Acts Day 241 - Serious Business
20:22 And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
25 “And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face. 26 Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men..."
Life and death. We all face it. This week has included some happy reunions but one of them was bittersweet. We gathered around a table to share and pray and study just like the old days. There was just one silent problem. One of us was missing and we won't see her again until Jesus calls her name and gathers us Home.
Agnostic, Buddhist, Atheist, Catholic, Muslim, Baptist or unsure we all face life and death. To be living is to be dying. We may not all agree or have the same beliefs about what happens after death but we all agree that it comes.
Paul was headed to Jerusalem. He believed his death was probably imminent. He told the elders from Ephesus that they would likely never see him again.
As we talked about a couple of days ago he was going because he felt lead by God's Spirit to do so. He was not being forced by any man or by God but he was committed to do whatever God asked Him to do and at that moment that meant going to Jerusalem where belief in Jesus was not tolerated.
Whether a person agrees or disagrees with Paul's beliefs or choices no one can deny that he lived with purpose. He flat out said his own life was of no consequence to him. Where did he learn that? Who does he resemble? Isn't it true that when Lazarus died and Jesus announced he was going to Jerusalem the disciples felt certain they were marching to their own execution? Isn't it true that if ever two feet walked this earth that made everyone else a higher priority than himself it was Jesus?
Paul is not blazing a new trail here. He is following his Master's footsteps, spending his life for the benefit of others. It can sound like bragging when Paul says he is innocent of the blood of all men but that is not his point. If Paul were so self-obsessed he wouldn't be heading for Jerusalem. His point is to help the leaders in Ephesus realize that their mission is a life and death mission. The lives of others hang in the balance. Paul was innocent if their blood because he went where God sent him and offered to them the antidote for death. If they took it or not was up to them. He did his part.
The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life... Our privilege as friends and ambassadors of Jesus is to dispense the opportunity to seize the Gift.
Acts Day 242 - Savage Wolves
20:28 "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified."
The Old Testament is the foundation for the new. Each 'hero' in it is a foreshadowing of Jesus. Something about them told a part of what Jesus would do. David was a shepherd/king. Jesus is the Great Shepherd of the sheep. He is also King of kings and Lord of lords. A King who lives to serve and protect. A King who would die to save the lowliest peasant in His kingdom.
We are introduced to David as a shepherd who courageously protected his sheep from savage predators intent on killing them. Paul picks up the theme here in Acts as he talks to the elders in Ephesus. He is passing the torch. It is up to them to be God's undershepherds now. They must guard the "flock". Notice that Paul says it is a flock already purchased with the blood of Jesus. Notice that he calls them "sanctified" by grace.
I grew up being taught repeatedly that we were justified but not sanctified. Then I read the Bible for myself. In it I discovered we are both perfectly justified and perfectly sanctified. For those who may not be sure how to define these terms, justified means declared innocent. Sanctified means set apart for a Holy purpose. In simpler terms I was taught I am seen as innocent (justified) because of what Jesus did but not holy. This error is the first wedge in separating the sheep from their Shepherd. It's the gateway teaching that opens the door to bringing in all kinds of man made systems and efforts to attain holiness so we can then present ourselves not only innocent but holy and a holiness of our own making.
Jesus taught something very different. He taught a holiness that was altogether a gift. The wedding garment that makes us fit to attend the great wedding feast is a gift from the King. In it there is not one thread of human devising.
Notice that Paul warns that the wolves will come from outside and inside the flock. The goal of these wolves is to kill the sheep by placing the burdens of the Shepherd on the backs of the sheep. They remove His grace and subtly, step by step, get the sheep doing the work that Jesus has already done.
Was Peter declared innocent even though he denied knowing Jesus at the cross? Yes! Was he set aside for a Holy purpose? Yes! Will he be in heaven to spend eternity with his Great Shepherd and King? Yes! Was he perfect in this life? Did he never make a mistake after Pentecost? No!!! The work of the Shepherd to rescue and protect His sheep has nothing to do with their worthiness or perfection. That's why it is called grace. Perfect sheep don't need grace.
All around you and inside you are the voices of savage wolves. Why savage? Because they are pushing you to tear your own flesh and offer your own blood to purchase your forgiveness and buy your perfection.
The bill has been paid in full almost 2000 years ago. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Acts Day 243 - Safe From the Wolves
20:29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
I have a real love/hate relationship with this passage. When I came to Grande Prairie I made a vow to myself. I knew when I made it that it couldn't be kept but I so wanted it to be possible. The vow was that I would lose no one. Much emphasis in religion is placed in growth. I was not and am not against growth in any way but growth followed by loss feels worse than no growth. I wanted to be a shepherd that never loses any sheep. There are a lot if "I's" in what I just said but if God gives me the care of some of His sheep I don't want to lose any.
Needless to say the vow has been broken many times over. I have lost not just some but almost half of one of my churches. A wolf came in among the flock and I lost many.
Now can you see my love/hate relationship with the above passage? I love the passage because there is some comfort in knowing it's not all my fault but I hate the inevitability of it all. There is no maybe. There are no possible scenarios in which wolves won't come. Worse still it isn't even always an attack from the outside. Wolves arise from within the sheep, forcing the Shepherd to treat one of his sheep as an enemy, a cancerous tumour, a threat to the flock.
Despite this depressing reality that like Judas some will choose the darkness no matter what we do, did Paul leave us some help in minimizing any losses? He did. He said he admonished each one with tears. More and more I am seeing and understanding why so many flocks are weak and why the wolves are having so much success. Wolves don't attack a flock. They choose and attack one sheep. Satan deceived Eve when she was alone. Jesus sent all His disciples out two by two. In Proverbs we are told a cord or three strands is not easily broken. My favourite author said "small groups were shown to me by One who cannot err."
Personal attention: Paul admonished each believer individually with tears.
Strength in numbers: God always calls people into community. We are a body. Nature teaches us that herds protect themselves from predators by pressing together with the weakest in the inner circle and the strongest on the perimeter.
Know the truth:
Paul's final counsel is to commend believers to God and to the word of His grace. Truth is the ultimate antidote. All twisting and perverting of the Story becomes evident when we know Him as it is our privilege to know Him.
All around us there is perversion. Hunters go into the woods armed not just with guns but with mating calls and other sounds familiar to their prey. They 'speak' to the animals they hunt as if they are one of them. It is deception and it is effective.
Do we know His voice? Do we know it so well that no counterfeit will trick us? Jesus said "My sheep know My voice and they follow Me."
Seek Him. Immerse yourself in His Word and His grace. Join His body. Press together. Never walk alone. Flee from every seductive, deceptive, perverted voice.
Acts Day 244 - Money
20:33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothes. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me. 35 In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
Sometimes the Bible doesn't need any deep analysis to extract the deep practicality from it. Money - everyone needs. Work - we were all designed for it and called to it.
When you study history there is a definite cycle in the relationship between work and money. Those who have the least amount of money often work the hardest. Consistent hard work often leads to an accumulation of increased wealth, often over the course of several generations. As wealth and affluence increase the desire to work hard seems to decrease.
Ephesus was much like any affluent city today. Looking around at the cities in my own country it's the immigrants that are working hard to get ahead while the work ethic of the locals seems to be steadily decreasing. I often wonder what would happen to the service industry if all the immigrants doing the jobs the locals don't want went home...
Into this kind of scenario steps Paul. He wants to make it clear that he is not a snake oil salesman. He is not in it to feed off the backs of believers. There are many who use religion for personal gain much like the silversmiths who incited the riot against him. Religion can be big money. Just look at some of the cathedrals/mosques etc... and look at the multi millionaires who stand in pulpits and preach on TV promising you great wealth if you support their ministries. They say it more eloquently than that but that's the deal.
Paul wanted no such thing to happen to the truth as it is in Jesus. The foundation of the Christian church had to be solid. Jesus worked as an artisan for 30 years in a poor town. He never owned a house or accumulated any wealth. There is nothing wrong with owning a house or being wealthy. However Jesus was making a statement. He was not invested in stuff. He was invested in us.
Think about it. Paul worked to support himself and his team and the work they were doing to lead people to Christ. Look at the reason he gave when he encouraged the citizens of upper class Ephesus to be hard workers. He wanted them to help the poor and weak. James wrote later on that true religion was to help orphans and widows in their distress and to keep unpolluted by the world. In the context of what James wrote "the world" refers to the mindset of taking and accumulating rather than giving and serving.
Money is necessary. It is a tool. It can be used to exploit and oppress or help and bless. Paul had every right to be supported financially in his work by the people but in affluent Ephesus he wanted to make a statement. Hard work is honourable and money is a tool for service, not treasure to be hoarded.
Simple. Practical. True.
Acts Day 245 - Death Will Not Have the Last Word
20:36 "When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him, 38 grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship."
I hate goodbyes. Hate them. Detest them. One of the aspects of heaven I look forward to the most is the end of goodbyes, the end of unwanted separation. The book of Revelation in describing the place where we will spend eternity with our God - the earth made new - is described as no longer having a sea. The sea figures prominently in the Bible, especially in prophecy, as a barrier or divider. History bears this out. Columbus "discovered" the Americas in an attempt to conquer the seas and get to India. The globe has since 'shrunk' significantly with the advent of air travel but the sea remains a formidable barrier between the Americas and the rest of the world. If you look at a world map you can see that the continents easily can fit together making one large land mass. When you consider that the top of the Rocky Mountain range was once ocean floor it is obvious our earth has been through a lot of upheaval on a scale we can't imagine. Genesis tells us God created this world with one land mass in the beginning surrounded by water.
I firmly believe based on the clues we are given and prophetic history that God divided the Americas to slow down the spread of sin and evil.
However let's not drift too far off course. The real point is that heaven will have no divisions, no barriers, nothing that separates. Nothing hurts a loving heart more than separation. I remember the pain of sitting with my mom and knowing when I walked out the door I would never see her alive again in this lifetime. Never again would I hear her voice. Never again would I hear her infectious laughter. Never again could I ask her a question or play a game with her. Walking out that door was the hardest thing I have done yet.
I hate goodbyes. It started when my dog died and I was only 5. Tippy was his name: Tippy Tyler Wilson. At 15 my friend Remy was hit by a van and thrown from his bicycle and killed. At 19 my grandmother died followed over the next few years by the other three. At 17 I left home knowing there would never be any return outside of visits and short stays. When I became a pastor it saying goodbye to my churches, an ache that never really goes away. Mom died nearly six years ago. My 5 year old nephew Nicolas, easily the most tragic goodbye I have ever witnessed, was 17 months ago today.
I hate goodbyes with every fibre of my being. We were not designed for them. It was never part of the original plan. We are not supposed to be here and none of these things are supposed to be happening.
Paul dedicated the last half of his life to telling anyone who would listen that it won't always be this way. There is hope. There is an antidote for death and there will be an end to goodbyes. His name is Jesus. He suffered the darkest goodbye of all time. In that one moment He declared to the entire universe that love is stronger than death. He wrote His love for us with His own blood. By an act more powerful than any words could ever be He demonstrated that no one hates goodbyes more than He and His Father. Together they declared their refusal to say goodbye to us. They reversed the curse. They opened the graves. The earth convulsed and gave up many who had died as an evidence that death will not have the final say.
They wept to see Paul go. They wept because they knew they would never see him alive again in their lifetime. It was right that they wept. Love weeps. Jesus wept.
"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. 2 And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
5 And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He *said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.” (Revelation 21)