In today’s Bible reading from Acts 16, Dr. Luke says some things that don’t sound right. Actually, based on what many of us have heard in church, it doesn’t sound biblical at all! It doesn’t fit!
In Acts 16:6-7, Dr. Luke tells us,
6They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia; they had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.
7When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
As Paul and Silas were attempting to do God’s work, God prevents them from even preaching the Gospel! That doesn’t fit with the way we’ve always heard it! Why would God prevent these missionaries from preaching the Gospel?
I don’t know. But I do know that God is God. And I’m not. God is a loving God. And God is all about spreading the fame of His name.
Step back for a moment. Take a deep breath. Remember that we need to get our theology (our understanding about God and His ways) from the Bible and not from what we think we’ve heard in church.
When God prevented these two men from preaching in Phrygia, Galatia, Asia, and Mysia, He may have just been saying that now’s not the time to minister here. Or He may have been saying to Paul and Silas that He’s going to use someone else to reach these people. Or He may have been saying something else. I just don’t know.
Regardless of why, seeing God’s opposition to their plans, Paul and Silas plan to go a different direction. Overnight, Paul has a vision of a man in Macedonia calling for help. The next morning, they set out for Macedonia (Acts 16:10) and God blesses their obedience.
Whenever you come across something in the Bible that doesn’t make sense, realize that God is God and you’re not. Ask Him for understanding. But trust Him to be the God that He is.
So it finally comes to a head. In today’s Bible reading in Acts 15, we see that the Judaizers (aka, the “Circumcision Party”) have insisted that anyone who comes to faith in Christ must also be circumcised in order to be a good Christian. (By the way, they’ll keep raising their ugly heads through the rest of our Bible readings this year)
Just coming to faith in Jesus isn’t enough. It’s never enough for religious people.
They’ll tell you that you have to join a church. You have to pray a prayer. You have to be baptized. You have to read your Bible. You have to go to Sunday School. You have to go on a mission trip. You have to write a big check to the church. You have to drive the church bus. You have to ______. (fill in the blank)
The bottom line is, they don’t believe that Jesus is enough. Somehow, they think that they have to contribute to their salvation. And they insist that you should, too!
That was the crux of the Reformation in the early Sixteenth Century. The Church agreed with the Reformers — like Martin Luther — that people can be saved by grace by faith in Jesus. But Luther and the other Reformers added one little Latin word sola. Sola means alone.
The Reformers said that it wasn’t just salvation by grace through faith in Jesus. They said that according to the Bible alone, salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone to the glory of God alone.
The Reformers insisted that no one can add to what Jesus did for us. What Jesus did (once and for all) is sufficient to make us right with God. Period. Nothing can improve our standing before God. Nothing!
Now, lest I be misunderstood, there is nothing wrong with (and a lot can be gained by) praying, being baptized, reading your Bible, going to Sunday School, going on mission trips, giving money to a church and so many more things.
But the bottom line is that if what Jesus already did for us isn’t enough, then Jesus didn’t have to do anything at all!
Spend a few minutes today praising God that everything that was necessary to make you right in God’s eyes has already been done by Jesus. Rejoice that you get to enjoy a relationship with your Creator without having to do anything but rely on what Jesus has already done. That’s great news!
By the way, if you want to learn more about the key issues for the Reformers, check out my sermon series, The Five Solas of the Reformation that I preached in October 2017 in celebration of the Five Hundredth Anniversary of The Reformation.
In today’s Bible reading in Acts 12, we see that Herod kills James. Because the Jewish leaders respond favorably, Herod jails Peter, presumably to be executed. Knowing how badly things have turned out in the past with Jesus and His followers, Herod assigns four squads of soldiers to guard Peter. This seems like overkill since there were four soldiers in a squad. The idea was that during each of the
When an angel woke up Peter, he thought he was seeing a vision (Acts 12:9). But he followed the angel out of the prison and realized that he had truly been delivered from certain death. He immediately headed to John Mark’s mother’s house, thinking the disciples were gathered to pray. When the servant girl told everyone that Peter was outside the door, they assumed it was his ghost.
Both Peter and the people gathered to pray weren’t expecting God to do what He was doing.
John Piper has said that God is always doing 10,000 things and you may be aware of three of them.
God doesn’t always work the way we expect. And He often surprises us. He reminds us that He’s God and we aren’t. And that’s always good! I know that if it were up to me, I would surely mess things up. Every. Time.
God is good all the time. Spend some time today asking Him to show you those three things clearly. And then praise Him for it!
When you open to Acts 9 (today’s Bible reading), you’ll probably see a heading with something about The Damascus Road or The Conversion of Saul. While Saul’s conversion is a central point in the Book of Acts, and specifically this chapter, there is more here. Even regarding Saul’s conversion, there is an instrumental piece that some may overlook.
Ananias lives in Damascus and when Saul is brought into town, God tells Ananias in a vision that he is to seek out Saul — an infamous persecutor of Christians — and pray for him to recover his eyesight. Ananias reminds God who Saul is and what he has been doing to Believers. Then God reveals to Ananias that Saul is going to reach out to Gentiles, kings, and Israelites.
Now, up to this point, only Jews (Acts 2) and Samaritans (Acts 8) have responded to the Gospel and received the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. This is an incredible
But before this can happen, Ananias has a decision to make. God is calling him to seek out a man who is known to imprison believers. (Acts 9:13-14) Coming into Saul’s presence could mean Ananias’ death. What would he do?
I believe with all that I am that if Ananias had said, “No”, God would have raised up someone else to pray for Saul. But God called Ananias. And because Ananias said, “Yes”, God used him to save Saul so the Gospel could be taken “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)
When Ananias said “Yes”, he got to participate. And if he had said, “No”, he would have missed out on the unveiling of the mystery of the ages (Colossians 1:24–29)
Look anywhere in the Bible and you’ll see that whenever God speaks, there is a response. From “Let there be light” to “Go find Saul”, there’s always a response. It’s in the nature of creation to respond to its Creator. To fail to respond is to respond.
God speaks today, sometimes in visions and dreams, sometimes through other believers, sometimes through our circumstances, but mostly through His Word. And when God speaks to us, we have a choice in how we will respond.
What has God told you to do? How has God been tugging at your heart? How will you respond? Will you say “No” and miss out on being used by Him? Or will you say “Yes” and get to participate in something wonderful?
In today’s Bible reading in Acts 8, we are introduced to a Samaritan sorcerer named Simon. For a long time, Simon had amazed people with his magic. And then he heard the gospel. Simon and many other Samaritans responded to the gospel message and were saved. (Acts 8:13) Simon began to follow Philip, watching God do marvelous, miraculous things!
The Apostles in Jerusalem could hardly believe their ears! Samaritans have been saved?! Peter and John went to check it out and learned that the Samaritans had been baptized in Jesus’ name, but had not yet received the Holy Spirit.
Now, I don’t want to get into the discussion here of Holy Spirit baptism as being simultaneous vs. subsequent to salvation. I don’t have the space or time to get into that right now.
When Simon saw that the Samaritans received the Spirit (there were obviously physical signs), he was amazed and offered money for the “authority” to bestow the Spirit by laying his hands on people. (Acts 8:19)
Peter sharply rebuked Simon (Acts 8:20-23) who immediately repented deeply of his sin.
So what was Simon’s sin? All he did was ask to be able to lay hands on people so they could receive the Holy Spirit. What’s wrong with that? That sounds like a noble request, doesn’t it?
Peter said that Simon’s heart was not right with God. Simon’s heart condition resulted in his offer of money in exchange for the authority.
Transactional religion is dangerous. Unfortunately, people practice it all the time, often without even realizing it!
Transactional religion resembles a vending machine. You give the machine money and the machine gives you a soda.
The most obvious example would be someone who asks God to save their dying child and telling God they’ll go on the mission field in exchange. But there are far more subtle ways that believers practice transactional religion. We read our Bible, study our Bible, memorize verses from our Bible, pray, fast, etc. “believing God” for blessings of one form or another. Yes, there is a blessing that comes from doing all of these spiritual disciplines. but God is not obligated to do anything for us!
Perhaps having an attitude that God is indebted to us for something that we do demonstrates that we don’t really understand what the Gospel is all about!
The Gospel has nothing to do with us doing anything. It is all about all that Jesus has already done for us. It’s a very unfair exchange: All of our sin, rebellion, alienation, and lostness in exchange for Jesus’ holiness, righteousness, and forgiveness.
That’s the Gospel. It can’t be bought because it’s free! It can only be received.