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Exegesis

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Stephen is martyred

Preachers are always concerned about how their sermons will be received. We agonize over the Biblical text, wanting so much to be true to what God says. We want our hearers to receive the Word as good soil. (Matthew 13:23)

In today’s Bible reading, Stephen (one of the Seven who were chosen to serve tables) recounts the history of the people of Israel, the physical children of Abraham. He begins with God’s call to Abraham to leave everything familiar to him to go to a land he didn’t know about. The trip would take a couple of months, traveling up to twenty miles a day with his family, his servants, and his livestock. Stephen continues through Moses’ call to lead the Hebrew people out of their slavery in Egypt. So far, so good. Finally, he quotes Isaiah 66:1-2 and then makes his application:

“You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51–53 ESV)

Now, if a preacher was trying to attract new convert with a “seeker-sensitive” sermon, he definitely wouldn’t have concluded his message with those three verses!

But Stephen was true to God’s Word. He applied it to his hearers in such a way that they stoned him to death. They understood his message. They rejected his message. So Stephen became the first Christian martyr.

Application

The Greek word for martyr means “witness”. Stephen was a witness and shared the Good News with these religious leaders. But before you can get to the Good News, must understand the implications of the Bad News. And that makes the Good News all the more attractive. Unfortunately, much of modern preaching and evangelism overlooks the Bad News and its implications. Instead, it offers an incomplete Good News message and cheap grace without the mention of sin and our need of repentance.

We (all of us, not just the ordained, but also the ordinary) need to follow Stephen’s example and be willing to be the witness/martyr that he was. Stephen was unfazed as his audience picked up stones to kill him. He continued to bear witness to the glories of heaven.

Being a witness for Jesus may cost your life. But isn’t that what we’re called to do? A call to salvation is a call to come and die. (Luke 9:23)

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shadows

In today’s Bible reading, we see how people respond to the miraculous signs and wonders they witness at the hands of the Apostles. “They even carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on cots and mats, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them.” (Acts 5:15 ESV)

Any time we see a mighty move of God, we all want to get in on what God’s doing. But at the same time, we need to be careful with our response. It’s easy for our emotions to get ahead of our brains. And that’s what it sounds like Luke reports in Acts 5:15. Verse 16 seems to indicate that being in the path of Peter’s shadow actually caused people to be healed.

But notice that Luke is describing what happened. That’s the nature of the history genre, the type of writing of Acts. History describes what happened. And Dr. Luke was careful in both his Gospel and in Acts to faithfully describe what he learned in his investigation. (Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-2)

Amazing things were happening in the early days of the life of the church. God did some incredible things. But note that Luke doesn’t say that these things happened at any other time throughout the rest of Acts. Now, I’m not saying that God couldn’t keep on working these miracles. But it’s clear that Luke doesn’t mention it again after these two verses. (Acts 5:15-16)

It’s also important to note that no other New Testament writer mentions it anywhere in their writings either. Also absent is any instruction (even in Acts) which prescribes that people should try to arrange the infirmed so that Peter’s shadow could grace them and heal them.

Application

Before I go any further, let me say definitively that I believe that God is God and I’m not. God can do whatever He wants, whenever He wants, wherever He wants. I believe that the only expiration date God has placed on His gifts is the return of Jesus. (1 Corinthians 13:8–12 [note that we haven’t yet seen him “face to face”])

Now, having said that, I’ll add that when we read history, like Acts, we must remember that we’re reading descriptions (what happened), not prescriptions (how things are supposed to happen).

I hope you can see that we could get into a lot of trouble if we insist that all you need to do is go to a faith healing crusade and sit in the faith healer’s shadow to be healed. To do that is to force a meaning on the Bible text that simply isn’t there. And to do that is to put vulnerable people in very vulnerable situations where if they don’t get what they’re promised, they blame God. God is not honored by someone’s misuse and twisting of the Bible.

Can God heal and do miraculous things today? Absolutely! Can God use doctors and medicine? Absolutely. We’ll see when we get to Acts 28 that it’s wise to pray and seek medical help. Does God always heal and do miraculous things? Yes, but not on our timetable and not on our dictates.

God has not obligated Himself to do anything in response to our requests. We must always remember that God is God. And we aren’t.

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Yesterday, I teased that I would explain today why we no longer need to cast lots to determine God’s will. Today’s Bible reading answers that question. On the Day of Pentecost, God fulfilled His promise to pour out His Spirit on all kinds of people, not just special people.

Way back in Joel 2:28-29, God promised that one day He would pour out His Spirit on ordinary people. No longer would only prophets, priests, and kings be able to speak for God. Ordinary men and women, young and old — even servants — would hear God speak. When Peter stood up on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, he said, this is what Joel told us about! (Acts 2:16-18) It’s happened!

No longer would ordinary people have to look to ordained people to hear God speak!

Application

Believer, regardless of your station in life, regardless of your theological training — or lack thereof — God’s Holy Spirit lives in you! You don’t have to go to a priest or a prophet to hear God’s voice. Because the Holy Spirit lives in you, you can learn to hear God speak to you!

Most times and most clearly, God’s Spirit will speak through the Bible. But He will also occasionally speak through other Believers, circumstances, and even a “still small voice”.

Spend some time today thanking God for the awesome gift of His Spirit. Know that it may take a while to tune your ear to His voice, but know that the God Who created you wants to talk with you. And He wants to talk through you to other Believers, as well as to lost friends and family members. Listen to Him. Say what He tells you to say. And do what He tells you to do.

Spend some time today reading God’s Word. Ask God to speak through the words on the page and for His indwelling Spirit to enlighten you to what He’s saying. Remember, He will never tell you anything that’s out of line with what He has already said in the Bible.

Know that hearing God’s voice is never just about you. It’s always about Him and what brings Him the most credit, honor, and glory. It’s also about using what you hear to encourage other Believers in their faith and telling lost people about the God Who saves!

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There seems to be a great concern among some that they have committed the unpardonable sin and are hopelessly doomed to spend eternity in hell for committing one sin. Well thankfully, Jesus addresses the “unpardonable sin” in today’s Bible reading.

As we look at this sin which can never be forgiven, let’s look at what Jesus actually says and let’s look at the immediate context.

Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:28–29 ESV)

So what is blasphemy?

Blasphemy means “to speak against someone in such a way as to harm or injure his or her reputation (occurring in relation to persons as well as to divine beings)—‘to revile, to defame, to blaspheme, reviling”[1] To blaspheme against the Holy Spirit is to slander Him.

Now, look at the context:

“And the scribes who came down from Jerusalem were saying, “He is possessed by Beelzebul,” and “by the prince of demons he casts out the demons.” (Mark 3:22 ESV)

From the definition and the context, we can conclude that blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is to see God’s works occurring before one’s eyes and speak against God in such a way to attribute the works of God to the devil himself.

Application

Have you ever committed the unpardonable sin? Have you sinned so greatly that God will never forgive you? Look at what Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter.” (Mark 3:28 ESV)

Jesus says that God is able to forgive all kinds of sins of all kinds of people. He can and will forgive all of all. Except for one sin: attributing the works of God to the devil. Have you ever done that? Have you ever seen Jesus do the works of God and say, “No, the devil did that!”

It’s important to note something Jesus says in just a few chapters later. “For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness.” Mark 7:21-22 (ESV)

In other words, our lips give away the inclinations of our hearts. An unbelieving heart will speak of its unbelief. And an unbelieving heart will speak against the works of God in such a way to attribute God’s works to the devil.

So have you committed the unpardonable sin? Are you unforgivable? Are you beyond God’s redemption?

The fact that you are concerned enough to ask the question speaks of a heart inclined to believe. An unbelieving heart wouldn’t even care if it had done something so heinous that it couldn’t be forgiven.

So take heart! If you’re concerned that you can’t be forgiven for something, that’s the work of God in your heart to redeem you, not to reject you!

[1] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains 1996: 433. Print.

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perfect

In today’s Bible reading, we read of the coming of the perfect new heavens and new earth. The perfectly-adorned bride of Christ is revealed. There’s no more sin or anything associated with it. There’s no more crying. There’s no more death. God dwells with His people. An angel measures heaven with a gold-standard. Everything is perfect. There’s no need for a sun or moon, for God Himself is the light. There’s no need for a temple because God Himself and the Lamb (Jesus) are the temple. Even the people there are perfect:

Nothing unclean will ever enter it,
nor anyone who does what is detestable or false,
but only those written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Revelation 21:27 (CSB)

The central idea behind Revelation 21 is, “Then he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will freely give to the thirsty from the spring of the water of life.'” Revelation 21:6 (CSB)

When God says, “It is done” He uses the perfect tense, meaning that it has already been done. There is nothing left to continue doing in the present or to do in the future. It’s complete. It’s perfect.

Application

One of the hallmarks of the Gospel message is the completion of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus’ death on the cross and His resurrection accomplished everything necessary for us to be right with God. It is so complete that we can’t add anything to our salvation (as if we had anything to contribute anyway!).

And that’s great news!

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1 2 3 8

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