BIG

[15] As I [Peter] began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. [16] And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ [17] If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” [18] When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

– Acts 11:15-18

The Holy Spirit, the gift of God that was given to the apostles at Pentecost, is given to Gentiles!  Peter was there, yet even he sounds shocked.  The Jerusalem church is so amazed that awkward silence fills the room before they can process what has happened and properly glorify God.

See Gentiles are people who largely did not know, let alone follow, the Mosaic Law.  Traditionally, they were actively opposed to God and His people.  For generations, Israel has assumed that the Messiah would come and crush the Gentiles.  Yet the Spirit of God falls on them; God Himself dwells in their hearts.

A few years ago, I visited the Grand Canyon with a few of my church members.  I had gone as a child and had a vague recollection of it, but when I looked into the canyon, I was stunned.  I realized I had no idea what “big” meant.

In our passage, the people of God are slowly beginning to realize that the good news of Jesus Christ is big.  Before Jesus came, many Israelites imagined salvation was about military conquest.  The Jerusalem church has a larger view, understanding that Jesus has come to grant not temporal but eternal blessing.

With the salvation of Cornelius’s household, the purpose of God extends beyond the individual or a particular ethnicity to include every tribe, nation and tongue.  The salvation of God includes even former enemies of God.  All peoples of the earth are to be a part of His Kingdom.

At times, salvation can be reduced to personal piety and well-being.  While Jesus is certainly concerned about both, His purpose is far larger.  Even as we labor in our local communities and love the people who are actually, physically present around us, we do so in light of the new heavens and new earth, the final defeat of sin and death, and the in gathering of worshipers from every era and every nation that is coming soon.

He Chose

[28] After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” [29] A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. [30] When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 

– John 19:28-30

Some things are not our choice.  They just happen to us.  I was born in southern California.  I am a boy.  I am short.  I did not choose these things.

The cross is not a tragedy that happened to Jesus.  It did not surprise Him.  It was not something unfortunate, outside of His control.

On Good Friday, the crowd was not in control.  The Pharisees and scribes were not in control. Pilate was not in control.  Not even Satan himself was in control.  Jesus and Jesus alone was in control.

What does this mean?  It means you are loved.

Things that just happen to us don’t say much about what we value or what’s in our hearts.  My core value is not manhood or shortness.  It’s the things we choose that reveal what we really love.  What we choose to do with our time, money, vacation days, etc. reveal what we love.

Jesus chose all that happened to Him.  He did not have to die on a cross.  Some may say He had to because He’s God and God is supposed to do that, but it’s not true.  He had the power and right to do otherwise.  He would have been equally just, righteous, and good if He left us in our sin.

But He chose.  He chose to be flogged, mocked, rejected, and crucified.  He chose to become sin and bear the wrath of God in our place because He loves us.

The cross tells us that sin deserves death.  It tells us our Lord suffered terrible.  And it tells us that we are loved by the God of all creation.  Jesus proved it by choosing the cross.

The Word Does Something

[1] The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. [2] And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. [3] And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” [4] Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD…

[7] So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. [8] And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. [9] Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” [10] So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. 

– Ezekiel 37:1-4, 7-10

The Spirit of the Lord sends Ezekiel to a valley of dry bones.  God asks Ezekiel if the bones can live.  Unsure of what to say, Ezekiel gives the only safe answer – “O Lord GOD, you know.”  God then commands Ezekiel to prophesy and he does.  At this time, Ezekiel does not believe in himself or his words, but he believes in the God who tells him to open up his mouth and speak.  As Ezekiel obeys, he finds that through the Word of the Lord, God raises the dead.

The Word of God is not simply information.  It is also power.  The Word does something.  We understand that even human words can create.  For example, when a bride and groom say, “I do,” they are not just communicating information.  Something actually happens.  A marriage that did not exist before comes into being.  Their lives are now tangibly and permanently different than they were.

In a similar way, the Word of God does something.  By His Word, God creates the world, makes everlasting promises, conveys actual blessing, reveals Jesus Christ, and raises the dead.  The Word tangibly transforms.

In light of this, the question becomes, “do I want to be transformed?”  If I do, I will sit at Jesus’s feet and listen.

Vanity

In the book of Ecclesiastes, the concept of “vanity” is central. The word translated “vanity” is the Hebrew word, “hevel.”  Hevel is most directly translated as “absurd.”  The connotation is not meaningless or ludicrous, but absurd in the sense of extremely perplexing.

In Romans 8:18-22, Paul speaks of the creation as being subject to “futility.”  The Greek word used here is the same word the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, uses for “hevel.” While Ecclesiastes does not deny the validity of the truth found in the other Wisdom Books, Qohelet is very aware that the world in which we live is extremely complex and sometimes confusing.

To know wisdom is striving after the wind (1:17), pleasure is vanity (2:1), making great works is vanity (2:4), and having great possessions is vanity (2:7).  Pursuing a legacy is vanity as a fool can squander what you build (2:20).  Toiling for oneself is vanity (4:7).  The increase of dreams and words is vanity (5:7).  The accumulation of wealth is vanity (5:10).

Why are all these things vanity?  Because death comes to all and renders the greatest achievements in this life vanity (9:2).

The contradictions of life are also vanity.  That the appetite is never satisfied is vanity (6:7-9).  Committing evil since there is no immediate consequence is vanity (8:11).  That the punishment of the wicked falls on the righteous and the reward of the righteous comes to the wicked is vanity (8:14).  Much wisdom and study is weariness as well (12:12).

Qohelet is weight down by the apparent lack of meaning in what can be attained in a life with so many contradictions.  Vanity is the fact that things are not the way they are meant to be.  Time and death render most everything done in this life as vanity.

So how does Qohelet invite us to respond?

First, we must acknowledge that we are not God. Man “does not know what is to be” (8:7).  “However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find out.  Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out” (8:17).  “Man does not know his time” (9:12).

Ecclesiastes 11:5-6

5 As you do not know the way the spirit comes to the bones in the womb of a woman with child, so you do not know the work of God who makes everything.  6 In the morning sow your seed, and at evening withhold not your hand, for you do not know which will prosper, this or that, or whether both alike will be good.

Since we are not God, we ought to fear Him.

Ecclesiastes 5:7b

God is the one you must fear.

Ecclesiastes 8:12

Though a sinner does evil a hundred times and prolongs his life, yet I know that it will be well with those who fear God, because they fear before him.

Ecclesiastes 12:13

The end of the matter; all has been heard.  Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

Finally, because God is good, we are not only to fear Him but to trust Him in the midst of the seeming vanity of all things.

Ecclesiastes 3:11a

He has made everything beautiful in its time.

Ecclesiastes 3:14

I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it.  God has done it, so that people fear before him.

Ecclesiastes 9:1b

The righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God.

Creation

Unlocking the Bible: Creation (Genesis 1)
Colin Smith

Imagine nothing. It’s almost impossible. But before the creation there was nothing, except God. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1).

In schools, we challenge our children’s creativity by giving them materials to work with: ‘See what you can do with this,’ we say. But there were no materials for God to work with in shaping the universe. He created all that exists out of nothing, and He sustains the universe by His own power.

Take a fresh look at what God has created today. Look at the sky; it proclaims the work of God’s hands. Listen to the birds; they testify to God’s gentle care. Every snowflake bears witness to His majesty. Every sunrise speaks of His faithfulness.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard, (Psalm 19:1-3).

Link: Complete Blog Post

Beauty for Ashes

[1] The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor;
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
[2] to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor,
and the day of vengeance of our God;
to comfort all who mourn;
[3] to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
[4] They shall build up the ancient ruins;
they shall raise up the former devastations;
they shall repair the ruined cities,
the devastations of many generations.

– Isaiah 61:1-4

The Hope of Sovereign Grace

The Problem of Repentance and Relapse as a Unifying Theme in the Book of the Twelve
Gary E. Yates

Beginning with the book of Joel, a pattern emerges that is repeated three times in the Book of the Twelve. An episode of repentance is followed by a relapse into sin. In the first instance, Israel’s repentance in Joel 2:12–27 is followed by a relapse into sin that leads to the judgment of exile for Israel (Amos) and for Judah (Micah, Habakkuk, Zephaniah). The book of Jonah tells the story of Nineveh’s repentance, but the announcement in Nahum is that Yahweh is prepared to destroy Nineveh for its violence and bloodshed. In the postexilic period, the books of Haggai and Zechariah document the repentance of the people in response to the prophets’ calls to rebuild the temple and return to the Lord, but the message of Malachi indicates another relapse into disobedience and rebellion. This pattern that emerges in the Twelve reflects Israel’s persistent disobedience and refusal to return to Yahweh. The postexilic community is as guilty of unfaithfulness toward Yahweh as Israel and Judah before the exile. The inclusion of the Nineveh narrative in this pattern reflects that the story of the nations is essentially the same as that of Israel in terms of their persistent rebellion against Yahweh as the one true God.

The significance of this literary pattern is seen in three specific ways. First, the pattern of repentance and relapse reflects the pervasiveness of Israel’s unbelief and attributes the “day of the Lord” judgments associated with exile in large part to improper response to the prophetic word. In the three centuries of prophetic activity reflected in the Twelve, there are only limited examples of turning to Yahweh, and one of those examples comes from the pagan Ninevites.

Second, the problems of partial repentance or repentance and then relapse also explain why the conditions of exile and alienation from Yahweh persist for Israel even after the return from exile. The people would only fully enjoy the blessings of return when they had truly turned back to Yahweh. Geographical return to the land without a spiritual turning back to Yahweh was inadequate. Thus, the calls for repentance in the Book of the Twelve and especially in the postexilic prophets serve as a call for successive generations reading these books to always be returning to the Lord.

Finally, in light of Israel’s persistent inability to return to Yahweh, the Book of the Twelve reflects the reality that the only hope for Israel’s future lies in Yahweh’s work of sovereign grace that would internally transform the people so that they would be able to faithfully follow and obey him.

Link: Complete Article

For God So Loved the World

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

– John 3:16

God loves the world. Let us consider the world God has chosen to love. When we think of the world, we might imagine children holding hands and singing kumbaya. It’s kind of like “It’s a Small World” (or if you don’t like “It’s a Small World,” it’s similar to “It’s a Small World” but less annoying).

But according to the book of John, the world is not a place of peace, harmony, and good-will.

  • John 1:10 – “the world did not know him”
  • John 3:19 – “people loved darkness rather than the light because their works were evil”
  • John 7:7 – Jesus says, “[the world] hates me”
  • John 17:25 – “the world does not know [God]”

God does not love a cute and cuddly world. He chooses to love a world that does not know Him, that loves darkness, and in fact hates Him. While this is not flattering, it is very encouraging. Jesus does not love us at our best. Inexplicably, He sees us at our worst and He loves us still.

He is Chasing Us Down

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship.

– Acts 8:26-27

In the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, we see a sovereign King orchestrating all things. He rules with single-minded purpose. God desperately wants this Ethiopian man to know Him.

In v. 26, an angel tells Philip to go to the desert. At the beginning of Acts 8, Philip is ministering in the midst of a revival in a Samaritan city and God tells him to leave and go to a barren wasteland.

acts-8-ethiopianIn v. 27, God arranges to have the Ethiopian on the road, returning from Jerusalem, restricted from temple worship and eager to know how he can meet God.

In v. 29, the Holy Spirit commands Philip to chase down the Ethiopian’s chariot and God talk to him.

In v. 30, the Holy Spirit amazingly gives Philip the heart to do it.

In v. 32, we find that the Ethiopian is reading a passage in Isaiah 53 that explicitly speaks about Jesus.

In v. 34, the Spirit works in the Ethiopian’s heart in such a way that he asks Philip to explain the text to him.

Philip proceeds to introduce the Ethiopian to a Savior who was humiliated and rejected and endured such things so that all people could find acceptance in the very presence of God. This is exactly the message the Ethiopian needed to hear. As a eunuch, he was a social and religious outcast.

God labors for those who are far off, weary, or even hard-hearted. He pursues those for whom religion isn’t working. Jesus is chasing us down.