The Prophetic Purpose of Bethlehem

birth-of-jesus.jpg“Bethlehem’s selection by God as the birthplace of the Messiah was no happenstance. Nor was it chosen only because Joseph’s lineage happened to originate there. No, Bethlehem was strategically picked to be part of God’s redemption plan from the beginning—that Jesus would come to earth as the final, once-for-all, sacrificial lamb of God (see 1 Pet. 1:19–20).”

Read the full article from Kyle Winkler here

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Paul, the unlikely hero (conclusion)

Luke 15 begins its chapter with these words, the New Living Translation put it this way: Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach.  Did you hear that? Notorious sinners. In four of the five gospels, Jesus said “I have not come to call the righteous to repentance, but the sinners.”

And Paul himself, in his book to the church in Rome said, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul is the perfect example of that, isn’t he?

Character after character, the whole Bible is about redemption—about God knowing we are sinners who are trapped inside of something that we can’t get out of. But Christ comes to redeem, or restore, us to who He intended us to be. We don’t always know our own potential. Saul didn’t. But God does.

He sees us as who He originally intended us to be. Think about that. God did not intend for us to be trapped as sinners. Who he intended for us to be was established since before the foundations of the world, but it changed in the Garden. Who you and I are, our Godly potential, was established before the foundation of the world and changed millennia before we were ever born. But because of the cross, he can change it back. It doesn’t happen instantaneously and not even fully until we are rid of these bodies. But the process starts at the time of choosing Him.

In order for us to be an effective Christian witness to the world, as a church body of believers in the world Monday through Friday; as a church building and as a church service on Sunday, we need to see everyone around us with the eyes of whom God intended for them to be.

Now, I’ll admit, it’s hard sometimes, isn’t it? With some, it’s easy to see, but I have to admit it, I can be like Ananias. I can look at some people and think they’re irredeemable. I have a hard time seeing the potential in people. I have a hard time seeing how God could transform certain people. But if He can do that with Saul, he can do that with anyone.

I want us to think about how many testimonies you have heard where God changed someone’s life. Time after time, after time, after time we have heard testimonies like this. What about your testimony? Where were you at one time, and how did God transform your life?

Are you like Ananias? Does God need to change your vision? Does God need to help you see people for who they could be as redeemed sinners rather than notorious sinners? Maybe God is calling you to reach out to someone that you’re afraid might respond negatively, even harshly.

Are you like Saul? Are we thinking we’re doing the Godly thing, but in actuality are we persecuting God’s people? Are we not seeing people who are already saved for who they already are in Christ? Are we so judgmental against other Christians that we think we should put them down and persecute them because they go to a different church denomination, dress differently, watch movies we wouldn’t watch, listen to music we wouldn’t listen to, use language we wouldn’t use or drink something we wouldn’t drink? Is God telling you to stop laying down judgement, being divisive and persecuting His people?

We Christians have had a bad habit for far too long saying, so-and-so isn’t a real Christian because of such-and-such. It’s time to stop judging, putting people down and persecuting. It’s time to start living in such a way that lifts people up. Everyone needs encouragement no matter who they are; they need to be loved and respected. It’s called living the Christian life. And that was a commandment. And that’s how we show people the way to the cross. They already know they’re sinners, but they don’t all know they’re loved.

Paul, the unlikely hero (part 3)

Picking up where we left off yesterday, we see that God wanted to display his compassion more by using someone named Ananias to heal Saul.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

You’ll notice Ananias’ response. He was well aware of Saul’s reputation as a strong persecutor of the faith, Ananias had a right to be afraid. And he questioned God. You’d have to admit it must have seemed strange to Ananias. This is the one you have chosen to reveal the gospel to the world?

I like the way Tim Challies put it:

I have always loved Ananias’ response. Somehow he forgets his place and attempts to give God a bit of a newsflash. I can just picture Him stammering a bit as he takes it upon himself to remind God of just who this Saul guy is. I like to think that he began the sentence with uncertainty and confusion, and perhaps with with the words “Ummm…God….?” 

Have you ever questioned God? When you feel that tug in your spirit to say something, but you’ve felt afraid to do so? Why? Perhaps it’s because we’re afraid of their response when they find out we’re a Christian. We are afraid of just a little bit of backlash. But here, Ananias had some real fear to contend with.

Tim Challies goes on: Ananias had not only heard of how Saul had been systematically destroying the church in Jerusalem, hunting down men and women and turning them over to the authorities, but also knew that he was on the march to Damascus, ready to destroy that church as well. Paul’s hatred for Christ and His followers was common knowledge. We can well imagine that Ananias and the other believers were terrified as they awaited Saul and his cohort, for they knew their lives might be lost for the sake of Christ. They must have awaited his arrival at the city with great dread. And now here God asks Ananias to go and confront the ringleader of the persecutors.

Why did God ask Ananias to do this? It was for both Ananias’ benefit and for Saul’s. For Ananias, it was an act of obedience that resulted in God demonstrating to him just how far reaching God’s transforming love and grace really is.

For Saul, it furthered his belief in Jesus as Messiah because God gave a miraculous vision to a Christ follower, Ananias; and furthermore, that Christ follower extended grace by healing Saul. You see, God’s grace was proven to both Saul and Ananias. The first to a Jewish Pharisee who was an ardent persecutor of Christ. The second to a Christ follower who needed to see and practice the extent of God’s love. It’s evident that both were transformed, not just Saul.

That happens to us when we extend grace today. Both we and the other person are transformed by that grace. But what happens when we judge a person for where they are? Neither one of us experiences God.

This was all due to God’s ability to see Saul’s potential. God knew when certainly, Saul did not. Think about it. Would Saul have ever imagined where his life would lead? That he would leave a lasting legacy 2000 years later?

You never know where a step of obedience and grace on our part could lead someone else. Think about Ananias. His act of obedience was a leap of faith. He must have been scared to death the whole way to meet Saul. I can feel his stomach tightening as it must have seemed to take forever to get to that house. His mind spinning of what might happen when he gets there. But he did it anyway.

We never know what God might call us to do, and what one small act of kindness and obedience might lead. I think Ananias’ life was changed forever that day. I think he now looked at people with the potential of God’s transforming love. And he also, out of that one act of obedience, has a legacy that has lasted 2000 years.

And what is Ananias’ legacy? He obeyed God by demonstrating the love of God, and by seeing and believing that God has chosen Saul to do wondrous works of ministry for the kingdom. Ananias saw Saul now as a brother.

We need to see others for their potential in Christ, not remind them who they are as a sinner. Ananias had every right to rip into Saul. But he didn’t. He obeyed God and demonstrated grace and healing.

Paul, the unlikely hero (part 2)

Beginning where we left off yesterday, you’ll notice right in the beginning of Acts 9, Paul had it in mind to persecute. He did not stumble upon Christians, and get angry. He had a determination to hunt them down and find them. He had no intentions—like my last series—of trying to figure out this Jesus. To find who He really was. He was not curious about Christ. He thought he had it figured out. Jesus the blasphemer had died at the hands of the Pharisees, and he thought his resurrection was a myth. Christianity was now a blasphemy punishable by death. He was going to fight against those blasphemers who claim Jesus as God, as the Messiah, and he would do this great work—he thought—on behalf of God.

Let me ask you this: Have you known anyone like this? Have you noticed there are Christians out there who seem so eager to fight for God that they end up fighting against God in the process?

I don’t think it’s as common now. At least I hope not, but it seems that when I was growing up, there were a lot of preachers out there that had good intentions, but they preached so much against things that they actually got in God’s way of being useful and effective to our culture. And I’m not just talking about how they preached against the world. I mean, they preached against the church. They preached against how people dress, their hairstyle, body piercings, tattoos; they were against wearing jeans to church. Diana tells me she remembers it was a big deal to wear sandals or flip flops to church. It was a big deal if a pastor didn’t wear a tie. Of course rock n’ roll was the devil’s music, so Christian rock was a controversial topic at the time.

What they missed was an opportunity to love, to show people that there is more to Christianity than outward appearances and a list of don’ts. Christians display typical Jewish, pharisaical attitudes when they do this. And nothing angered Jesus more than this kind of attitude. Now I’m not saying we shouldn’t establish healthy rules and boundaries when it comes to how much of the world seeps into the church. But, to be so emphatic on what may or may not be doctrinal to the Christian faith that we put both Christians and non-Christians down, we are not seeing a person for whom Jesus died. We are not seeing within them who they are as Christians already; and for those still not-yet Christians, we are not seeing them as who they can become in Christ. We are looking at them without their capability of ever being a Paul.

How did Jesus look at Saul? Look at verses 3-6: As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Notice Jesus’ short and simple choice of words in this verse. He performed a powerful miracle in displaying who he was, but did not lay down the law or threaten Saul with punishment. He did not even tell Saul to change his ways. I don’t think Jesus blinded Saul to punish him, but to get his attention. Jesus asks “why do you persecute me?” then tells Saul who he is, and then tells him what to do next. That’s it. I would say, overall, that’s pretty compassionate.

Paul, the unlikely hero (part 1)

 

 

When we look at the early church fathers, none stands out more than Paul, whom as many of you know, was once called Saul. In my upcoming blog posts, I am going to focus on the writings of Paul, but today, I think it might be good to look at the beginning of Paul’s story, which ironically is not found in any of the books that he wrote. Luke continued where he left off at the end of his Gospel when he wrote Acts, which is where we find Paul’s story. Out of the 27 books of the New Testament, Paul wrote 13—that’s two-thirds of the New Testament. He is and, at the time of his ministry, considered a great authority on Christ and Christian doctrine. He was a missionary, who began and fostered churches throughout the Mediterranean, and even into Europe.

Out of the 27 books of the New Testament, Paul wrote 13—that’s two-thirds of the New Testament. He is today, and at the time of his ministry, considered a great authority on Christ and Christian doctrine. He was a missionary, who began and fostered churches throughout the Mediterranean, and even into Europe. So, you would think that a man of such great stature, such great work and zeal would have been a longtime disciple, that he would have been Jesus’ right-hand man. But that’s not Paul’s story at all. What we know about Paul is just the opposite. He did not know Jesus, and we don’t have any evidence that Paul ever saw Jesus or was present at any of his teachings or his crucifixion. We can be sure he was not at his resurrection.

Paul was a Pharisee. He was well educated in everything Jewish and religious. And he was an ardent persecutor of the early Christian movement. Acts 8 begins with this:

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.

So what made Paul go from being a hostile persecutor of the Christian church to becoming one of the most strongly persecuted himself? What made him go from an unbeliever to the most inspired writer of the New Testament? What made Saul change his name to Paul ? Let’s look at what happens at the beginning of the next chapter, Acts 9: 1-19:

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

This is a long passage with a lot in it. In upcoming posts, we’ll break it down into smaller parts. Whenever we see this story depicted—whether it’s in a movie, a documentary, a classical painting—usually the focus is on how Saul was blinded, but no one else. That is quite a miracle. But that’s not the real miracle. The real miracle is this: That Jesus chose Saul of Tarsus of all people, to preach the gospel to Jew and Gentile; to kings; to become a pastor to pastors; a mentor to mentors; to be the most inspired writer of what only God would know at that time to become The New Testament. The true underlying miracle was God’s grace. God was able to look beyond Saul the sinner into the destiny of Paul the apostle. We need to have that kind of vision. We need to look beyond where people are now to who they can become in Christ.

The work of the Trinity in the life of Christ Part 1: The Birth

For the believer, the birth of Jesus is one of the most profound events in all of human history. To achieve this, all three persons of The Trinity worked in harmony to carry out this mission. The b…

Source: The work of the Trinity in the life of Christ Part 1: The Birth

The Reliability of The Book of Acts

We’ve looked at different aspects of The Resurrection of Jesus and its affects on fellow apostles Peter and Paul. Continuing with this theme, and in light of the new T.V. show “A.D.”, let’s take a closer look at the Book of Acts.

THINKAPOLOGETICS.COM

 

One book in the New Testament that plays as indispensable role in evaluating the resurrection of Jesus is the book of Acts. It is within Acts that we see the resurrection was part of the early apostolic preaching and the evidence given that Christianity is true (Acts 2:25-32; 3: 15; 10:39-41; 17:2-3, 18, 31). It is also within Acts that records Paul’s testimony to the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 9:1-9; 22: 1-11; 26: 9-19).

Eduard Meyer, the distinguished historian of classical antiquity, commented that Luke’s work in spite of a more limited content, “bears the same character as those of great historians, of a Polybius, a Livy and many others.”(See Meyer, E.M. and Strange, J., Archaeology, the Rabbis and Early Christianity. London:SCM, 1981).

In his monumental work called The Book of Acts in the Setting of Hellenistic History, classics scholar Colin Hemer has shown that Luke has also done…

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