The Word of Salvation

Posted: December 16, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 13:26-41, “The Word of Salvation”

Good news! The Christmas season is all about good news. Not the good news of worldly stuff, like savings on Black Friday, Cyber Monday, or anything like that…it’s about glad tidings of great joy announced by the angel to the shepherds outside Bethlehem. It was news that a Savior had been given – a Savior to all the world, starting with the Jews and proceeding to the nations – a Savior because the world needed saving, and the reason the news was so good was because it was news of salvation…a word of salvation.

That word is proclaimed not only during the Christmas season, but all year long. The good news of Jesus is the news that is (or ought to be) on the lips of every Christian every day, for it is the news that forever changed our lives & destinies, and it can do the same for any single person anywhere, no matter their past. Anyone who is lost (which is everyone!) can be forever forgiven and saved by the work of God – something that can never be done through the work of men or women – all because of Jesus’ work on the cross…something that was prophesied through all the Bible during all the ages.

Again, that wasn’t just preached by the angels, or the shepherds, or even only the 12 original disciples of Jesus – this is something preached by all Christians, including (and especially) the apostle Paul. This was the message he passed to both Jews and Gentiles, anytime he was given the opportunity to do so. 

We get a glimpse of that message as Luke gives Paul’s first recorded sermon as he spoke in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia. Remember this wasn’t Paul’s first sermon ever (he had been preaching for years in Damascus, Jerusalem, Tarsus, and Antioch of Syria) – but this was the first sermon of Paul’s that Luke provides in the book of Acts. Paul and Barnabas were engaged in their first missionary journey together, having been sent out by the direct command of God the Holy Spirit. They began by travelling to the island of Cyrus (the original home of Barnabas), where they traversed the island preaching the gospel, eventually ending up in the capital city of Paphos where they encountered harsh opposition from the Jewish sorcerer Bar-Jesus/Elymas. Paul boldly confronted him to his face, declaring him temporarily blinded because of his attempt to blind the governor to the good news of Jesus. The governor/proconsul came to faith, and the journey of Paul & Barnabas continued.

They returned to the mainland, where Barnabas’ nephew John Mark left them, but the remainder of the group kept on in faithfulness eventually arriving in the major city of Antioch Pisidia where they got the opportunity to address the congregation of Jews in the local synagogue on their Sabbath day (Saturday) gathering. Speaking as the trained Pharisee and rabbi that he was, Paul began by showing how God prepared the Jews to look for the Messiah as their future deliverer. God Himself performed many acts of deliverance in the past. God raised up various judges and kings to act as temporary deliverers. And through the prophets and their prophecies, God declared Jesus as the Deliverer, most recently through John the Baptist. The only thing left for the Jews was to believe.

So what now? Paul’s not done preaching yet! Thus far, he has only introduced the pattern of deliverance, and the name of the Deliverer. Now he preaches the actual message of deliverance: the word of salvation. He declares what it is – he shows it prophesied in the Bible – and he implores people to respond. The word of God’s salvation through Jesus is clearly shown and declared – listen closely, and believe!

Acts 13:26–41

  • The gospel (26-32). What is the word of salvation?

26 “Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent.

  1. If it seems as if Paul’s declared audience is somewhat narrow, it’s because it was. Remember that Paul and Barnabas were actually preaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath, during their normal time of gathering and worship. Culturally, the only people who would be present were the Jewish men of the community, along with other God-fearing Gentile men who believed the truth of the Scriptures, but had not formally converted to Judaism. It’s not that Paul would preach any differently to Jewish women or to people from other nations; it’s just that Paul spoke to the people who were physically present at the time: Jewish men & God-fearers.
  2. That said, the gospel was sent first to the Jews. Paul spoke to the “sons of the family of Abraham…to you this word of salvation has been sent.” The news of Jesus went first to the Jews, and only afterwards, out to the world. Think of it: where did the vast majority of Jesus’ ministry take place? In Judea & Galilee, among the people of Israel. Yes, there were times He went into Samaria, and on at least one occasion Jesus went further north to Tyre (Mt 15:21-28), but that wasn’t the bulk of where He went. Jesus ministered in Judea, among the Jews. Sure, if Gentiles happened to be there, they benefited (like the Roman centurions), but He was sent first to the “lost sheep of Israel,” (Mt 10:6, 15:24). Why? Because it was to Israel that the promises of the Messiah were given. It was Israel who was entrusted with the Scriptures. It was Israel who knew to look for the Savior & Deliverer of God, and God has specifically promised them a Savior. So that’s where Jesus went. As Paul would later write to the Romans: Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” Praise God that the gospel (good news) of Jesus is the power of God to save for everyone, but this news is first delivered to the Jews because Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the Son of David, the rightful King of Israel.
    1. Question: Does that mean anything for the rest of us as Gentiles? Absolutely! It means that God keeps His word! If He kept His word to the disobedient rebellious nation of Israel regarding Jesus, what does that mean for the rest of us? He’ll keep His word for us, too! It means when He declares us saved, we are truly saved – it means that when He says we are His children, we are! Praise God that Jesus was given first to the Jews in fulfillment of God’s promises…may we now pray that they would see Jesus as their Messiah and partake of His salvation!
  3. And that is the key in regards to this message to the Jews about Jesus. What Paul shared with them is the “word of salvation.” What good news! To those who need to be saved, God has provided news that He saves. And guess what? We all need to be saved! Even the Jews listening to Paul, who had a millennia-old covenant relationship with Almighty God still needed to be saved. Yes, God had made promises to Abraham, Moses, and David, and the people of Israel were His people, but the individual people still needed to be saved. Individually, the Jews listening to Paul were as lost as any Gentile that they might meet on the street. There was no one who did not need to be saved by God (totally forgiven of their sin, and brought into an eternal personal relationship with God), so they needed to hear a word of salvation.
    1. So do we! We are lost. Not a person alive today has what it takes to walk into heaven on his/her own merits. One of the most common heresies in America is one of the oldest: that good works save. People believe that so long as the good outweighs the bad, they will be fine on the day of judgment – they believe that so long as they have good intents in their hearts, that God will see those things and welcome them into heaven. It may be commonly believed, but it is totally wrong. Not a single person is saved because of his/her good works, because we have none! Even the best things that we do are tainted by the bad things we have already done. A murderer may be a nice guy 99% of his life, but it doesn’t lessen the seriousness of his single crime. Now imagine dozens of sins all through the day, committed every single day throughout our whole lives…no amount of our “good” deeds could ever erase that! The only thing that can is the singular deed of the Savior: when Jesus died on the cross as the penalty for our sin, and rising again from the grave. We need to be saved, and Jesus provides the work of saving…this is the word of salvation!
  4. The word had been “sent,” but it didn’t mean that the word was believed. That’s what Paul goes on to preach…

27 For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him.

  1. The word of salvation was first sent to the Jews, but the Jews of the day rejected the Messiah. “Those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers” were the ones crying out for Jesus’ crucifixion. They were the ones who saw the many miracles and refused to believe. Among them, Jesus healed the lame, cleansed the lepers, turned water into wine, multiplied bread and fish, and even raised the dead – yet although many followed Jesus for a time, it was only temporary. In the end, only 11 apostles of Jesus, along with some women and a handful of others, believed. All of the rest rejected Him. They had the word of salvation proclaimed – they had the living Word of God walking among them – and He was not believed. “They did not know Him” because they chose not to know Him.
  2. And it was a choice! The Jews had no excuse to reject Jesus, not only because of the miracles done in their midst, but because of “the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath.” They had the written testimony of God right in front of them, and it pointed directly to Jesus. Just like the Jews of Antioch Pisidia who read from the prophets during their Sabbath day synagogue worship, so did the Jews of Jerusalem, Capernaum, and elsewhere. They could read for themselves how the Messiah would come from the tribe of Judah (Gen 49:10), how He would be born in Bethlehem (Mic 5:2), how He would be filled with the Spirit and do miracles (Isa 61:1-3), how He would teach with the authority of Moses (Deut 18:18), how He would suffer as the national sacrifice (Isa 53), and much more. Literally hundreds of prophecies speak of the Jewish Messiah, and each one finds its fulfillment in Jesus. The Jews had zero excuse not to believe.
    1. We have even less! We may not have the ancient relationship with God as did Israel, but we have far more than the prophecies sent to the Hebrews in the Old Testament; we have the entire We see the fulfillment of the prophecies of the past, the current testimony of the present, and have even more prophecies of the future. We have the historical proof of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, and the testimony of untold multitudes who have received Jesus as their Risen Lord. For someone to see all of this evidence, yet still be unbelieving is because of their choice not to believe. All excuses are gone; make the right choice!
  3. In grand irony (and in demonstration of God’s sovereignty), the Jewish rejection of Jesus only further fulfilled the prophecies about Him. As Paul said to the synagogue, the Jews “have fulfilled them in condemning Him.” For Jesus to save, He had to go to the cross and die, and for Jesus to go to the cross, it meant that the Jews had to reject Him & send Him there. And that’s exactly what they did. Their sinful rejection was precisely the thing that made it possible for them to be saved. (If that’s not the sovereign work of God, what more can you ask?!) As Isaiah wrote: Isaiah 53:2–3, “(2) For He shall grow up before Him as a tender plant, And as a root out of dry ground. He has no form or comeliness; And when we see Him, There is no beauty that we should desire Him. (3) He is despised and rejected by men, A Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. And we hid, as it were, our faces from Him; He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.” It was Israel that hid their faces from their Savior, and it was Israel that rejected Him. Yet by the grace of God, it was through this very act that God provided for their salvation. All they needed to do now was to repent of their sin of rejection, and believe.
    1. Lest we get prideful, we are just as guilty of rejecting Jesus as were the Jews. After all, it was a Gentile Roman that sentenced Jesus to the cross. It was Gentile Romans that drove the nails through Jesus’ hands and feet. And beyond our ancestry, it was us as individuals who said “no” to Jesus every single day of lives until the one day we finally said “yes,” (if indeed you have). Any rejection of Jesus is just as sinful as the original Jewish rejection of Him. We as modern Gentiles are just as guilty as the ancient Jews. Thankfully, this is why we have been given the word of salvation! All of our rejection can be forgiven through repentance & faith in Christ!
  4. Paul details their rejection next…

28 And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death. 29 Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb.

  1. Jesus was innocent. There was “no cause for death in Him.” They convicted Jesus on the charge of blasphemy, but it would have only been blasphemy if the things He said weren’t true. But they were! When Jesus testified that He had seen Abraham as the I AM (Jn 8:58), He did & was. When Jesus called Himself the Son of Man who would come in the power and glory of God (Mt 26:64), He is & will. Anyone else claiming to be God could rightly be convicted of blasphemy, but not Jesus. Jesus was truly innocent of the charges against Him. (And He is innocent of all other sin as well.)
  2. Jesus was turned over to the Gentiles. It wasn’t bad enough that the Jewish rulers rejected Jesus; they actually turned Him over to the Gentiles to be put to death. Normally, they hated Roman occupation, but they were happy enough to use Pontius Pilate for their own purposes. They couldn’t bear the thought that Jesus might be believed by some among the Jewish populace, so they disgraced Him in the worst way they could imagine: deliverance over to the Gentiles to be put to death via crucifixion. Not only was crucifixion unimaginably awful (being one of the most torturous ways to die in the history of humanity), but it was also considered a curse. The criminal who was put to death via hanging on a tree was Scripturally declared to be “accursed of God,” (Deut 21:23), and at its core, crucifixion was exactly that. So put it together, the Jewish rulers completely rejected Jesus, turning Him over to Roman occupiers for a death sentence, and the death sentence was considered a curse. They couldn’t have highlighted their hatred of Jesus any more, if they tried!
  3. Jesus was buried. Jesus’ burial is part & parcel with His death, but although it might seem obvious to us, it needs to be stated. When Jesus died on the cross, His death was real – it was total. He didn’t merely faint or swoon, only to awaken later; He was truly dead, certified so by the Roman government (Jn 19:34). When Jesus was buried, He was buried according to Jewish custom, which meant that His dead body was witnessed by those who attended to Him (anointing Him, wrapping Him with spices, laid in a tomb). There was no question of His death…which makes the news of His resurrection even more astounding!
  4. Note: Everything according to prophecy. Again, Paul makes the point that “they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him.” None of what happened to Jesus happened by happenstance. Nothing was left to chance. All of it was foretold, and all of it was fulfilled. Everything from the details of the money paid to Jesus’ betrayer (Zech 11:12-13), to the details of His crucifixion (Ps 22:6-8, 14-18), to the unique circumstances of His burial (Isa 53:9) – all was prophesied and all came true. Once more, the Scriptures repeatedly & clearly point to Jesus as the Savior sent by God.
  5. But that’s not all…

30 But God raised Him from the dead. 31 He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people.

  1. Jesus was raised! All of the betrayal, rejection, and crucifixion, as bad as it was, was not the end. “God raised Him from the dead!” The rejected Savior became the resurrected Savior – the one was dead rose to life. The infinite power of Almighty God is seen in the resurrection of His Son, and there is no doubt that Jesus is His Son because God has resurrected Him! (Rom 1:4) Think for a moment what this meant to the Jews listening to Paul. On one hand, they hear how their own rulers rejected the Promised Messiah, ensuring that He was sentenced to an accursed death in a massive show of rebellion against their Covenant God. But on the other hand, now they hear that Jesus is alive by the power of God. Good news indeed! In fact, it would seem too good to be true, except for the fact that…
  2. Jesus was witnessed. That Jesus is risen is not a lovely idea of the imagination – it’s not some piece of invented fiction or urban myth. It is absolutely true, proven not only by the 2-3 witnesses required under Hebrew law (Deut 17:5), but by hundreds of people over dozens of days. First there were the women, then there were a few of the apostles, then there were all of the apostles, then there five hundred others, there was Jesus’ brother James, then last of all to Paul himself (1 Cor 15:5-8). The imaginations of one or two people would be easy to dismiss, but the collective testimony of so many others is impossible to ignore. Jesus truly is alive, being risen from the dead. This is good news – this is the word of salvation…

32 And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers.

  1. The word of salvation is good news, “glad tidings!” How else could the message of Jesus be described, especially to the Jews? The One whom they rejected, God made alive. The One who promises the forgiveness and salvation of God actually delivers it, not in spite of His death on the cross, but because of His death and resurrection from the grave. This is the fulfillment of the promises made to David, to Moses, to Abraham, and to Adam. Each one of these covenant fathers looked forward in faith to the Messiah sent by God: David looked for an everlasting King & God’s Son, Moses looked for another Prophet ruler, Abraham looked for a blessing unto all the world, and Adam looked for one who would defeat death and the devil. And God gave Him: Jesus – known unto all by His resurrection from the dead!
  2. Good news – glad tidings – the promise of salvation! We who are lost need to be saved, and we are given assurance of the One who saves by looking to Jesus. The person who gives the news of Jesus gives God’s word of salvation, and that is good news!
    1. The question is if you believe? You have heard the good news, but do you believe it? Are you so convinced of God’s word of salvation concerning Jesus Christ that you are willing to entrust your life to Him, knowing that He alone is your hope of heaven and forgiveness? Many hear the word, but do not respond in conviction. Don’t let that be you! Hear & respond – trust Christ!

By this point, Paul has described the word of salvation, providing all of the necessary details of the gospel. What does he do next? He backs it up from the Scripture. All along, he’s spoken how Jesus fulfilled the words of prophecy, and to the Jews paying close attention, their natural questions would have been: “Which ones? How so?” There wasn’t time for Paul to go into detail of all 300+ prophecies fulfilled in Jesus, but he tackles a few…

  • The promises (33-37). What does the written word say about the word of salvation?

33 God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’

  1. Quoting Psalm 2:7. The second Psalm speaks of God’s sovereign victory over all the nations, and His choice of Israel’s king as the eventual king of all the earth. It was considered to be a coronation psalm, read over all the kings of Judah when they ascended to the throne. Thus, it referred to all sons of David, but especially to the prophesied Messiah: Jesus. Paul’s point to the Jews he was talking to was this: Jesus is the Son of God prophesied in the Scripture. What was the proof? Again, the resurrection (Rom 1:4)…

34 And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: ‘I will give you the sure mercies of David.’

  1. Although we might expect Paul to quote a more straightforward prophecy of resurrection (like he does in verse 35), he now quotes Isaiah 55:3. How does this relate to the Messiah’s rising from the dead? Because the “sure mercies of David” is a reference to the fact that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Davidic covenant. So that begs the question: What’s involved with the covenant God made to David? 2 Samuel 7:12–13, “(12) “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. (13) He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” There are several promises from God here: (1) David would indeed die, just like every man. (2) David would be given a physical descendant to sit on his throne, which happened with Solomon & every successive king. (3) A son would build a house for God, seen in Solomon’s temple, but also seen in Jesus’ building of the church. (4) God would give the promised Son an eternal throne & kingdom. This final promise could not be said of any of the previous sons of David, but could apply only to the Messiah. Solomon had a glorious reign, as did Hezekiah and Josiah (some of the best among all the others), but every single one of those men died and the kingdom was passed to someone else. What was needed was for a Son of David to not only arise, but be eternally alive so that He could eternally reign. Thus, for the Davidic covenant to be true, the resurrection must be real.
    1. Think about it: How can a king have an eternal kingdom unless he is eternally alive? And how can we know if someone is eternally alive? Only if death has been conquered. Jesus has conquered death! His resurrection on the third day, combined with His eventual ascension into heaven proves that Jesus has totally conquered death never to face it again. All humans face death, despite our best efforts to cheat it. Be it through nutrition, physical fitness, medicine, surgeries, or even ventilators & heroic efforts in the hospital, we try to put off death as long as we can…but it eventually comes to all. Few things in life are 100% guaranteed, but death is one of them. It is a reality for which we must (And if you aren’t, you can’t afford to put if off!) Even Jesus died. The difference is that Jesus didn’t stay dead. Jesus rose from the dead, not only proving His power over it, but also providing the guarantee that one day everyone who believes in Him will also be raised from the dead. He is the first (the “firstfruits”) of the resurrection (1 Cor 15:20-23).
    2. All that to say that Jesus’ resurrection shows Him to be the Son of David and the Son of God. It shows that He is the recipient of the promises God made to David, the One specifically anointed by God as His only begotten Son.
  2. Just to further make the point, Paul shows that the resurrection of the Messiah was specifically prophesied…

35 Therefore He also says in another Psalm: ‘You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.’

  1. Of all the Old Testament prophecies concerning the Messiah, Psalm 16:10 is most specific to the resurrection. It was also quoted by Peter at Pentecost, as he referenced Psalm 16 a bit more in its context: Acts 2:25–28, “(25) For David says concerning Him: ‘I foresaw the LORD always before my face, For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. (26) Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. (27) For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. (28) You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’” As with Paul, Peter was also speaking to a group of Jews who had come to worship – that time, not in the normal synagogue Sabbath gathering, but in Jerusalem on the holiday that they traditionally celebrated God’s gift of the 10 Commandments to Israel through Moses. Yet on that particular Pentecost, God gage a wonderful new gift: the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church through Jesus. Peter proclaimed him to the thousands of Jews who were astonished at the miracle of a bunch of Galilean fishermen praising God in languages they could not have known. It was a sign of the Holy Spirit’s power & presence, and the Holy Spirit’s testimony of Jesus as the Risen Messiah.
  2. This time, there was no visible/audible sign of the Spirit’s power (at least in terms of the miraculous tongues), but there was the power of the Spirit-inspired word quoted by Paul to the synagogue Jews. He’s shown from the Scriptures that the Messiah was to be the begotten Son of God, that He was to be the recipient of the eternal covenant of David, and now that He was to be free of physical rot/corruption in death – all of which are proven by Jesus’ resurrection from the grave. In the Jewish mindset, Hades (Sheol) was the place of the dead – sometimes used in reference to the physical grave, sometimes a bit more ambiguous regarding the soul. In either case, the Messiah was promised not to have His soul remain in death. He would taste it, but He would stay in it. He would rise from the grave in victory, and He remains alive today forever.
  3. Of course, Paul still had to make the point to the men listening to him at the time that this all applied to Jesus. He connects the dots for them next…

36 “For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; 37 but He whom God raised up saw no corruption.

  1. There’s the proof: David died & decayed. His body rotted in the grave. Jesus did not. He died, but His body did not decay. Not even Lazarus could say the same thing. By the time Jesus arrived at Lazarus’ grave for the purpose of raising him (temporarily) from the dead, Lazarus’ sisters objected at the thought of removing the stone due to the stench of decay (“Lord, by this time he stinketh,” Jn 11:39 KJV). That was 4 days; Jesus was only in the grave 3 days, and even during that time His body did not decay or stink. He “saw no corruption.” When Jesus later appeared to His disciples, He still bore the marks of the nails in His hands & feet, but His flesh was whole & unharmed. Jesus wasn’t a zombie; He was (and is) fully & totally alive.
  2. Praise God! What amazing news it is that Jesus is risen from the dead! It shows that all of the promises of God’s written word are all true. His written word speaks of the word of salvation. Apart from the resurrection of Christ, it would seem that the Hebrew Scriptures contradicted themselves. How could the Messiah promised to David reign over all the world for all time, if the Messiah was also promised to be rejected and die as a sacrifice? Both were prophesied – could both still be true? Yes – but only if the Messiah both died and rose from death. And Jesus did! He alone proves the promises of God true – He is fulfillment of all of God’s word & plan. In Him, all of the promises of God are “yes and amen!” (2 Cor 1:20) This is someone we can trust: with our eternities, with our confessed sins, with everything.
    1. People often wonder how they can know which religion is right. In many peoples’ minds, all religions basically teach the same thing anyway (be nice to others, don’t harm folks, etc.), so why make a big deal out of any one of them? First of all, there are vast differences between Christianity and other religions in many ways, but more to the point, the most important difference is that of Jesus. Only Biblical Christianity is proven true because only Jesus is risen from the grave. And because He is, only Biblical Christianity offers true forgiveness of sin and the promise of everlasting life in heaven.
    2. BTW – That’s not just good news of the word of salvation for the person still to respond to Christ; that’s good news to all of us who have already received Jesus as our Lord. We not only have the guarantee of heaven assured for us, but we have the guarantee that Jesus always lives in intercession for us. We have the promise that Jesus never leaves us. We have the promise that no one will ever snatch us out of the Father’s hand, because of our Living Jesus. What mercy – what grace! For all of the ways that we screw up on a regular basis, we have the ongoing promise of forgiveness. We have the eternal assurance of God’s love for us, all because Jesus is risen from the grave. This is good news, indeed!

Paul has declared the word of salvation, and he has described what the written word has said about the word of salvation, but that wasn’t all. Now he called the people to respond…

  • The invitation (38-41). How do we respond to the word of salvation?

38 Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; 39 and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.

  1. Jesus forgives! Jesus provides release from the bonds of all our sin – freedom from the crushing debt of our transgression and rebellion against God. Had the Jews listening to Paul sinned? Of course! The whole Hebrew law pointed to the perfect holiness of God and the inability of people to live up to it. That was the reason the first five chapters of Leviticus are filled with sacrifices and offerings, because there was a continual reminder of the need to somehow atone for all their many sins. Just because they were born children of Abraham didn’t mean they were clean – on the contrary, they were a rebellious people, in dire need of the forgiveness of God, and His forgiveness was available in God’s Messiah, Jesus.
    1. We are in no less need of forgiveness! We have sinned on a regular basis against the God who created us and gave us breath. We’ve used the lips He gave us to blaspheme His name, the passions He gave us to lust after stuff, and the bodies He gave us to engage in all kinds of hatred and rebellion. You may or may not have been convicted of a crime on earth, but that is of little importance in the court of God – there, our rap-sheets are infinitely long! We have sinned against the Creator God, and we will one day see Him face-to-face for judgement. We too, are in dire need of forgiveness! Praise God that Jesus gives it!
  2. Jesus justifies! As if forgiveness was not good enough, Jesus goes further in His grace by fully justifying us in the sight of God. If forgiveness is release from sin, justification is restoration from it. In forgiveness, our debt is wiped away; in justification our bank accounts are made full. Imagine having a credit card debt of $100,000 – you’d wonder how you’d ever pay it! Forgiveness is the bank wiping your debt clean, not having any balance due. That’d be enough to be thankful for! The only problem would be you’re still penniless. Justification would be getting money put in the bank. It’s one thing not to owe; it’s another never to owe. That’s the difference between forgiveness & justification…and Jesus does both.
    1. For the Jews listening to Paul, they knew ways to temporarily atone for sin – that was all demonstrated in the law of Moses. The thing the law could never do was justify them. The effects of sin could be temporarily covered, but it couldn’t ever be fully reconciled. That sort of thing could only come by the grace of God. How could they receive that sort of grace (that needed grace)? By Jesus Christ, the promised Messiah!
    2. How do we receive true justification? What is the only way by which we are guaranteed to be made right in the sight of God? Through faith in Jesus Christ.
  3. Know it! Believe it! Paul said “let it be known to you” – don’t just hear it & let it go in one ear & out the other. Hear the word of salvation, and know it in such a way that you believe it. So many people hear, but they don’t believe. They ignore it to their own peril…

40 Beware therefore, lest what has been spoken in the prophets come upon you: 41 ‘Behold, you despisers, Marvel and perish! For I work a work in your days, A work which you will by no means believe, Though one were to declare it to you.’ ”

  1. Paul quotes one final Scripture to them: Habakkuk 1:5. Contextually, the prophet had asked God how long God would allow injustice to continue among the Jews in the land, and God’s answer was this Scripture. God was going to do something so incredulous, that Habakkuk wouldn’t believe it. God would bring in the Babylonians as His instrument of judgment, something unfathomable to the prophet, but something that was necessary to bring the Jews to a place of repentance.
  2. Paul’s point to the Jews in the synagogue was similar: beware, lest you reject the good news of God! The word of salvation had been preached/declared to them – now it was up to the hearers to believe. Paul had been faithful to his part. He gave them the good news of God in Christ Jesus. But Paul couldn’t make anyone believe – that was up to the individual who heard.
    1. It’s up to you, as well. God has worked an incredible work through Jesus Christ, proving it by His resurrection from the dead. It has been declared in your hearing. The question now is if you will believe.

Conclusion:

The word of salvation is all about Jesus! The good news of Christ is that Jesus was sent according to prophecy, that He did all of the things God promised that He would do, that He was crucified as a sacrifice for our sin & raised by the power of God from the dead – all of it according to the word and promise of God. The question now is whether we will believe it, or despise it.

The Jews listening to Paul in Antioch Pisidia were truly lost, in desperate need of God’s word of salvation in Christ. We’re no different. True, we live in a different time & a different culture, but we are no different in our sins & transgressions. We have also rebelled against God at every turn, destined to face His judgment. In short, we are sinners in need of saving…and Jesus is the Savior! We are helpless to enter heaven, and Jesus is our Grand Help, our only hope. He forgives & He justifies – He gives us everything we lack, so we can be forever made the children of God. The word of salvation in Jesus is good news, indeed!

So believe! Don’t despise it – receive it for what it is, with joy & faith & the full assurance that God saves us through Jesus Christ!

One caution to Christians: beware of thinking that the word of salvation is only for non-believers who need to come to Christ. God’s word of salvation is to us, too. Christians need the gospel! The gospel is the good news that brings us to Christ, but it is also the good news that we need to continually hear once we have faith in Christ. Who among us doesn’t need the daily reminder that Jesus forgives us our sins, and has justified us before the Father? Who doesn’t need the comfort of knowing that we are children of God, and that Jesus has assured us of this through His resurrection from the dead? We need this word of salvation, because this is our hope to which we cling!

It is also the word we get to share. Don’t miss the fact that the only reason the Jews in the Antiochian synagogue heard the gospel is because Paul was there to share it with them. Both Paul and Barnabas were faithful to every opportunity given them by the Lord to declare Jesus to others, and there were many. We may have different opportunities, but the opportunities are there. Look for them, and take them. The Christmas season is the perfect time to do so, as we can tell people why the birth of Jesus brought glad tidings of great joy to all people.

And it is to “all people”…including those who have not yet believed upon Jesus and received Him as Lord. All the Jews in Antioch Pisidia heard the word of salvation preached by Paul, but not all believed. Some despised the word…and in doing so, turned away from their only hope of heaven. That doesn’t have to be you. You can make the choice to believe today!

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The Mountain and the Mediator

Posted: December 13, 2018 in Exodus, Uncategorized

Exodus 19, “The Mountain and the Mediator”

Pomp and circumstance. Different fanfare is made for different people, all dependent on the importance of the one arriving. When it’s family that hasn’t been seen in a while, it’s whoops & hollers & hugs; when it’s the President of the United States, it’s the Marine Corps band playing “Hail to the Chief.” When it is the Almighty Creator God, you can bet the fanfare is going to be immense!

And it was! On the cusp of receiving the 10 Commandments, the people of Israel first saw and received their King & God. His holiness was so immense that it nearly destroyed them. Were it not for Israel having a mediator in Moses, surely all the people would have perished. Thankfully, God gave a mediator, and the people were saved.

We too, have a Mediator: the Lord Jesus. 1 Timothy 2:5–7, “(5) For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, (6) who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, (7) for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle—I am speaking the truth in Christ and not lying—a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” Paul’s singular purpose in his ministry was to proclaim Christ Jesus to all who would hear. He needed to tell others of this grand Mediator: the Messiah of God who interceded between man and God, and who paid the ransom price due our sins by His blood shed on the cross. Jesus is the perfect Mediator: both God and Man, fully capable of dying yet fully able to give life. Jesus stands between us and God, interceding to God on our behalf, and communicating the glories of God back to us. When we have seen Jesus, we have seen the Father, and there is no other way to the Father except through Him (John 14:9,6). He is our wonderful Mediator!

That’s us; what about the Hebrews? We have the revealed incarnate Jesus; they had the one who prefigured Jesus, Moses. Like us, they needed a mediator. God was too holy, too terrible & mighty & majestic for them to stand before as sinners. They needed someone to go back & forth for them, and Moses served faithfully in that role.

Of course, he had been serving that way for quite some time. Moses was the one to communicate the word of God to the people during the Egyptian plagues. He was the one who told them of God’s commands regarding Passover and their resulting exodus from slavery. It was through Moses that God led His people through the wilderness to go to His holy mountain. And the people needed this mediation! Why? Because they (like us) were a complaining people. Although they were only weeks removed from Passover & the parting of the Red Sea, already they were grumbling against God. First there were bitter waters, then a lack of bread, then a lack of any water at all, and the people complained that Moses had led them into the wilderness to be killed by God. Yet God was so gracious! He provided in wonderful ways, repeatedly making His presence known among them through His many miracles (sweetening the water, daily manna from heaven, water from the rock). Even when facing their first military battle against the Amalekites, God was faithful to protect His people.

Most recently, God showed His provision once more through the gift of wisdom – presented by Moses’ father-in-law Jethro. The burdens of leadership & service borne by Moses could be shared by other leaders as everyone worked according to God’s individual gifting.

With the people organized (and Jethro having come to faith), the Israelites were finally ready to hear from God & to worship Him. Or were they? Did they even have a grasp of Whom it was they were sworn to worship? Their previous complaining indicated “no.” They needed to come to grips with God’s holiness and their own sinfulness before they were ready to hear His covenant commands. They needed to fear Him before they could worship Him.

So do we. God is far too holy for us to approach Him in our sin. We need the right view of our sin & the right view of God’s holiness before we can truly have a relationship with Him as Lord. We need to fear Him, and when we do, we’ll see what we truly need: a mediator. Praise God a Mediator has already come: the Lord Jesus!

Don’t take the holiness of God for granted. Fear Him & cling to Christ!

Exodus 19

  • Arrival at Sinai (1-2)

1 In the third month after the children of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on the same day, they came to the Wilderness of Sinai. 2 For they had departed from Rephidim, had come to the Wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness. So Israel camped there before the mountain.

  1. When? “Third month” could be translated “third new moon,” (per ESV), but it is the same basic principle. The beginning of this third month/new moon (late May/early June) put the Israelites nearly 50 days following their exodus “out of the land of Egypt,” or 50 days following Passover – providing the basis for the later celebration of Pentecost.
  2. Where? At the base of the mountain. Which mountain? No one really knows, and it’s a matter of much debate. The location of Mt. Sinai was well known to people of antiquity, Elijah having fled to it (1 Kings 19), and Paul identifying it as being in Arabia (Gal 4:25). That said, we need to be careful not to assume that the ancient world’s understanding of geography was the same as our own. A map of Arabia dating from 1720 doesn’t even show the Sinai peninsula, and the kingdom we know today as Saudi Arabia includes only a portion of the land traditionally known as Arabia.
  3. The important thing was that they finally arrived! Potentially, they had gotten there during the events of Exodus 18, but whenever Jethro’s visit fell within the timeline, the Hebrew people were finally at the place where God had promised they would be. Only a few short months ago (though it surely felt like ages), God had commissioned Moses on Mt. Sinai to go to Egypt and bring the Hebrews back to worship God in that same place (Exo 3:12), and it had finally happened. God was good to His promise!
    1. He always is! Big or small, if God spoke it, God will perform it. There is no promise of His that He will not keep.
  • Command #1: Commitment (3-9)

3 And Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel:

  1. This is where we first see Moses as a mediator – a pattern that will be repeated throughout the chapter. Although the whole Hebrew nation is present, only Moses goes up to God. Why? Because only Moses had the invitation from God to come up. “The LORD called to him from the mountain.” Moses already had the needed relationship with God, and Moses alone had the invitation and grace of God. – This is Jesus’ work for us. Why is He our Mediator? Because He has come from God (being God Himself, the only begotten Son), Jesus has the necessary relationship with God, and He alone has the invitation/imprimatur of God. No one else is commissioned by the Almighty to be our Mediator; Jesus alone is. We cannot stand before God on our own behalf, and no supposed-saint can do it for us. Not even any prophet of the past can stand between God & us, for even the prophets (Moses included) had their own sin to answer for. Jesus alone can do it, and thus our only hope is in Him.
    1. How is Biblical Christianity different from all other religions? Only Biblical Christianity relies solely on the work of the God-given Mediator. All other religions look to other people: ourselves, our works, other fallen prophets…and all those things fail. We cannot determine for ourselves how we go to God; He determines for us – He sets His own terms. And His terms are through His Son, the One Mediator between God & Man (1 Tim 2:5).
  2. As Moses arrives on the mountain, God gives a double introduction of the Hebrews prior to His initial covenant command. They are both “the house of Jacob” and “the children of Israel.” Jacob/Israel refer to the same man, but in two different phases of life: one simply as his birth, and the other in his eventual faith. Thus, the Lord spoke to His people in those two aspects: His relationship with them was founded (1) on the promises He made to Abraham & all the patriarchs, and (2) on His grace received through the faith of the people. God had promises for the Hebrews (promises based on ancient words from long ago), but these were promises & relationships experienced only through faith.
    1. How is it we have a relationship with God? Because God was faithful to His ancient promises to send Jesus, but the salvation Jesus offers is experienced only through faith. (Jacob & Israel)
  3. Moses was commanded to speak. What was it he was to say? Verse 4…

4 ‘You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to Myself. 5 Now therefore, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be a special treasure to Me above all people; for all the earth is Mine. 6 And you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words which you shall speak to the children of Israel.”

  1. God spoke of how God Himself worked and what God was doing. Notice the use of the 1st person: “I did…I bore…My voice…My covenant…to Me…Mine.” God had done amazing things in the past, was still working amazing things in the present, and promised still more to come in the future. Israel had not delivered themselves, nor was Israel providing for themselves later – all of it was the work of God. The same God who cast the stars in the heavens and reigns over infinite space and time personally intervened in the lives of the Hebrews and specially provided for them. The privilege they had was amazing! God had crushed the most powerful army on the earth, for Israel. God had raised Israel up on His own wings, providing for them in the desert, bringing them to this point. God was personally speaking to them, and even granting them a covenant, promising that the nation would always belong to Him & be in His own special care. What amazing privilege and grace!
    1. How amazing it is, what Jesus has done for us! He knew you, and called you by name. He forgave you your sins, and made you a child of God. He has a plan for you, and has given you God the Holy Spirit to empower you to accomplish it. And more! Never lose sight of the privilege of personally interacting with Almighty God! By no means could we ever deserve such a gift, yet He gives it.
  2. From 1st person, to 2nd person: God basically says “You saw, you experienced.” God had done all these things for them, and Israel saw it for themselves. They witnessed the Passover & the Red Sea. They were the ones carried on the wings of God, eating the manna and drinking the water. They saw these things with their own eyes & experienced it in their own lives. Thus, they had no excuse! How could they not believe, when they had experienced so much already? How could they refuse to acknowledge God when God had already proven Himself abundantly? Disobedience & disbelief was completely unjustifiable. (Just like it is with us!)
  3. The point of it all was God’s “covenant” with His people. What is a covenant? It’s like a contract, but far more. Think of it more in terms of a compact, or relationship commitment. Marriages are supposed to be covenant relationships. Although the state grants a wedding license, a marriage is far more than a notarized piece of paper; it is a solemn commitment made between two people and God that impacts the rest of their lives. It’s similar with our covenant relationship with God – it’s a lifelong (i.e. eternal) commitment between us and our Creator. We agree to be His people, and He agrees to be our God…forever. (Which is only possible through Jesus!) That said, note that this was a conditional IF you hear/obey, THEN you will be set apart. IF Israel heeded the Lord God, then He would do incredible things for them: take them to Himself as a “special treasure” differing from all the other nations of the world which still belonged to God – He would make them a “kingdom of priests,” or make them all kings and priests in service to the Most High – He would make them a “holy nation,” fully set apart unto Himself for His own glory. Yet only if they obeyed. If they heard Him & heeded Him, they would experience bountiful blessing; if they didn’t, they wouldn’t.
    1. This is a crucial difference between Israel and the Church! Whereas Israel received a conditional covenant (one which they repeatedly broke!), the Church’s covenant through Jesus is unconditional. All we do is repent of our sins, receive Jesus in faith, and everything else follows. Jesus has already fulfilled the covenant requirements on our behalf; all we do is rest in His grace. (It doesn’t mean we’re not obedient! It does mean we rejoice in the mercies of Christ!)
    2. God’s ancient plan for Israel is also God’s present plan for the Church. 1 Peter 2:9–10, “(9) But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light; (10) who once were not a people but are now the people of God, who had not obtained mercy but now have obtained mercy.” Oh the blessings of being a covenant people with God – our covenant being through the blood of Jesus Christ!

7 So Moses came and called for the elders of the people, and laid before them all these words which the LORD commanded him. 8 Then all the people answered together and said, “All that the LORD has spoken we will do.” So Moses brought back the words of the people to the LORD.

  1. Again, Moses as a mediator. He took the words of God to the people, and took the words of the people back to God. Constantly interceding, this is what Jesus does to the highest extent. Jesus “always lives to make intercession” for us (Heb 7:25).
  2. Notice the “alls.” Moses gave ALL of God’s word. ALL of the people answered. ALL of God’s commands were promised to be obeyed. Moses was faithful to say everything, not omitting anything (a faithful pastor!). In response to this, it wasn’t only the elders who responded on behalf of the nation; all the people did as individuals. (The church is corporate; salvation is not.) Finally, all the people promised to obey all the commands of God. Although the intent was good, it was an impossible promise to keep! To fail in one point is to fail in everything (Jas 2:10). The people were committed to keeping the law, but no one would be able to do it. (Impossible for all, that is, except Jesus!)

9 And the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I come to you in the thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and believe you forever.” So Moses told the words of the people to the LORD.

  1. Something very different was about to happen! God had manifested His holy presence among the people in the past, but He was about to do something wholly different, promising that “I come to you in the thick cloud.” His presence is emphasized: “I Myself will come/am coming to you…” God would come in a way that the people would not be able to deny. Amazingly, they had denied Him several times already – perhaps not pretending that He wasn’t there, but grumbling about the way He was Although God’s personal presence was visible through the pillar of cloud & fire – although He made Himself known through the many & daily miracles – the people still denied Him His rightful fear and respect. That would soon change! God would appear in such a way that the people would be rightly shaken.
  • Command #2: Consecration (10-15)

10 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow, and let them wash their clothes. 11 And let them be ready for the third day. For on the third day the LORD will come down upon Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. 12 You shall set bounds for the people all around, saying, ‘Take heed to yourselves that you do not go up to the mountain or touch its base. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. 13 Not a hand shall touch him, but he shall surely be stoned or shot with an arrow; whether man or beast, he shall not live.’ When the trumpet sounds long, they shall come near the mountain.”

  1. Get ready! In three days they would see the glory of God. They needed to take advantage of the time they had in the present on this day & the next day to prepare themselves for “the third day.” – What a wonderful parallel we see in the resurrection of Christ! Although we cannot say it is a direct fulfillment, we can certainly notice the pattern. On day 1, God announces Himself; on day 3, He appears. At the cross, Jesus was announced; on the third day at the empty tomb, He appeared. What were the disciples supposed to be doing in the meantime? Preparing! Granted, they grieved and feared – but if they had believed the prophecies of Jesus they would have prepared themselves for the glory of God seen on Sunday morning.
    1. Jesus has come & appeared (praise God), but we know His Resurrection appearance is not the only one. He will come again. What do we do in the meantime? We get ready! Prepare yourselves for the glory of God!
    2. How so? Through consecration – setting themselves apart in holiness. That’s what God went on to say…
  2. Be clean. Although it might seem strange to command the Hebrews to “wash their clothes,” it makes sense from a symbolic point of view. They could not cleanse their souls (that’s only a work of God), but they could set themselves apart to be cleansed by God, symbolized through the washing of their garments. The only way we can stand in the presence of God is when we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ – their clean clothing looked forward to the same thing.
    1. How can we get clean? Through confession & faith! (1 John 1:9) Jesus cleanses us from all Unburden yourself of your sin by giving it to Christ in simple honest prayers of confession – turn away from those things and walk in renewed cleanliness!
  3. Be careful/fearful. The people could not come up the mountain in any way they wanted. “Bounds” were to be set around it, not to be crossed for any reason. Livestock that wandered upon the mountain could not even be retrieved, but would have to be shot with an arrow. Like the tabernacle that was soon to come, there were boundaries from God’s presence that could not be crossed by anyone not specifically invited by God. Harsh? Perhaps, but necessary. God is that Even prophets who saw visions of the Lord feared for their lives because they realized no one could look at God and live (Isa 6:5). God is so holy that angelic creatures fly around His throne constantly proclaiming His holiness, never ending in a day-and-night chorus (Rev 4:8).
    1. A God like this is worthy of our utmost reverence, and yes, fear. People sometimes hesitate from speaking of the fear of the Lord, trying to dial-back the idea or explain it away, but that’s not what the Bible does. The Bible openly speaks of the fear of the Lord. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (Prov 1:7) – the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov 9:10) – by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil (Prov 16:6) – the fear of the Lord leads to life (Prov 19:23). The fear of the Lord is a good thing! The fear of the Lord keeps us from evil, and it keeps us humble in the sight of God. Does the fear of the Lord mean we flee from Him in terror? No…but only because we are made His children through faith in Jesus. Without Jesus, we’d have every reason to flee! But because of Christ, we run to God in our fear of Him, knowing what would come to us apart from Christ. Apart from Jesus, we would expect nothing but the righteous wrath of God; it is only because of Jesus that we experience His grace and love.
    2. This is not something to casually ignore or take for granted. The God we worship is the God who created the heavens and the earth. He is the God who will cast the devil himself into the eternal lake of fire. He is the God of limitless power and knowledge. He is a God to be feared & reverenced with the highest regard. We dare not marginalize Him, blaspheme His name, nor abuse His mercies. Instead, we treasure Him for who He is: our holy Creator King.
  4. Be near. Although boundaries were set to prevent people from coming up the mountain, the people were still commanded to “come near the mountain.” God was to be feared, but He was still to be worshipped. The Hebrew people had come all this way to worship God, and God wanted them to worship Him. He wanted them to be in a covenant relationship with Him – it’s just that they could only come to Him according to His ways & His terms.
    1. It’s no different with us. All people are invited to come & worship. God wants people to draw near to Him! Only we draw near to Him in His way, and the way He has given us is Christ Jesus.
    2. BTW – The same principle applies to Christian worship as a whole. How do we know how to worship God? By following His terms & His guidelines, as written in the Bible. We don’t make up the way we want to worship God; we worship God the way He wants & invites us to worship Him. This is why we sing songs of praise (Ps 149:1) – why we pray (1 Ths 5:17) – why we learn the Scripture (2 Tim 3:16). It’s also why we don’t bark like dogs, or engage in other disorderly conduct (1 Cor 14:33). We go to God His way, through His means.

14 So Moses went down from the mountain to the people and sanctified the people, and they washed their clothes. 15 And he said to the people, “Be ready for the third day; do not come near your wives.”

  1. Give credit where it is due: the people were obedient! Not only did they set themselves apart & wash their clothes, but they also kept themselves physically pure. Although God is not recorded as having given any prohibition about marital intimacy, it’s possible it was an additional command given to Moses. In any case, the people went to great lengths to ensure their purity, and to prepare their hearts to see the Lord. (Which was soon to come!)
  • Appearance at Sinai (16-20)

16 Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. 17 And Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain.

  1. The holy glory of God! In the truest sense of the word, this was a terrible sight. “Terrible” coming from the word for “terror,” and talking about something extreme or great (Webster). Imagine the scene: You’ve been waiting three days, all the while preparing yourself to see the visible appearance of the God who freed you from Egyptian slavery. You’ve witnessed His power in the past, and have been warned about potential death for even setting a foot on His mountain. Then on that third day, a cloud descends like no other storm cloud you’ve ever witnessed – lightning flashes, thunder rolls continually, and there is the sound of a trumpet loudly ringing in the air. It’s no wonder the people “trembled!” How could you do anything but quake in fear?
  2. Interestingly, the word for “thunderings” is literally the word for “voice.” Contextually, there’s no question this was the reference to the thunder accompanying the lightning, but when we consider that Almighty God was about to speak, the voice of the thunder served as a preview for what was about to come.
  3. Also, “thick cloud” = heavy The word (כָּבֵד) speaks of something heavy, massive, burdensome, thick. Again, this was no ordinary cumulus nimbus – there was something visually different about this cloud, and for good reason: it was the cloud of God’s glory!
    1. How God appeared at Mt. Sinai is how Jesus will appear in His 2nd Coming! He will come with the clouds in great power & glory! (Mk 13:26)

18 Now Mount Sinai was completely in smoke, because the LORD descended upon it in fire. Its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace, and the whole mountain quaked greatly. 19 And when the blast of the trumpet sounded long and became louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him by voice.

  1. Overwhelming to all the senses! Smoke, sound, fire, shaking. Their eyes, ears, throats, and bodies were physically assaulted with the glorious presence of God. The sort of thing Hollywood imagines with disaster movies and massive destruction is what took place on the mountain of Sinai. The difference: it wasn’t CG; it was real! When YHWH God descended on the mount, He could not be missed!
  2. Like the smoke of a furnace”: (NET) “The image is that of a large kiln.” Reminiscent of God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 15:17…multiplied to the nth degree! Once more, this pictures His holiness: the burning, refining, purifying character of God. Our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29). Those who encounter Him in His holiness are forever changed!
    1. Aren’t you glad that He purifies you? Any person who meets Jesus in truth is never the same as what they were before. We may change at different rates in different ways, but we all We cannot help otherwise! God the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us, and He carries with Him God’s purifying fiery nature.
    2. Does it hurt to be purified and cleansed? It’s not always easy when Jesus exposes the sinful tendencies in our hearts…but it’s always good. He changes us from the inside-out, burning away the impurities like the dross from gold or silver is burned away. The end result is a purer faith, a cleaner heart, and a life more glorifying to God.

20 Then the LORD came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain. And the LORD called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up.

  1. God came down, and Moses went up. As God had done several times before, He called to Moses, and Moses came up at His command. Moses was the one constantly going back and forth between God & the people.
    1. How similar is our approach to God through Jesus Christ! Again, Jesus constantly mediates for us – He constantly prays for us, interceding. It is through Jesus that we know the Father & it is through Jesus that we receive the word of the Father. Why is it we pray “in Jesus’ name”? It’s not to simply close our prayers; it’s to acknowledge that we cannot go to God on our own, but we must go through Jesus. It’s only His work & His grace that opens the door for us in prayer; we are ever-reliant on Him.
  • Command #3: Caution (21-25)

21 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to gaze at the LORD, and many of them perish. 22 Also let the priests who come near the LORD consecrate themselves, lest the LORD break out against them.”

  1. This may seem strange, considering that a warning had already been given & God’s glory had already descended. God gives Moses one additional warning for the people not to go too far, under penalty of death. With all of the incredible visual spectacle taking place, it was only natural for some people to lose themselves, and start breaking through the boundaries that had been set. [Like instructions not to look at a solar eclipse!] For some, setting a line is a only a temptation to cross it, and they had to be warned not to do it.
  2. Also, there was an additional caution of consecration. Those offering sacrifices & serving the Lord through acts of worship had to be especially careful. They could not forget themselves and start taking things casually, out of habit. Ministry was not to go on “autopilot”; it was to be mindful at all times, the priests always knowing what they were doing.
    1. BTW – What priests? Perhaps a bit of foreshadowing, as the Aaronic priesthood had not yet been established. It also may have referred to the tribal elders, as many of them served in priestly roles for their individual families. The Hebrews had gone into the wilderness in order to sacrifice to the Lord without a formalized priesthood – perhaps this was in reference to that same group of people.

23 But Moses said to the LORD, “The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai; for You warned us, saying, ‘Set bounds around the mountain and consecrate it.’ ” 24 Then the LORD said to him, “Away! Get down and then come up, you and Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to the LORD, lest He break out against them.” 25 So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them.

  1. Moses protested that the people had already been warned…God said to warn them again! This was too serious, and could not be taken lightly. If the people & priests broke through to God, then God would “break out against them.” A day of fearful worship would soon turn into a day of terrible wrath, and God didn’t want that for His people. The double-emphasized warning would serve to underscore the importance and solemnity of it all.
  2. Though Moses initially objected, he was faithful to obey to relay the warning to the people. He gave all of God’s word, exactly as he was commissioned to do – not holding back anything. (When it comes to a warning of death & judgment, we can’t afford to hold anything back!)

Conclusion:

What an incredible sight! The people of Israel arrived at the mountain of God, and God actually descended upon it. His glory manifested itself in sight, sound, fury, and fire…to which the people rightly feared. Thankfully, they had a mediator – someone constantly going between them and God: Moses. Through the messages communicated via Moses, the people committed themselves to serving God, and prepared themselves to hear more as God readied them to receive His 10 Commandments.

Being that we are well over three thousand years removed from those days, two thousand years living in the Christian era, it can be difficult for us to relate. After all, we aren’t wandering through the desert; we live in comfortable western culture. We don’t depend on manna to eat; we go to the grocery store. We don’t even have the same concept of God – the Hebrews (sometimes) saw God as the Almighty Creator, full of fury; we see God the Father in Jesus. And that’s a glorious thing…until we start taking Jesus for granted. It’s when we start seeing Jesus as just a man, like anyone else – just another guy, even if He was a super-nice guy…that’s when we have problems. That’s when we’ve lost sight of who our God truly is: worthy of true fear.

As we think about Jesus coming as a Babe in the manger, think also of how He exists right now. The apostle John gives us our most recent description of Jesus: Revelation 1:13–16, “(13) and in the midst of the seven lampstands One like the Son of Man, clothed with a garment down to the feet and girded about the chest with a golden band. (14) His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and His eyes like a flame of fire; (15) His feet were like fine brass, as if refined in a furnace, and His voice as the sound of many waters; (16) He had in His right hand seven stars, out of His mouth went a sharp two-edged sword, and His countenance was like the sun shining in its strength.” In response to this, John fell at Jesus’ feet as if he was dead. Why? Because even though the apostle John knew Jesus well, having lived with Him for three years, John also knew the glory of God when he saw it…and he feared.

We need a righteous fear of the Lord! We need to understand Him for who He is, so that we would be clean, be careful, and be near. The better we fear the Lord God, the more we’ll cling to our Lord Jesus. Yes, He is God, but He is also our Mediator – and we need Him as much as we ever did.

Ain’t Too Proud…

Posted: December 6, 2018 in Exodus, Uncategorized

Exodus 18, “Ain’t Too Proud…”

The Temptations said it most famously: “Ain’t too proud to beg!” In the singer’s case, he was pleading for his girlfriend to stay, but there are other ways in which pride can become an unmovable obstacle. Proud people refuse to stay home or go to the doctor when they’re sick & end up with worse symptoms (and many times, passing along their illness to others). Proud people refuse to ask for help when they’re struggling, and often force their families to endure unnecessary hardship. Most troubling, proud people refuse to humble themselves before God, and end up facing His terrible, yet righteous, wrath for their multitudes of sin. Proud people are destined to struggle and flail – precisely the opposite of what they hoped to accomplish in their pride.

It is the humble person who succeeds. Perhaps not always in terms of worldly influence (quite often, that goes to the arrogant), but always in the things that really matter in life. Humble men and women are loving fathers and mothers. Humble individuals recognize the times they need help, ask for it, and receive. People who are truly humble see their own sin for what it is, ask for the mercies of Christ, and receive it in abundance. Jesus said it is the meek who inherit the earth (Mt 5:5), and the Bible affirms that although God resists the proud, He gives grace to the humble (Jas 4:6).

What do pride and humility have to do with Exodus 18? Everything. Not that Moses was proud – far from it! He was the most humble of any man on the earth (Num 12:3). But he had a problem arise in his leadership of Israel (one unknown to himself), and if he had been proud about it, all his leadership could have crumbled & he would have been ineffective in both his ministry to God & to the people of God. It was only due to his humility that he was able to receive the advice he did, to the benefit of all.

At this point in the book of Exodus, the nation of Israel is in major transition. For the first time in over 400 years, the Hebrews are free from slavery, all due to the magnificent & miraculous work of the Living God in their midst. God’s presence was among them, God parted the Red Sea for them, God personally led them through the wilderness, God protected them against marauding enemies, and God provided for all of their physical needs (bread & water). Despite all of Israel’s grumbling, murmuring, and complaints, God was their gracious, merciful Provider God.

Now Israel is on the cusp of Mount Sinai. For all that they had already seen of God’s work & presence, they were about to see and hear Him in a whole new way. Their whole idea of God was about to be blown away when the trumpet of God sounded, the glory of God descended, and the mountain of God quaked. And all of that would pale in comparison with the word of God spoken as God Himself gave His Ten Commandments to the people as a covenant law for the nation.

What happens in the meantime? Something extremely practical: Moses learns to lead. Moses receives a visit from his father-in-law Jethro, and two things happen. (1) Jethro comes to faith – something amazing in itself! (2) Jethro gives Moses wise advice regarding his leadership. In both instances, humility was required. In the first, the priest of Midian Jethro would need to be humble enough to realize he didn’t know everything about God. In the second, the already-successful leader of Israel Moses would need to be humble enough to receive some godly counsel about his failings. Pride could have gotten in the way of either, and both would have suffered.

Beware of pride! Cultivate humility! Pride keeps us from the wisdom of God, and pride keeps us from the gospel of God. Get rid of your pride, and see the glory & work of God done!

Exodus 18

  • Jethro’s faith [1-12]. Receiving the word of God.
  • Jethro arrives (1-6)

1 And Jethro, the priest of Midian, Moses’ father-in-law, heard of all that God had done for Moses and for Israel His people—that the LORD had brought Israel out of Egypt.

  1. News travelled fast! Israel had only been in the wilderness for a couple of months (just into the third ~ Exo 19:1) when messages started getting passed back & forth from Jethro to Moses. Remember this was a day long before email & cell phones (a day long before the “snail” mail of the post office!) – for Jethro to send messages to Moses already having heard of God’s work of deliverance was an impressive feat.
  2. The fact that news traveled to Midian regarding Israel meant that even the Gentiles observing what took place with Israel were impressed. They recognized “all that God had done,” and couldn’t stop talking about it. Quite the contrast with Israel itself! The Gentiles were impressed with God’s work, but Israel complained about it. Israel hadn’t even crossed the Red Sea by the time they were grumbling against the Lord (Exo 14:11-12), and they were already thoroughly convinced that YHWH God Himself was indeed working (though the many plagues). In other words, Israel recognized God’s work, but they weren’t impacted by it. They didn’t yet fear God, at least, not enough. A proper fear of the Lord would have kept them from their grumbling, but that was something they never fully stopped. At times it seemed the Gentiles feared God more than the Hebrews…something that would be demonstrated once more through Jethro.
    1. How sad it is when the people of the world treat God with more reverence than the people of the church! May we never take our God for granted!
  3. BTW – Who was Jethro? Ch 18 reminds us that he was the “priest of Midian,” and he was first introduced in Ch 1-4, identified by two different names: Reuel (Exo 1:18), and Jethro (Exo 3:1). The Midianites were a nomadic people descended from Abraham (one of the sons of Keturah ~ Gen 25:2). Over time, they seem to have lost their monotheistic faith in the One True God, worshipping the local deities alongside the Canaanites to their north. Although Moses was married into this Midianite family, as a whole, the Midianites were not friendly to Israel & they would later join with Moab in hiring the pagan-prophet Balaam to try to curse the nation (Num 22-24). As far as Jethro is concerned, he is pictured as a relatively righteous man, one who showed great kindness to Moses when he needed it most. He was last seen in Exodus 4:18, when Moses asked permission of him to return to Egypt, although Moses is not recorded telling Jethro the precise reason he needed to leave. Whether in the past, Jethro knew anything of YHWH as God is unknown; as time went on, he certainly learned something about him through His works among Israel.

2 Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took Zipporah, Moses’ wife, after he had sent her back, 3 with her two sons, of whom the name of one was Gershom (for he said, “I have been a stranger in a foreign land”) 4 and the name of the other was Eliezer (for he said, “The God of my father was my help, and delivered me from the sword of Pharaoh”);

  1. In Exodus 4, Moses is seen travelling to Egypt with his family (although Eliezer is not named), and it was the cause of a rather big problem. Although Moses had been divinely chosen by God to be God’s spokesman, Moses had neglected his duty within his own family by not having his sons circumcised. Moses was almost killed by God, until Zipporah intervened & did what Moses had refused to do: bloody circumcision (Exo 4:24-25). Moses learned the importance & weighty responsibility of being the representative of the Holy God!
  2. With that in mind, if Zipporah and Moses’ sons were travelling with Moses, why did Jethro have to bring the family to Moses? At some point, Moses’ wife and children had been sent back to Midian, and Jethro finally had the opportunity to reunite them. As to the reasons why & when it all took place, the Bible is silent & we’re left with speculation. Many theorize that Moses sent his family away once he got to Egypt & realized how rough times would be during the plagues. Others suggest that after the crossing of the Red Sea, Moses sent Zipporah and the boys ahead & they were the ones who served as the initial messengers to Jethro. Ultimately, we can’t know and it doesn’t really matter. What matters is they came back!

5 and Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, came with his sons and his wife to Moses in the wilderness, where he was encamped at the mountain of God. 6 Now he had said to Moses, “I, your father-in-law Jethro, am coming to you with your wife and her two sons with her.”

  1. The Hebrews were already in the region of Sinai, and Moses & Jethro met at the “mountain of God.” Some scholars have questioned the chronology of this passage based on this and another issue (which we’ll see later), considering that Chapter 19 talks about Israel arriving at the base of Mount Sinai. Although it would not change any doctrine for the chronology to be different, there’s really no reason to assume it to be necessary – the first verses of Exodus 19 could be a summary including these events, all of it being a transition to hearing from God at Sinai.
  2. In any case, the message had gone from Jethro to Moses that he was coming to meet him, and the most logical place of meeting was Mount Sinai. After all, that was the mountain where Moses had earlier tended Jethro’s flock, so it would have been a location with which Jethro was familiar. It wasn’t as if Moses could send his father-in-law GPS coordinates; they had to pick a location that both of them would be sure to find. Besides, it’s unlikely that Moses took all of the nation of Israel with him. Moses likely went out by himself, met his father-in-law, and brought him back. It’s what Moses told his father-in-law upon their meeting, that is of most importance…
  • Moses’ testimony (7-8)

7 So Moses went out to meet his father-in-law, bowed down, and kissed him. And they asked each other about their well-being, and they went into the tent. 8 And Moses told his father-in-law all that the LORD had done to Pharaoh and to the Egyptians for Israel’s sake, all the hardship that had come upon them on the way, and how the LORD had delivered them.

  1. Happy reunion! For the first time in a long time, Moses saw a friendly face (as opposed to the rage of Pharaoh, and the grumbling anger of the people), and Moses greeted his father-in-law with great & culturally appropriate affection. They got caught up with their small talk, and that’s when the important conversation took place.
  2. Happy news! Moses testified of God’s deliverance. Jethro had heard the rumors & the 3rd-hand accounts; now he heard it straight from Moses himself. Moses witnessed of YHWH God, telling Jethro about all the many plagues & miracles, the differences YHWH made between the Egyptians & Israel, the terrible judgment of the Passover, and the glorious victory at the Red Sea. God had done amazing work, and Moses spoke of it all. Interestingly, the word for “delivered” could be translated “take/snatch away, rescue, recover.” Moses spoke of how God rescued Israel from Egypt: YHWH God tore them out of slavery in a powerful act of deliverance. God had done something amazing, and that news was worth telling!
    1. This is our message when we share our testimonies! Jesus has done something amazing, and it is worth telling. He has dramatically rescued us from sin, having torn us away from the grasp of death. That’s a story of which we can never tire of telling! Do you remember where/who you were? Do you remember how Jesus dramatically intervened? You have seen the work of the Living God in your life…tell people of that!
    2. Some might just respond as did Jethro…
  • Jethro’s response (9-12)

9 Then Jethro rejoiced for all the good which the LORD had done for Israel, whom He had delivered out of the hand of the Egyptians.10 And Jethro said, “Blessed be the LORD, who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Pharaoh, and who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians.

  1. Jethro “rejoiced” at the work & deliverance of God. And why not? When people are convinced that the Living God has torn someone from death, that’s a reason for joy! Do you remember the first time you heard of the work of Jesus & believed? It’s one thing when we are still in our skepticism & sin; it’s quite another when we listen through ears of humility & faith. That’s when we get excited about the work of God! 
  2. Jethro declared the blessedness of God: “Blessed be the LORD” בָּר֣וּךְ יְהוָ֔ה – Blessed be YHWH the I AM of Israel! YHWH is filled with strength, and worthy of all praise. He is the One to whom we kneel, and to whom all people owe their allegiance. Blessed be the Lord! – To bless God is to exalt Him, and to ascribe strength & power to Him. Not that we give Him that power (we cannot bless God in that way; the greater truly blesses the lesser); we speak of His already existing strength & power. We recognize Him for Who He is, and give God the glory He deserves. (When was the last time you blessed God in this way?)

11 Now I know that the LORD is greater than all the gods; for in the very thing in which they behaved proudly, He was above them.”

  1. Jethro put his faith in YHWH. He probably would have known of YHWH earlier, depending on how much Moses shared with him in the past. How much, we can’t be certain. Even if Moses didn’t tell Jethro about his encounter at the burning bush, surely Moses told his father-in-law of his cultural heritage as a Hebrew. If nothing else, Jethro surely would have had some memory of God passed to him through his own Abrahamic lineage. Whatever Jethro knew, it was only head knowledge. There was no faith there in the past. But “now” (emphatic) Jethro knew and believed in God’s greatness. Now Jethro knew something about YHWH God that he never knew before: he knew that God is the greatest of all gods, and no one nor nothing else compares with Him.
    1. Question: Was Jethro still a polytheist? We don’t know, but it’s doubtful. The fact that “the LORD is greater than all the gods” was something proven definitively true in Egypt. None of the gods of Egypt could hold a candle to YHWH – especially not the false god of Pharaoh. Of course, none of that proves that those false gods exist – it only shows that the concepts the Egyptians had of these gods were impotent & the demonic forces behind them were useless. For Jethro to declare God greater than all gods is probably his faith that YHWH God is the only
  2. What had these other gods done? The other (false) gods “behaved proudly” – the word could be rendered “boil up, seethe, act presumptuously.” The so-called “gods” of Egypt were insolent against YHWH, but God put them down!
    1. This was what Satan did. Scripture indicates that prior to his fall, Satan tried to steal the glory of God for himself & tried to exalt himself above his creator (Eze 28:17). It couldn’t be done, and Satan was thrown down to earth – his insolence against God answered with swift judgment.
    2. This is what we do! What else can we call it when we sin? When we decide that we know best for ourselves, rather than God, then we’re “behaving proudly.” We’re being insolent & presumptuous, thinking we know better than our Creator God. God is infinitely greater than us, yet we lose sight of this in our sinful pride!
      1. Thankfully, this is of what we are forgiven! Jesus died even for proud, insolent people like us. 
    3. Don’t miss the humility of Jethro in all of this. Remember that Jethro was the priest of Midian. We don’t know what it was he did, nor which exact gods Jethro had worshipped in the past, but if he was a priest it meant that he ministered on behalf of others. Jethro was seen as the spiritual authority. Yet all of a sudden, Jethro admitted that there was something about spiritual things that he did not know. Whatever he thought about other gods in the past, he “now” knew he was wrong. The only God worth worshipping was the God who put all other false gods to shame. He would have never have admitted this if he had dug in his heels in pride. The humility of Jethro was key to Jethro coming to faith.
      1. Humility is key to anyone coming to faith. No one reaches out for a Savior unless he/she first realizes he/she needs to be saved. No one asks for help unless the need for help is seen. Pride blinds us to our need. Only the humble person sees his/her need for Jesus, and Jesus answers every humble person who comes to Him in faith!

12 Then Jethro, Moses’ father-in-law, took a burnt offering and other sacrifices to offer to God. And Aaron came with all the elders of Israel to eat bread with Moses’ father-in-law before God.

  1. Jethro worshipped. What else would you do, after coming to faith? You worship! For Jethro at this time in history, it meant offering sacrifices unto the Lord. Although the priesthood hadn’t yet been given by God, Jethro was himself a priest & knew exactly how it ought to have been done.
    1. We obviously do not offer animal sacrifices today because Jesus is the one all-sufficient sacrifice offered to God. Instead, we offer our sacrifices of praise (Heb 13:5) – we offer the sacrifices of our lives (Rom 12:1). Our whole “burnt offerings” (so to speak) are the whole-hearted sacrifices of our lips & lives, fully dedicated unto the Lord.
  2. Jethro fellowshipped. In what is reminiscent of a communion meal, Jethro broke bread not only with Moses, but also with Aaron & the other “elders of Israel.” Although Jethro is not mentioned as having converted to be a Hebrew (i.e. circumcision, although as a descendant of Abraham he may already have been circumcised), this meal was him being received into the fellowship of Israel. He was not viewed as an unclean Gentile, with whom the Hebrews could have no relations. Jethro was a welcome member of the family, someone with whom they could eat & celebrate.
    1. This is what happens with anyone who comes to faith in Christ. No matter what our background may have been, once we’re in Jesus, we’re family! We’re brothers & sisters together (with all of the issues that come with family!), all made one because of the work of the Lord Jesus.

So Jethro was reunited with Moses, and (far better) came to faith! By itself, that would be reason to rejoice. But there was more to come. With Jethro being older and more experienced than Moses (itself an accomplishment, considering Moses was at least 80 years old at the time), he saw the things Moses was doing among the people, and offered his counsel…

  • Jethro’s advice [13-27]. Receiving the wisdom of God.
  • Questioning Moses (13-16)

13 And so it was, on the next day, that Moses sat to judge the people; and the people stood before Moses from morning until evening.

  1. Imagine it: a full day of non-stop judgments. Imagine being in line all day long waiting for your chance to see Moses. Remember that there were over 600,000 Hebrew men (not including women, children, or the mixed multitude of Egyptians with them) – the issues would have been numerous! No doubt hundreds of people stood in line every single day, the vast majority of whom never got to speak to Moses at all. Moses was just one man, and he only had 24 hours in a day. It would have made for a massive bottleneck & an exhausting life.

14 So when Moses’ father-in-law saw all that he did for the people, he said, “What is this thing that you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit, and all the people stand before you from morning until evening?”

  1. Good question. Why do you do this alone? Why make the people wait all day? What possible reason could you have for having such an ineffective system? Moses had an answer…

15 And Moses said to his father-in-law, “Because the people come to me to inquire of God. 16 When they have a difficulty, they come to me, and I judge between one and another; and I make known the statutes of God and His laws.”

  1. Moses’ answer was well-intended, and to a large extent, true. The people came to Moses in order to come to God. Moses had God’s word & knowledge. He alone knew the law (torah) – he alone had the information the people required for wise decisions. If the people wanted to ask God a question, the only thing they knew to do was to go through Moses. And if Moses wanted to give an answer, this was the only way he knew to do it.
    1. What was burdensome for Moses is no problem for Jesus. This is exactly what we should do! We should go to Christ with our issues, and He will intercede and give us the judgment and word of God. His word contains what we need to know, and His Spirit guides us into all truth.
    2. That said, Jesus has gifted His church with more than just His word & God the Holy Spirit…He has gifted us with one another. We need one another in the church – not for mediation between us & God, but as help to live out lives honoring to God. (Which is much of the point of what Jethro gets to with Moses…)
  • Jethro counsels Moses (17-23)

17 So Moses’ father-in-law said to him, “The thing that you do is not good. 18 Both you and these people who are with you will surely wear yourselves out. For this thing is too much for you; you are not able to perform it by yourself.

  1. What Moses was doing was “not good.” There were good intentions, but bad results. All of this was “too much” / too heavy for Moses. He would break under the pressure. In fact, it wasn’t only bad for Moses; it was bad for the people. “You will surely wear yourselves out.” To “wear…out” is to sing, drop, wither & fade, to crumble. Talking about burnout – Jethro is saying they’d run themselves into the ground if they kept this up.
  2. Have you ever experienced burnout? Have you ever felt the burdens of life so heavy that it is as if you’re going to drop under the pressure? Like being at the gym, lifting a weight over & over again – it might not seem like much at first, but with many reps it gets heavier & heavier & heavier. All of a sudden, your muscles give out & you drop. Life can feel like that at times. Even Christian life and ministry can feel like that. You start out doing something really good, but over time it gets harder & harder, heavier & heavier, all to the point that it seems you can’t do it anymore. How do we avoid burnout as Christians? How do we avoid getting crushed under the weight of good things done in inefficient ways? Answer: we get help. When Jesus saved us, He didn’t save us to be all by ourselves; He saved us & placed us within the church (the “called-out” ones). We simply need to humble ourselves from our proud self-reliance, and ask for help.
  3. That was exactly Jethro’s counsel to Moses…

19 Listen now to my voice; I will give you counsel, and God will be with you: Stand before God for the people, so that you may bring the difficulties to God. 20 And you shall teach them the statutes and the laws, and show them the way in which they must walk and the work they must do.

  1. First: Continue to judge. Jethro doesn’t tell Moses to abandon the work; just do it better. Sometimes people get the idea that if they ask for help, they will get pushed out of doing the things they love. Again, the burnout for Moses wasn’t with a job that was sinful; it was just for a job that was too much for one person. The judgment needed to be done, and Moses was the right person to be doing it; he just didn’t need to be doing it alone. Moses could keep judging; just judge better.
    1. For us, it may be parenting or teaching Sunday School or cleaning, etc., all of which are really good things to be doing – and they are things we need to keep We just want to be sure that we get help when we need help. Asking for help doesn’t mean that you’ve failed; asking for help usually means you’re doing what’s necessary not to fail!
  2. Second: Teach the people. Moses could think of it as “preemptive judgment.” If the people knew the word of God already, there would be less questions for them to ask of Moses later. The more they knew upfront, the less problems they would have down the line & less need for Moses to decide later.
    1. One of the greatest responsibilities for any pastor is to teach people the word of God, and to teach people how to read and understand the word of God for themselves. Pastors are given to equip the saints for the work of the ministry (Eph 4:12). Paul solemnly charged Timothy: 2 Timothy 4:2, “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching.” That wasn’t for Timothy’s “job security”; it was to help the church be guarded from false teaching, and for them to be grounded in the truth. The better taught the congregation, the better off they are to face the things of this life. 

21 Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 22 And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you.

  1. Third: Delegate. Moses was to equip and empower other people to help do the work. Moses didn’t have to do it all by himself; there were close to 2 million other people who could help. Surely there were some people who were capable of helping bear the load! All Moses needed to do was find them, and empower them for the work.
    1. The early church followed the same advice. When the apostles found themselves doing too many things other than what the Lord Jesus specifically called them to do (pray, teach/disciple others), they equipped and empowered other godly people to help. (Acts 6) What was the result? The gospel spread, and even more people got saved! (Acts 6:7) What happens when we delegate? We become even more effective than before, and God is glorified!
  2. The flip-side to delegation is that there must be people to whom to delegate. It would have been extraordinarily strange for Moses not to find one qualified man from 600,000+ Hebrew men, and especially not one willing to serve. Even so, not everyone would be willing. The key was to find the right people who were also willingly available to be used by God.
    1. What was true for Moses and Israel is no less true for the New Testament church. There is no lack of opportunity to serve, but there is sadly often a lack of willing servants. We need one another to serve God in their callings and giftings. Paul wrote to the Romans how we are all members of one body, having different functions, callings, and abilities: Romans 12:6–8, “(6) Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, let us prophesy in proportion to our faith; (7) or ministry, let us use it in our ministering; he who teaches, in teaching; (8) he who exhorts, in exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.” The same principle was written to the Corinthians (1 Cor 12). However God has gifted you, use those gifts! Be willing to be used by God for His glory!

23 If you do this thing, and God so commands you, then you will be able to endure, and all this people will also go to their place in peace.”

  1. Key point: whatever counsel Moses received, it needed to be founded on the command of God. If God didn’t command Moses to follow through on Jethro’s advice, then Moses shouldn’t follow through. Why? Advice that appears good isn’t always godly. Some things the world recommends for success is downright evil. The wisdom of the world says it’s okay to step on others to make things better for yourself (i.e. “survival of the fittest”) – the wisdom of the world says that as long as it feels good, do it (i.e. hedonism). Yet the wisdom of the world is foolishness with God! (1 Cor 3:19 – specifically regarding the gospel, but true in general). We don’t merely need effective counsel; we need godly Where do we find it? In God’s word, among God’s people empowered with God’s Spirit.

That was Jethro’s advice. What did Moses do with it? Verse 24…

24 So Moses heeded the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he had said. 25 And Moses chose able men out of all Israel, and made them heads over the people: rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. 26 So they judged the people at all times; the hard cases they brought to Moses, but they judged every small case themselves.

  1. Moses was humble enough to heed this father-in-law. Moses was humble, period – the most humble man on the face of the earth (Num 12:3). His humility is seen not only in the way he responded to personal attacks, but also how he responded to the knowledge of his own weaknesses & the correction offered to him by Jethro. He didn’t blow off or ignore his father-in-law; Moses listened to Jethro & implemented his advice. (Surely after he sought the Lord on the matter, although it isn’t described for us in the passage.)
    1. It is good to listen to counsel & correction! Proverbs 10:17, “He who keeps instruction is in the way of life, But he who refuses correction goes astray.” Proverbs 12:1, “Whoever loves instruction loves knowledge, But he who hates correction is stupid.” Don’t misunderstand – it’s never easy to be corrected. No one enjoys being told that what we’ve been doing isn’t good & it needs to change. But to despise godly wise correction is the height of foolishness! A bodybuilder working out in the gym would be foolish to ignore the advice of Arnold Schwartzenegger – a young basketball player would be stupid to ignore the instruction of Michael Jordan. How much more when we ignore the counsel of God? To be corrected by God’s word is not something of which to be ashamed; it is something wonderful! What a privilege it is that we have the word of God, and that He actually does give us correction when we need it!
  2. Moses was humble enough to get help. Of course this goes hand-in-hand with heeding Jethro, but it can’t be neglected. It’s one thing to hear someone out; it’s another thing to put it into practice. As much humility as was required for Moses to heed the voice of his father-in-law and admit his wisdom, even more humility was needed for Moses to go among the people of Israel and ask for help. Remember, these were people who looked to Moses as having all the answers. Now he freely admits that he doesn’t, and that he needs the help of others.
    1. Humbling? Yes – but wonderful! What would have happened without Moses’ humility? Moses would have been crushed by the weight of the peoples’ burdens, and the nation itself would have suffered. Pride would have been a blockade to future blessing, and everyone would have suffered. Proverbs 11:2, “When pride comes, then comes shame; But with the humble is wisdom.” Because Moses was humble, all the people benefited.
    2. Likewise with us. Sure, we could dig in our heels in stubborn pride, trying to do everything on our own – but we will soon find ourselves in trouble, unable to do anything. Far better to humble ourselves & ask for help – the people of God working together is a beautiful thing!
    3. BTW – Sometimes it isn’t always looking for help, but looking how we can be a help. Maybe there’s someone you see who’s struggling, yet too proud to ask for assistance (or perhaps doesn’t yet know he/she needs assistance). Why not gently ask to help? Sometimes we can be blinded to our own needs until someone says something (like Jethro to Moses); perhaps you’re the one to suggest it & to act.
  3. Question: Did all of this take place immediately? Technically, the Scripture doesn’t say. It says Moses did it, but it doesn’t say when. Many scholars believe that this part of Scripture (although true) is arranged topically, rather than chronologically. It’s possible that Moses planned to delegate this responsibility to others, but didn’t do so until Numbers 11, after the nation had spent a year at Sinai & the tabernacle had been built. At that time, Moses gathered 70 elders of the people, and the Holy Spirit came upon them & they prophesied (Num 11:24-25). While it may be possible, it doesn’t seem likely. (1) 70 elders isn’t enough to fulfill the division of tens, fifties, hundreds, and thousands for a group of 600,000+ men. (2) Why wait? As Jethro noted, Moses had felt the burden immediately. He and the nation was in danger of wearing themselves out. This was an action that needed to be taken sooner, rather than later. It wouldn’t make sense for Moses to put it off for over a year. – Whenever the delegation took place, thankfully it actually took place! What a burden was lifted from Moses’ shoulders & what freedom was given to the people! When God’s people work according to God’s word in the power of God the Spirit, it is a wonderful God-honoring thing.

27 Then Moses let his father-in-law depart, and he went his way to his own land.

  1. Why didn’t Jethro stay? Scripture doesn’t say. On one hand, with Jethro’s newfound faith in the Lord and his close ties with Moses, it would have made perfect sense for him to remain among the Hebrews and learn more about the God he now worshipped. On the other hand, as the priest in Midian, Jethro had a unique opportunity to share the news of the One True God with Gentile people who worshipped many false gods.

Conclusion:

Oh the wonders of humility! Jethro’s humility brought him to faith – Moses’ humility benefited the whole nation. Either one of these men could have allowed themselves to fall victim to their pride. Jethro, as the priest of Midian, could have claimed he knew all there was to know about God…and he would have been eternally lost. Moses, as the already-accomplished leader of Israel, could have thought himself the only one capable of leading the people…and he, along with all the people, would have been crushed by the burden. Thankfully, both men were humble, and both men were blessed!

Pride is the first of all sins. Pride caused Satan to puff himself up & fall from heaven, and pride caused Adam & Eve to eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge in the Garden & fall from grace. Pride keeps us from relying on the wisdom and plans of God – pride keeps us from relying on the grace and mercies of Jesus. Get rid of your pride & see God glorified!

Prepared for Jesus

Posted: December 2, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 13:13-25, “Prepared for Jesus”

“Keep your fork!” Those were the words that my mother would tell me when dessert was following dinner. Knowing what a great baker my mom was in her prime, I know that something really good was coming. As much as I may have enjoyed my dinner, something better was on the way. She had whet my appetite – she had prepared me for the good stuff to come.

To a large extent, that idea sums up much of the history of Israel in the pages of the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament). God did amazing & wonderful things for His people – but much of it was looking forward to what was still to come. It was as if God said, “Save your forks!”, because the best was still on the way. His miracles & salvations prepared the people to see the ultimate Deliverer & Savior, Jesus.

This was what Paul said to the people gathered in the synagogue in Antioch Pisidia. There, he gave his first recorded gospel sermon, pointing his listeners to the salvation of God freely available in Jesus Christ. How did the message begin? Paul started with a bit of Hebrew history showing how God had consistently saved/delivered His people in the past, all in preparation for the true Savior sent by God: Jesus.

Although this is the first sermon of Paul recorded in the book of Acts, it was not the first he ever gave. Already, Paul had an active ministry. When Paul (then known by his Jewish name Saul) was first converted after his terrible career persecuting the church of Christ, he taught in Damascus until he was forced to flee due to death threats. When Paul/Saul arrived in Jerusalem, the same thing happened there. He was soon sent back to his hometown of Tarsus for his own safety, and he remained there until the man known as the “Son of Encouragement,” Barnabas, sought him out for help ministering to the growing church in Antioch of Syria.

Over time, Barnabas & Saul/Paul were called by the Holy Spirit to missionary ministry, and they set out with Barnabas’ young cousin John Mark (the future author of the gospel of Mark) to the island of Cyprus. There, they taught in the synagogues, proclaimed Jesus to the people, and were soon summoned by the proconsul (governor) to present their message to him. As we saw last week, this was when Barnabas & Saul ran into opposition in the form of a supposedly “Jewish” sorcerer by the name of Bar-Jesus/Elymas. This man was openly confronted by Saul (now called by his Roman name Paul), who pronounced him to be blinded in judgment of the sin of trying to turn the proconsul away from the truth. As a result, the proconsul/governor came to faith, and Paul & Barnabas were ready for their next round of ministry.

That would come with leaving the island of Cyrus & going back to the mainland, where they eventually end up in Antioch Pisidia. There, Paul got the opportunity to preach in the synagogue, and he used the time exactly as we might expect: to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. The details of the gospel actually come later in Paul’s message; he begins by showing how God had prepared the Jews (and all the world) for this moment. God had done much to prepare the people to see Jesus as the Savior; the only question was whether they would believe.

We can be so slow to believe! As with the Jews of the 1st century, God had done so much in our live to prepare us to see Jesus for who He is. We need a Deliverer, and God has given us one, having prepared us to see Him. Do you see Him? Do you believe? (And if you do, are you prepared to speak of Him?)

Acts 13:13–25

  • Setting (13-15). Prepared to preach Jesus. Are you prepared to serve?

13 Now when Paul and his party set sail from Paphos, they came to Perga in Pamphylia; and John, departing from them, returned to Jerusalem.

  1. When Barnabas & Paul had arrived on Cyprus, they landed on the east coast and preached their way to the west coast. Once finished with the proconsul, they set sail back to Eurasia in the area of modern-day Turkey. Notice who set sail: “Paul and his party.” Up to this point, it was always “Barnabas and Saul,” Barnabas being the older Christian in the faith, the emissary from Jerusalem, and the acknowledged leader of the group. Now it is Paul who is seen as the leader. He stepped to the forefront in Paphos when confronting the opposition of Bar-Jesus, and he remains in this role for the rest of the journey. (Much to Barnabas’ credit, there is zero mention of any jealousy or resentment from him; he acknowledged God’s hand upon Paul just as much as anyone else.)
  2. Along with the other changes was the departure of John Mark from the group. Once they reached the mainland, John Mark turned around and went home to Jerusalem. Why did he leave? Theories abound: perhaps he was upset that Paul now led the group rather than his cousin Barnabas – perhaps he was homesick for his mother back in Jerusalem – perhaps he struggled with the hardships of missionary ministry, as there is some evidence that Paul & others became sick when arriving in Pamphylia (possible malaria?). Ultimately, there’s no way of knowing. What we do know is that his departure was seen by Paul as abandonment, and it broke a great deal of trust. When Paul and Barnabas later prepared to begin a second missionary journey, Barnabas wanted to bring John Mark, and Paul refused to have him. Ultimately, it caused Paul & Barnabas to split up – unfortunate at the time, but effectively doubling the gospel ministry going out from Antioch to the rest of the world. (Acts 15:36-40)
  3. We know very little about John Mark’s reasons for leaving, but we can definitively say this much: he wasn’t prepared to continue. At this point in his life, he wasn’t in it for the long-haul. This would change over time, and he became valued by Paul, Peter, and ultimately the rest of Christendom with his written gospel of Jesus – but at this point in his young life, John Mark wavered in his commitment. He wasn’t prepared to see things through.
    1. Have you been in a similar position? Perhaps as a Christian, you’ve been given an opportunity to serve, and you know God wants you to serve, but you’ve been hesitant to step out in faith. It’s been easier to leave it to others, thinking you can always get to it later. Or perhaps you gladly stepped into the work, but once things got a little tough, you weren’t so sure you wanted to continue. You started serving, but you didn’t like it when people treated you like a servant. If so, you wouldn’t be the first, and you certainly won’t be the last. Know this: God doesn’t have to use us, but God wants to use us. We need to prepare ourselves to be used by Him. There is so much joy in knowing that you are being used by Jesus in the present moment to serve Him and to build up His kingdom – but you will never know that joy if you never give yourself over to Jesus to be used by Him. It doesn’t mean things will be easy or smooth; it does mean that God will be glorified. So prepare yourself! Set your heart and mind to seek the Lord, freely making yourself available to Him. Ask the Spirit to fill you & empower you, making it possible not only to serve Jesus, but to endure while you serve Jesus. If John Mark had done so, his story might have been completely different!
    2. Of course, maybe you haven’t been prepared to serve Jesus because you haven’t belonged to Jesus. There’s little doubt that John Mark was born-again & soundly saved…he just had a bit of stumbling along the way. Can you say the same thing about yourself? Those who try to serve God without first belonging to God as one of His children will always struggle. Surrender yourself first to Christ in faith to be saved; then surrender yourself to Christ to be used by Him for His glory.

14 But when they departed from Perga, they came to Antioch in Pisidia, and went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day and sat down. 15 And after the reading of the Law and the Prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, “Men and brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say on.”

  1. Describing the journey from Perga to Antioch Pisidia, one commentary says: “It was a long journey, and as it lay almost entirely through rugged mountain passes, while “rivers burst out at the base of huge cliffs, or dash down wildly through narrow ravines,” it must have been a perilous one. The whole region was, and to this day is, infested by robbers, as ancient history and modern travels abundantly attest; and there can be but little doubt that to this very journey Paul many years after alludes, when he speaks amidst his “journeyings often,” of his “perils of rivers” (as the word is), and his “perils of robbers” (2 Co 11:26).” (Jamieson, Fausset, Brown) It wasn’t an easy journey, but it was a necessary one if they were to arrive in “Antioch in/of Pisidia.
  2. Antioch wasn’t a random choice. It was a Roman colony and the seat of power in the region. If Paul & Barnabas were to visit Galatia at all, Antioch Pisidia was the obvious place to go. Once they arrived, Paul & Barnabas engaged in their already-established pattern. Being Jews, they first went to the Jews for an opportunity to speak of the Jewish Messiah. This meant they went to the local synagogue for the normal Sabbath-day worship. They sat among everyone else, and awaited their chance to speak. And no doubt, they would receive one. Among the Jews at the time, there was a cultural expectation of visiting rabbis speaking to the gathered congregation. A typical synagogue meeting would have the people recite the Shema (“Hear, oh Israel…), the leadership would pronounce various blessings & prayers, they would read the Scripture from both the “Law” (Penteteuch) and the “Prophets” (either major or minor prophets), and then a message would be given by any competent Jew in the room. Often it would be the local rabbi, but in the case of having a visiting rabbi dressed in his normal garb as a Pharisee, Paul was politely asked to speak to the congregation under the assumption that he had something to say. They wanted a word of exhortation/encouragement from him, and Paul was more than willing to provide one.
  3. Before we read what Paul said, notice that Paul was prepared with something to say. This was the very reason they had come to the synagogue, as Paul and Barnabas were ready to proclaim Jesus as the Messiah. Quite the contrast with John Mark! John Mark was not prepared to serve Christ in the gospel ministry; Paul and Barnabas were. They had been called by the Holy Spirit to specifically serve in this way (13:2), and they were ready & prepared to do it at every opportunity. There’s no way Paul could have guaranteed he would get the opportunity to speak at the synagogue, but he knew it was a strong probability, so he was ready for the moment when it arrived.
    1. Are we prepared for the moments before us? Given the chance, are we prepared to tell others of Jesus as the Christ? Granted, some opportunities are more obvious than others. But even when there is not a planned, “official” outreach, we still have opportunities every day to speak of Jesus, do we not? They exist; the problem is that we aren’t prepared for them, and we don’t look for them. When we’re ready for something, we look for it. A running back who has been told to expect a pass turns to look to the quarterback for the throw, preparing to receive it. But any player on the field needs to be ready for a change of plans at any time. They need to be ready, always looking to what needs to be done. Likewise with us – we need to be ready, always looking to Jesus for the opportunities He gives us to speak of Him. Maybe it comes while you’re sitting in the chair for your haircut. Maybe it comes as you strike up a conversation with the cashier at the grocery store. Maybe it’s when your co-worker lets you know of a health problem in his/her family. Any of those can be opportunities the Lord gives us to be used by Him to speak of Jesus; we just need to be prepared and ready for them to come.
    2. The problem is, we often aren’t We don’t look to Jesus in those moments, and we just live life on “coast.” God hasn’t called us to coast! The Great Commission is too important – eternity is too near to every single person and the wrath of God due to sin is too great to imagine. We must be prepared to serve Jesus at any moment; we just need to be ready. 1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear;” When should we be ready? Always! Are you ready to serve Him? Are you ready to speak of Him? (If not, why?)
  • Sermon, part 1 (16-25). God prepared His people for Jesus. Are you prepared to see?
  • God’s personal work of deliverance (16-19)

16 Then Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said, “Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: 17 The God of this people Israel chose our fathers, and exalted the people when they dwelt as strangers in the land of Egypt, and with an uplifted arm He brought them out of it.

  1. As Paul began, he first spoke of the work of God among Israel throughout history. If it sounds familiar, it’s because Stephen did much of the same thing in Jerusalem. When he was arrested & brought before the Sanhedrin, much of his defense comprised of a history of Israel showing how God repeatedly reached out to His people, and they repeatedly turned away (Acts 7). What makes this interesting is that Paul was present the day Stephen spoke all those things, as Paul (Saul) was the Pharisee who gave approval to the mob to stone Stephen to death (Acts 7:58; 8:1). The message opposed so vehemently by Paul in the past, he now used as a model in his own ministry. (It’s amazing how God changes us!)
  2. God “chose” Israel. Out of all the people in the world, God looked down upon Abraham and chose him (literally “elected” him) for His own. Neither Abraham, Isaac, nor Jacob had done anything deserving of God’s grace, but God chose to give it to them. When Abraham lived in Ur of the Chaldees, he was an idolater. Even after he met the Lord, Abraham had periods when he lapsed in his faith (such as when he lied about the identity of his wife), and his son Isaac followed in those same footsteps with those same deceptions. Jacob/Israel was no better, as he was (in many ways) a scoundrel who tried to manipulate his way to the top. Even so, God chose to love them, and each of them humbled themselves before the living God, having faith in His gracious promises. From Abraham’s first call by God, God made the promise of a future Messiah (Gen 12:3), and it was one to which all of the fathers of Israel clung.
  3. God protected & “exalted” Israel through Joseph. When things looked bleak for Jacob & his family during a terrible famine, they found refuge in Egypt only because of God’s grace seen in Jacob’s 2nd youngest son, Joseph. Betrayed by his older brothers, Joseph had been believed to be long-dead, but he was in Egypt first as a slave, then as a prisoner, and finally as the grand vizier (prime-minister) of all the land second in authority only to Pharaoh. Joseph was truly exalted by the Lord, and it was through Joseph that the family of Jacob (Israel) was saved. It was in Egypt that Israel transformed from a clan to a nation, as God continued to exalt the people, causing them to multiply greatly in a region of Egypt, untouched by the pagan cultures around them.
  4. God delivered Israel from slavery through Moses. Though Israel had been initially protected in Egypt, they were eventually persecuted & forced to serve as slaves. Even so, God had not forgotten His people nor the promises made to them, and “with an uplifted arm” He gave His people freedom. Through the work of Moses, God led His people out of Egypt, parted the Red Sea for their safety, and drowned the Egyptian army in judgment.
  5. God had been personally involved with His people for centuries, delivering them out of their troubles, and always reminding them of His future promises. And it didn’t end with Moses…

18 Now for a time of about forty years He put up with their ways in the wilderness. 19 And when He had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, He distributed their land to them by allotment.

  1. God was patient with Israel in the wilderness. To say that God was “patient” is an understatement! This was a people that complained about God’s deliverance from the first days following their freedom, all the way through for the next forty years. The NKJV “put up with their ways” literally speaks of “bearing their moods.” NIV “endured their conduct;” KJV “suffered He their manners.” Even this was an act of deliverance. Deliverance from what? Deliverance from God’s own deserved wrath! They (like us) were a stubborn, stiff-necked people, quick to complain and ever open to idolatry and rebellion. Despite God’s personal presence among them (pillar of cloud & fire), and despite God’s personal provision for them (daily manna), the people were ungrateful. Yet God had mercy upon them, patiently bore with them, and continually reminded them of His promises to come.
    1. How much this sounds like us! God is so merciful to us, so loving, so gracious, ever providing…yet we are so ungrateful. We despise His gifts, take the life He has given us for granted, and treat the commands of God as optional-advice. Yet He bears with us – He is patient with us. Even in our sin, He still provides Jesus for us, offering not only to forgive us, but to cleanse us, to keep us in close fellowship, and to treat us as His children. Oh, the amazing love of God!
  2. God was gracious with Israel in the conquest. He “destroyed seven nations,” and gave the people of Israel a home in Israel. God continually delivered them from nations that were mightier than them, and gave Israel the homes & lands of their enemies as their inheritance. This was the promise made by God to Abraham so long ago, and God saw that it was fulfilled! The wicked nations of Canaan were judged, and the tribes of Israel were given their lands a their rightful inheritance.
    1. So the work was complete, right? Although the gift of the land was part of the promises of God, it wasn’t all of God’s promises to Israel. There was still a promise of rest to be found in a future Messiah. The rest that the people experienced in the land was more preparation for the rest that would come through Someone else. Hebrews 4:8–10, “(8) For if Joshua had given them rest, then He would not afterward have spoken of another day. (9) There remains therefore a rest for the people of God. (10) For he who has entered His rest has himself also ceased from his works as God did from His.” Where is that rest found? It wasn’t in the physical land – it wasn’t even in the Sabbath day (the sign of the covenant); it was only in Jesus. In Jesus is the rest of God – everything else was mere preparation for Him. The Sabbath day and the promised land were meant to merely whet the appetites of the people.
  • God’s given persons as deliverers (20-22)

20 “After that He gave them judges for about four hundred and fifty years, until Samuel the prophet. 21 And afterward they asked for a king; so God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years.

  1. God provided “judges.” Some were better than others (Deborah & Gideon, as opposed to Samson & Jephthah), but each one was a man or woman raised up by God to not only lead His people, but to deliver them from the hands of their enemies. The cycle throughout the book of Judges shows how Israel would sin (usually with idolatry), be given by God into the hands of their enemies, the people of Israel would repent, and God would raise up judges to deliver them into renewed freedom. Constant deliverance was required because the people constantly sinned. They went further and further away from God, but God always remained faithful & always kept His promises firm.
  2. God provided “a king.” Obviously, God provided more than one king, but the first was “Saul the son of Kish.” (Perhaps highlighted by Paul as being “a man from the tribe of Benjamin” because Paul was also a man from the tribe of Benjamin, whose given name was Saul!) The last of the judges was Samuel, but Samuel was also a prophet & a kingmaker. When the people rejected Samuel as a leader & cried out for a king, God knew that (ultimately) they had rejected God Himself as King – just as He had always known they would do (Dt 17:14). God’s first choice of king was Saul, and although Saul was effective for a time, he wasn’t fully committed to the Lord. Saul was used by God to prepare the way for a different king, the one who would take his place.
  3. FYI: where the timeframe of 450 years should fall within the translated sentence is questionable, depending on the manuscripts. (Which is why the reading varies between the KJV, NKJV vs. the NASB, ESV, NIV, & others.) 1 Kings 6:1 definitively states there were 480 years from the original exodus from Egypt to the 4th year of Solomon’s reign, when he began to build the temple. The 450 years spoken by Paul could possibly be either the rough estimate of Israel’s entry into Egypt, their slavery, their wandering, and the time of the conquest (i.e. when God distributed the land to them), or it could be the rough estimate of time of the Exodus to the kings. The first is more likely, but either way the point isn’t the amount of time that went by; it was that God continued to be gracious to His people throughout He was always delivering them, and always preparing them for the Deliverer.

22 And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’

  1. Although God had given the people a king in Saul, Saul was unfaithful to God. Saul was presumptuous regarding sacrifices (1 Sam 13), and Saul was disobedience regarding God’s commands (1 Sam 15). That said, God had a plan. God “removed” Saul & provided a better king: David. Unlike Saul who served himself and his own desires, David would take care to serve the Lord, desiring to please God. Not that David was perfect! He famously committed adultery, and then conspired to murder to cover-up his adultery – an act that would haunt him the rest of his life through the sins of some of his sons (Amnon & Absalom). Even so, David was God’s chosen king to lead His people, and the standard by which all of the following kings of Judah were measured.
  2. What was it that God so loved about David? David’s heart. God had “found David,” anointing/choosing him to do God’s will (Ps 89:20) based on the fact that David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14). David had a heart bent to the will of God – David had a heart that burned for the same things that God treasures – David had a heart to worship God, glorifying Him in every situation. What a legacy to leave behind!
    1. There are many legacies left by people in this world, some better than others. President George HW Bush died yesterday, and for all the things that some say about him politically, virtually every politician that knew him has spoken of his decency & generosity. That’s a good legacy! Others have been known as loving mothers or fathers – also, good legacies. But the best? To be known as a man/woman after God’s own heart! What a legacy we leave, that when people think of us, they think of Jesus. (Pray that God might grant us the same!)
  3. The person who so strives after God is a person who can be greatly used by God, and such was the case with David. If any one person was used by God to prepare His people for Jesus, it was David – and that is exactly what Paul says next…
  • God’s gift of Jesus, the Deliverer (23-25)

23 From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior—Jesus—

  1. Finally, God has given Jesus! All of the preparation through the patriarchs, the prophets, the provisions of God, and the many people who came before – all of it had led to this one Man, “a Savior, Jesus!” For the first time in his message, Paul mentions the name of Christ, and it is the climax of everything he’s said to this point. This was the One his listeners have been waiting for – this is the One for whom all this preparation has been made.
    1. Perhaps God has been preparing you in the same way. He’s been working in your heart this morning, getting you ready to hear of Jesus. Listen! Take the preparation of God to full fruition as you hear of the Savior sent by God!
  2. God provided a “promise.” Of course there were many promises regarding the coming of Jesus as the Christ/Messiah – not only with Abraham & the other patriarchs, but stretching all the way back to the Garden of Eden (Gen 3:15). However, when it came to the idea that the Messiah would be of the “seed” (lineage) of David, God some very specific promises. There was the initial covenantal promise that God made directly to David, that David’s descendent would be known as God’s Son and that His kingdom would last forever (2 Sam 7:13-14). There was the “Branch of righteousness” that God would raise up to David in reference to the restoration of God’s people & their future kingdom (Jer 23:5, 33:15). This goes hand-in-hand with God’s word through Isaiah regarding the Messiah: Isaiah 11:1–2, “(1) There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. (2) The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.” All of these were promises of God concerning the Messiah, coming through the line of David. As much as David was a man after God’s own heart, the future Messiah would represent the heart of God even more. The Messiah would be the better-than-David – He would have not only the desire to serve God, but be uniquely anointed with the Spirit of God as God to serve God in a way unparalleled in history. What a promise! But it didn’t remain only a promise…
  3. God provided a “Savior!” As great as the promise is, words are only words until they are fulfilled. The great news that Paul had the privilege of saying was that these words of God were fulfilled! The Savior long-awaited by the Hebrews – the Person of whom all the previous deliverers only gave a glimpse – the One of whom God repeatedly prepared His people – this Savior had come! His name is Jesus, and He is truly the Savior of God!
    1. Question: What is a Savior? We use the term all the time, almost always in reference to Jesus, but that wasn’t the case in the 1st century Roman empire. In classical Greek, the term was sometimes used of the Greek gods, but other times used of people. Doctors might be called “saviors” for their abilities to heal. Kings and other royalty were often called “saviors” for their protection of their people. That was the world’s idea of “savior”; to God, it is far different! In the New Testament, the term is used 24 times: 16 for Jesus, and 8 for God the Father; it is never used of men. When Paul proclaimed a Savior had been given, he proclaimed a Savior greater than any other man his audience had ever known. In the synagogue that day, there were ethnic Jews alongside God-fearers – all of which were immersed in the Greek/Roman culture of the day. They may have thought of other saviors, but those men didn’t hold a candle to God’s Savior. God’s Savior had been prophesied since the dawn of history, and God had gone to great lengths to prepare His people to receive Him. God’s Savior is someone truly special…and He is!
    2. Don’t miss the main point in the title. If God sent a Savior, it means that we must need saving. And we do! Just like the people of Paul’s day, we are lost in our sin. We’ve lied, lusted, cheated, stolen, and hated without cause. We’ve exalted ourselves in pride over the God who gave us life. We’ve used the lips He gave us to blaspheme His name. We sin dozens of ways every single day, and every single sin carries a death sentence. We are drowning in sin, and we need saving! Jesus is our Savior. He came to seek and to save the lost (Lk 19:10). He came to be a sacrifice in our place, in order that our sins could be wiped clean (Heb 10:12). He came as our substitute, bearing our sins and our transgressions (Isa 53:5). He came so that whoever believes in Him would not be condemned, but receive everlasting life (Jn 3:16). He came as our Savior!

24 after John had first preached, before His coming, the baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. 25 And as John was finishing his course, he said, ‘Who do you think I am? I am not He. But behold, there comes One after me, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to loose.’

  1. Before launching into the work of Jesus, Paul spoke to the people about one more man God sent to make things ready for Jesus: John the Baptist. John was the last of what could be considered the Old Testament prophets, and he was extremely well-known in the ancient near east. It seems likely that, at the time, the synagogue congregation in Antioch Pisidia was more familiar with John the Baptist than with Jesus. But even though they may have heard of John, they may not have known John’s purpose. John was sent by God to do two things:
  2. John prepared the people for Jesus. He was known as the Baptizer, because the crowds flocked to him to get baptized. But what was John’s baptism? It wasn’t to be identified with Jesus in faith (which is our baptism), because John’s ministry predated Jesus’ ministry. John’s baptism was a “baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” John called people to change. And it wasn’t the people that many of the Jews would have expected. They expected Gentiles, tax-collectors, prostitutes and others to admit their sins and change their ways; John called all of them to do it. Tax-collector and Pharisee alike were commanded to repent. Repentance was preached to those who thought they least needed it.
    1. What is repentance? It’s a change of mind & change of action. It’s a fundamental shift in the way we think, which naturally affects the things we do. To repent from fits of rage is more than just feeling bad about it (and sorry for yourself) – it’s even more than apologizing to others for your actions. That’s a good start, but if things don’t change, then you haven’t really repented. True repentance from fits of rage would be committing to self-control, gentleness, and peace. True repentance is turning away from your sinful desires & a turning to God in humility & faith.
    2. We do not get baptized for repentance, but we are to repent! Jesus’ first message ever preached was the same as John the Baptist’s: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Mt 4:17) Turn away from your sins & cling to Jesus in faith!
  3. John preached the glory of Jesus. As great a ministry as John the Baptist was given by God, never once did he look to hoard it for himself. He considered himself only a voice crying in the wilderness, preparing people for the Messiah. He constantly pointed people to Jesus, and even towards the end of his life (when he “was finishing his course” or “completing his race”), the only thing he wanted people to know was the glories of Jesus as the Messiah. John was the greatest of the prophets (proclaimed so by none other than Jesus! ~ Lk 7:28), but John knew that he was nothing next to Jesus. John wasn’t even worthy to untie Jesus’ shoes.
    1. Paul’s point? Believe the preaching of John! The Savior sent by God is incredible, and He is more precious than any other person imaginable. The work He has done is glorious, and we need Him more than words can express!

Conclusion:

Paul’s message is only beginning, but already, he had much to say! Through the centuries, God had prepared His people to see Jesus, and the time had now come. God laid the groundwork through His own personal acts of deliverance – He continued through the many people He gave as temporary deliverers – He even proclaimed the Savior to come through the greatest prophet in history. Now the Savior had arrived, and His name is Jesus!

Of course, Paul was ready to preach this message because he had prepared himself to be used by God at any moment. Not everyone had this same mindset, but Paul wanted to take advantage of every opportunity given him by God. The message of Jesus is too important not for us to be ready to proclaim…we dare not pass it by.

We close with two questions: Are you prepared to serve? Are you prepared to see?

Are you prepared to serve? Which mindset is more like your own: the young John Mark, or Paul and Barnabas? Thankfully, John Mark would grow & mature, but he had a season of stumbling…like many of us! We aren’t always ready to serve God, and we’re certainly not always ready to speak of Jesus. Keep in mind, our witnessing doesn’t always have to be a formal presentation. We don’t always have the occasion to preach the gospel for 5-10 minutes at a time, or to give our full history & testimony. Sometimes we have only a brief moment – perhaps a single sentence in response to a question. Be prepared to use it for Christ! Be ready to speak of Jesus.

Are you prepared to see? God not only went to great lengths to prepare the Jewish people for Jesus; He has gone to great lengths for us. How many times did you hear the gospel before you put your faith in Christ? Perhaps you still haven’t placed your faith in Him. Look at what God has done! Just this morning, He gave you life, breath, and the ability to walk into a church filled with Christians. You’ve sung songs about Christ, read His word, and heard His gospel. What did it all take to bring you to this very point, right now? God has done it all. He has prepared you for this moment…now it is time for you to respond!

Grumbling Against God

Posted: November 29, 2018 in Exodus, Uncategorized

Exodus 16-17, “Grumbling Against God”

As fun as Christmas can be for parents of young children, it can also be a time of frustration. For as much as some kids are showered with presents, there’s always the chance of disappointment for when the present wasn’t exactly what was expected. Some kids (thankfully a minority!) are even downright ungrateful when they don’t get what they want when they want it. Like little Ms. Veruca Salt from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, they throw temper tantrums and demand “I want it now!”

Sadly, spoiled children often grow into spoiled adults, and we all sometimes have tendencies to act that way at times with our Heavenly Father. He gives us wonderfully good gifts in many different ways, but when things don’t go our way according to our timetable, we get upset and start grumbling against God. Times haven’t changed. The children of Israel did the same thing with God, demonstrating it on their initial release from their Egyptian slavery.

Remember what happened to get them to this point: God personally intervened in incredible ways to grant them freedom. There were nine supernatural plagues, filled with all kinds of events unexplainable, save for the work of God. There was the tenth supernatural plague/judgment of Passover, in which those who placed their faith and trust in God’s sacrifice were saved from the death of the firstborn were spared, whereas all the other homes suffered grief. This had purchased their freedom. There was the supernatural confirmation of their freedom, when God completely vanquished the Egyptian army by drowning them in the Red Sea, while God’s chosen people were graciously allowed to pass through on dry land. In response to this miraculous deliverance & salvation, Moses led the people in a tremendous song of praise, thanking God for the things He had done! Even so, the people complained at the first sign of trouble when they arrived at an undrinkable spring…to which God supernaturally intervened again, making the bitter waters sweet.

In light of all of this, the people ought to have had tremendous faith, confidently following God, trusting His provision. Not so much. Instead, they were more like us: fickle & forgetful. Rarely able to see past our next set of problems, we complain about every situation, blaming God for the things He has allowed to come to pass. Instead of grumbling, we should be trusting. God is a faithful provider! He has provided us Jesus, so that means we can trust Him to provide everything else. God does things according to His plan that will give Him the most glory. Trust Him to do it!

Exodus 16 – God provides food

  • A complaining people (1-8)

1 And they journeyed from Elim, and all the congregation of the children of Israel came to the Wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they departed from the land of Egypt.

  1. Likely in the middle of the Sinai peninsula, on their way to the mountain to meet with God. More important than the location, is the date. Compared with the 10-14th of Nisan/Abib for Passover (Exo 12:6), the 15th day of the 2nd month is barely 30 days past. The Hebrews had 30 days of freedom by the time they experienced these events. Already they are dissatisfied and losing faith!
    1. It doesn’t take long for us to lose faith! As soon as we thank God for one blessing, we’ll turn around and grumble about something else. Think of it: how great is our salvation in Christ? If God granted us nothing else for the rest of our lives, we would still have the greatest gift that could ever be given! As the Hebrews say at Passover, “Dayenu,” it would have been enough for God simply to forgive us our sins, but God does so much more. He has made us His children, given us His Spirit, made us fellow-heirs with Jesus…and far more! What gives us the right to gripe about the little things? What He has given is enough!
    2. But God does give more. He gives us breath every day – He gives our heart more opportunities to beat – He gives us food to eat and water to drink and clothes to wear. It may not be luxury, and some people have vastly more than others, but God gives. He gives, and gives, and gives. Be thankful, and don’t lose faith!

2 Then the whole congregation of the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3 And the children of Israel said to them, “Oh, that we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the pots of meat and when we ate bread to the full! For you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

  1. Who complained? Everyone! “The whole congregation of the children of Israel.” Remember that there were over 600,000 Hebrew men alone. With the combination of women, children, and the mixed multitude of Egyptians, there were at least 2 million people present. All of them (or at least the overwhelming majority of them) grumbled/murmured/complained against Moses & Aaron. These two men were the spokespeople of God, and they were the ones who took the brunt of the national anger. Thirty days had gone by, their few provisions they had brought from Egypt had been used up, and they were hungry out in the middle of the wilderness. Keep in mind, no one is recorded to have starved to death, but the people were still cranky and complaining…to ridiculous extremes. They claimed to prefer to have been killed by YHWH in Egypt, rather than for Him to allow them to die in the wilderness. Back in Egypt, they imagined huge potluck stews & bountiful bread – never mind that they were slaves without access to any of it! But they thought it better to have died back there by the hand of God, than to waste away in the desert.
  2. Don’t miss the extent of their complaint: if they said God should have killed them in Egypt, they were despising Passover itself! They thought it was better not to have been covered by the blood of the Passover lamb, and have the Angel of YHWH personally kill them, rather than go hungry. How shortsighted! They despised their own salvation because of a temporary discomfort.
    1. We can be a complaining people! But don’t lose sight of what is most important. To be starving, naked, and thirsty while being eternally saved is far better than living the life of luxury while being eternally lost. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet still lose his soul? (Mt 16:26)

4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I will rain bread from heaven for you. And the people shall go out and gather a certain quota every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in My law or not. 5 And it shall be on the sixth day that they shall prepare what they bring in, and it shall be twice as much as they gather daily.”

  1. Not only would the people not die of starvation, they would be filled to abundance. God promised to “rain bread from heaven.” So much bread would come, that they would never be hungry again in the wilderness. (And they wouldn’t! For 40 years, it would come on a daily basis.)
  2. The daily bread would be God’s provision, but more than that, it would be a “test.” More will be said on it later, but the type of test is made clear: God would test the Hebrews’ trust of Him on the Sabbath. Would they trust Him? Time would tell.
    1. Does God test us? Yes! Interestingly, as with Greek, the Hebrew word for “test” could be translated several ways. It can mean to test/try – it can mean to train – it can mean to tempt. God does not tempt us with evil, but He does test us to prove & strengthen our faith. He uses situations to train us, helping us be molded and conformed into the image of Christ… God does not tempt us with evil (Jas 1:13), but He does test us & prove us as gold being refined.

6 Then Moses and Aaron said to all the children of Israel, “At evening you shall know that the LORD has brought you out of the land of Egypt.

  1. At this point, was there any doubt? Apparently so! Even at this time, just 30 days after Passover, there were Hebrews not convinced that YHWH God was living, active, and had delivered them from Egypt.
    1. What will it take for some to believe? The proof is abundant! The only obstacle is our proud flesh that stands in the way.

7 And in the morning you shall see the glory of the LORD; for He hears your complaints against the LORD. But what are we, that you complain against us?” 8 Also Moses said, “This shall be seen when the LORD gives you meat to eat in the evening, and in the morning bread to the full; for the LORD hears your complaints which you make against Him. And what are we? Your complaints are not against us but against the LORD.”

  1. Note: God heard their complaints. As terrible as it was that the people grumbled against God, God showed incredible mercy in hearing their grumbling. Their complaints did not cause God to strike them dead (as they deserved); God went so far as to give them an audience. He graciously heard them, and had a plan to provide for them. (Which will be detailed in a moment.)
  2. And it was obvious they were complaining against God; not Moses. The people may have raised their voices against Moses & Aaron, but the truth of the matter was clear. Moses didn’t have any control over the destination or the lack of food. It was the Lord who led them, so it would be the Lord who provided for them. The people could not pretend to be “religious” toward God while being hateful toward Moses. Their hate & grumbling was directed to only One person: God. (They may as well have been honest about it!)
  • A providing God (9-36)

9 Then Moses spoke to Aaron, “Say to all the congregation of the children of Israel, ‘Come near before the LORD, for He has heard your complaints.’ ” 10 Now it came to pass, as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the children of Israel, that they looked toward the wilderness, and behold, the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

  1. God gave the people an invitation to see how He would answer their grumbling. He most definitely had a plan for them, and He wanted them to see it for themselves.
  2. First, God answered through His glorious presence: “the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.” God was there. Of course, God being omnipresent, He is always present; God simply gave a visible sign of His presence among Israel at that time. (Can you imagine the sight? Can you imagine the reaction to the weighty & powerful glory of God?)

11 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 12 “I have heard the complaints of the children of Israel. Speak to them, saying, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall be filled with bread. And you shall know that I am the LORD your God.’ ”

  1. Second, God answered through His verbal promise. Provision was coming! There would be both meat and bread – the very things the people longed for in verse 3 (pots of meat & bread to the full). And there would be no doubt that YHWH Himself had provided it. It would come in such a miraculous way that it could not be written off to coincidence. 
  2. What grace that God answers a complaining people!

13 So it was that quails came up at evening and covered the camp, and in the morning the dew lay all around the camp. 14 And when the layer of dew lifted, there, on the surface of the wilderness, was a small round substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 So when the children of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “This is the bread which the LORD has given you to eat.

  1. Meat for dinner; bread for breakfast. Not much is said about the quail, as it seems this was a one-time provision by God given at twilight that night, according to His promise. (There will be a later event with quail that would be associated with God’s judgment.) It was the bread/manna that got the most attention. The people may have understood the massive flocks of birds landing among them in the evening, but the mystery was when they awoke the next day. All kind of beaded-substance was on the ground, and they didn’t know what to make of it.
  2. What was it? Great question! So much so, that the question became the name. (מָ֣ן ה֔וּא) Moses attempted to provide a better label. Better than calling it “What?”, was to recognize it as the gift of God.
    1. Ultimately, this gift was a picture of Jesus! Jesus explicitly says as much when confronting the Jews of Galilee who searched Him out simply to get more bread, after Jesus fed the 5000. John 6:47–51, “(47) Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life. (48) I am the bread of life. (49) Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and are dead. (50) This is the bread which comes down from heaven, that one may eat of it and not die. (51) I am the living bread which came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever; and the bread that I shall give is My flesh, which I shall give for the life of the world.” Jesus is the bread of life! He is the true manna given by God for the world.
  3. What were they supposed to do with the “what”? Instructions are given starting in verse 16…

16 This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: ‘Let every man gather it according to each one’s need, one omer for each person, according to the number of persons; let every man take for those who are in his tent.’ ” 17 Then the children of Israel did so and gathered, some more, some less. 18 So when they measured it by omers, he who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack. Every man had gathered according to each one’s need. 19 And Moses said, “Let no one leave any of it till morning.”

  1. There was enough for individual needs. Families large and small would have enough to gather and eat for an entire day. There was enough bread for two million people on a daily basis…that’s a lot of manna!
  2. But only enough for the individual day. The people were given a specific command not to store any of the manna away. They were to gather for the day, but not hoard it for later. God wanted the people trust Him not just one day a week, but 7 days a week. They were to be dependent on Him on a daily basis. 

20 Notwithstanding they did not heed Moses. But some of them left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. 21 So they gathered it every morning, every man according to his need. And when the sun became hot, it melted.

  1. People still disobeyed and tested the Lord! Disobeying the command, they found it was physically impossible to store the bread. Although it was good to eat all day long, at night it rotted. This too, emphasized the supernatural provision of God. The bread was a miraculous gift, and it had a miraculous rot. Unless God gave it & unless God sustained it, it wasn’t good for anything.
    1. That doesn’t just go for bread; that’s the truth for all things! All good gifts are gifts from God, and they need to be used according to God’s word for God’s glory. Be it our finances, our food, our opportunities, or anything else, recognize it as God’s gift, and use it for God’s glory.

22 And so it was, on the sixth day, that they gathered twice as much bread, two omers for each one. And all the rulers of the congregation came and told Moses. 23 Then he said to them, “This is what the LORD has said: ‘Tomorrow is a Sabbath rest, a holy Sabbath to the LORD. Bake what you will bake today, and boil what you will boil; and lay up for yourselves all that remains, to be kept until morning.’ ” 24 So they laid it up till morning, as Moses commanded; and it did not stink, nor were there any worms in it.

  1. Sabbath exception. On the 6th day, people were to make preparations for two days. This was another miracle, as shown in the fact that this was the only day of the week the manna didn’t rot!
  2. Further explanation in verse 25…

25 Then Moses said, “Eat that today, for today is a Sabbath to the LORD; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it, but on the seventh day, the Sabbath, there will be none.” 27 Now it happened that some of the people went out on the seventh day to gather, but they found none. 28 And the LORD said to Moses, “How long do you refuse to keep My commandments and My laws? 29 See! For the LORD has given you the Sabbath; therefore He gives you on the sixth day bread for two days. Let every man remain in his place; let no man go out of his place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.

  1. Why would nothing be found on the 7th day? Because God had already provided on the 6th. This too, was tested by the Hebrews, and they failed the test of God.
  2. The lesson? Trust in God’s provision of rest. Trust in Jesus! Trust the fact that God has already provided for our sins when He gave us His Son.

31 And the house of Israel called its name Manna. And it was like white coriander seed, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey.

  1. Again, the naming of the bread was simply a repetition of the question. (Hebrew transliterated.) It looked like seed/grain on the ground every morning, and tasted like honey graham crackers. Coriander is another name for cilantro – it wasn’t the actual cilantro plant seed on the ground; the manna simply had a similar look & size to it. 

32 Then Moses said, “This is the thing which the LORD has commanded: ‘Fill an omer with it, to be kept for your generations, that they may see the bread with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’ ” 33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a pot and put an omer of manna in it, and lay it up before the LORD, to be kept for your generations.”

  1. Commanded to remember God’s provision. A small portion was to be set aside, because future generations would never know the daily experience of collecting the manna, so one portion would be kept (never rotting!) which would serve as proof/an example of what God had done. It would be reminder to all that God had provided sustaining life for their ancestors, and God would do the same for them, too.
  2. We still need to remember! This is why we celebrate communion. “Do this in remembrance of Me.” (Lk 22:19) When we partake, we are not re-sacrificing Jesus; we’re remembering the provision of His one sacrifice, fully sufficient for all sin for all time. We remember, and we worship!

34 As the LORD commanded Moses, so Aaron laid it up before the Testimony, to be kept. 35 And the children of Israel ate manna forty years, until they came to an inhabited land; they ate manna until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 Now an omer is one-tenth of an ephah.

  1. Verses 34-35 seem to be later editorial insertions, as the ark of the testimony had not yet been built, nor had the children of Israel gone through their wilderness wanderings. Moses could have written this in prior to his death, or Joshua could have added it later. Neither takes away from inspiration of Scripture or Mosaic authorship of the Torah.
  2. How much was an ephah & omer? Estimates vary, depending on the scholar – anywhere from 15-23 liters (3.3 – 5 gallons). The omer was 1/10th the size (~ 2 liters / .5 gallon).

Exodus 17

  • God provides water (1-17). A complaining people (1-4)

1 Then all the congregation of the children of Israel set out on their journey from the Wilderness of Sin, according to the commandment of the LORD, and camped in Rephidim; but there was no water for the people to drink.

  1. Notice they started up on their journey again at the “commandment of the LORD.” To this point, they are still being led by the pillar of cloud & fire (Exo 13:21-22). Put it together, and it makes it clear that God purposefully took the people to a place of no water. God had a plan, if only the people would trust Him. 

2 Therefore the people contended with Moses, and said, “Give us water, that we may drink.” So Moses said to them, “Why do you contend with me? Why do you tempt the LORD?”

  1. Had they learned nothing!? Already they contend & grumble again. And Moses called them out on it. God had earlier tested the people with the manna; now the people were testing/tempting the Lord with their doubt!
    1. How might God be tempted/tested in this case? With His wrath! How often can His grace be despised, and Him not react? There comes a time when His patience ends & His wrath is poured out. For individuals, it is at the last breath of someone who has refused Jesus; for the world, it will come during the years of the Great Tribulation. Either way, it is coming…of that, we can be sure!
  2. Question: Is doubt sinful? Not always – sometimes, it’s simply our natural response borne out of fear or confusion. But sometimes, yes, doubt can be sinful in that certain kinds of doubt are kin to rebellion. This was certainly the case with the Hebrews. Their contention was like a lawsuit they leveled against God, as if God was in breech of contract. For us, perhaps sometimes we treat God the same way.
    1. Be careful! God is gracious towards us, but He is not obligated to us. Never forget that God is God & we’re not. All we have is based on the grace & love of Jesus Christ. He is our only hope & our only appeal.
  3. Even this didn’t stop the peoples’ complaints…

3 And the people thirsted there for water, and the people complained against Moses, and said, “Why is it you have brought us up out of Egypt, to kill us and our children and our livestock with thirst?” 4 So Moses cried out to the LORD, saying, “What shall I do with this people? They are almost ready to stone me!”

  1. Just as they did before, the people “complained against Moses,” this time accusing him of killing them.
  2. At this point, Moses had a legitimate fear of death, and he “cried out to the LORD.” … Was Moses complaining? Yes & no. He grumbled, but he wasn’t grumbling against God; he was taking his needs to The people complained without asking the Lord for help – they complained believing the worst about God & God’s servant. Moses complaint (if it can be called a “complaint”) was directed to God as an appeal for help, trusting that God would speak and act. The people complained in distrust & rebelliousness; Moses complained in faith and submission to God’s will.
    1. It is good & right to take our requests to God…even when our requests are soaked in honest emotion. As long as we are submitted to the Lord, it is a good thing; the problem comes when our requests aren’t for the Lord but against Him.
  • A providing God (5-7)

5 And the LORD said to Moses, “Go on before the people, and take with you some of the elders of Israel. Also take in your hand your rod with which you struck the river, and go. 6 Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock in Horeb; and you shall strike the rock, and water will come out of it, that the people may drink.” And Moses did so in the sight of the elders of Israel.

  1. God already had a plan for the moment. A rock struck in the presence of the elders of Israel… Water sufficient for 2 million people + their livestock… A true miracle! … Why the elders? Among 2 million people, it would be next to impossible to see the actions of a single man as he struck the rock with the rod of God. The elders would serve as witnesses to the supernatural intervention of God.
  2. Ultimately, this was a picture of Jesus. Writing to the Corinthians about their need to walk and faith & holiness, following the examples given in the Scripture, Paul said: 1 Corinthians 10:1–4, “(1) Moreover, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware that all our fathers were under the cloud, all passed through the sea, (2) all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, (3) all ate the same spiritual food, (4) and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ.” Don’t miss how the historical events of the Old Testament picture the work of Christ Jesus in the New Testament. Especially here – the Rock struck by Moses symbolized none other than the Lord Jesus. YHWH God had promised Moses that He would personally be with Moses at the rock in the region of Horeb, and He was…apparently in the rock itself! The rock was struck and life-giving waters flowed, prefiguring the moment when Jesus as the Rock would be struck at the cross & He would give the waters of life.
    1. It is also perhaps one reason why Moses was not allowed into the Promised Land after a second very similar instance in Numbers 20. God commanded Moses to simply speak to the rock for water to flow, and instead Moses struck the rock – not just once, but twice in anger (Num 20:10-11). Not only did Moses disobey the direct command of the Lord God, but he destroyed the picture of Christ as the Rock. Jesus was struck upon the cross only once; no further strike or re-sacrifice was ever necessary.

7 So he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the contention of the children of Israel, and because they tempted the LORD, saying, “Is the LORD among us or not?”

  1. There had been constant contention against God, and it was forever memorialized in Moses’ naming of the place. “Massah” = test/trial/proving, and comes from the same root word for test/try/tempt used in 16:4 & 17:2. “Meribah” = strife/contention, and comes from the same root word for “contention” here in 17:7.
  2. How amazing is it that the people still doubted? They didn’t just doubt the Lord’s provision; they doubted His presence among them & His love for them! “Is the LORD among us or not?” How much more could God have done?
  • God provides victory (8-16). Current war with Amalek (8-13)

8 Now Amalek came and fought with Israel in Rephidim.

  1. Who was Amalek? This was a nation distantly related to Israel, as they were descended from Esau. They become thorns in the side for the Hebrews, popping up from time to time threatening their very existence. In this first instance, Amalek tried to attack the fledgling nation newly freed from slavery. They had no training in warfare, but they were forced to step up to the plate quickly!
  2. The question becomes: had God now abandoned Israel? The people had doubted God’s provision of food – they doubted God’s provision of water. What would happen when it came to battle?

9 And Moses said to Joshua, “Choose us some men and go out, fight with Amalek. Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the rod of God in my hand.” 10 So Joshua did as Moses said to him, and fought with Amalek. And Moses, Aaron, and Hur went up to the top of the hill.

  1. Nothing is recorded of God speaking to Moses at this time, but undoubtedly there as a God-given plan in motion. There would be two battle fronts engaged that day: (1) physical, (2) spiritual. Joshua (1st mention of him in Scripture) would lead the chosen Hebrew warriors into physical battle, and Moses would engage in spiritual warfare on a hill overlooking the battlefield.
  2. Behind every physical front, there is always a spiritual battle! We do not battle against flesh & blood, but against powers & principalities, etc. (Eph 6:12). We need to recognize our battles as spiritual, and battle them through spiritual means. That means we go to God in prayer – it means we act according to the Bible – it means we let God be our defense, standing firm on His truth. Moses could have rushed to the front of the battle alongside Joshua – he likely had the most military training of all of them, due to his upbringing among Egyptian royalty. Instead, he realized that what was needed was spiritual war, and at the time, he was the only one among Israel who would wage it. – Recognize the kind of battle you face, and fight it appropriately. Stand fast in spiritual strength!

11 And so it was, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed; and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. 12 But Moses’ hands became heavy; so they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. And Aaron and Hur supported his hands, one on one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. 13 So Joshua defeated Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.

  1. The things that happened spiritually with Moses affected what happened physically with the people. When his hands were raised, Israel went forth in the power of God; when his hands fell, Israel was weakened. It wasn’t anything magical about the rod, or even the position of Moses’ hands; it was symbolic picturing their dependence upon God. When Moses lifted his hands in a position of prayer, it was as if God fought the battle for them; when his hands lowered, Israel fought in their own strength (i.e., none).
  2. What to do when Moses’ arms tired? He needed help from his brothers in the Lord! Help was provided by Aaron & Hur as they sat Moses down & raised his hands for him. What a great picture of the body of Christ working together! As Paul wrote, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ,” (Gal 6:2).
  3. The result? Victory! God provided total victory over the enemy…
  • Perpetual war with Amalek (14-16)

14 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven.”

  1. The battle was to be remembered…especially by Joshua. Why Joshua? Because he would need to remember the provision of God when Joshua eventually took over leadership of the nation of Israel. Just as he had seen God work through Moses at this time, Joshua would need to trust God to work through him later. This battle helped prepare Joshua for future battles to come. 
  2. Question: Is it a contradiction to remember the battle, while God would “blot out the remembrance of Amalek”? Not necessarily. The fact that this battle was recorded in Scripture ensures that the nation of Amalek would be remembered. The phrase God used was an idiom (figurative language) promising the destruction of the Amalekite people. He would “blot [them] out,” or scrape them off – as if ink was scraped off of vellum (animal skin) used as a type of paper. The people would be destroyed…and they were. The Amalekites no longer exist, due to the judgment of God.

15 And Moses built an altar and called its name, The-LORD-Is-My-Banner; 16 for he said, “Because the LORD has sworn: the LORD will have war with Amalek from generation to generation.”

  1. Not only did Moses memorialize the battle in writing, but he memorialized it in worship, by building an altar. “YHWH Nissi” = “The LORD is my banner” ~ my flag, my standard, my ‘rallying point.’ When an army begins to struggle in battle, they could look to their national flag still waving for a boost of confidence. This is what the Lord God was for Moses & the Hebrews. They could look to Him as their confidence & their strength.
  2. God gave the Hebrews victory over the Amalekites in the present, promised the destruction of the Amalekites in the future, and guaranteed that there would be no reconciliation with them ever. In a sense God would have perpetual “ware with Amalek from generation to generation.” Why? Because there is no reconciliation with the flesh. That which tries to destroy the work of God can never be compromised with – there can be no negotiation. (This would be seen in later generations with Saul & Esther…)

Conclusion:

Our God is a grand provider! For the Hebrews, He provided meat & manna in the wilderness – water from a dry rock – and victory from a terrifying enemy. Though they grumbled and complained against Him constantly, God was merciful & was faithful to provide.

He has provided for us, too: He has provided us Jesus! Jesus is the bread from heaven, the bread of life – Jesus is the living water of God – Jesus is our victory over the terrifying enemy of death. Jesus is all the provision we need! Yet we still grumble against God. We wonder how He will feed & clothe us – we complain how our bills might not be paid – we contend against Him when it comes to our health. All of these are important things, but they are not the most important thing. Of most importance is our rescue from eternal death and our reconciliation with God, and all of that is assured in Christ Jesus. But with Jesus providing that, can we not trust God for the rest?

This is what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 6:31–34, “(31) “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ (32) For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. (33) But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. (34) Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Seek Jesus first, and trust God to provide the rest. Don’t grumble against God; trust Him. Don’t complain that He isn’t doing things your way according to your timetable; rest in God’s wisdom and provision, knowing that He hears you, knows you, loves you, and provides for you. That is simply who He is.

The Spirit Works!

Posted: November 25, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 12:25 – 13:12, “The Spirit Works!”

It’s one thing to work; it’s another thing to work in the right way. Some people can sweat buckets without accomplishing anything, whereas someone else might make one change and be highly effective. It’s the difference between using an old-school rotary push mower, and a gas-powered lawn tractor. Same project + different tools = massive results! As it’s often said: “Work smarter; not harder.” Perhaps it’s better to say: “Work hard…but still work smart!”

If that’s true regarding yardwork, construction, and dozens of other things, why would we expect it to be any different regarding the Great Commission? There’s working, and then there’s working smart. There is trying to accomplish the work of God in the power of ourselves, and then there is doing the work of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. The former is fruitless; the latter is glorious!

Beware of something right up front: It would be easy to listen to a message about the missionary work of Paul and Barnabas and write off any application as being limited to pastors and missionaries only. Why would anyone else in the church pay attention? What do the ministry events of Paul and Barnabas have to the “regular” Christians in the church? After all, it’s not as if most Christians are going to be standing before governors and city officials preaching the gospel. Right? Wrong. In most cases, so-called “regular” Christians will have far more interaction with community leaders and other local people than pastors and missionaries. Think about it: for 40-50-60+ hours per week, where are most people located? At work. For pastors, that’s normally in a church or around other Christians. For everyone else, it’s out in the world, among everyone else (i.e., non-Christians). That means that it is the layperson (the “regular” Christian) that has the most opportunity to proclaim the good news of Jesus on a daily basis, far more than a pastor or any other church staff person. This is something the Bible recognizes, which is why Paul wrote to the Ephesians that the officers of the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastor-teachers) equip “the saints for the work of the ministry,” (Eph 4:12). Pastors certainly do the work of evangelists & preach the gospel at every opportunity, but it is the congregation that has far more “regular” opportunities to do it. That being the case, the happenings of Paul & Barnabas in their missionary ministry has much to do with every Christian!

One thing that was abundantly clear with Paul and Barnabas from the very beginning was the importance of working under the leading of, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. Some Christians try to do the work of God on their own & wonder why they fail. Other people actively oppose the Holy Spirit, rebelling against the work of God altogether…and again, wonder why they fail. We aren’t to oppose the Spirit nor resist Him; we are to surrender to Him & follow Him. That is when we will see success in the things God has called us to do!

We pick up in a major transitional section in the book of Acts as Luke officially moves his attention from the ministry of Peter and the church of Jerusalem to the ministry of Paul and the church of Antioch. The church in Antioch of Syria has already been introduced, and Luke described wonderful ministry taking place. Christians had arrived from all over the Roman empire preaching the gospel in this major city, and many people were being saved. Jerusalem heard about the work, sent Barnabas to investigate, and he found he had so much work to do that he sought out Saul (soon to be known as Paul) from nearby Tarsus to help. Together, they ministered side-by-side in Antioch, pastoring and teaching the Christians for a year before the church sent the two of them to Jerusalem for the purpose of delivering a financial gift to the people there (who were soon to suffer a famine).

Meanwhile, Peter continued ministering around Jerusalem & Judea, and was eventually arrested by Herod Agrippa I, as the new king increased his opposition against the Jerusalem church. Once again, God showed Himself more powerful than kings, and He sent an angel to deliver Peter from the prison (much to the chagrin of the guards who came up empty the next morning!). Freed, Peter reported the news to a group of Christians who were praying for him at the home of Mary, the mother of John Mark, and Peter left for another undisclosed location.

Aside from a brief appearance of Peter in Acts 15, this is the last the book shows of him, and Luke fully turns his attention to Saul/Paul and his various ministry partners, of which Barnabas and John Mark are the first. They begin their ministry, almost immediately encounter opposition, and see God work wonders as people are brought to faith.

How does it all happen? Through the work of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit separated Paul and Barnabas to the work, and the Spirit sent & empowered Paul & Barnabas for what was at hand. It was all the work of the Spirit; the Christians simply needed to follow His lead.

Don’t oppose the Spirit! Listen to Him & follow His lead!

Acts 12:25

  • The Spirit speaks (12:25-13:3). Are you listening?

25 And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their ministry, and they also took with them John whose surname was Mark.

  1. Before all the action can take place with Barnabas & Saul, they have to first get back home to Antioch. Remember that they had been sent by the church to deliver a financial gift to the Jerusalem Christians based on a prophecy that was received about a coming famine. Barnabas and Saul had been sent as the Antiochian representatives, undertaking the several-day trip together. Once they were there, they obviously met with many people, including Barnabas’ relative Mary & her son John Mark (last seen hearing the news of Peter’s escape from prison). Apparently the three men all hit it off, and when it was time to return to Antioch, John Mark went with them – thus showing how all three ended up in ministry together.
  2. BTW – John Mark often gets a lot of criticism for his later abandonment of Paul & Barnabas on the mission field, but he ought to receive at least some credit for his beginning (as well as his eventual reconciliation & end). Here was a young man that stepped out in faith from the start, leaving his home to go travel with his cousin to a new place to do a new work. He had no idea what was in store, but he had already seen God work in wonderful ways through Peter and the other Jerusalem Christians (and had potentially even seen and known Jesus just prior to His crucifixion), and once John Mark knew he had a chance of being used by God, he jumped at it. He started well, stumbled along the way, but came back & finished well. Praise God for his willingness to start! Praise God for his eventual repentance & restoration!
    1. What hope this ought to give all of us as Christians! Who among us can claim a perfect walk with Jesus? Who can say we’ve always done what was right all the time? If John Mark can be restored, so can we! This is all part of the grace of God available to us in Jesus.

Acts 13:1–12

1 Now in the church that was at Antioch there were certain prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.

  1. There were five prominent leaders in Antioch, which makes sense considering the size of the church within the city. Not only was Antioch one of the largest cities in the empire (third only to Rome and Alexandria), but so many people had come to faith in Christ that multiple teachers were required from many other areas. The city had initially had evangelists come from Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Cyrene (Lebanon, an island nation in the Mediterranean, and North Africa), but they also had Barnabas from Jerusalem, and even Barnabas required extra help from Saul. “Many hands make light work,” and in Antioch, it was “all hands on deck!” In this case, the leaders were listed as “prophets and teachers.” Other prophets had already been seen in Antioch (Agabus – Acts 11:28), but there were other known prophets within the church leadership. What they spoke & how they spoke isn’t known, not being recorded in Scripture (showing that prophecy is not the same thing as Scripture), but even though what they said wasn’t necessary for all Christians for all time, it was definitely necessary for the Christians in Antioch. (Different gifts, one body – all necessary!)
  2. Of these leaders, they came from a wide variety of backgrounds!
    1. Barnabas, a Levite from Cyprus (Acts 4:36) who spent much time helping to lead the church in Jerusalem. He’s been seen several times in the book of Acts already, having a true ministry of encouragement to other believers.
    2. Simeon, with the nickname of “Niger” (dark/black). His nickname suggests he was perhaps from North Africa – some of theorized that this was the same as Simon of Cyrene who helped carry the cross of Jesus (Mark 15:21). There’s no way to verify whether it was the same man, but it is certainly a possibility.
    3. Lucius (Latinized version of “Luke”) from the north African city of Cyrene. This is definitely a different person than Dr. Luke the author, as the writing-Luke doesn’t make an appearance until much later in Paul’s ministry.
    4. Manaen, who seemed to have been a boyhood friend of Herod Antipas (known here as “Herod the tetrach”). He would have had royal connections, and a reputation among the Roman elite.
    5. Saul of Tarsus, the rabbinical student of Gamiliel, Pharisee of Pharisees, and former persecutor of the church.
  3. What did these men do? They prophesied, they taught, and they prayed

2 As they ministered to the Lord and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, “Now separate to Me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”

  1. Former ministry success did not lessen the need for prayer and seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit. On the contrary; it increased! Remember, people in Antioch had come to faith by the droves. There were constant needs for discipleship, preaching, and other forms of service. But that meant that there was even more need for prayer, and the five leaders ensured they made time to seek the Lord. They dedicated themselves to God, even taking time to fast – something commonly practiced to submit the needs of the physical body to the needs of the spirit. Normally people are driven by physical desires (hunger, thirst, sleep, etc.) with spiritual practices coming in second place. Fasting intentionally turns it upside-down by filling spiritual hunger first through prayer, temporarily putting the body’s needs last.
    1. Contrary to what some believe, fasting isn’t a way to intensify your prayer and manipulate God into giving you what you want. It’s a way to increase your own dependence upon God as you (1) trust Jesus to sustain you, and (2) use every hunger pang as a physical reminder to pray. Medically speaking, not everyone can physically fast, but for those who can, it’s a beneficial practice.
  2. In this midst of this, the Spirit spoke. Please don’t miss this! As important as what it was the Spirit had to say, don’t miss the fact that God the Holy Spirit actually said it. Some believe that the Spirit is the “silent partner” of the Trinity, that He never calls attention to Himself. Not so! The Holy Spirit is just as much God as is God the Father & God the Son, and He can speak, lead, guide, and command just as much as the Father & Jesus. He is just as much worthy of worship as the Father & Son because He is equally part of the Trinity. When we worship God, we inherently worship Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, as They are One. The key is Biblical balance. Typically, the Bible shows prayers addressed to the Father in the name of the Son through the power of the Holy Spirit (with the Holy Spirit praying for us at the same time). If we keep that balance, we are on solid Biblical ground.
  3. The Spirit called. He had a plan for Barnabas & Saul, and the time had come to put it in action. The word for “separate” speaks of setting apart, appointing, marking boundaries. Barnabas and Saul were to be roped off for the “work” which God the Spirit had for them. Although Barnabas & Saul had an active ministry in Antioch, God had something else in mind for them. They were to be exclusively dedicated to it.
    1. Keep in mind that it wasn’t that one calling was bad & the other better; they were simply different. Simeon, Lucius, and Manaen are not heard of again in Scripture, but it doesn’t mean that what they did in Antioch was unimportant. On the contrary! To the Antiochian Christians, they were beloved & valued. These men were their pastors & teachers – they were the continued evangelists & disciple-makers. Barnabas and Saul were called by the Spirit to do this work on the mission field; the others were called by the Spirit to do it at home. All of it was necessary, and all of it valued.
    2. This is part of what it means to be a member of a church family. All of us have different roles, different callings from God, different gifts given by the Holy Spirit…and all of them are necessary. God has called some to foreign mission fields – He’s called others to share the gospel through Sunday School curriculum right here at home. God has given some the gift of evangelism – He’s given others the gift of hospitality & service. Which one is most valuable? ALL of it is valuable! We need everyone in the church exercising the gifts God the Holy Spirit has distributed to each one in order to be most effective for the Kingdom of Christ. Think about it: if Barnabas & Saul hadn’t been set apart for their ministry, there would have been a lack (and all of us would have suffered!). But the same thing is true in the opposite direction. If all the leadership at Antioch would have left for the mission field, who would have stayed and discipled the Christians at home? God has a calling for every Christian, and all of us need to walk it what it is the Lord has called us to do, for the benefit of all.
  4. How did the church learn of this calling? Through prayer. God the Holy Spirit led them & spoke to them as they sought Him through prayer. How important it is for a church to pray! How important it is for Christians to seek the Lord! Born-again believers worship and serve the Living God, and we need to expect a God who lives to be a God who leads. But we won’t know how the Lord leads if we never ask. So we pray – we study His word – we submit ourselves to His will – we fast – we seek Him and we listen to Him! We do it in prayer services, in small groups, in families, and as individuals. There is no one way to seek the Lord in prayer; there is just a necessity to actually seek Him!
    1. When was the last time you truly sought the Lord? Thankfully we pray quite often, and we’ve even prayed as a church body already this morning (several times). But when was the last time you sought the Lord, prayed for His leading, and waited? More often than not, our prayers are lists of requests – they are us telling God what we want. (And the Bible tells us to do this! We are to make our requests known to God – Phil 4:6.) But more then telling God what we want, we need to ask God what He We need to truly seek Him & His will.
    2. And He will answer! We don’t have to engage in some mystical practice or wait for some kind of writing in the sky, but we can know that God will answer our prayers. Sometimes it’s through His still small voice speaking to our hearts – quite often it is as we read His word (which is why it is good to have your Bible with you when you pray) – sometimes it’s through the unity that He gives to born-again believers. However God chooses to give His answer & guidance, you won’t know if you never seek Him and ask. So seek Him!
    3. BTW – This sort of seeking in prayer can only be done by born-again believing Christians. If you aren’t yet a Christian, there is only one seeking in prayer that God wants for you: to seek Jesus in faith for forgiveness & grace! Whether you know it or not, your most important need is not whatever your circumstances may be (and the stuff for which we normally pray); your most important need is for you to be forgiven of your sins & be made a child of God. That only happens through faith in Christ…
  5. How did the church leadership respond to this calling from the Holy Spirit for Barnabas and Saul? They prayed some more…

3 Then, having fasted and prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them away.

  1. Everything they did was covered in prayer! They continued fasting, they continued praying. But it didn’t stop at prayer. The church prayed, and then they acted. “They sent them away.” Barnabas & Saul were not truly separated for the Spirit’s work until they were sent away. It was one thing to have hands laid on them in prayer; it was something different to hit the road.
    1. Faith always has feet! 
  2. The church sent them away, but the church wasn’t the only ones…
  • Led by the Spirit (13:4-12). Are you following?

4 So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, …

  1. Who sent who? Did the church at Antioch send Barnabas & Saul into ministry, or did the Holy Spirit? Yes – both! Yet they did so in different ways. Interestingly, the words translated “sent” are different between verse 3 & verse 4. In verse 3, the church “sent away” (set free, released, dismissed) the missionaries; in verse 4 the Spirit “sent [them] out” (send away for a purpose). The church released Barnabas & Saul to their Spirit-ordained ministry; the Holy Spirit purposefully sent them forth. Who was in charge of the ministry? God! It may have been Barnabas & Saul on the road, but they didn’t invent their calling. It may have been the church at Antioch that laid hands on them & got them moving, but it wasn’t their work. This was the will of God for them, and the work of God that set it into action. God the Holy Spirit called, commanded, and generally led the work done through everyone else. If God wasn’t doing it, no one else needed to be a part of it!
    1. Who cares about doing the work of men? We want to do the work of God! That means we need to be submitted to God, and do the things He has called us to do. There are a lot of good ideas put out by a lot of well-meaning people; but good ideas can also be good distractions. What has the Lord called us as a local church to do? That’s what we are to do. What has the Lord called you to do? Do that!

…they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. 5 And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant.

  1. Cyprus was an interesting choice for the mission to begin, as it was Barnabas’ original home (Acts 4:36). We aren’t told the reason why they began there, but it’s possible that Barnabas knew of the need of the gospel on the island (although the island already had quite a few Christians, as seen in chapter 11), as well as it being a somewhat familiar place for beginning. The missionary group could ease into the work, having a few familiar surroundings as they got started. Ultimately, it didn’t matter where they preached; it just mattered that they preached. After all, everyone needs the forgiveness of Jesus, so every place is a legitimate mission field! 
  2. Once in Cyprus, what did they do? They took the gospel first to the Jews. They went first to the “synagogues” (plural!) and preached there. It was a logical place to begin, considering that the three men were all ethnically & culturally Jewish, so they started with their own people. Theologically, it was the right place to begin. Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, the fulfillment of Jewish prophecies, the Son of David & King of Israel. The Hebrew people were the first to be given the Scriptures, and they were most familiar with the expectation of the Messiah (prophesied from Adam to Abraham & onward). When the Messiah came, Jesus first walked & ministered among the Jews before He ever worked with others (hardly even going beyond the borders of Judea). As Paul later wrote to the Romans, the gospel of salvation is given “for the Jew first and also for the Greek,” (Rom 1:16). If, Barnabas & Saul, being Jews, did not first take the gospel to the Jews, not only would they have missed a wonderful opportunity, they would have been downright negligent!
    1. What about us – are we to do the same? Keep in mind we are in a different situation. The first decade (or so) of the church’s existence was almost exclusively dedicated to giving the gospel to the Jews, and (for the most part) the Jewish nation rejected it. That said, the gospel has still gone to the Jews throughout the centuries & still goes to them today. (As a church, we specifically support a missionary family living in Israel giving the gospel to Jews.) But we don’t have the same platform as Barnabas & Saul. As Gentiles, we don’t have the same opportunities. (Not worse; just different.)
  3. John Mark went with them, being the cousin of Barnabas. What he did as an “assistant” is unknown. The term was often used of synagogue assistants and other religious service-positions. Perhaps he helped with the ministry supplies, or served as a kind of “gopher” (go-fer). We might think of it in terms of an apprenticeship or internship. It was a terrific opportunity for the young man (though it wouldn’t last).

6 Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, 7 who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God.

  1. Paphos was on the far side of the island (about 90 miles away), and there was likely much ministry in-between. What happened along the way, we don’t know, though surely it was a great introduction to the work the Spirit had called them to do. Eventually, the group traversed the island & ended up at the next port-city, which was also home to the capital.
  2. Once there, they encountered their first major opposition. In a parallel to Peter’s own ministry in Samaria, Saul & Barnabas encounter a “a certain sorcerer, a false prophet.” A sorcerer (pagan magician) is a false prophet, by definition! Anyone that relies on demonic powers for revelation is going to preach lies, even when they might contain kernels of truth. After all, how can you trust anything that is given to you by the devil? (It’s like eating a cyanide-laced brownie: how much do you want to try eating before you think it will kill you?) What made it worse was that the man was a Jew. It was one thing for Simon of Samaria to be a sorcerer – he was a Samaritan, with a false view of the Bible to begin with. Simon had a terrible foundation; Bar-Jesus had no such excuse. Bar-Jesus knew the truth of the Hebrew Scriptures; he chose to ignore them. Ethnically he was still a Jew, being physically descended from Abraham; spiritually he was a total pagan, having abandoned the faith of his fathers.
    1. Many people in Christian churches find themselves in a similar situation! They might hold an identity as a “Christian,” perhaps even be an upstanding member of a local church. Yet if they don’t have sincere faith, it doesn’t matter what they call themselves or what their backgrounds are. It doesn’t matter that their great-grandfather built the church in which they worship, or if their cousin is a preacher, etc. If they do not personally follow the Lord Jesus, having believed on Him as Lord & Savior, then they are no more “Christian” than this sorcerer was a Jew! (Thankfully, that can change in an instant!)
  3. Even his name was ironic: Bar-Jesus = Son of Jesus = Son of YHWH is salvation. “Jesus” (Joshua) was a common name, and there isn’t an association between Bar-Jesus & the Lord Jesus Christ – but the man’s naming could not have been more opposite from Christ if he had tried! He was no son of God’s salvation; he was a false-prophet to the extreme.
  4. With someone of Bar-Jesus’ background, it is no wonder that he opposed the preaching of Barnabas & Saul. What made it worse was that Bar-Jesus was an advisor to the local governor, the “proconsul Sergius Paulus.” This man was the Roman official in charge of the entire island, having been appointed to his position by the Roman Senate. No doubt he had heard people talking about this new message being preached in his jurisdiction, and he wanted to hear it for himself. In all likelihood, the only reason Barnabas & Saul were able to give the gospel to Sergius Paulus was because it was a command invitation. Whatever the reason, the opportunity was wonderful, and the missionaries took full advantage of it!
  5. Why the mention of Sergius Paulus’ intelligence? Apparently he had discernment & good sense, even though he employed a sorcerer. (It wasn’t an uncommon practice of ancient times. Nebuchadnezzar had magi / wise men as his advisors, as did many other kings and pagan officials.) As for Sergius Paulus, he apparently readily understood the gospel message even though he was a Gentile without a Jewish background in the Scriptures. This made him a wonderful candidate to whom to witness – but it also put Bar-Jesus in a precarious position. After all, if the governor came to faith in Christ, understanding the truth, then that would put the sorcerer out of a job!

8 But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith.

  1. Luke gives a second name to Bar-Jesus: “” This isn’t the translation of his given name; it’s a translation of his occupation. Scholars debate it, but it seems to be an Arabic or Aramaic form of the word for “wise man / sorcerer,” which is translated by the Greek as μάγος (~ magic). To call him “Elymas the sorcerer” is to call him “Sorcerer the sorcerer.” His position became his nickname.
  2. Of course a far bigger problem than his name was his active opposition to the gospel. He sought out ways “to turn the proconsul away from the faith.” It wasn’t enough that the proconsul didn’t believe the same way Bar-Jesus did (there’s no mention that Sergius Paulus was a Jew, much less a disciple of this false-prophet); it was that Bar-Jesus could not afford to have Sergius Paulus believe the truth. Like the Pharisees condemned by Jesus, this sorcerer shut up the kingdom of heaven against the man, neither going in himself nor allowing Sergius Paulus to enter (Mt 23:13). Bar-Jesus/Elymas stood in the way of the gospel…a truly dangerous (and despicable) act!
    1. It is bad enough for a person not to believe the testimony of God concerning Jesus; it is far worse to actively oppose it for others. Such people are going to have to stand before God & give an answer (just like all people regarding sin). Just like Elymas, they are guilty of causing people to stumble away from the gospel, and it would be better for a millstone to be hung around their neck & for them to be tossed into the sea! (Mt 18:6) Beware that you do not oppose the gospel! 
    2. Thankfully, few true Christians will ever oppose the gospel (if they do, they probably aren’t true!); but some might inadvertently find themselves opposing the work of God in other ways. When we aren’t being led by the Spirit, but instead pushing our own agendas, we’re quite possibly opposing the will of God. When we refuse to let Scripture be our final authority, we’re opposing the will of God. When we actively choose to sin, telling God “no” when we specifically know what His word commands, then we’re definitely opposing the will of God! Be careful! That isn’t a place any Christian wants to be. That’s a place guaranteed of discipline, and it’s something that can be avoided through simple humility and repentance.
  3. If Elymas was direct in his opposition, Saul was even more direct in his discipline…

9 Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him 10 and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord?

  1. This is the first instance Luke uses the name “Paul,” and he’ll continue to use it for the rest of the book of Acts. Like many people of the day, Saul had two names: one he used while around fellow Hebrews, and one he used while around Gentiles as a Roman citizen. Unlike Abraham and Israel, Saul/Paul was not re-named by the Lord; Paul simply used the name that was appropriate for his ministry context. (Perhaps one more demonstration of how he became all things to all men that by all means he might save some. ~ 1 Cor 19:22)
  2. Paul was not going to take the opposition of Bar-Jesus lightly. At some point, every evangelist is going to encounter opposition. Some of it can be ignored; others can be debated quietly and peacefully. Not this time. In this case, the opposition directly endangered the bourgeoning faith of a potential Christian. Sergius Paulus was on the verge of becoming a born-again believer, and this heretical Jewish-sorcerer was going the work of Satan to snatch away the seed of the word before it could take root. [Parable of the Soils – Mt 13:19.] Paul needed to take direct action. Putting his full attention on Bar-Jesus/Elymas, Paul stared directly at him and cursed him with the same high language as the prophets of old.
    1. Elymas was “full of all deceit and all fraud.” There was nothing true about him – everything he taught was a lie. Everything he spoke was tainted with falsehood, being that it was directly opposed to Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6).
    2. He was a “son of the devil.” Far from being a son of God’s salvation (Bar-Jesus), he was a son of Satan. He did the bidding of the devil, and was the hand of evil in active spiritual warfare. Paul called him out for what he was, not mincing words.
    3. He was an “enemy of all righteousness.” If Paul preached the gospel of righteousness & Elymas opposed it, then Elymas was its enemy. Any person outside of the grace of God through Jesus is an enemy of God, but Elymas had taken up a position of active warfare. If he only recognized whom he opposed, he would have understood his foolishness! (It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God! ~ Heb 10:31)
    4. Everything he did was “perverting the straight ways of the Lord.” Elymas made crooked what God made straight – he made confusing what God made clear – he corrupted what God made pure. Keep in mind that it wasn’t just with Paul & Barnabas…this was what Elymas had always done. He was a false Jewish prophet & sorcerer in the court of the Roman proconsul. To the governor, Elymas represented the spiritual side of his advisory board; the reality was that Elymas represented nothing but lies.
    5. Need it be said? There are still false prophets today! They promote themselves as spiritual, pretending to men/women of God, but they are just as perverted and corrupt as Bar-Jesus/Elymas. Some of them have TV ministries – some are best-selling authors; but it doesn’t matter what platform they have if they pervert the truth of God. Beware of those who twist the Scriptures to fit their agendas. What we need are the straight paths of the Lord, the truth of the gospel & the Scriptures!
  3. This is harsh language! This is bold! It’s tough to imagine any one of us as born-again Christians confronting someone in a similar way. How did Paul do it? He was “filled with the Holy Spirit.” Paul didn’t do this in his power, or under his own initiative. He was led by & filled with God the Holy Spirit. Remember, this was God’s work, so it was being done God’s way by God’s power. This was not Paul asserting his own authority; this was God working through Paul, demonstrating the full authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.
    1. Whenever we do ministry (whatever it is the Lord calls us to do), we dare not do it in our own power; we must work through the power of the Holy Spirit! We need to be filled with Him, fully dependent on His leading & gifting. We can trust Him to lead us in the moment, because He is the living, active God. He will give you boldness when you least expect it – He will give you answers you never knew you had – He will equip you exactly how you need to be equipped at the moment you need it.
    2. The key? To continue seeking the Lord God & follow Him in obedience! Paul would never have been able to answer Elymas at this moment if Paul hadn’t been obedient to the Lord in all the moments leading up to this. Paul had been faithful with the many opportunities given to him by the Lord Jesus for years, and when this moment presented itself, he was ready. Are you? Am I? The things the Lord has given us to do now may be things He is using to prepare us for something later. But we’ll never know what that is if we don’t act in the present. Seek Him, follow Him, be obedient! Continually ask to be filled with the Spirit, and then walk in the power He gives you.

11 And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand.

  1. Not only did Paul directly confront his opposition; he brought direct discipline. He spoke as an Old Testament prophet, and acted in the same way. One can easily imagine Moses or Elisha speaking & acting in a similar manner. Paul (under the authority of Christ, being that he was presently filled with the Holy Spirit) pronounced blindness upon Bar-Jesus/Elymas, and it immediately came to pass.
  2. Interesting that Paul’s first recorded miracle was the same judgment he himself received on the road to Damascus.

12 Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.

  1. The miracle had a double purpose, and it was doubly-successful. Not only was Elymas disciplined for his sinful opposition to God & His gospel, but “the proconsul believed” as Sergius Paulus came to faith.
  2. Notice how the faith of Sergius Paulus came about: he saw the miracle, but he was also “astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” The proconsul made the connection between the judgment and the gospel. It wasn’t the miracle alone that converted him; it was the miracle in combination with the teaching. If Sergius Paulus had witnessed Elymas’ blindness out on the street, he might have been impressed, but still walked away a heathen. But because he witnessed the blindness coming by the discipline of Paul, and because he had already heard the word of God coming from Paul, and because he already recognized that the teaching from Paul was truly of God, the entire combination overwhelmed the man & he believed. The word of God together with the work of God in the power of God is awesome!
  3. Question: was it the work of Paul or the work of the Spirit? Paul certainly worked in obedience to God, but ultimately this was the work of the Spirit! God the Holy Spirit sent Paul to this place – God the Holy Spirit gave Paul this teaching – God the Holy Spirit filled Paul with power – and God the Holy Spirit brought Sergius Paulus to faith. It was the Spirit’s work, the Spirit’s call, and the Spirit’s power. All glory and honor belongs to Him.

Conclusion:

As the missionary journeys of Paul and Barnabas began, the Holy Spirit of God worked in mighty ways! God the Spirit had a plan for Barnabas & Saul/Paul, and sent them out. God the Spirit gave them opportunities to preach, the boldness to confront opposition, and the power to back it up. What God did was amazing!

How did they all see it come to pass? Simple: Christians listened to the Spirit, and followed His leading. The church at Antioch steadfastly sought the Lord in prayer, recognized His voice & calling, and released people to walk in His gifts. Paul & Barnabas (along with John Mark) were faithful in the smaller opportunities given them by God, and were prepared for the bigger things when they came as they walked in the Spirit’s power. Even Sergius Paulus intelligently listened to the teaching of God, and humbly surrendered himself to Jesus in faith when he saw the truth of God in action. Only Bar-Jesus/Elymas opposed the Lord God…and he paid a dear price!

Don’t oppose the work of the Spirit; surrender to Him! The Spirit still speaks: are you listening? The Spirit still leads: are you following? Beloved, we serve the Living God, and He actively leads us – but we need to surrender our will to His own. We need to humbly seek Him in faith, and act as He calls and empowers us to act.

Will it require a step of faith? Yes. Will God give us what we need to take that step of faith? Undoubtedly! As we continually surrender ourselves to His will, our God will give us exactly what we need to do the work He desires. You’ll be able to share Jesus with your co-worker, stand fast for Christ in the midst of your unbelieving family members, have the necessary (but difficult) conversations with your loved ones regarding sin, be the hands & feet of Jesus to strangers, and serve in ways you’d never imagine yourself serving. And guess what? It won’t be you; it will be the Lord working through you…which means it will be perfect!

The Great Escape

Posted: November 18, 2018 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 12:1-24, “The Great Escape”

The Great Escape.” It is one of the greatest World War II movies ever made, although not a single battle in either Europe on the Pacific is shown. Ultimately, it is about a prison break from a POW camp, loosely based on a true story. Other movies have depicted escapes from prison (The Shawshank Redemption, for example), but there’s something special about a jailbreak that is actually true (or at least as true as 1963 Hollywood would allow it to be at the time!).

Yet there are far greater escapes in history – some of which are included in the pages of the Bible! These accounts are not only 100% true, but they’re also 100% independent of men. They didn’t need the combination of careful planning and “good luck”; they needed only the Lord God. When God plans an escape, it’s always successful & it is always “great.” His rescues are awesome!

One of these rescues is recorded in Acts 12, as Luke’s account of Peter basically comes to a close. Peter will be seen again in Chapter 15, but for the most part, Luke is transitioning to the life & ministry of Paul (Saul). Before he does, he wraps a bow on Peter’s ministry in Judea, showing God’s hand of blessing and protection on him, just as God was blessing and protecting His church-at-large.

When we had last seen Peter, he was shown on a mini-mission trip of his own, traveling throughout Judea, visiting churches, working miracles, and teaching the word of God. Eventually, he arrived in the seaport town of Joppa, where he received a miraculous vision foreshadowing what God was about to do by giving the gospel to the Gentiles & bring people who were previously “unclean” into the church, having cleansed them by the grace of Jesus. This all came to fruition when Peter met with the Roman centurion Cornelius in Caesarea, shared the gospel with him, and saw & heard the visible & audible evidence of Cornelius’ baptism with the Holy Spirit. Peter & the others with him baptized Cornelius & the other Romans who had placed their faith in Christ…an act he soon had to defend to the Jewish Christians back in Jerusalem.

At that point, Luke turned his attention to a different church congregation & city: Antioch of Syria. This soon became a thriving church with all kinds of people serving in all kinds of ways, including Barnabas and Saul. It was in Antioch that the two men starting ministering together, as they co-pastored the rapidly growing church.

With Antioch established, Luke turns again to Peter, giving the first conclusion to his ministry. It wasn’t that Peter stopped serving Jesus…far from the case! Rather, Luke simply stopped writing about it, being led by the Holy Spirit to record the ministry of Saul/Paul. As for Peter, God was still using him in powerful ways! God had a plan for Peter, and no man (no matter how powerful) would be able to stand in God’s way. God cannot be stopped, nor can His gospel be silenced. What God wants done, will be done, because He is the One to build His church & not even the gates of Hell can get in the way!

It doesn’t mean things will always be easy; it means that God is always in control. Persecution is real, but so is God’s power to deliver. So also is God’s judgment, which all men & women must face – even those who don’t believe in God and persecute the people of God.

This ought to give us hope! We so often get discouraged at obstacles and persecutions, but these things are no problem for Jesus. God is in control, and His grace gets us through all things. God rescues, and God wins!

Acts 12:1–24

  • Herod’s persecution of the church (1-4). Persecution is real. Do you expect it?

1 Now about that time Herod the king stretched out his hand to harass some from the church. 2 Then he killed James the brother of John with the sword.

  1. About what time? Remember that Acts 11 ended with the church at Antioch receiving a prophecy that the world surrounding Jerusalem was about to be hit with a massive famine during the reign of Claudius Caesar, so they collected a financial offering and sent it to Jerusalem by the hands of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30). The famine likely hit around 45-46AD, with the collection being sent sooner (as a result of predictive prophecy), which made this time around 44AD. Historically, this fits perfectly with the life & death of “Herod the king.
  2. This particular Herod was Herod Agrippa I, the grandson of Herod the Great & nephew of Herod Antipas. The 1st Herod was the driving force behind the renovation of the Jerusalem temple, and the monster who ordered the death of all of the toddlers in Bethlehem out of fear of the newborn Christ. Herod Antipas was the one who beheaded John the Baptist & taunted the Lord Jesus during His pre-crucifixion trial. Antipas lost his power when Agrippa I accused him of conspiracy against the Caesar, and Agrippa was later given the throne (and expanded rule) in 41AD. Unlike his uncles (of which Antipas was only one), Agrippa was granted authority by Caesar to rule over the full extent of his grandfather’s kingdom, rather than just one of the four pieces into which it had been split. Agrippa was a keen politician with an ego to match, and he used it to his full advantage (and his downfall!).
  3. One of the acts taken by Agrippa was his persecution of church leadership, something that allowed him to curry favor with the Jewish leadership. Although we don’t know all of the Christians he harassed, we know of at least one he put to death: “James the brother of John.” This James was one of the original 12 apostles of Jesus (and one of the inner three), the brother of the beloved John, both of whom were sons of Zebedee (a fisherman) who were later nicknamed “the sons of thunder” by Jesus. James wasn’t the only Christian persecuted unto death (that was Stephen), but he was the first apostle to die a martyr. He wouldn’t be the last. Although Scripture does not record it, historical tradition tells us that all twelve (except John) were killed for their faith, and even John survived an attempt to have him killed.
  4. Question: If God was about to deliver Peter (and Luke spent much time describing it), why didn’t God deliver James? God could have delivered/rescued each of the men; at the time He chose to rescue one. Why? We don’t know, apart from one thing: God had continued earthly plans for Peter. It wasn’t that God loved Peter more or that God blessed Peter more; it was simply because in the overall plan of God, it was time for James to go home to Jesus while Jesus still had more for Peter to do on earth. Both men were blessed, because both were in the will of God. After all, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8) – physical death for a Christian is a blessing because we are with Jesus! It is sad for those we leave behind, but it is glorious for the born-again believer because that person is now in the forever presence of our Lord & Savior.

3 And because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded further to seize Peter also. Now it was during the Days of Unleavened Bread. 4 So when he had arrested him, he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to keep him, intending to bring him before the people after Passover.

  1. The reaction of the Jewish leadership to James’ execution encouraged Herod Agrippa to continue the pattern with Peter. History shows that Agrippa attempted to actively win the favor of the Jewish people in many ways, and the persecution of the Christian leadership was one of them. Thus, Peter was arrested, and placed under heavy guard. Each of the “four squads of soldiers” had four men (“squads” = τετράδιον ~ tetrad ~ four). Two men were constantly by his side, and two stood at the door, with the changing of the guard taking place every several hours. Why such much security? Apparently Peter’s reputation was well-known by Agrippa, and he wasn’t taking any chances with him.
    1. Remember this wasn’t the first time Peter had been arrested in Jerusalem, and it wasn’t even the first time he would experience a supernatural escape. Acts 5 describes a time when all kinds of miracles were taking place in Jerusalem through the ministry of the apostles, to the point where the high priest & Sanhedrin had them all arrested & put in prison. The night they were arrested, an angel appeared in the prison, opened the doors, and told the apostles to go back to the temple to keep preaching the gospel (the very place where they were arrested)…and they did (Acts 5:17-21).
    2. What makes it funny is that if indeed Herod Agrippa had known this history, he believed that 16 soldiers would have better success guarding Peter than simply the normal prison guard. If God sent an angel to rescue Peter (and others), then it didn’t matter how many guards were present! A single angel can kill an army of thousands overnight (2 Kings 18); a dozen-plus soldiers don’t stand a chance!
  2. When did it all take place? Passover, with the Feast of Unleavened Bread following. Because it was uncommon to conduct executions during the actual holiday (something ignored when it came to Jesus), Agrippa’s intent was to hold off on Peter’s execution until the weeklong festival was over. What does this tell us? Agrippa’s desire to execute Peter was purely political. Theology had nothing to do with it. Whatever Agrippa’s motivation, the hardship was real. James was killed, Christians were persecuted, and Peter was imprisoned. 
  3. Was this the wonderful plan that God had for their lives? Yes! Faith in Christ doesn’t guarantee anyone an easy life. Not once does the Bible claim that Christians instantly have all of their problems solved, that we will never again experience a sickness, or that we’ll all be rich and wearing $1000 suits. That may be a worldly definition of “wonderful,” but it isn’t real – it’s all superficial. After all, who cares how much money you have in your bank account if you aren’t forgiven by God? God’s wonderful plan is for us to be made His children, to be forever reconciled to Him through Jesus. That’s wonderful! As for persecution, persecution is to be expected. This is something we’ve seen several times in the book of Acts, and it’s going to be repeated many times again. When Christians are persecuted for their faith, it doesn’t mean that they’ve done something wrong; it means that they’ve done something right. Paul later wrote to Timothy: 2 Timothy 3:12, “Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” It doesn’t mean that persecution is to be sought out, and it doesn’t mean that every time a Christian is arrested is because he/she is being persecuted. (Sometimes Christians break the law, or get others angry at us because we’re being boneheads!) But true persecution is a reality, and one that ought to be expected. What should be our reaction to these things? Joy! Matthew 5:11–12, “(11) “Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. (12) Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” It’s not that we pretend suffering is anything less than suffering; it’s that we know we’ve been faithful to our Jesus!

So James was dead, Peter was in prison, and Herod Agrippa believed he had the upper hand. The Christian leadership in Jerusalem were going to be crushed one-by-one, which the Jewish leadership hoped would strangle out the local church & perhaps the church all over Judea. Not so fast! God had other plans in mind…

  • Peter’s miraculous escape (5-19). Deliverance is real. Do you believe it?
    • Angelic rescue (5-11)

5 Peter was therefore kept in prison, but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church. 6 And when Herod was about to bring him out, that night Peter was sleeping, bound with two chains between two soldiers; and the guards before the door were keeping the prison.

  1. When Luke wrote of “constant prayer,” he wrote of urgent, consistent prayer that was “offered to God” on Peter’s behalf. The church knew well what was at stake. Time was of the essence! The days of the feast were almost over & Herod was potentially going to execute Peter the next day. What else would the church do other than pray?
    1. Did this mean things were hopeless? Absolutely not! Prayer was not being treated as a last-resort by the Jerusalem Christians; it was used as their primary tool. God had not called them to mobilize a stealth-escape party – they weren’t going to storm the Fortress of Antonia by night. Physical strategies were useless, because this was a spiritual battle. Physically speaking, the untrained men & women of the church faced the might of the Roman-trained army of Herod Agrippa. Spiritually speaking, the miniscule Agrippa faced the Almighty God. The battle was spiritual, and it was to be waged through spiritual means – primarily, prayer.
    2. We so often underestimate the value and effectiveness of prayer! Prayer is how we fight the battle – prayer is how we stand firm in our faith. Don’t misunderstand: prayer does not somehow give any strength to God; God does not need our prayers in order to accomplish His work. He is fully sufficient and effective on His own. Prayer is what we need to keep ourselves focused on Him! Besides that, God chooses to respond to prayer. It’s not that He needs it; it that He desires it. There are some things we don’t have because we haven’t prayed for them (“you do not have because you do not ask,” Jas 4:2). Jesus specifically instructed people to ask in believing prayer, in order that we might receive (Mt 7:8, 21:22). The problem is we don’t ask! We relegate prayer to the back, thinking that it’s what we do when all else fails. It is what we do because everything else does fail. For the born-again Christian, prayer is the most effective strategy we can possibly employ!
  2. All of this is seen at work in Peter’s situation. Herod Agrippa had Peter his plan; God had His own. The people of the church were praying, and God was working. Peter was completely guarded, chained to two men (one for each hand?), with guards at the door, iron gates locked, deep in the heart of the Fortress of Antonia. This was maximum security just prior to Peter’s execution. What was Peter doing? What else? Why stay up all night stressing about the situation? Peter understood the Lord was in control. Jesus had told Peter that he would grow old prior to his execution (Jn 21:18-19), and Peter didn’t consider himself old yet. But even if Peter believed he’d die the next day, he still had his assurance of eternity with Jesus. Why worry when we have Christ? Everything else pales in comparison!

7 Now behold, an angel of the Lord stood by him, and a light shone in the prison; and he struck Peter on the side and raised him up, saying, “Arise quickly!” And his chains fell off his hands. 8 Then the angel said to him, “Gird yourself and tie on your sandals”; and so he did. And he said to him, “Put on your garment and follow me.” 9 So he went out and followed him, and did not know that what was done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision.

  1. The description is almost humorous. Peter was so soundly asleep that not even the appearance of a heavenly angel woke him up. The angel had to basically kick him in the side to get him to stir. (Sounds like some people I’ve roomed with!) The angel didn’t need to pick the locks or find the keys to Peter’s handcuffs as the chains simply “fell off.” (So much for security!) Peter’s standing there, free…but not moving. He’s just enjoying the time, thinking “he was seeing a vision.” The angel has to prompt Peter through every single step. “OK Peter, get up, tie on your belt, put on your shoes, put on your cloak, get moving.” (Almost sounds like a parent trying to get the kids out the door for school!) All the while, Peter simply followed step-by-step.
  2. Among everything going on, not once did the four guards stir. If nothing else, it was a miracle that no one else was awakened! So much for security! Doubtless, this was part of God’s plan as well. It would have been illegal for the guards to fall asleep, yet apparently not only one, but all four of them had passed out. If their eyes were indeed open, they were supernaturally blinded and deafened to what was going on.

10 When they were past the first and the second guard posts, they came to the iron gate that leads to the city, which opened to them of its own accord; and they went out and went down one street, and immediately the angel departed from him. 11 And when Peter had come to himself, he said, “Now I know for certain that the Lord has sent His angel, and has delivered me from the hand of Herod and from all the expectation of the Jewish people.”

  1. Not only had Peter’s chains fell off by themselves, the iron gate swung open all its own as well. The angel walked Peter down the all, out the door, through the courtyard, into the street, led Peter to safety, then vanished. The entire time, Peter was basically clueless as to what was happening to him. That being said, give Peter some credit. The fact that Peter didn’t know what was going on isn’t unusual, given his ecstatic vision from Acts 10. When he sat on the rooftop in Joppa, God gave him the vision of a sheet lowered from heaven full of unclean animals he was told to eat. None of that had happened in reality; Peter didn’t really have a reason to believe this was any different. With his earlier angelic escape from Acts 5, all the other apostles were with him as witnesses; here, he was by himself.
  2. Once Peter came to his senses, he had no doubt of what happened. This was the Lord’s work, and God had “delivered” him. God sent His angel to rescue Peter from an impossible situation, and Peter was truly rescued.
    1. God delivers! This is proven over & over again throughout the Bible. God rescued Abraham and Isaac from the foolish lies about their wives’ identities. God rescued Joseph from the Egyptian prison. God rescued the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery. God rescued David from the hand of Saul. God rescued Daniel from the mouths of the lions. God rescued the Jews from Babylonian captivity. Be it large or small, our God rescues! He can deliver anyone from anything at any time. He is a rescuer!
    2. And we need rescuing! Among everything else that happens in our lives, we need rescuing from ourselves. Our sins left us in a place where we had far more than chains on each hand, locked in dirty prison cell; it left us square in the sights of the wrath of God. Peter didn’t deserve the execution Herod wanted to give him, but we have each earned our own. Yet Jesus rescues us! He delivers us from death & brings us into life & relationship with God!
    3. That’s the spiritual side of things, but can God rescue us from other stuff, too? Yes! We have the promise of eternal heaven, but it isn’t as if God abandons us in the here & now. The key is to trust God’s plan. Sometimes He delivers us from trials; other times He delivers us through Peter was delivered from the sword (though it came later in life); James was delivered through it. We don’t always know God’s short-term plans for us, but we can trust Him. Pray fervently, pray constantly, and trust God to do what He deems best.
  3. With Peter out of prison, what next? Now people have to be told that their prayers had been answered. The problem was whether they’d believe it!
  • Peter at the door (12-17)

12 So, when he had considered this, he came to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose surname was Mark, where many were gathered together praying.

  1. We’re introduced to John Mark, a relative of Barnabas who would soon accompany him & Saul on their first mission trip. Mark also had a terrific relationship with Peter, and solid historical tradition holds him to be the one who recorded Peter’s preaching in the Gospel of Mark. Potentially, John Mark was present in the Garden of Gethsemane with Jesus, portrayed as the young man who panicked at Jesus’ arrest & left his garment behind (Mk 14:51-52). At this point, it was his mother that was more prominent within the church, and she apparently hosted Christians at her home who were among those praying all night for Peter.
  2. God was answering their prayers! Too bad they didn’t expect Him to do so…

13 And as Peter knocked at the door of the gate, a girl named Rhoda came to answer. 14 When she recognized Peter’s voice, because of her gladness she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter stood before the gate. 15 But they said to her, “You are beside yourself!” Yet she kept insisting that it was so. So they said, “It is his angel.”

  1. The event with young Rhoda is rather funny, but understandable. With everyone else praying, she went to answer the door, “recognized Peter’s voice” from other times she had met him, and was so excited that she ran to report the news without unlocking the gate. Excitement will do that to anyone – kudos to Rhoda for her joy & faith!
  2. What is less understandable is the reaction of the others! They accused her of being out of her mind. μαίνομαι (~mania/maniac) = to be mad/insane. They basically accused her of being a lunatic, imagining things at the door.
  3. And it got worse. When she insisted, they explained it away with poor theology. It wasn’t so much that they believed Peter’s “ghost” was at the gate (which definitely would have been impossible – as when Christians are absent from the body, we are present with the Lord); they seemed to imagine that Peter’s so-called guardian angel was knocking on the door in his place. (1) An angel wouldn’t need to knock, nor can locked doors stop one! (2) Scripture doesn’t teach of guardian angels. Angels can (and are) sent by God to watch over us as ministering spirits (Heb 1:14), but the Bible never says that we have specific angels assigned to us. Although it may be a common belief among Christians, it doesn’t make it a correct belief. We need to ensure that our beliefs are based solely on the written word of God found in the Scripture.
  4. The bottom line for these particular Christians was that they simply found it impossible to believe that Peter might actually be standing at the door. They may have been praying for Peter’s release, but they didn’t believe that God would do the work. — Why is it so difficult to believe God works miracles? Why is it so hard to believe that God answers prayers? Christians might go through the motions of prayer because we know we’re supposed to pray, but we don’t believe God answers them. Why wouldn’t He? Is not our God alive? Is He not Almighty? Does He not love us? The Scripture is filled with examples of God answering prayer. Has He changed? Heaven forbid! God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is just as capable of answering prayers today as He was in the 1st century!
    1. One of the problems of having so little faith in prayer is that we lose confidence on any After all, if we don’t believe God truly responds to prayer, how do we know God answered our prayer for forgiveness and salvation? What confidence do we have in God at all? God answers prayer! Ask, seek, find! Luke 11:11–13, “(11) If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? (12) Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? (13) If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Believe that God answers prayer, because He does! (And the best prayer to be asked and answered is to be forgiven of our sins through Jesus Christ!)
  5. What was the result of their unbelief? Not only did the Christians inside miss out on the joy of knowing what God had done, poor Peter is left outside knocking at the door hoping that he doesn’t get discovered by some wandering guard!

16 Now Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the door and saw him, they were astonished. 17 But motioning to them with his hand to keep silent, he declared to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, “Go, tell these things to James and to the brethren.” And he departed and went to another place.

  1. Peter’s persistence was the only thing that brought the people to the door, and they discovered that Rhoda had been right all along. This time, they were the ones beside themselves! “Astonished” = out of one’s senses, in a state of confusion. Peter didn’t have time to wait for them to get a grip. He told them the news, commanded them to pass it on to James & the other Christians in town (remember there were several thousand in Jerusalem – they couldn’t all be praying at Mary’s house!), and then got out of Jerusalem quickly. Just as Saul had to flee Damascus & Jerusalem, so did Peter. Peter had been rescued by the Lord, but he didn’t take his rescue for granted. He didn’t stay in Jerusalem waiting to be re-arrested. If God had commanded him to stay, he would have stayed (as he did in Acts 5). As it was, God had other plans for Peter, and Peter had the wisdom to keep moving.
  2. BTW – Don’t get confused on the “James” in verse 17. James, the brother of John & the son of Zebedee had been killed by Herod Agrippa I; James the half-brother of Jesus was still alive and an essential leader in the Jerusalem church.
  3. Don’t miss the key bit of Peter’s story: “the Lord had brought him out of the prison.” God had worked! The Lord Jesus rescued him! — Jesus rescues us! Again, we might not be rescued from all our hardships, trials, and persecutions – that’s not what Scripture promises. James the brother of John was not delivered from his execution, nor was Stephen from his stoning. But did they still belong to Jesus? Were they still rescued? Yes. In the things that really mattered, yes, they were certainly rescued! They were delivered from the judgment of their sin – they were rescued from eternal death – they were rescued from slavery to temptations and sinful desires, from being the men they used to be without Christ. They were rescued in the most important ways possible!
    1. It’s all about perspective. We have a tendency of seeing only what’s right in front of us, and unless God delivers us out of that situation, we think God has let us down. “I asked for healing, but God didn’t give it… I asked for a new job, but God didn’t bring it…” But that misses the bigger picture. To a toddler, the world is tiny. All he/she knows is what mommy or daddy brings: food, toys, blankets. But the world is a much bigger place! The toddler never sees what mommy and daddy have to do to ensure there’s food on the table, or a bed in which to take a nap. Beloved, life is far bigger than the things we can see! Life isn’t about the clothes we wear, the food we eat, or even 70-80-90 years put together; life is about eternity. We need a bigger perspective, and when we have it, we see how Jesus truly does rescue us in every way!
  • Aftermath (18-19)

18 Then, as soon as it was day, there was no small stir among the soldiers about what had become of Peter. 19 But when Herod had searched for him and not found him, he examined the guards and commanded that they should be put to death. And he went down from Judea to Caesarea, and stayed there.

  1. We can easily imagine the reaction of the soldiers the next day…particularly the ones to whom Peter had been chained! They had quite the surprise in the morning, and no doubt it was all-hands-on-deck to try to find Peter. The search came up fruitless, and they were doomed. Herod wasn’t happy, and the soldiers were executed in Peter’s place.
  2. So what happened to Herod Agrippa afterwards?
  • Herod’s death (20-24). Judgment is real. Are you ready for it?

20 Now Herod had been very angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; but they came to him with one accord, and having made Blastus the king’s personal aide their friend, they asked for peace, because their country was supplied with food by the king’s country.

  1. As to what happened to make Herod “angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon,” we do not know. Although Herod Agrippa had a large kingdom, Tyre & Sidon (along with most of Phoenicia, ~ modern Lebanon) was outside his borders. Whatever had happened, he was intensely angry with them, and the people wanted a political reconciliation with the king. They needed to be in the good graces of Herod Agrippa if they were going to be financially prosperous (and eat!), so they allied themselves with the personal assistant of Agrippa, getting Blastus him to put in a good word for them.

21 So on a set day Herod, arrayed in royal apparel, sat on his throne and gave an oration to them. 22 And the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man!” 23 Then immediately an angel of the Lord struck him, because he did not give glory to God. And he was eaten by worms and died.

  1. The Jewish historian Josephus notes the grandeur of Herod’s clothing, as having a robe made of silver (silver thread or plating?). As it caught the light of the sun, he had a radiant appearance, which combined with his impressive speech caused the people to go overboard in their flattery. No doubt, they were ready to shower him with praises no matter what he said (considering they were trying to get on his good side), but they cranked up the volume to 11 on their praise. They shouted that he spoke with “the voice of a god,” and kept shouting it over & over again. Whether they actually believed that he was divine was irrelevant; Herod ate it up. The people called him a god, and he was happy to receive the compliment. He basked in the glory of the people, doing nothing to “give glory to God.” Back in Chapter 10, Peter was quick to deflect the potential worship of Cornelius & the others, telling them to stand for he was only a man (Acts 10:26). Not so with Herod Agrippa. If people wanted to call him a god & worship him, it was no problem from his perspective.
  2. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He had already earned his judgment from God; this was the final act that confirmed it. Josephus backs up the account. Antiquities343-348 – Herod received the compliment, and saw an owl which he considered to be a bad omen. “A severe pain also arose in his belly, and began in a most violent manner,” (Ant 19.346). Five days later, he was dead. An angel of God immediately struck Herod in the moment, and the worms in his belly consumed him over the next week.
  3. There is no escaping the judgment of God! Herod Agrippa was a rich man, but his wealth did not buy him eternity. Agrippa was politically powerful, but he not powerful enough. It didn’t matter how friendly Agrippa may have been with the Roman Caesar when he was an enemy of Almighty God. Herod Agrippa led a life of wickedness, he had persecuted the church, ordered the murder of James (and others) and finally adopted the full pride of Satan as he stole the glory of God for himself. At that moment, there was no time to repent; his time was up.
    1. Scripture is clear: we will be judged. Hebrews 9:27, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,” Every man/woman dies, and every person stands before the judgment seat of God. There comes a moment of reckoning for each and every human being, during which every single sin ever committed must be answered. Herod Agrippa had no answer; what’s yours? We can either face the judgment of God naked, with our sins fully exposed to the all-seeing eyes of God, or we can face it clothed in the righteous of Jesus Christ & be welcomed into eternity as His children. The invitation is wide & open to all, but the window of opportunity is limited. 

24 But the word of God grew and multiplied.

  1. Herod Agrippa was judged, but the church was blessed. Neither Herod nor the Jewish leadership could stop the gospel! The persecution had been intended to slow down or shut down the church; the opposite happened. Herod was killed while the church grew, and the gospel continued to spread to more & more areas. (A little taste of what was to come with Barnabas and Saul). The word of God can never be stopped!

Conclusion:

Things had looked bleak for the church in Jerusalem: James was dead, persecution was spreading, Peter was in prison, and Herod Agrippa kept growing in his power. Yet that was all on the surface. God had His own plan in motion, and sovereignly turned everything on its head! He rescued Peter from prison, answered the prayers of the church, and judged its persecutor in His holy wrath. God protected His church, and His gospel could not be stopped!

God still protects His church! Not even the gates of hell can prevail against what it is Jesus has built (and continues building)! Persecution may be real (and should be expected), but it does not stop the gospel. The good news of Jesus continues, no matter how violently and vehemently the world opposes it. God still answers prayers of rescue – sometimes through physical deliverance; always through spiritual eternal deliverance. God still judges the wicked – all men will give account to God, and He knows exactly who has brought harm to His people. What God did among Peter and the Jerusalem church, God still does today…God has not changed!

What is it that you believe is too difficult for God to do? What obstacle in your life do you think is too hard for God to overcome? God is sovereign over all things. If not the full power of the empire of ancient Rome can stop His work (or Persia, or Babylon, or Egypt, etc.) what else can do it? We need to trust the sovereign power of God, as well as the sovereign plan of God. We don’t always know why He allows the things He allows, but we can be sure that His purposes will not be thwarted in the end. In the grand scheme of things, God wins. Say it again: God wins.