Acts 26 – Jesus in the Vessel

As we opened the 26th chapter of Acts together we were once again reminded of the way God uses ordinary people to complete His divine purposes and plans.  It is amazing to think of the creator of the universe using the frail and faulty human vessel to carry out His purposes.  For all of time, the purposes of God have been carried out through human vessels – which is why Ephesians 3:10-11 says, “so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.   This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  God receives glory by fulfilling all His purposes through broken vessels.

The word used to describe us as His vessels in 2 Corinthians 4:7 is clay pots.  2 Tim 2:20 refers to the vessels of gold and silver for honorable use and the vessels of earthen ware and wood for dishonorable use.  The reality is that clay pots in that day were the garbage containers.  We can see that before salvation we are exactly that, full of the garbage of the world and the sin that entangles us.  But when we begin our relationship with Jesus Christ by faith we are transformed and as 2 Cor 4:7 says we then have the treasure of Christ in our lives.   As 2 Tim 2:21 tells us that by putting off the sin we are made a vessel for honorable use in the master’s house.

Until a person realizes their true and total condition before the holy God, they are unable to begin that relationship.  Our hearts need to be burdened for those who have not yet realized their condition.  We live in a society that is all about the pay off.   People might do kind things, or help someone, but the tendency is to look for the pay back.  They might put money into a cause, but they are looking for the pay off, maybe monetarily, maybe emotionally, or maybe egotistically. 

We have to understand that even our righteousness is a filthy rag before the Lord – Isaiah 64:6.  Even when we believe we have the purest intentions or motives, we are unable to be holy as God is holy.  This is why we need grace.  Grace covers us and allows the Spirit of God to work through our lives in spite of ourselves.  Jeremiah 17:9 says the heart is deceitful and wicked above all else, who can know it.  Our heart will always tell us we are something that in fact we are not – not as God sees us.  We must learn to let God show us who we are in contrast to who He is so that we can gain more of Him through repentance and denial of self.  

We see in Acts 26 that once again God is fulfilling His purpose through Paul’s life because Paul has been transformed by the Spirit of God and continues to live obediently in response to his circumstances.  In speaking about Jesus Hebrews 7:25 says, “Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.”

Acts 26 shows us through Paul how Jesus is able to save because He:

  1. Chose to live in a clay vessel – Acts 26:15 – Hebrews 2:14-16, because Jesus lived a life as human He was able to partake in the same things and by living a sinless life was able to die as a spotless sacrifice for the sin of the world.
  2. Changed eternity with His obedience – Acts 26:16-17 – John 10:18 tells us how Jesus laid down His life in obedience and through love for His Father. Col 3:13-14 tell us the sin of the world was nailed to the cross – Jesus obedience was once for all. Hebrews 7:27 tells us His sacrifice was once for all – never could be repeated.
  3. Continues helping His own – Acts 26:22 – Hebrews 8:10, Hebrews 2:16, 18 we learn that Jesus is helping the offspring of Abraham and because He suffered when tempted we are helped who also are tempted.
    1. Chooses to dwell in us – the humble in heart James 4:6 – like Paul in Acts 26:1 who has a personal relationship with Christ.
    2. Changes our hearts to obey – places His Spirit within us (Hebrews 8:10) – Acts 26:4-19 describe a murderer in Saul who the Lord transformed to a saint
    3. Calls other to Himself – uses human vessels to preach the gospel and be and example of changed lives to bring others to salvation – Acts 26:20-32.

Whose agenda is more important in your life?  Every time you shrug off conviction of sin in your life you tell Jesus your life and your desires are more important.

Your flesh always wants to feel better – your heart will convince you there is a way.  You will give way to instinct and as Jude 10 tells us it will be to your own destruction.

How can we apply these changes in our own lives?  We must confront our sin condition – not just admit it’s there, but actually confront it to do battle.

  1. Turn away from darkness – Ephesians 5 is a command to walk in the light and avoid all that will be darkness in our lives.
    1. We must confront our thoughts, motives, intentions, emotions, and reasons.  Matthew 23:25.
  2. Travel in the light – our final destination is not here on earth, but is in heaven where we will spend eternity.  We must live as people passing through this life with eternity in our hearts.
    1. Walking every day with Jesus.
  3. Tell people what Jesus has done – Acts 1:8 we are commanded to be witnesses in our town, our region and around the world.
    1. Just state the facts – the power is in the cross 1 Cor 1:17.

As we learn to live as disciples – we too like Paul will be used to spread the good news, even to kings and rulers.  The beautiful thing about Christ living in clay pots like us is that He will transform our lives, and a person whose life is transformed will not be able to stop telling people about Jesus!

Acts 23 – Jesus in our Difficulty

As we opened the 23rd chapter of Acts together it became clear that we could learn an important truth from the Scriptures as the Lord provided us the picture of Paul’s life.  The lesson we can learn is that “difficulty increases so that intimacy will grow.” 

The world we have been raised in has taught us to believe a lie, the lie that somewhere on this earth a wonderland exists for each of us.  A place, a relationship, a job, a house, a family, a position, or whatever else we may believe that will finally land us in a state of happily ever after.  Our very nature compels us to search for this place, as the Bible says that God has placed eternity in our hearts (Eccl 3:11).  The problem is that the enemy is set on blinding the eyes of man (2 Cor 4:4) into believing that we will find that bliss in that which the world offers and so he helps us set out with all the wrong goals.  This causes us to be people that live for the here and now instead of for the life to come. 

The Bible teaches us that we are to live as pilgrims, with a mind set that we are only passing through this time on earth and should be seeking our eternal home with our Lord.  If a personal relationship has never started between you and Jesus then as the natural man, you will only continue to seek the happily ever after here and now, but you will always be left wanting.  The wisest man to live told us in Ecclesiastes that everything under the sun is vanity – that means everything we could pursue on earth apart from God will be useless to satiate the soul. 

Hebrews 11:13-16 describes for us the people who lived by faith.  They didn’t receive the things they were promised, but they lived with a desire for a better country the Bible says.  They longed for their heavenly home.  This too needs to be the attitude of our hearts as we approach life every day.  Putting off the things of this world and longing for the home we have been promised in heaven with Christ Jesus. 

Through the life of the apostle Paul we see how Jesus deepens His intimacy with those who are willing to live in this way.  In Acts 23 the Holy Spirit tells us of how Paul is standing before the council and is being accused.  They became so violent that the tribune who was presiding over the hearing decided to remove Paul for fear he would be physically harmed.  Paul spends a couple nights in custody and on the second night the Bible says in Acts 23:11 Jesus came and stood by Paul.  He spoke to Paul and told him to take courage and told him of the next place where Paul would also have to testify of Jesus which was going to be inRome. 

What can we learn about Jesus in the midst of Paul’s tragedy?

  1. Jesus Hears all that we endure – Acts 23:1-10 – Paul is not alone in front of this council, Jesus is with him and listening to every false accusation.  Jesus’ words in Matthew 24 are being proved out by the council as Paul is being hated for the sake of Jesus.
    1. Isaiah 54:17 tells us that no weapon formed against us will prevail, but it goes on to say “and you shall refute every tongue that rises against you in judgment.”  God will set it all straight, we don’t have to fight – not in the here and now, but rather wait for His judgment.
  2. Jesus Helps us remember it is Him – Acts 23:11 – the accusations are not against Paul when Paul is living his life in Christ, the accusations fall on Christ – which is why Jesus said to Paul on the road toDamascus “Saul, Saul why do you persecute me?”  Paul wasn’t just persecuting the Christians – he was persecuting Christ.
    1. When we are being accused or persecuted in difficulty for Christ we must remember that Christ will take over in us.  2 Corinthians 12:9 says “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses.”
  3. Jesus Hides us in His protection – Acts 23:12-35 – Jesus providentially allows Paul’s nephew to hear the plot and speak it to the tribune.  The tribune, remember, was confused why the crowd was so eager to harm Paul since Paul had spoken in Hebrew in the previous chapter.  Now the tribune has a curiosity that the Lord providentially arranged so that he listens to the young boy about the plot to kill Paul.  God protects Paul and allows him to be taken to the governor.
    1. Psalm 91 speaks of the protection that is offered to God’s children so that not even our feet will trip on a stone.

We can see the evidence of the intimacy that is growing between Paul and the Lord through all of these trying and difficult circumstances.  The intimacy is so great that Jesus comes yet again to stand beside Paul the Word says and speak encouragement into his life.  Paul is experiencing what heaven is all about – personal interaction with the Lord – and he is still living on this earth.  That is the happily ever after that we can experience on this earth because we know this place is not our final home. 

So how can we apply the principles Paul lived by to our lives so that Christ can use our difficulties to grow our intimacy with Him?  You must:

  1. Test yourself – 2 Corinthians 13 says that we are to test ourselves and see if we are in the faith, knowing that we are unless of course we fail the test.
    1. What does Jesus hear from you?  Do you seek Him in conversation?  Do you walk in good conscience before God and man both publicly and privately? (Acts 23:1) Do you live a life of faith?
    2. Or do you wander as a whitewashed wall? 1 Tim 6:10
    3. Examine every area of your life and walk before the Lord with a clear conscience.
  2. Take on your trials – don’t just tolerate them.  Taking them on is an active movement toward those difficulties that arise, like Paul in Acts 23:8, take them head on and look for Christ in the middle of them. 
    1. James 1:2 tells us to consider our trials pure joy because they will bring great results and intimacy with Christ.
    2. Philippians 1:29-30 tells us that we should not only believe in Jesus Christ but that we should also suffer for His sake.
    3. 2 Corinthians 1:5 – if there is no trial in your life, there is no opportunity for Christ to be our help and for us to draw closer to Him.  The trial provides the opportunity to obey and prove our love for our Lord.
  3. Testify to the Truth – always and in every way we should be given to sharing the facts of Jesus Christ.  Jesus commends Paul and tells him of his next mission in Acts 23:11 that he must testify of Jesus inRome.
    1. John 8:31-32 tells us that if we abide in Jesus’ word, we are truly His disciples and then we will know the Truth and the Truth will set us free.  Jesus says in John 14:6 that His is the Truth.  This is a promise of His protection.
    2. Trust is built each time Jesus comes to our rescue and proves once again that He alone is steadfast and faithful to build intimacy with His disciples – with each trial that Christ carries us through comes more confidence for the next. (John 14:6)

We have to stop believing the lie that we will find a wonderland of happiness on this earth apart from Christ.  We need to live with a pilgrim’s mentality that we are only passing through, continuously.  Though there is no self-gratifying happily ever after on earth, there is a spiritually satisfying happily ever after in Christ, that will not only be celebrated and enjoyed for all eternity, but can be celebrated and enjoyed even here and now through every trial and every joy – and it is only found in a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Looking for Truth

A look at Luke 20:1-8 will show us much about the search for truth as opposed to the desire to be right.  We learn first in verse 1 that Jesus is “teaching the people in the temple courts and preaching the gospel.”  I have always been taught that the gospel is summed up in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – well if that was the case, it would be very difficult for Jesus to teach what had not yet occurred.  The truth of the gospel is obedience by faith in the Son of God – Jesus Christ.  He didn’t have to die for people to place their faith in Him, though He knew He would and that He would save the world from sin.  What a beautiful picture of our Savior offering the only hope of eternal life to the people in the temple courts. 

It is here we see the teachers of the law start to question Jesus’ authority.  The question they ask Jesus in verse 2 is this, “Tell us by what authority you are doing these things… who gave you this authority?”  There is a very important fact found in the question these teachers ask – were they truly seeking to know the Truth of who the authority was?  Do they really care by what authority Jesus teaches?  No – they do not want to know the authority, they simply are looking for Him to respond in a way that will allow them the right to arrest Him.  There is not a genuine search for Truth. 

Knowing this, Jesus posed His own question to them about John’s baptism.  This is Jesus kindness in providing these teachers with an opportunity to acknowledge the authority of God and see the error of their ways.  However, they refuse to relent and instead offer no answer – a refusal to commit.  Thus they are offered no answer from Jesus either. 

The lesson for us is this, we must never come to Jesus asking if we are not truly intent on knowing the Truth.  John 14:6 says that Jesus is “the Way the Truth and the Life, no man comes unto the Father but by me.”  Because Jesus is the Truth (Rev 3:14) He cannot speak anything but truth.  We must not come to Him looking for the answer we hope to get – our prayers must come from a humble heart ready to receive the Truth no matter what it carries with it.  Are you truly seeking Truth in your prayer life – or are you looking for Jesus to fit your preconceived notions. 

Abandon yourself and seek Truth – James 4:8 – Jesus will answer your plea for the Truth every time.

Zacchaeus Radical Faith

Today as I read Luke 19 I am caught by the simple words in verse 4 that say, “to see Him” as Zacchaeus was taking radical measures to put his eyes upon Jesus Christ.  We learn in Hebrews 11:1, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.”  Faith can simply be stated as my gaze upon Jesus Christ.  2 Corinthians 3:12-18 speaks of the veil that covers the faces of those who have not turned to Christ, and of the veil that is removed whenever anyone turns to the Lord.  Turning to the Lord with our gaze of faith allows God to remove the veil and for us to see Jesus for the first time.  Though he is invisible – all who have turned to Christ are able to see Him with the eyes of our heart.  We are certain of His face though we have never seen it, and we are sure that we can hope in the one upon whom we are gazing.  This is faith – anything less is simply a glance at Jesus, not a gaze upon Him.

Zacchaeus here shows us that gaze at work – as Jesus passed by and saw what measure Zacchaeus had taken to look upon Him, Jesus immediately responded, just as He does every time He sees faith.  Notice the word sees – Luke 5:22, “When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”  When Jesus passed by He looked up.  Where faith took root – repentance followed in verse 8 as Zacchaeus gave to the poor and paid back any he had wronged 4-fold.  This is faith in action – Jesus tells us in verse 9 that salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus. 

Jesus knows when our look toward Him is one of faith, hope, and love – or of just a glance.  How are you looking at Jesus?  Are you climbing over the crowds to see Him and look upon Him, or are you only glancing toward Him occassionally, or are you afraid to look His way as you might catch eye contact with Him?  If you are living with a secret sin and carrying shame – His gaze back will only be one of love and mercy if you will first look upon Him.  Take a chance and look Jesus in the face – no one who has ever seen the face of Jesus in faith has ever again been the same.

Prayer Unceasing

Meditating today on a passage of Scripture in Luke 18:6-8.  Jesus teaches us a very important lesson about continuing in our prayers unto the Lord.  The important thing for us to remember is what the rest of the Bible teaches us about prayer.  We know from Eph 6:18 that we are commanded to pray in the Spirit on all occassions, and from Romans 14 that anything we do without faith is sin, so it is important that we don’t misinterpret Jesus and continuously pray for things that might be rooted in our sin nature.  The Bible teaches that God desires to give us the desires of our heart, but never from our heart of sin, but rather from the heart He has renewed.  Faith is our gaze at Jesus – can I say the prayer I am about to say and still know in faith that Jesus would be pleased with my words, my motive, and my hope?  If not – I have to rethink that prayer.

When we are able to come to that place where our prayer is in line with the whole of Scripture – what a tremendous truth we are given in Christ in these verses.  We must not pray wondering, but we can pray believing (1 John 5:14) that He hears and as Jesus tells us in Luke 18:8 that God will see that we have justice and have it quickly.  We must not fret if we find ourselves in difficult situations – we can find this same confidence in Psalm 37:1-8.

It’s the last statement that Jesus makes in these verses that really put me into meditation.  Luke 18:8b, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”  Will Jesus find people who still desire to keep their gaze upon Him communicate in prayer, or will He find people whose prayers have been met and answered by God who have forgotten Him?  May it never be that my life is one where my gaze upon my Savior diminishes, but rather may it be one where my gaze only grows longer and stronger.  How about you…how will Jesus find your faith when He comes?