As a history teacher and anointed with the Holy Spirit, Stephen relayed to the High Priest and the religious council the account of Israel. He reminded them that their ancestors hardened their hearts, and now they are in danger of doing the same thing!
Stephen’s life is an example of what Jesus said would be true. The Holy Spirit will anoint you and provide the right words to say even when tried. [Matt 10:19]. When you speak, it will be the Holy Spirit who will be pricking their hearts. Would they believe, or would they choose to ignore the Truth of the Messiah? Jesus reminded the religious leaders that they were the masters of the scriptures, which spoke of the Messiah; yet they refused to believe the man behind the scriptures standing before them. Now they were also rejecting God’s messenger. God was closing their last door of opportunity.
God lovingly prepared Stephen both as he spoke and looked up to heaven. It was then that he saw Jesus waiting for him. Then, as he drew his last breath he sought forgiveness for those who would hurl their stones of death upon him; just as Jesus has done. [Luke 23:34]
You are God’s servant, just like Stephen. Trust that God will provide the right words at just the right moment. When God opens the door of salvation, do not ignore the door of opportunity.
Interestingly, Peter references the empty tomb as proof of the deity of Christ. Other religions have their saviors,” but where are they? Peter proclaimed: “our forefather David, that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. “[Acts 2:29] Mohammed is in his tomb as are Buddha and others, but where is Christ? He is in the heavens sitting at the right hand of God. If ever there was proof of Christ as the Son of God, it is that. “This Jesus God raised up, and we are all witnesses of it.” [Acts 2:32] Peter then explained: God raised up his servant and sent him first to you, to bless you by turning each one of you from your iniquities.” [Acts 3:26] Christ lived, was crucified, buried in a rich man’s tomb which could not hold him, and He was raised on the 3rd day just as He said.
What do you seek? A prophet in a tomb or one who has ascended to heaven just as He prophesied He would do and did in Acts 1?
Again Peter preached that Moses prophesied that God would raise up another prophet like him. Peter did not mince words! Jews, listen to him and do whatever he says. He also warned them that many will not hear and be utterly destroyed. All the prophets from Samuel and those who followed them foretold these things. Again, you, Jews, are from the prophets and the covenant God made with the fathers. To you, FIRST, God raised up this Jesus. BELIEVE HIM!
Romans 1:16: the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and the Greek.
Believe Him, Worship Him, Praise Him!
Father, thank you for the boldness of Peter and his preaching. His words are crystal clear! Jesus is the revered Prophet foretold.
Luke 23 Dr. Luke records for us the witnesses at the cross. Only by the Spirit of God could one chapter hold so much that it grabs our attention and cause us to fall upon our knees in humble adoration for the Messiah who gave all that we might worship Him alone.
Today, just as then, God desires that we draw near with a sincere heart in the assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience..” [Heb 10:22]
There were two criminals crucified with Jesus. One recognized and submitted to the Son of God as he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” In that one brief interchange, Dr. Luke transcends earth to heaven so that beauty may come from the ashes of sin, and we learn of the plan of salvation. First, one must revere God; secondly, one must recognize that they are a sinner who needs repentance. Like him, we are justly condemned for our sin. Therefore, we must seek His face and His forgiveness so we can hear his response: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Note the promise: it happens today, not in the future. We will be with Him! We will be in paradise with Him.
We cannot read the shameful behavior of Peter without it resonating in our souls. How many times do we say “I won’t deny,” but then we do? We deny by our words, our mannerisms, and our choices. Jesus warned Peter that he would deny, but just like us, he vehemently said, “I won’t.” But the proof is in the pudding, he did deny, and we do as well.
It is in the next step that we want to focus on. Judas betrayed but did not exhibit shame like Peter. How often do we hide behind our shame like Judas? How often do we exhibit shame in our tears as Peter did? What caused the difference? Judas never saw the eyes of Jesus, but Peter did. The eyes tell us the heart of the individual, and as Jesus looked at Peter, the soul of Peter crashed. It was in that moment that his bravado turned to his bitterness of shame, and he wept.
But then the grace of our Lord sought to restore Peter on that day in Galilee by the seashore. As he denied Jesus three times, Jesus would restore him with three questions: Do you love me, Peter? With each question, Peter had to determine his love quotient. In his shame, he had to walk through those questions, and we do as well. Do we love Jesus? Then Jesus tells us to feed his lambs, shepherd his sheep, feed his sheep and follow Him.
Matt 26 and Mark 14 If you are a believer of the Word of God, you have come face to face with guilt, whether it is presumed or actual. Jesus had a sure-fire way of getting reactions to his statements, and these chapters prove that point. He stated that “I tell you the truth; one of you eating with me will betray me.” Immediately the guilt signals arise in the minds of the disciples. One by one, they asked, Surely not I?” When we hear the words of Jesus, we too often ask, could it be me? It makes us squirm because we know Jesus knows all things.
When Judas also asks that same question, Jesus responds: “You have said it yourself.” If that were you, how would you have responded? Judas’ response was to continue on the road to betray Jesus, and only after the dastardly deed did he repent. Too little, too late. But was it true repentance? Listen to his words: “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” [Matt 27:4] He said that before the religious leaders who cared little for his words. There is no scripture saying he ever repented before the Lord or the Father.
What about us? Why is repentance so very difficult? Why do we not admit our sin and seek forgiveness? One writer noted ten reasons, and the top three included: it confronts us with our sin, we are scared God won’t forgive, and we want law, not grace. If that is you, today do not delay; seek God’s forgiveness as 1John 1:9 says. God is waiting to hear your prayer.
Jesus and James show us the effects of both prideful and prejudicial choices. Luke recorded a story told by Jesus about how we view ourselves and demonstrate it in our options at a wedding feast, and the second story in James shows us how others view us when at church. In both, the contrast of pride and prejudice is the telling factor. We pride ourselves on our “position.” Jesus says, look at your choices before you, and that reveals your heart. Those who choose the best seats think of themselves ahead of others. James says, look at how you speak and act towards others. You reject the lowly stranger but give accolades to the rich and pompous. That should not be. In both cases, we should act and respond as God would. Perhaps that is why David wrote in Ps 139: examine me and see if there is any wicked way in me.
Today be humble and let others be ahead of you and when you are at a function, observe how the hosts seat others. Be discerning about them for their behavior reveals what they think and how they respond to their understanding of God and His priorities.
John 7 and 8 If you plant a kernel of wheat in the ground, it cannot grow without tender care. Nicodemus was given that kernel with the words “you must be born again.” [Jn 3] Now, it is months later, and that kernel of faith has been growing in small incremental steps. Will it pass the test of the doctrine of men? He steps up to the religious leaders whose intent is to kill Jesus and asks them this question: “Our law doesn’t condemn a man unless it first hears from him and learns what he is doing, does it?” [Jn 7:51] But in an instant, he is silenced! “Investigate carefully and you will see that no prophet comes from Galilee!” [Jn 7:52]
How often do we hear challenges to our kernel of faith, and when put on the spot we too are silenced. They were the religious leaders and should have recalled that both Jonah and Nahum were from Galilee and were prophets called by God. But, when you are intent on your way, no amount of evidence will sway you otherwise.
Nicodemus might have been silenced then, but when Christ is crucified, it is he and Joseph of Arimathea who take his body down and place it lovingly in a tomb. Nicodemus’ faith had grown exponentially.
Be sure of this; each faith kernel will be tested. Is your kernel of faith growing?
We are caught up in men’s rules: do thus and so because if you don’t, you won’t reach heaven. Martin Luther was caught in that vicious cycle. When he was at the Vatican, he crawled on his knees in penance. Later, he would read in Romans: “The righteous by faith will live.” [Rom 1:17] From that point on, he lived not by the rules of the church and the hierarchy but by the very word of God.
Where am I caught up in the do’s and don’t’s of the world, religious leaders, and the church? Jesus caustically said to the Pharisees: ‘you are hypocrites!’ because they had determined that if one wanted to be “clean,” they had to wash themselves, their utensils, and their clothing a certain way. Jesus said you know God looks at the heart, not on your outward duties. God says to honor your parents, but you say otherwise. You set aside that money that would help them, but you call it “Corban,” which means sacred; a gift, or offering consecrated to God. Which do you think is more important to God?
How do I pierce the heart of God? When I say “I love you, God,” but my actions say otherwise.
Matthew 9 and 10 Jesus spent a fair amount of time walking among the people, listening to their conversations. He saw those paralyzed both physically and spiritually. He saw a desperate father in need of direction when all around him was collapsing. He encountered religious leaders who could not or would not see the helpless, the needy, and unloved. Instead of meeting their needs, they watched Jesus, ridiculed and scoffed, and attributed his work to Beelzebub. They lacked the one thing this flock needed: compassion. They were just like the foolish, worthless shepherds of Zechariah 11:17 who left the flock to fend for themselves. Jesus noted that times had come and gone, but it was still like in the times of Zechariah. The sheep were scattered with no one to lead them. In sharp contrast, in Psalm 23, we see a picture of the good shepherd who leads, restores, and binds up the brokenhearted. Jesus is that Good Shepherd. His sheep hear his voice, and they follow Him, and He is even willing to lay down his life for the flock.
Somewhere there is a sheep in need of the Good Shepherd’s compassionate touch.
If Jesus came now, would I pass the test of a good shepherd?
Mark 4-5; Matthew 8:14-31 To Leave the Results to God
Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would” bring good news to the afflicted; bind up the brokenhearted; proclaim liberty to captives and freedom to prisoners;” [Isa 61:1] Yet, some did not experience those blessings because Satan, the master deceiver, had one goal: to blind “the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” [2Co 4:4]
Take for example the sower parable and the seed on the walkway which fell where the birds came and ate it up. There are hearts just like the pathway, so hard that the seed cannot penetrate. Just like the birds which snatch the seed away, Satan snatches away the Word from the hardened heart.
Why does God allow this? Why does He leave them untended and in need of tilling and preparation? We must trust the words of Deut 29:29 “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons forever,” One day, God will answer those questions; in the meantime, we must look after the other seeds, till the soil, water and fertilize so they may sprout and take root. That is discipleship.
Where are you sowing, tilling, and tending the soft hearts and leaving the results to God?