothing happened.

My mother, who apparently wasn’t born yesterday, as she would remind me, saw me sitting out on our stoop with my shoes sitting next to me, came out and asked me what was going on. Of course I lied and said, “nothing…”

“Steven? What did you do?”

“Seriously Mom, nothing’s going on…”

What happened next was a blur of activity:

  • A neighbor who’s house was right next to the fire pulled out his garden hose to fight the blazing inferno
  • The fire siren went off and the fire dept. was dispatched for the brush fire
  • The fire trucks first went to the wrong side of the tracks and had to turn around to come back on the other side
  • Thick black smoke was billowing up as the plastic covering on the fence melted away
  • South bound local train service was halted
  • The siding of the neighbors house was melted due to the heat of the fire

All because, that which we thought was extinguished, reignited because of the strong wind. Then, as the wind continued to blow it just served as fuel to spread the fire along the line of dead grass and bushes.

Fan Into Flame

Paul in 2 Timothy reminds Timothy to, “…fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.

If you’ve ever spent anytime around a fire you know that even a fire that looks out can be quickly reignited simply by adding wind. The reminder/encouragement Paul provides Timothy indicates that his fire may have all but been out at this point. When you add verse 7 into the mix, we can deduce that Timothy was probably suffering from being fearful and timid in the faith as well.

Hear me: Paul isn’t just reminding Timothy, but reminds us today to allow the wind of the Holy Spirit to reignite the flame of His presence in our lives! Later he will say, (v. 14) 14 Through the power of the Holy Spirit who lives within us, carefully guard the precious truth that has been entrusted to you.”

(v. 8) So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord. And don’t be ashamed of me, either, even though I’m in prison for him. With the strength God gives you, be ready to suffer with me for the sake of the Good News.

 

Romans 10: “It’s Worth Sharing”

I LOVE sharing good news, don’t you? Think about a time most recently when you were able to proclaim good news to a group of people or a person.

“He went to Jarod’s,” “She said, ‘yes,'” “It’s a boy!,”are just a couple examples of the really good news we get to share with people. For me, I can remember the moment with both of my children when I got to declare to everyone that they were born. It’s funny, I can remember working at a hospital and being able to spot the new dads out of crowd. They were the ones with grins from ear-to-ear and would stop a total stranger in their tracks to share their good news. Shoot, I didn’t have any trouble walking up to a total stranger in the hospital and declaring, “It’s a girl!,” or “It’s a boy!” Most people would receive your news with almost equal joy just because they were excited for you.

Beautiful Feet

Have you ever met someone who recently became a Christian and just couldn’t contain themselves? They were so excited for this new found freedom that they had to share with everyone around them. I love that, but I have a feeling secretly that grizzled  veterans in the church world think to themselves, “their excitement won’t last.” Isn’t this a shame? Who ever said that the “honeymoon” had to end? Truth be told, here in Chapter 10 Paul is proclaiming that we need to do something with the good news. He even goes back and quotes from Isaiah 52:7 (NLT)

How beautiful on the mountains
    are the feet of the messenger who brings good news,
the good news of peace and salvation,
    the news that the God of Israel reigns! 

This passage may seem like a nice passage to support the value of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, but it’s actually far more than that. When you understand the context behind Paul’s usage, this passage takes on a whole new meaning. Isaiah 52:7 is the point where the herald (messenger) is delivering good news to Judah about the end of their exile in Babylon and return to their home land. Don’t forget that the Israelites were in captivity for 70 years! Can you imagine getting to be the one who would share this message with the Jewish remnant in Babylon? No wonder the feet of the messenger was beautiful. Fast forward to Rome.

Confess and Believe

Although the Jews were not in physical captivity, Paul would argue that they were experiencing a form of spiritual captivity due to their reliance on the law. Again, as we seen now in many parts of his letter, Paul is striving to show the difference between faith and the law. Paul argues that it’s faith that he’s been preaching the whole time. His heart, and it should be our heart as well, is that people will “hear” (v. 17) the good news and do two things: confess and believe.

Confession has played a major role since the beginning of Jesus’ gospel. Here Paul makes it plane to understand. Romans 10:9-10 (NLT) If you openly declare (confess) that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.10 For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.

The NIV reads, “If you confess with you mouth, Jesus is Lord.” The word “confess” (homologeo) means to “give verbal affirmation.” It’s one thing for people to believe in the secret place of their heart, it’s another when you say it out loud. But as we will see, the heart is still involved here.

(v. 9) “…and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Remember Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:17 (NLT) 17 And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. So it’s here that Paul connects the importance between our salvation and Christ’s Resurrection. 

Conclussion

(v. 13) “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This isn’t just worth noting, this is worth sharing. So not it’s time to stop reading and start sharing! Because just like we’ve already read, (v. 14) “How can they hear about him unless someone tells them?”

Romans 3: “I’m Looking for Peace, Have You Seen It?”

Nestled among Paul’s argument that people are sinful, but God is faithful, sits a quote Paul used from Isaiah 59. Here it is as Paul uses it:

Romans 3:15-17 (NLT) 15 “They rush to commit murder.
16     Destruction and misery always follow them.
17 They don’t know where to find peace.”

This is taken from the section where Paul is referring to the power of sin in peoples lives.

I don’t know what it was about verse 17, but today it hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve heard and even described sin in many different ways, but it hit me yet again; people walking in darkness are searching for light, just sometimes it’s the wrong light. They simply don’t know where to find peace.

Isaiah described it this way:

Isaiah 59:7-8 (NLT) Their feet run to do evil,
    and they rush to commit murder.
They think only about sinning.
    Misery and destruction always follow them.
They don’t know where to find peace
    or what it means to be just and good.
They have mapped out crooked roads,
    and no one who follows them knows a moment’s peace.

There have been times in my life when I have followed behind the person who was mapping out crooked roads. It’s exhausting! It seems as if there is no rest, no peace, not a moment at times to even collect your thoughts. I just can’t stop picturing a frantic friend searching their entire spiritual house looking for peace. I know it’s hear somewhere. I seriously saw it, I know it’s gotta be here. Help me. Look with me. Have you seen it? Seen what? Peace! I’m looking for peace, but I can’t seem to find it!

An unknown author tells a story of finding peace:

The Picture of Peace

There was once a king who offered a prize to the
artist who could paint the best picture of peace.

Many artists tried. The king looked at all of the
pictures. After much deliberation he was down to
the last two. He had to choose between them.

One picture was of a calm lake. The lake was a
perfect mirror for the peaceful mountains that
towered around it. Overhead, fluffy white clouds
floated in a blue sky. Everyone who saw this
picture said that it was the perfect picture of
peace.

The second picture had mountains too. These
mountains were rugged and bare. Above was an angry
gray sky from which rain fell. Lightening flashed.

Down the side of the mountain tumbled a foaming
waterfall. This did not appear to be a peaceful
place at all.

But, when the king looked closely, he saw that
behind the waterfall was a tiny bush growing
in the rock. Inside the bush, a mother
bird had built her nest.

There, in the midst of the rush of angry water,
sat the mother bird on her nest.

She was the perfect picture of peace.

The king chose the second picture. “Because,” he
explained, “peace is not only in a place where
there is no noise, trouble, or hard work.

Peace is in the midst of things as they are,
when there is calm in your heart.

That is the real meaning of
peace.”

While ideally we desire to always have the quiet moments of peace, the truth is, peace needs to be pointed out to us. When I think about the connection between the scripture and the story, this is what I think. I think we have both the opportunity to experience peace in the midst of chaos, as well as the responsibility to point others towards the same peace. While lost friends, family, and co-workers search frantically for peace, not knowing where to find it, let us point them to the peace that only God can bring.

This is exactly what Paul is saying in Romans 3: All of us at one time or another have searched for peace, but didn’t know where to find it. For some, we found it quite early in life, for others, they’re still searching, but either way, God has made a way for us all to experience true peace. Let me leave you with this challenge.

Challenge

Romans 10:14 (NLT) But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?

We have many “little birds” in our lives searching for peace. When you have the opportunity, point them to that spot under the waterfall. Show them how to get there. It’s there that Jesus will meet with them and show them it’s a perfectly safe place to be. It’s there they will find true peace.

 

Galatians 2: “Guilty By the Right Association”

Galatians 2:11-14 (NLT) 11 But when Peter came to Antioch, I had to oppose him to his face, for what he did was very wrong. 12 When he first arrived, he ate with the Gentile believers, who were not circumcised. But afterward, when some friends of James came, Peter wouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore.


I hated “some friends of James” type of people. You know who I’m talking about, those “friends” who seem to come in and ruin a good thing. It’s amazing how fast people can change just because of the association of others. Today is all about recognizing the influence our friends and family have not just over us, but also our behavior as Christians.

Guilt By Association

My dad used to tell me all the time, “be careful who you associate with; even if you’re not doing what they’re doing you will be guilty by association.”

The night before I was to leave with my family on an epic trip to Scotland, twelve-year-old Steve was hanging out with some of his friends in front of the V.F.W. (Veteran’s of Foreign War) Hall. I was simply sitting on the curb, but my friends were messing around under the large truck parked on the street. Since my friends and I had an obvious reputation for no good, neighbors called into the VFW to tell the driver that we were messing with his truck.

Suddenly the metal door to the hall swung open and a large group of drunk men came stumbling out towards our direction. Everyone did the obvious thing and ran, but because I wasn’t doing anything wrong I didn’t run. Again, my dad always taught me, “if you don’t have any reason to run, don’t.” Trust me, there were plenty of times I had reason to run…plenty.” But not this time.

I large drunk man with a club came over and picked me up off the ground by the back of my neck and drug me into the VFW. [SIDE NOTE] I had never been in the VFW before, it was a bit of a mysterious place to us kids. No windows, only a side door, and people either went in, or came out, angry. This was all new territory for me. After being inside, an old skinny off duty county sheriff grabbed me and took me to a Christmas tree in the corner of the hall. Since it was days away from Christmas he literally rammed by head into the tree and threatened to arrest me if I didn’t give up the names of my friends. Folks, there weren’t a lot of rules growing up in my neighborhood, but there was at least one, “you NEVER snitch!” Ever! It doesn’t matter if you go to jail, you don’t snitch! Knowing I wasn’t going to say anything, and they didn’t have any reason to arrest me. They threw me (literally) out of the VFW with a stern warning.

What I didn’t know was my friends ran to my house to get my dad. As I was walking towards my house my dad and my friends were walking towards the VFW. My dad later told me my friends were hysterical because they beat me with a club and drug me inside the VFW…never to be seen again…  But they also told my dad that I didn’t do anything wrong.

Walk With The Wise

Proverbs 13:20 (NLT) 20 Walk with the wise and become wise;
    associate with fools and get in trouble.

Even though Peter typically walked with the wise, in Paul’s account of this situation, Peter was instead, “associating with fools.” Antioch’s congregation was fully integrated with Christian Jews and Gentiles. Peter, up to this point, followed the custom of eating with the Gentile Christians and would often share meals with his non-Jewish brothers and sisters. This practice even included the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, which if you recall included a “Fellowship Meal.” Since the “Apostle to the Jews” (i.e. Peter) was associating with the Gentiles this way, he was putting his official stamp of approval on the equality of Jews and Gentiles in the church. We can imagine this behavior would have meant a lot to the newly accepted Gentile believers. Peter in those moments was painting an incredible portrait of God’s Kingdom.

Then, some friends of James came and were able to sway Peter to stop eating with the Gentiles and lean back towards the fundamentalistic laws of the Jewish customs. That quickly and that easily “some friends” came and could have possibly destroyed the work God was doing in Antioch. That’s all it takes. That’s how fast it can happen.

Don’t allow the “friends of James” in your life to distract you away from being guilty by the right association. 

 

2 Corinth. 6: “Prove It!”

I’m not sure if people growing up in my neighborhood were just skeptical, but a popular phrase you would hear often was simply, “prove it!”

  • I can run down this hill faster than anyone else… prove it!
  • I’m a better hockey player than you… prove it!
  • I can cross this down tree over the crick with my eyes closed… prove it…?

Even though I grew up on the south side of Philadelphia we had a small wooded area at the end of my street we called, “the woods.” My friends and I loved going to the woods! Even though it wasn’t large, and it sat right next to the Northeast Corridor (The main railroad track system that ran from N.Y. to Washington D.C.), it was our little slice of eden.

One of the coolest aspects of the woods was the large oak tree you had to cross to get over the “crick.” You read that correctly, the crick. Okay… okay… the creeeek. Not very large, and really just a water runoff during heavy rains, the oak tree stretched all the way from one side of the creek to the other. There was only one problem, if you fell off the tree you would drop at least 15′ to the shallow creek below.

On a hot day in the middle of summer I said to my friends, I can cross the tree over the creek with my eyes closed, to which my friends of course responded with… “prove it!”

Paul Had To Prove It

Because Paul was up against a group of supposed “Super Apostles,” he had to spend a lot of his letter proving the difference between the two. When you read Chapter 6, you’ll notice not only Paul defending his actions, and the actions of his associates, but he also brings to light the differences between himself and this other group. One of the key differences is the way Paul proved himself and his ministry.


2 Corinthians 6:5-7 (NLT) We have been beaten, been put in prison, faced angry mobs, worked to exhaustion, endured sleepless nights, and gone without food. We prove ourselves by our purity, our understanding, our patience, our kindness, by the Holy Spirit within us, and by our sincere love. We faithfully preach the truth. God’s power is working in us. We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defense.


Paul said, we proved ourselves by our…

  • Purity
  • Understanding
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Holy Spirit Within Us
  • Sincere Love

I always pay attention when Paul creates a list, and for good reason. Paul’s lists give us incredible insight into how we too should live. Don’t ever think that Paul’s lists are unattainable because, well… it’s Paul, but rather, Paul himself indicated that he’s nothing special; just a guy who lives to honor God with his whole life.

If you were to walk into work, school, a family function, or even just being out and about declaring you’re a Christian, how would “prove it?” Would you be able to say, well… I’m pure, understanding, patient, kind, the Holy Spirit is in me, and I show sincere love. Don’t be discouraged if this isn’t true, just begin to live in a way that proves that is.

 

As a Pastor

Speaking as a pastor today, I’m challenged by Paul’s words in verse 3 and 4: We live in such a way that no one will stumble because of us, and no one will find fault with our ministry. In everything we do, we show that we are true ministers of God. We patiently endure troubles and hardships and calamities of every kind.

People tend to think that Pastor’s are off-the-hook because we’re pastors, but that’s not true at all! In fact, James 3:1 says the exact opposite when James declares that teachers/preachers will be “judged more harshly.” I desire as a pastor to live in such a way that these verses are reality for me. That’s my challenge today.

The End of the Story

You’re probably wondering what happened with the crossing of the tree over the creek with my eyes closed. Well, I certainly proved something that day… I proved I couldn’t do it.

 

 

Acts 26: “Excuses, Excuses”

You know what they say, “Excuses are like arm-pits ‘everybody’s got a couple – and most of them stink.'” Growing up I had an excuse for everything! I even got to the point in my life that I was starting to get annoyed with my own excuses. You know; things like:

  • A messy desk means I’m creative.
  • I sleep in because doctors say you need eight hours of sleep!
  • I can spend all my money because I earned it.
  • I don’t need to go to church, I go to chapel twice a week!

Life is filled with excuses, some good, some mostly bad, but at some point in time the excuses will run out.


Matthew 7:21-23 (NLT) 21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’


In my opinion this passage of scripture is one of the scariest in all the Bible. I tend to be a person that would rather grace someone to the kingdom, verses guilt, but this passage does something different than guilt. This passage exposes one of the possible many excuses people will use on judgement day. Again, not to be an alarmist (okay, maybe I am an alarmist), but the reality is… there will be a judgement day.

The Festus Excuse

Like I said yesterday in my reflection, Acts 25-26 should ultimately be read together, so in order to get a clearer look at the Festus Excuse, I need to cheat and go back to Acts 25:


Acts 25:17-21 (NLT)


“…and a dead man named Jesus…” When reading this section I literally had to stop and remind myself that many people in the Roman world wouldn’t have believed what Paul told them about Jesus’ resurrection. Fast forward to Festus’ outburst during the trial:


Acts 26:24 (NLT)  24 Suddenly, Festus shouted, “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy!”


Festus heard enough! I can only imagine him sitting this whole time looking around with an expression of, “are you believing this?” on his face.

In many ways, Festus didn’t have time to look into the claims of Paul for himself; hence the necessity to call in King Agrippa, the so called expert on everything Jewish. Like I read in a commentary, “Festus is typical of many today-inteligent, logical, practical, and cynical (Life Application Commentary, pg. 428).”

Paul’s Response

Acts 26:25-27 (NLT)

It’s impressive to recognize again that Paul kept his head in all situations. His response is not directed back at Festus, but instead Paul address King Agrippa directly and challenges him to take a stand, one way or another. Paul knew that if Agrippa didn’t believe the prophets he would lose credibility with the Jews; but if Agrippa said he did believe, then Paul, being an outstanding defender of faith (Greek: apologeomai or Apologist) would lead Agrippa to believe the claims about Jesus. But Agrippa says, not so fast.

Final Thoughts

Acts 26:28-29 (NLT) 28 Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly?” 29 Paul replied, “Whether quickly or not, I pray to God that both you and everyone here in this audience might become the same as I am, except for these chains.”


Understand the room to be filled with excuse that day, Paul lands the plane on a single and profound thought. Basically, Paul says, Listen, whether I can convince you to be a Christian or not is irrelevant, what doesn’t change is my hope that you, and everyone else in here would understand the significance of Jesus death and resurrection.

And this too should be our response to the excuses of the world around us. No matter if you do; or if you don’t, I hope you will.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Acts 25: “Turn Every Moment into the Gospel”

Martin Niemoller

John MacAuthur shared an interesting story about Martin Niemoller:


“Martin Niemoller was a Christian, a German Christian who was captured by the Nazis and spent nine years in prison, and endured horrors, just horrible things. At end of World War II, when he was released, he came to America, and of course, there was very much interest in his coming. And he traveled around America and spoke. And he spoke out of the context of nine years, of the horrors of a Nazi prison.

Two Reporters commented on Niemoller and his speech, in one city, and this was their comment. “Imagine,” said one Reporter, disgustedly, “nine years in a Nazi prison and all he can talk about is Jesus Christ.”


“Imagine…” Starting in 1937, Martin Niemoller would spend 14 month in solitary confinement and a total of 9 years in prison on charges the German officials called, “treasonable statements.”

Instead of coming out of prison a hardened man, full of bitterness and resentment towards God, Niemoller became president of the Hessen-Nassau Lutheran Church and began a world tour preaching collective guilt for Nazi persecution and crimes against humanity. Niemoller took every moment and turned it into the gospel.

Connection to Paul

Acts 25 and 26 rightfully should be discussed together, but because of the NIVS (Numeric Interrupter Device’s): Chapters and verses; we have to stick with Chapter 25 today and 26 tomorrow.

Paul just got done a two year prison sentence under Governor Felix, don’t worry, it wasn’t all that bad for him, but now there’s a new Governor in town, Festus; and Festus will need to get caught up on Paul’s case. Here’s something interesting about Paul’s two years in prison: It’s the only time in Paul’s ministry that he doesn’t preach, teach, or write any letters. Some scholars believe this was a sabbatical rest time for Paul who up to this point hadn’t stopped long enough to brush his teeth! But like Niemoller, Paul had the ability to take every moment and turn it into the gospel.

It’s like what Paul communicated to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:


2 Timothy 4:2,5 (NLT) 2 Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching.

5 But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.


Paul’s instructions to Timothy aren’t coming from a textbook, but rather from his own life experience. You may be getting tired of hearing that Paul preached the word of God no matter the circumstance, but the whole last half of Acts for Paul… is nothing but circumstance! Even when you read Acts 25 you have to admit that Paul, “kept a clear mind in every situation.” He and Jesus had this in common.

Connection to Jesus

Jesus was the master of making the most of every opportunity. Take for instance these examples:

  • The woman at the well needs water: Jesus says, “I am the everlasting water.”
  • Feeding of the four and five thousand: Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.”
  • A Menorah sits in the Temple: Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.”
  • High Priest pours out the water at the Feast of Tabernacle: Jesus says, “I am the water of life”

 

 

Both Jesus and Paul were masters at taking every moment and turning it into the gospel.

Back to Paul and Closing

In closing I want us to realize the gravity and connection between all these examples. Whether it was Niemoller overcoming persecution, Paul living out the testimony of the gospel, or Jesus using everything around him as a sermon illustration; not one moment was missed for the gospel.

You have the opportunity today to take your circumstance, your life, your situation, and magnify Jesus in it and through it. You may ask, “how do I do that?” The first thing you need to do is be ready! Don’t read from a script, let you life be the script. Instead of memorizing the four spiritual laws (which is not a bad idea), live the four spiritual laws!

Paul was stuck in a Caesarean prison for two years and with the first opportunity he had, what did he talk about? Jesus! Paul took every moment and turned it into the gospel. Now it’s your turn!

Acts 24: “Don’t Sugarcoat the Gospel”

In the next three chapters of Acts (Acts 24,25,26), Paul will find himself on trial before three different Roman politicians: Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. He will also find himself with a prime opportunity to share the message of Christ to these high ranking Gentiles.

As I was reading and studying I couldn’t help but think of Jesus’ prophecy in Matthew 10:


Matthew 10:16-20 (NLT) 16 “Look, I am sending you out as sheep among wolves. So be as shrewd as snakes and harmless as doves. 17 But beware! For you will be handed over to the courts and will be flogged with whips in the synagogues. 18 You will stand trial before governors and kings because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell the rulers and other unbelievers about me. 19 When you are arrested, don’t worry about how to respond or what to say. God will give you the right words at the right time. 20 For it is not you who will be speaking—it will be the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.


The amazing reality of this prophecy is that Paul would find himself not only being the one who would flog the disciples, but would later stand trial as an apostle.

So here we find Paul in Acts 24:

  • (v. 16) Sheep among wolves
  • (v. 17) Handed over to the courts
  • (v.18) Standing trial before governors
  • (v. 18) Using the opportunity to tell about Jesus
  • (v. 19) Not worrying about how to respond or what to say

Continue reading Acts 24: “Don’t Sugarcoat the Gospel”