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Altar of the unknown god
Image source: FreeBibleImages.org

It’s important for each of us to be open-minded and teachable. There is so much that we don’t know and can learn from other people. However, if you’re too open-minded, you may lose the ability to form coherent thoughts and convictions. It seems that was the case in Athens.

In today’s Bible reading, Dr. Luke tells us that, “all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.” That’s a problem.

It’s easy to become enamored in “all things new”. But at some point, you have to be concerned with real-world stuff. King Solomon was right when he said, “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) They were so open-minded that their brains leaked out!

But there is one very good thing that comes out of this: The men of Athens constructed an altar to an unknown god … just in case they overlooked someone. Paul saw the monument and pounced! He used the altar as an inroad to open discussion. It’s important to note that at no point did Paul compromise his message to match the altar. When he began to talk about Jesus’ Resurrection, he had many of them hooked!

Application

Peter encourages his readers to already be ready to give a defense for our hope. (1 Peter 3:15) How easily could you create an object lesson to tell people the Gospel? Maybe it’s not a pagan altar. Maybe it’s a TV show or a movie. It could be just about anything. Anything that might open a door of conversation with an unbeliever. Whatever it is, remember to be true to the Gospel Message. Don’t twist the Bible to fit the conversation.

This can easily turn into a learning opportunity with another believer. Be iron for each other. (Proverbs 27:17) Listen to what they say about how you can improve your presentation. Then listen to them create an object lesson. Critique their presentation.

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Image Source: Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org

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?

Application

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?

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For a good, First Century Jew, I’m sure there was not much more detestable than going into the home of a Gentile. But in today’s Bible reading, Peter did just that.

Both Peter and Cornelius had a vision from God and both acted on what they heard. Cornelius sent men to where Peter was and Peter had to go with them to Cornelius’ home. But Peter’s vision — given three times — emphasized that what God has made clean is clean, and you aren’t to question it. So when invited, Peter went.

A little background: Cornelius is called a Centurion. A Roman Centurion was a commander in the Roman Army. One hundred Roman soldiers reported to him. So can you imagine the influence that he had for the cause of Jesus Christ when he was saved?

Cornelius’ men escorted Peter and some other men to Cornelius’ home. When Peter entered, Cornelius bowed to worship Peter and was quickly rebuked; Peter wanted him to realize that he was no different than any other man. (Acts 10:26) But can you imagine what it looked like for a Roman Centurion to bow down before a Jew? Wow!

As Peter was speaking, the Holy Spirit fell on Cornelius and everyone else who had gathered in Cornelius’ home. (Acts 10:44) Dr. Luke doesn’t tell us how many there were. He doesn’t tell us if it was just Cornelius’ family, or maybe there was a group of his soldiers, too. Regardless, everyone there responded to the move of the Holy Spirit, was saved and baptized.

Those who were saved asked Peter to stay for a few days. I’m sure they wanted to hear more. If they were soldiers, I’m sure they had a lot of Gentile-based questions for this Jew. And I’m sure that seeing Gentiles brought to faith in Christ caused Peter to ask a lot of questions, more of himself and God than the Gentiles who had just been saved.

Application

God wants us to tell other people about Jesus. He has no other plan to reach the lost. Think about that! If anyone is to be saved, they have to have contact with a Christian who can explain the Gospel message to them. And like Peter, we must be willing to go, regardless of where that is. And regardless of whom. Today’s Bible reading makes it clear that the Gospel message is for all kinds of people.

Are you ready to share your faith with anyone anywhere? If you’re not sure of what the Gospel message is and how to explain it to someone else, take a look at this video. Then you’ll have a guide for a Gospel conversation with someone.

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In today’s Bible reading, we see the religious leaders’ influence over their people. People who had cheered Jesus’ arrival just a few days earlier are now calling for His head today. How does this happen?

One cannot overstate the influence of peers and leaders over the decisions we make. In Jesus’ day, the religious leaders were jealous of Jesus’ popularity. He didn’t do things as they did. He even questioned their ways of doing things as they questioned His ways of doing things. And because they felt threatened, the religious leaders colluded with government officials to have Jesus executed for baseless accusations. (Mark 15:11, 13, 14)

As I type this (admittedly a few days late, but back-dating it for consistency with the Reading Plan), the US Senate is beginning the Impeachment hearing for the President. This is the third Presidential Impeachment I have known in my lifetime. And this is unlike the others in so many ways.

I will not make this a political post. But I will say that the influence of some popular political leaders with an agreeable “mainstream” media and other “elite” individuals in Hollywood have made this sham what it is.

For the first time in our Nation’s history, a US President has been impeached by the US House with charges that in no way approach the seriousness imagined by the Framers of the US Constitution. The Framers set the bar very high for a reason. Impeachment is a big deal. And now, for the first time, a duly-elected US President could be thrown out of office simply for having policy differences with a (slight) majority political party (and a handful of unelected State Department bureaucrats) and asking the Judicial Branch to rule on unconstitutional subpoenas.

Now, I will not draw messianic implications to Donald Trump. He is not the messiah. but it’s important to see similarities for the falsely-accused.

Application

The main application point is that the crowds were given “fake news” and they acted on it, even when it contradicted what they knew to be true.

As you live your life and see things portrayed in the news media, commercials, and talk with friends and family, it’s crucial to ask if what you’re hearing is the truth. It may be fake news. Yes, major TV network “journalists” and hollywood stars don’t always tell the truth. Church leaders don’t always tell the truth either.

So before sharing things on social media, spend a few seconds considering is this really true? Who will be helped or hurt by what you post? And most importantly, will God be glorified by sharing this information you have received.

Let’s aim for truth. Let’s aim for glorifying God.

And let’s pray for our country! May God reveal the truth, regardless of the political party. And let’s prosecute the liars and deceivers. Regardless of the political party.

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Moses holds the tablets of the Ten Commandments
Image source: Moody Publishers/FreeBibleimages.org

“Which is the most important commandment?” a young man asks Jesus in today’s Bible reading. (Mark 12:28)

At the time, the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day had taken the original six hundred, thirteen Laws of Moses — which included the Ten Commandments — and added thousands of additional laws in the Midrash, a commentary on the Mosaic Law. The main idea behind adding the other laws was to “build a fence around the Law” to ensure that no one broke the laws of Moses.[1]

For instance, the Fourth Commandment concerns resting on the Sabbath Day. (Exodus 20:8–11) The rabbis took that one commandment and added thirty-nine categories of qualifications to it. They defined how many steps you could take before you began to “travel”, thus violating the command to “rest” on the Sabbath.

But instead of helping the people to love, worship and obey God, the additional commandments built a bigger stumbling block that kept people from coming to God at all. The focus became on obeying the Law, not having a relationship with God. And that wasn’t good.

So when the young man asked Jesus which was the most important commandment, he wasn’t asking which of the “Big Ten” was the most important. He wasn’t asking which of the six hundred, thirteen was the most important. He was asking which of the thousands of laws was the most important.

And Jesus told Him which was the most important. In fact, the most important commandment is what the rest of the Law is based on. If you can master this one most important commandment, you won’t have to worry about any of the others. The problem is, no one has been able to master this one: Love God with everything you are. (Deuteronomy 6:5)

Application

Here and elsewhere, I have referred to Christian Hedonism. It’s a term coined by John Piper, which he expanded in his first book, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Given that hedonists are pleasure-seekers, Christian Hedonists recognize that the highest source of pleasure can only be found in a relationship with God. And seeking the highest pleasure in a relationship with God brings the most glory to God.

CS Lewis rightly pointed out that our problem isn’t that we seek pleasure/satisfaction. Our problem is that we are far too easily satisfied. We settle for fleshly pleasures found in relationships with people, experiences, and things. But ultimate satisfaction can only be found in a relationship with God.

Do you pursue a love relationship with God? First of all, do you even have a relationship with God? Do you pursue Him with all that you are? Your heart? Your soul? Your strength?

Spend a few minutes today asking God to show you that your ultimate satisfaction is found in Him. Spend time in His Word. Spend time in prayer. Ask Him to satisfy you with all that He has for you in Jesus Christ.

[1] https://www.pursuegod.org/rules-pharisees/

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