In today’s Bible reading, the writer of Hebrews says all of the other priests who came before Jesus brought the blood of goats and calves into the holy places to make atonement for the people. Once every year the high priest would bring a sacrifice to atone for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people. (Hebrews 9:7)
However, he says that when Jesus entered the Most Holy Place, He brought His own blood to atone for the people’s sins once for all time, securing an eternal redemption. (Hebrews 9:12)
And as I said two days ago, Jesus didn’t have to bring blood for His own sin since He was without sin.
Never again will anyone need to offer another sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice for our sin-debt sufficiently dealt with God’s wrath. Jesus’ sacrifice was so complete that you don’t have to worry about whether or not God will accept you. You are completely acceptable for all time.
Until you cross over to the other side of eternity, you will continue to have to deal with temptation. You will always have to deal with sinful inclinations and sinful behaviors. But if you are one of God’s kids, you can never do anything that will bring His displeasure to throw you out of His presence. You have been forgiven once-for-all. You have been adopted once-for-all. You have been accepted once-for-all.
And that’s good news!
In today’s Bible reading Paul asked some disciples in Ephesus if they had received the Holy Spirit when they believed. (Acts 19:1-4)
Like Apollos in yesterday’s reading, they had only heard of — and received — John’s Baptism; they knew nothing of the Holy Spirit. When Paul told them the rest of the story, they were baptized in water and received the Holy Spirit, manifesting Him through tongues and prophesying. (Acts 19:6) This is the same manifestation we saw in Acts 2:4 when Jesus’ Disciples received the Holy Spirit and when the Gentiles received the Holy Spirit in Acts 10:46).
Although tongues and prophecy aren’t specifically mentioned when the Samaritans received the Spirit in Acts 8:17–18, Simon’s response seems to indicate something similar happened here as well.
Assuming that my inference is correct, there are only four places in the entire book of Acts where we’re told that the Holy Spirit manifested with tongues and prophecy. I find this significant in light of the over-emphasis seen in many churches and ministries in the past one hundred years. I say over-emphasis because so many insist that the Holy Spirit always manifests in these ways when people understand the whole Gospel.*
* By the whole Gospel, I’m referring to 1) the proclamation that of Jesus’ resurrection and accepting of Jesus’ death on the cross to atone for the sins of those who repent, 2) water baptism to symbolize the Believer’s union with Jesus’ death and Resurrection, and 3) the proclamation that God’s Holy Spirit indwells believers to empower them to live a holy life. The book of Acts (and the Gospels) is unique in that it describes people believing in the progressive revelation of God as it was being revealed: John’s baptism of repentance, belief in Jesus’ resurrection and immediate water baptism, and the receiving/baptism of the Holy Spirit. Those who only receive John’s baptism of repentance aren’t told of the baptism of Jesus and the Holy Spirit’s enabling power. Later, when they hear of the Holy Spirit’s baptism, God manifests the Spirit in the same way (tongues and prophecy) to validate the person’s Holy Spirit baptism.
In other words, what Dr. Luke describes in Acts is not prescribed for the future church. In contrast to Acts, the Holy Spirit now takes up residence in the new Believer when they repent/believe/are saved and as he/she yields to His leading over time, the Spirit manifests in the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) In fact, Paul says that the baptism of the Holy Spirit actually makes us Christians, uniting new Believers to the Body of Christ. (1 Corinthians 12:13) Further, Paul urges Believers to be continually filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)
In summary — and speaking generally, today, the operation of the Spiritual gifts of tongues and prophecy (for evangelism and equipping) is different today than it was in the book of Acts (for revelation and validation).
The Holy Spirit sovereignly gives Believers various spiritual gifts for the purpose of evangelizing the lost and equipping Believers to grow in their faith. No one gift is more — or less — valuable than any other. All spiritual gifts should be used for the service and glory of God rather than the Believer who has been given the gift(s) by God.
I know that some of what I have said here is up for debate among believers. These issues are not primary issues of faith; they are areas where Christians should be able to agree to disagree. My hope is that this brief devotional helps to shed some Biblical light on some questionable, commonly-held theology.
Well, things finally come to a head in today’s Bible reading. The Judaizers have raised such a ruckus that the church has its first council, the Jerusalem Council, to codify how the church should handle their first major problem. The problem: Does a new convert to Christianity have to be a good Jew to be a good Christian.
It seems like everywhere the Apostles go, an unfriendly crowd of Jewish religionists follow and cause problems. One of the major problems they create is to raise doubts as to whether submitting to the Jewish Law is necessary for a new Christian convert. (Acts 15:1) At first, there really wasn’t an issue since all of the new converts were all Jewish.
As the Gospel message spreads, Gentiles are converted to Christianity. Some Christians with Jewish heritage look down on the Gentile converts and tell them that if they really want to be good Christ-Followers, they have to submit to the Jewish Law, including the rite of circumcision. It’s just a cut of a little bit of skin. That’s all. Right?
The problem isn’t the cutting of skin. The problem isn’t the ritual. The problem comes down to asking the question, “Is Jesus enough to make fallen people right with God? Or is there anything else we should add to give us a better standing before God on Judgment Day? That really is the question!
The reason the question is so crucial is that if there’s anything that can give a person a right standing before God — in addition to Jesus — was Jesus’ atoning sacrifice really enough? And the reason this question is so important is that if something can be added to make us right before God, did Jesus really have to die in the first place? Is there something we could have done apart from Jesus that would cause God to look favorably on us.
See, the reason these questions are so important is because it forces us to answer the question of how badly were we affected by the Fall to begin with.
Scripture seems to indicate that we were so deeply affected by the Fall that we have nothing to contribute to salvation at all. (Jeremiah 17:9, Isaiah 64:6, Psalm 14:3) Theologians call our Fallen Condition, Radical Corruption since our corruption goes to the root of who we are. In fact, one theologian rightly noted that “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.” (Jonathan Edwards)
The question answered by the Jerusalem Council is still applicable today. Is Jesus enough to give lost, Fallen people a right standing before God? Or do people have something they can contribute, something that can make them look better when they stand before God on Judgment Day. And if there is, did Jesus waste His life … and death?
The basic questions come down to the heart of the Gospel message. If people can do anything to earn God’s favor, then words like grace and mercy are meaningless. They’re meaningless because if people can earn God’s favor, then God’s favor is wages paid to deserving people. Therefore, God is obligated to pay salvation to those who earn it.
On the other hand, the Bible consistently teaches — from beginning to end — that each human being who has ever lived has failed to live up to God’s standard of righteousness. (Romans 3:23) And each human being who has ever lived is an enemy of God (Romans 5:10) and deserving of death and eternal separation from Him. (Romans 6:23, Ephesians 2:1-9)
Yeah, I’ll take free grace over earned wages any day! How about you?
In today’s Bible reading, the Apostles come to a point where they realize they can’t do it all. And that’s a good thing!
People began accusing the Apostles of overlooking the Hellenistic (Gentile) widows and giving preference to Jewish widows. That may or may not have been the case, but the accusation was made.
Rather than deny that there was a problem or telling the people to get over it, the twelve Apostles summoned the help of other believers. “We can’t do it all. Actually, trying to do it all is causing us to neglect our main calling. We need help. We — the ordained — need to delegate all of the ministry activities to you — the ordinary — so that we can dedicate ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.” (Acts 6:2-4)
At this point, the Apostles more deeply understood the ramifications of the fulfillment of Joel 2:28-29. The Holy Spirit would empower ordinary people — not just ordained people — to do the work of ministry. The Kingdom-sized task of expanding the Kingdom of God through reaching out and equipping would require the gifts of Kingdom Citizens. For this specific task, they appointed only seven. Seven men, full of the Holy Spirit would serve tables. Seven men, full of the Holy Spirit would do menial — and important life-affirming and life-sustaining — tasks. Yes, even menial tasks require the equipping power of the Holy Spirit.
No task in the Kingdom of God can be done adequately without the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of Kingdom Citizens. No task. Even serving food to widows.
If serving food to widows requires Holy Spirit empowerment, how much more does administering the business of the church, teaching and discipling, hospitality, evangelism, and church planting? How much more does preaching and leading of worship of the King?
No Kingdom Citizen can fulfill his/her Kingdom calling without being empowered by the Holy Spirit. Are you walking in His power? Are you relying on Him to guide and direct you in whatever ministry He has called you to do?
Ask God to fill you anew today. Ask for a fresh outpouring on you and your tasks for today.
All Kingdom Citizens need a fresh filling of the Holy Spirit because we all leak. (Ephesians 5:18)
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.
(1 Peter 4:10–11 ESV)
In today’s Bible reading we read that after celebrating the Passover meal with His Disciples, He leads them to the Garden of Gethsemane singing a hymn. Jesus asked three of His Disciples, Peter, James, and John to pray with Him. He tells them that he is greatly distressed and troubled and asks them to remain there and watch. (Mark 14:34)
If you’ve read the story before, you know that the Disciples grow tired and sleepy. Three times Jesus finds his three “Garden Friends” asleep, despite His urging them to watch.
Unfortunately, Jesus’ Garden Friends choked when He needed them to pray for Him. But with their dozing off, it reminds me that I’m not the only one who sometimes lacks the ability to persevere.
It’s important to have a few “Garden Friends”. Jesus only had three who went deep into the garden with Him. Garden friends aren’t like “Facebook friends”. Garden friends are just two or three people (of your gender) who can hold you and each other accountable in your walk with Christ.
It doesn’t have to be fancy. You don’t have to plan your time together. But you do need to meet together. Face-to-face. On a regular basis. When you aren’t able to meet together, touch base with each other with a text or phone call, letting them know you’re thinking about them and praying for them. Ask them how their time with God is going? Are they having any challenges in their quest to walk closer with the Master? Again, the time doesn’t have to be fancy. And you don’t have to have a list of questions for each other every time you meet. Remember, it’s a time to work together to grow closer to Jesus.
At one point, Jesus asks Peter if he could not pray for one hour. (Mark 14:37) When was the last time you spent one hour praying? Alone. By yourself. Just you and God?
If you’ve never done it before, it can seem like much more than one hour. But if you get in the habit of spending one hour in prayer, it becomes easier each time. But it’s important to remember to be well-rested when you’re developing the habit. Try it sometime. Find a comfortable place where you can sit uninterrupted. Turn off your phone’s ringer. Disable your phone’s notifications. Remember to bring your Bible and a notepad. Use the Bible as a pattern to pray, especially including some of the Psalms. Pray God’s Word back to Him. Write out your prayers. Keep a prayer list and link your requests with Bible verses, using these verses as the basis of your prayers.