Acts 15:3 So being sent on their way by the church, they went through  both Phoenicia and Samaria, narrating in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers.

I was reading through Acts 15 this morning and came across vs. 3 in which we discover that the news that many Gentiles were coming to faith brought "great joy" to the church [which at the time was composed mainly of Jews]. I began to wonder what else brought the believers "great joy." Here are some things:

  • The discovery of the resurrection of Jesus. Matt. 28:8 So they left the tomb at once, with fear and great joy, and ran to break the news to his disciples.
  • The demonstration of the power of the gospel under Philip's preaching. Acts 8:8 So there was great joy in that city.
  • The news that followers of Christ were walking in the truth. 3John 4 I have no greater joy than this: to hear that  my children are walking in the truth.
  • Our reaction when we stand in God's glorious presence. Jude 24 Now to the one who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in his glorious presence  without blame and with great joy

Great joy then comes in the knowledge of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that he is not dead, but that he has risen and this leads both to the salvation of our own souls and the promise of our own resurrection. Great joy comes in seeing the work of the Holy Spirit extended to people whom we did not expect to see follow Jesus. Great joy comes when we see the working of the Holy Spirit in power as people come to faith and as those who are sick are healed. Great joy comes to us as we see fellow believers overcoming the temptation to live according to the world's standards and embrace and live according to the truth of God's word. Finally, this great joy will extend into the gates of heaven itself as we stand in the presence of our Great God with everyone else who has been washed clean by the blood of Jesus, who has been forgiven, and who stands before God's presence with us in great joy.

Amen and Amen!

He sat down and summoned the Twelve. “So you want first place? Then take the last place. Be the servant of all.”” (Mark 9:35, The Message)

The Message paraphrase takes a little bit of liberty with the text here.  What Jesus really says is: “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” Having said that, I do like the paraphrase because it speaks directly to the disciples, implying [correctly, I think] that they really did want first place as individuals, which is why they were arguing with each other exactly who among them was the greatest! (vs. 34)

We would like to think that we would not have been like the disciples, but the reality of our lives tells a different story.  We often think and act as if the most important people in our lives is non other than ourselves.  Jesus, who was a master physician of the psyches of mankind, totally upends our self-centered thinking.  The greatest person is the one who takes last place and becomes servant of all.

I’m not sure exactly what this means, but it seems to me that if you are a servant of all people, then your life ought to be characterized by humility and service to others.  Some of us have a lot further to go in this than others, and by some of us, I mean myself.

Thus God returned the evil of Abimelech, which he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers. And God also made all the evil of the men of Shechem return on their heads, and upon them came the curse of Jotham the son of Jerubbaal.” (Judges 9:56–57, ESV)

The author of Judges repeats a word two times in the last couple of sentences of Judges 9, it’s the word “return.”  The various English translations have different words to express what the author is saying here:

  • Repaid – NRSV, NASB
  • Rendered – KJV
  • Punished – NLT
  • Returned – ESV

The point being made is that God did not allow Abimelech to get away with his monstrous evil when he killed the 70 sons of Jerubbaal (Gideon), nor did he allow the leaders of Shechem to get away with their rebellion against Abimelech. God returned/repaid/punished both parties for their evil.

Notice also that the evil in the book of Judges is gradually getting worse and worse.  God raises up “heroes” again and again to save Israel from oppression, but they are flawed heroes one and all, and their flaws get worse and worse.  The beauty of the book of Judges is that the flawed heroes point us forward towards a hero who is not flawed, who will do God’s will perfectly, and who will free Israel (and all peoples of all nations) from their slavery to corruption, if they will follow him by faith. Paul understands this clearly:

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:2–4, ESV)

Like the flawed heroes of Judges, we too are flawed and corrupt and in need of a perfect hero to save us from ourselves.  This God gave us in Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man.

 

“When he had seized him, he put him in prison, handing him over to four squads of four soldiers each to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was made earnestly to God for him by the church.” (Acts 12:4–5)

As near as we can tell from what Luke describes, Peter was imprisoned in this way.  There were 16 soldiers that were responsible for guarding him.  He was shackled with two chains. He was not dressed with his outer clothes. He was behind at least two locked doors…and he arose, followed the angel and everything opened for him.  He simply walked right out of that prison.

It’s interesting how Luke connects his rescue with prayer from the broader church.  Frederik Meyer writes: “a praying household is stronger than the strongest precautions of human might.”

And so it is.

The Lord said to Gideon, “I will rescue you and give you victory over the Midianites with the three hundred men who lapped the water. Tell everyone else to go home.”” (Judges 7:7, GNB)

Gideon started with 32,000 warriors, but God whittles this down to 300, less than 1% of the army with which Gideon had started.  300 soldiers to take on the whole Midianite Army!  Gideon had not yet learned what Jonathan did understand later in Israel’s history [perhaps because of this very story?].

Jonathan said to the attendant who carried his weapons, “Come on, let’s cross over to the garrison of these uncircumcised men. Perhaps the Lord will help us. Nothing can keep the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few.”” (1 Samuel 14:6, HCSB)

Gideon will indeed defeat the army of Midian with 300 men, or rather to be accurate, God will defeat the army of Midian using Gideon and his 300 men as a prop with which to do it.  I love this story.

These days, we don’t raise up armies of the Lord with which to battle the forces of darkness.  We use spiritual armor like the Word of God and truth and the Holy Spirit.  However, God has not changed.  We will face opposition.  This opposition always includes the spiritual and sometimes it also includes physical forces of whatever kind that oppose us.  Has God’s character changed that he cannot give us victory over whatever force opposes us, be it ever so strong?  Surely the stories of Gideon and Jonathan teach us otherwise.

“So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace; being built up, and walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in number.” (Acts 9:31)

There is an interesting juxtaposition in Acts 8 an 9.  At the beginning the fledgling church is under threat by Saul of Tarsus:

“But Saul was making havoc of the church; entering every house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.Now those who were scattered went from place to place preaching the word” (Acts 8:3–4)

While Saul was rabidly persecuting the church, the church was under pressure and so Christians fled away from Jerusalem to various parts of Israel and even beyond.  Then Saul got radically saved while on the way to Damascus to continue his oppression of Christians there.  He suddenly began preaching for faith in Christ!

The result is listed in our verse.  Paul was no longer in pursuit of Christians and so the broader church was at peace and then: It increased in number.

When the church was under pressure it was increasing in number due to Christians being spread out and preaching the word.  When it was at peace it was also increasing in number.  This is something that only the Lord could bring about in his sovereignty.  It should also make us think twice about our assumptions of how and where the Word of God will bear fruit.

“Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
whose trust is the Lord. ”
https://ref.ly/Je17.7;esv

I find it interesting here that Jeremiah writes this verse, immediately after penning the contrasting verse:

“Thus says the Lord:
“Cursed is the man who trusts in man
and makes flesh his strength,
whose heart turns away from the Lord. ”
https://ref.ly/Je17.5;esv

We take from this a few lessons:

  1. You cannot trust in man and also trust in the Lord. Trusting in man will turn your heart away from the Lord.
  2.  If you trust in man you are cursed. These are very strong words, but spoken only because they are true.  Trusting in man will lead right down the pathway to destruction.
  3. If you trust in the Lord you are blessed. This is the opposite of being cursed and it means to be happy/fulfilled.  Since men seek fulfillment and joy in life, trusting in the Lord is the only way to get what they are seeking [though mankind seems to have a high tolerance for the pain of seeking joy in any other way but the Lord].

I take from this that it is good and right to seek our joy and fulfillment in the only way that true joy and fulfillment can come: through a relationship with our Lord.  Seeking to flourish in life in any other way is a fool’s errand and will lead to destruction.