Daily Devotionals after the 21st Week after Pentecost

The devotions for the next few weeks will be focused on the Acts of the Apostles. Acts is the sequel to the Gospel of Luke. A comparison of Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1-4 reminds us that Luke’s focus in both books is to accurately tell us the story of Jesus and then unfold how His life, death, and resurrection led to the Christian church and its outreach to all the nations of the world.

Don’t forget the video message each weekend at www.mlchapel.org. Saturday morning Zoom Bible study continues this week at 10 AM. And, of course, if you are able to come out, we continue our cautious, socially-distanced worship on Saturdays at 5 PM and Sundays at 10 AM. You can find the sign-up for worship also at www.mlchapel.org. Please contact mlcemail2019@gmail.com for the link for the Saturday study.

 
 

                                                Suggestions for Daily Prayers in the Home

Begin, “In the name of the Father and + of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Pray for the Holy Spirit to guide you in this time of devotion. Then read the Scripture selection aloud slowly. Reflect on or discuss its meaning. Then close with the Lord’s Prayer and your own heartfelt prayers. As you pray, confess the sins you know, asking God’s blessing for all His people and for all the world. Remember especially those in great need. Then go about your day in peace and joy.
 
 
 

 

Monday, October 26, 2020                     Reading: Acts 11:1–18

Peter Recounts the Gentile Conversions

The conversion of the Gentiles in Caesarea was cause for great joy in that city, but great trouble when word about it made it down to Jerusalem. There, where all the Christians were from a Jewish background, Peter’s actions were called into question—especially the fact that Peter had shared food with the Gentiles. We don’t know whether the reference to Peter having eaten with them means sharing regular mealtimes or if it implies sharing in the Lord’s Supper with them. What is clear is that it caused some of the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem to be very offended because Peter, a Jew, shared in the same food as uncircumcised Gentiles. This group of Jewish Christians, called “the circumcision party” believed that all converts to Christianity should be circumcised as a sign of their new identity. In effect, they felt that before you were a Christian, you had to be a Jew.  Peter recounts the whole experience that led him from Joppa to Caesarea and Cornelius’ house. He tells of the dream, the arrival of messengers from Cornelius at the very moment he awoke, and of the Pentecost-like experience of the Gentile believers—who spoke in unknown languages just as the twelve disciples had done at Pentecost. That sign showed quite clearly that the Holy Spirit was at work among the Gentiles in the very same way He had been at work in Jerusalem with the thousands of Jews at Pentecost. That convinced the skeptics—the “circumcision party”—and now they gave thanks to God also.

How important it is for us to also rejoice when God surprises us and converts those we do not expect to become His followers!

 

Prayer for the day: Lord God, you changed the hearts of those who doubted your grace toward the Gentiles. Change our hearts anytime we doubt your mercy and abundant grace; in Jesus’ name. Amen. 
 
 

 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020                   Reading: Acts 11:19–30

Christianity in Antioch

Back in Acts 8:1–4 we read about the aftereffects of Stephen’s death by stoning. A persecution broke out in Jerusalem and believers scattered. Along the way, the believers continued to tell others the good news of Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and the world’s Savior. Today’s reading explains that some of the scattered disciples traveled as far as Syrian Antioch. There, too, they proclaimed the Word of the Lord and people came to faith. Initially, those people were Jews, but, increasingly, Gentiles came to faith.

You can see from these verses that, despite the episode with the Gentile Cornelius and his household coming to faith, the Jewish Christians were still unsure about this new trajectory of the Holy Spirit. We can guess at their questions: “Is the Jewish Messiah really going to be accepted by more and more Gentiles?” “What will happen then? New customs? Will Jerusalem no longer be the center of this faith? Will the Gentiles accept the Hebrew Scriptures that we have read for generations?” So they send Barnabas to see check out the Gentile believers in Antioch.

Barnabas meets them and he is overjoyed. This is for real. But these new believers need to be taught more about the faith. You can imagine that they knew very little of the Hebrew Scriptures. But Barnabas knows who can help. Saul! And Saul does help. He and Barnabas teach and two things happen. First, this new movement gets a new name. It can’t be called Judaism for the Christ (Messiah) has come. It will be Christianity now! Second, these new Christians do not want to repudiate the story of Israel or the Hebrew Bible, and so they also do not ignore the need to help the church in Jerusalem. Gentile and Jew—they two are one through faith in Christ Jesus.

 

Prayer for the day: Lord God, help us to be worthy of Christ’s name, for He is your Son and our Savior, and deepen our love for other believers. Amen.
 

 

Wednesday, October 28, 2020            Reading: Acts 12:1–19

Herod Strikes, but the Church Lives On

            The believers have been suffering throughout the book of Acts, but up to this point, only Stephen has been killed for the faith. Saul was threatening the lives of believers until the Lord stopped him on his road to Damascus. But now, in Acts 12, one of the twelve disciples is killed—killed by Herod, who had earlier killed John the Baptist and endorsed Pilate’s condemnation of Jesus. The disciple is James, the son of Zebedee and brother of John. James and John, with Peter, had sometimes been singled out for special experiences with Jesus (Luke 8:49–56 and Luke 9:28–36). Then Herod arrests Peter. With the loss of such leadership, the Jerusalem church was in terror

            Herod, like his father before him, is only known today because both men, craven political figures, were great threats to Christ and His Church. Yet, both failed. The older Herod slaughtered countless little Bethlehem boys, but the Son of God was kept safe to fulfill His ministry. And when the younger Herod okayed Pilate’s cowardly condemnation of Jesus, the result was a death on the cross that was a victory over all sin and death as the risen Jesus showed Himself on the third day. Now Herod has killed one of the three great disciples of Jesus and arrested another. But Herod’s jail cannot contain either the Spirit’s power, or the disciple Peter.

   The threat the Jerusalem Christians felt was real. The mercy of God was even more real. That is still the case. The threats we feel are real, but the Spirit of Jesus is at work in His Church today just as He was in the first century. “Have no fear, little flock. The Father has chosen to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

 

Prayer for the day: O Lord, you have protected your Church in every age. Even in death you protect us, for we are yours now and forever. Thank you. Increase our faith. Tamp down our fears. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 

 

Thursday, October 29, 2020               Reading: Acts 12:20–13:12

Two Rulers

As we finish chapter 12 and begin chapter 13, notice the contrast between two rulers: Herod and Sergius Paulus. We’ve known Herod and read of his cruelty again yesterday, but Sergius Paulus, another Roman official, is mentioned only here in Acts 13. The two men are a study in contrast. One is the epitome of arrogance. The other humbly seeks truth.

Herod the Arrogant—you really could make that his title—is the kind of powerful man whose joy is wielding power in a way that inflates himself at the expense of others. Such men will always attract sycophants to tell them how great they are. So it goes with Herod. But human arrogance has an end. The arrogant also die, no matter their power, because human power is temporal. It is on God’s timer. Herod learns the hard way. He is struck dead at the very moment that his toadies are calling him a god.

Sergius has a toadie, too. The toadie is Elymas who has some sort of evil spiritual power. Elymas is urging Sergius to turn against Saul and Barnabas and their message. But the Word has struck a chord and he listens to their teaching. Elymas is the stubborn one here, and he too pays for his arrogance with temporary blindness (the kind of blindness that might help him also to listen to the truth). And Sergius, a powerful man, is awed by the Lord and His power and His Word.

What shall we do with the strength and skill and even the authority that God gives to us? Puff up our chests and ego? God forbid! Rejoice in the Lord who humbles the proud and exalts the lowly (Luke 1:51–53).

 

Prayer for the day: Come, O Holy Spirit, and give us the quiet humility that longs to know your truth in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 

 

Friday, October 30, 2020                    Reading: Acts 13:13–41

A Sermon

Yesterday, in a passing comment, Luke tells us that Saul is “also called Paul” (Acts 13:9). From now on, that is what Luke will call him.

Today we hear a sermon from Paul. As you read it, notice that he is preaching in a synagogue, not a street corner or someone’s home. His audience is Jews and also some Gentiles (“people who fear God”). His purpose is to show how the Hebrew Scriptures tell a story that has no ending until the coming of Jesus. He summarizes things quickly, starting with God’s call of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (“our ancestors”) and runs through the stay in Egypt and the mighty exodus from there that the Lord provided. There is the time in the wilderness, then judges, and then kings. David gets the focus. He is the anointed king whose heart was turned to God. But neither David nor his descendants is the end of the story of Israel.

John the Baptist points to the culmination of Israel’s history when he baptizes Jesus. The ministry and then the suffering and death and resurrection of Jesus are where Israel’s story finds its great and wonderful conclusion. Now the story is told. Now the Messiah has come. Now the Savior for both Israel and the world is known.

Paul’s sermon ends on a solemn note. He’s seen that too many of his fellow kinsmen from Israel do not welcome the end of the story—they don’t welcome the Messiah or trust in Him. They scoff at His death and resurrection. The story of salvation is rich and wonderful, but the sad truth is that some reject it. The news is too good, and they refuse to believe it. “Beware,” says Paul, that you do not become scoffers, too!

 

Prayer for the day: Give us such humble faith that trusts your Word with all its marvelous promises in Christ Jesus. . Amen.
 

 

Saturday, October 31, 2020                      Reading: Acts 13:42–14:7

Antioch and Iconium

Yesterday’s sermon was preached in Antioch—but this Antioch is different from the one in Acts 11 this past Tuesday. This Antioch is much farther from Jerusalem—a thousand miles away. That tells us something about the deep commitment of Paul and Barnabas. Imagine walking over a thousand miles in order to tell others of Christ!

This Antioch is an important community, and the sermon we heard yesterday attracted attention. But, just as Paul warned, some who heard it scoffed. Yet, while some scoffed, others believed. For the most part the believers in Antioch were Gentiles. They rejoiced in the message that Israel’s God was God for all the nations and Israel’s Messiah was the Savior of the world.

Sadly, that pattern becomes increasingly prevalent, with too many of the Jewish hearers rejecting the Gospel while most of those who believe are Gentiles. The next stop on their journey is Iconium, but once again, some believe and others completely reject the truth. Such a reality deeply grieved Paul, for he was a Jew. This was his family—his friends—turning against the faith he knew to be the message of salvation for all who believe! (Romans 3:21–26).

Throughout Acts nearly every Christian leader—and all of the apostles—are Jews by heritage. Yet, they do not allow their heritage to change their convictions. They have seen the Lord. They know that the Lord Jesus is Lord and God. He is the Savior for all people. To bow to what their family and friends wanted—to shut up about Christ—would be to reject God’s love and mercy, and love and mercy that He wants all the world to know.

 

Prayer for the day: Dear Father, fix our hearts on Jesus, our Lord, and fill them with love for all the world, Jew, Gentile, and everyone. Amen.