Week 54 – God is love: the Bible expresses that love to us…so onward we read!

Wind and fire – a very powerful beginning for the followers of Jesus – and the birth of The Way!

DAY ONE – Acts 1-4, Psalm 110

The Holy Spirit speaks every language. As the Festival of Pentecost dawned over Jerusalem, a hundred and twenty disciples/followers of Jesus had been in meeting for about ten days, praying and waiting to see what came next. First the wind came; it was followed by fire; and finally everyone broke out praising and magnifying God in languages (tongues) representing about twenty nations or more. Thousands of pilgrims from all of those places were in Jerusalem for the Festival. Hearing a loud noise coming from the Jesus band, they ran together and witnessed the spectacle generated by the Holy Spirit on these people. When they heard Peter explain clearly what was happening, that it had been prophesied by all the prophets beginning with Samuel, their hearts were pierced, and about 3,000 became followers of Jesus that day. Then after God powerfully and publicly healed a man lame for over forty years, the Holy Spirit again spoke through Peter to lift up Jesus the Messiah as the giver of Holy Spirit and perpetrator of signs and wonders among the crowds. It was definitely a New Beginning. The Holy Spirit had been given by Jesus and received by His followers. The result was not only a powerful spiritual revolution but the beginning of a new social order called The Way by witnesses of those events. The Jesus band grew to be thousands more, and the Kingdom of God on earth was forever established, with Jesus guiding and guarding from His place with the Father in heaven.

As Luke, who wrote this book as well as the book that bears his name, describes it, Jesus appeared over forty days to His disciples post-resurrection. During that time He repeatedly spoke of the Kingdom of God, just as He had done during His years with the disciples (now apostles, or ‘sent ones’). Heaven kissed earth when Jesus was born. The Holy Spirit kept Him connected to heaven, just as He does for us. Heaven still kisses earth every time God’s favor reaches through us to touch another needy soul. As Jesus Himself worked signs and wonders before the people, God’s people have continued in every generation since then to welcome amazing works and miracles done through the Holy Spirit in our times. Are you able to lift your expectations today to welcome signs and wonders? Are you a true believer? Does the Holy Spirit speak your language as He does all others on our planet? Use Jesus’ name and find out!

DAY TWO – Acts 5-8

“How could the two of you even think of conspiring to test the Spirit of the Lord like this?” (v. 8) Two people–a man and his wife–died because they lied to the Holy Spirit about their money. Shortly thereafter, the apostles were arrested again for preaching Jesus and working miracles. They were brought before the Jewish high council who wanted to silence them out of jealousy and fear. One of their own warned them: “So my advice is, leave these men alone. Let them go. If they are planning and doing these things merely on their own, it will soon be overthrown. 39 But if it is from God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You may even find yourselves fighting against God!” Acts 5:38-39 (NLT) Who wants to fight against God? Yet when Stephen, a powerful evangelist, was brought before the high council for his many wonderful works, his penetrating message to them ended in this manner:  “You stubborn people! You are heathen at heart and deaf to the truth. Must you forever resist the Holy Spirit? That’s what your ancestors did, and so do you! 52 Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute! They even killed the ones who predicted the coming of the Righteous One—the Messiah whom you betrayed and murdered. 53 You deliberately disobeyed God’s law, even though you received it from the hands of angels.” Acts 7:51-53 (NLT) And so they killed him, too. Thus commenced a storm of persecution against the newly formed followers of Jesus the Messiah. Yet it is clearly evident that the major player in this historical account was the Holy Spirit Himself. The young assembly of believers, now numbering in the multiplied thousands, scattered in the face of persecution, took the power of Jesus’ life through the Holy Spirit to the nations around them. Jesus, honored at God’s right hand in the heavens, was directing them through the Holy Spirit. And as the apostles checked out Philip’s work as he preached the Good News in Samaria, they put the stamp of God’s approval on it by laying their hands on the newly-baptized disciples, filling them with the Holy Spirit. Is the message yet clear? This book records the ACTS OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, God filling the believers exactly as Jesus had said He would. By now it should be apparent that the Holy Spirit is still in charge. Is our corporate life filled and charged with the Holy Spirit?

DAY THREE – Acts 9-11

The persecution against Christ’s fledgling followers was due in large part to a young Jew named Saul of Tarsus. Educated, privileged, and filled with hatred for the new Believers, Saul was dragging people from their homes to be imprisoned or killed. With letters from the high priest on his person, he made his way toward Damascus to continue the mayhem. He never made it, at least unscathed. When he did arrive, he was blind and subdued, all the fire gone out of him. He had met the living Jesus, who had chosen him for a special mission. For the next three days he neither ate nor drank, still blind, and in continual prayer to Jesus. Only when the obedient servant Ananias responded to the Holy Spirit, by laying his hands on Saul, did the scales fall from his eyes. Saul’s name was changed to Paul, and he almost immediately became a prominent spokesman for the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Meanwhile Apostle Peter had a vision that rocked his world. As a result he broke the Jewish law by preaching in the home of a Gentile centurion. The Holy Spirit fell on the assembled family and friends before Peter even finished his comments. A worldwide revival had begun! No longer a Jewish phenomenon, the Good News of eternal life through Jesus now belonged to the rest of mankind as well. The persecution had driven the new Believers to different nations, and the Good News got out everywhere. When a large number of Gentiles believed in Antioch, Barnabas fetched Paul, and they remained there for a year, making disciples and teaching them about Christ.

God owns the world. It is His by right of Creation, and then by right of Redemption. He made it, then gave His life for it. How much more do we need? According to the prophets, apostles and Jesus Himself, He will one day come to reclaim it as His forever personal possession. But for now, we His people have a community mission–continue to spread this Good News and live under heaven’s influence. God’s rule in our world is called the Kingdom of Heaven, of which Jesus is the King! Get it? He is King Jesus–in whom is all authority in heaven and earth. Now go out and have a great day!

DAY FOUR – Acts 12-14

What makes an apostle? The word literally means, “one sent.” So when Jesus, after His resurrection, said to His twelve disciples, “So I send you as the Father has sent me,” He designated that they were the first apostles, or sent ones. They were His eyewitnesses, they went out and performed miracles, and they led the first gathering of believers/followers. Paul was later called an apostle for the great mission to the Gentiles laid on him by the Holy Spirit. Today’s church is apostolic when the Holy Spirit is leading, supernatural events are welcome, and the Kingdom of God is being preached. As Head of His church on earth, Jesus is at the forefront of all apostolic efforts, for He was the Great Apostle sent from heaven by His Father to establish this kingdom…which, by the way, will completely take over this whole world! When? When the King returns, of course.

We read what happened to Herod, and it’s not pretty! His childhood friend, Manaen, on the other hand, was named among the leading teachers in the Kingdom of God at Antioch. From there the Holy Spirit sent–there’s that word again–Paul and Barnabas out to do a special work in other nations. As the Lord’s witnesses they preached the message of the Kingdom, performed miracles, were delivered repeatedly from death, and watched as multitudes of people became believer/followers. So the Good News began to spread rapidly to districts and nations, going north and west. A pattern was being established, but major confrontation was also growing. Strangely, the Jews being the first ones who should have welcomed the Good News, it was they who took offense at Jesus and rejected His word when it came to them. So steeped in their Jewish religion, and so accustomed were they to rules, that they missed entirely the message of salvation through faith in Jesus. Unfortunately, as all of us who have experienced religious tradition have found, a person can keep an awfully large number of rules and still have a heart given to sin. Only the resurrection life of Jesus can lift us into eternal life, after His blood shed at the cross has forgiven our sins. As the apostles taught everywhere they went that we enter the Kingdom of God through faith in His Son, so it is today. The Holy Spirit insisted on that message from a gracious God then, and He still insists on it today! There. is. no. other. way.

DAY FIVE – James 1-5

James was the apostle to the assembly that was in Jerusalem, which was the birthplace of Christianity. So his letter fits chronologically into Acts at this point. His concern for all the Jewish believers in Messiah who had been scattered under the persecutions grew to the point of writing a letter to be circulated among them. It is very pastoral and heartfelt. Because the Jerusalem Jews who followed Jesus still lived within the Jewish culture, which was strongly governed by Moses’ laws, questions continually arose regarding the old religion and its relevance to the new life of faith in Jesus. James attempted to clarify the heart issues that determine our character and behavior regardless of our traditions and culture. It is a great piece of wisdom for those who grew up in a religious environment, as distinct from those who did not. Remember, Apostle Paul had already traveled widely, preaching the Good News of Jesus to Gentiles and Jews alike. It was inevitable that the question would eventually have to be answered: What part of the old Jewish religion must be followed in order to be saved by Jesus? Let’s set that aside for a moment to examine a weightier issue: What has to happen in my heart to be saved by Jesus? How should I live my life? What rules should I follow? James, as the hillbilly might have said it, “shucks right down to the cob!” Religion begins in the faithful and wise heart, devoted to Jesus and ready to face down its own human weaknesses and sins. Faith is the living, working expression of that religion as one lives and moves among those around us. God saves us through faith in Jesus so that we can expose the living Kingdom of Heaven on earth to all those within our spheres of influence. For those who follow Jesus, our faith is alive, powerful and filled with the Holy Spirit. And if that is true, it is governed by love and mercy, the kind shown us every day by our wonderful Lord.

As you read James, question every paragraph. What did this mean to those to whom it was written? What does it mean to us? Do we need to repent, pray, act out, or change our ways? James holds many wise answers.

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