We must never be surprised when we suffer opposition or distress at the hands of God’s enemies; Jesus has prevailed and will sit as King of kings and Lord of lords.
DAY ONE – Galatians 1-3
Jesus was born of Jewish parents; that made Him a Jew. But He was conceived by the Holy Spirit; that made Him the Son of God as well. Then when He went public, He chose twelve disciples to do life with Him for three years. While that was going on, another young Jew was being educated, indoctrinated and groomed for a life among the Pharisees who hated Jesus and wanted to kill Him. That young man was Saul of Tarsus, later to become Paul the Apostle to the nations of the world outside of Jerusalem. While the twelve were eyewitnesses of all the works and teachings of Jesus, Saul was growing in boldness as he planned to stop them. And when the twelve were with Jesus after His resurrection, Saul was already finding ways to persecute the Jesus followers and eradicate them. With his own words, he recounts how he became ‘one sent’ from God–an apostle. Nothing short of a divine encounter and divine revelations could so thoroughly transform the hater of Jesus followers into the man who preached the Good Jesus News all over the world and wrote two thirds of our New Testament in the Bible. In our reading today he wrote to the assembly in Galatia to by all means turn away from those who would bring them back under the condemnation of the Jewish law after they had been transformed into new life through the Holy Spirit. Using powerful rhetoric and his own historic testimony, Paul did everything to persuade them to reject religious tradition in favor of faith in God’s promises of salvation through His Son Jesus.
There are so many self-improvement and self-fulfilling movements in our culture today, that the false gospel of physical and mental achievements is threatening to take Jesus’ place in our daily life. Body and mind are being elevated over development of character and the human spirit. A better human life is being sold as a cheap substitute for eternal life in the Kingdom of God. Don’t go for it; while trying to be your best you, remember that you are an eternal spirit, and being a Jesus follower is the way to become the best you of all. Remain culturally free so that you can be led by the Holy Spirit who leads us more into Christ Jesus every day.
DAY TWO – Galatians 4-6, Acts 15-16
Preaching the Good News freely will always spark confrontation, for the essence of the Good News is that we must believe that Jesus is the Son of God and Savior of all, in order to be saved. Then we must choose to follow Him and be baptized in His name. This is Kingdom of Heaven versus kingdom of man, in mortal combat. It was initiated in the Garden of Eden when the first man Adam chose his own will over God’s will and lost his God-connection. Unfortunately it brought human death and was passed on to the human race. Religion–human style–is always a person’s attempt to reconnect with God without the blood of Jesus and His resurrection life; in other words, we are trying to save ourselves. The new Gentile believers in our Book of Acts story were pestered by those insisting they had to be circumcised and follow Moses’ laws and traditions to be saved. Faith in Jesus had to be attended by Jewish religious practices in order to complete one’s salvation. NOT! True religion is the expression of our faith and obedience to Jesus, after He has forgiven our sins and given us His righteousness. Our own righteousness may give glory to God, but it will never save us! That struggle has been reenacted in every generation for the last two thousand years!
The Jerusalem assembly, birthplace of Christianity, held a sacred convocation to put this matter to rest, Paul and his friends attending to share their experiences in the Gentile world of nations. First Peter, then James, spoke clearly and pointedly, to demonstrate that Judaism was given to the Jews, but grace from God is given to all peoples everywhere, in the name of Jesus. It was determined, then, that Jewish people were free to retain their cultural ways, but they must not impose them on anyone else; that Gentle believers who serve God through faith in Jesus should at least avoid sexual immorality and follow clean preparation of foods that avoid idolatry and blood consumption. When the Gentiles heard the message sent them from the elders, everybody rejoiced. Unfortunately the controversy continues, for religious traditions tend to become embodied in our faith. We must place our faith in Jesus and His power to save us at the top of our spiritual priorities. Aside from reading and practicing righteousness from God’s Word, our own traditions must never be substituted for the real Good News. The Holy Spirit is our Helper and Guide in all these matters.
DAY THREE – Acts 17:1-18:18
Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth–Paul was faithful to Jesus Christ in every place and city he was led by the Holy Spirit. It followed a pattern–find the Jewish synagogue, explain who Jesus was, and reason with them through the Holy Scriptures which offer a great deal of evidence as proof of the Lord’s life, death and resurrection. Two things usually happened–people believed in Jesus and became followers; and the unbelieving Jews stirred up opposition; and more than once created riots to drive Paul and his companions out of their city. However, assemblies of believers were left behind in Thessalonica and Corinth, where they remained a year and a half. During all of this the apostle reached a major turning point in his life. Wearied with the constant opposition and threats from the Jews, having been beaten and stoned by them more than once, he finally had had enough. “Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, ‘Your blood is upon your own heads—I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles.'” Acts 18:6 (NLT) And preach to the Gentiles he did, reaching most of the then western world.
It’s interesting to note that Paul’s visit to Athens found him alone and unaccompanied for a while. Walking the city streets, he was impressed by the proliferation of statues and idol symbols throughout the city. One shrine was even designated to an “unknown god.” Somehow Paul wound up in front of the council and preached a wonderful message concerning this “unknown god,” explaining that it was really Creator God, and Jesus His Son was the resurrected Savior God. How strange these things sounded to the Athenians, who spent most of their time trading stories and spinning new philosophies. But three things happened: 1) Some laughed out loud and scoffed; 2) Some pondered, wanting to hear more; 3) and some believed and became followers of Jesus. Our job is to share Jesus; the Holy Spirit’s job is to find the chosen and grant them a believing heart, resulting in eternal salvation. Pick it up, saints; there has never been a better time to be Jesus’ faithful witness in our world!
DAY FOUR – 1 Thessalonians 1-5
Personal letters from apostles to Jesus’ followers make up a good portion of the New Testament. Writing about faith in Jesus, about the function of Truth and how to live it out in our daily lives, these men, as they were moved and borne along by the Holy Spirit, revealed the Lord Jesus Christ, heaven, times and seasons; and brought great instruction that helps us all to live the right kind of life. Having suffered greatly for the Gospel in Philippi, Paul and Silas nevertheless moved on to Thessalonica and preached the Good News with power from Holy Spirit. Recounting his time among them, Paul writes as a father might write his children, reminding them of the wonderful times they had together and encouraging them to keep their faith and service strong. Going a step further, the apostle dispels arguments about what happens to us when Jesus returns. Faithful friends and family who have died anywhere in the world at any time, suddenly rise from their graves and materialize again, while we believers who are alive rise suddenly to meet them in the air… we will all forever be with the Lord! This is a cataclysm, attended with a mighty shout, sounds of trumpets, and voices of archangels. Heaven now visits us with God’s peace, favor and assistance. But then gravity will lose its hold, and we will rise triumphantly into the life for which we have all believed, toiled and struggled to maintain. God is faithful to do what we cannot; through Jesus He conquered hell and the grave, and through Jesus He will gather His great family together. In the meantime, we are a family of believers and followers, and we must attend to each other diligently while shining as lights in our dark world. The world we know now is NOT the world of the future. THAT world is prepared by our Father in heaven to liberate us into light, life and love such as we have never known. The world we occupy now by our life of faith has already begun to decay and will pass into eternity without ever delivering what it promised! Keep your hope in the future that Jesus secured and calls our inheritance. May God preserve you entirely and completely in every way through His divine Spirit.
DAY FIVE – 2 Thessalonians 1-3
Paul wrote a second letter to the Thessalonian assembly, picking up again the theme of suffering, retribution and the day of the Lord. There is a modern theme in Christianity that if our life pleases God and we live in faith, we will be blessed, have good health and prosper financially as well. That may be true for some; but for others there may be intense persecution, deep suffering and sometimes poverty. Neither can be a gauge of God’s blessings, which are given freely to all in the form of salvation, comfort, eternal life and daily blessings in His Presence. That the Lord mercifully strengthens and keeps us in His grace is indisputable. That He is coming again to deliver us from this present world into the glorious eternal life with Him is an unchangeable promise. We can take comfort from our brothers and sisters around the world that the believer/follower’s life with Jesus is wonderful, even when persecution and suffering are a part. But we must not allow ourselves to become weary or get worried that the Lord has already come or that the so-called “day of the Lord” has already begun. Yes, the conflicts between the kingdoms continue to clash around us, but very specific events will be set in motion when we near the end of that which we now experience. At that time a person who embodies all the evil rebellion and wickedness against God will surface as a world leader, resisting God and the Holy Spirit by advancing and elevating himself. Things will be very difficult for all peoples who hold faith in Jesus. But then Jesus will come with His mighty angels and kill that wicked person while establishing His own rule over this world. As 21st century followers of Christ, we see signs that this rebellion will soon reach its peak in world cultures and governments, so that there is no human remedy left to us. But until then we are encouraged to live our life of faith, work hard to support ourselves and others, and always be ready to pray for and encourage one another. It’s time, dear brothers and sisters, to live unselfishly, serve wherever we can, and maintain a spirit of prayer and intercession for our families, friends and God’s people everywhere. We must turn loose of those things that can never save us, learning to be content with all that God gives us for each day’s blessings. Grace and peace from our Lord, Jesus.