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South Fellowship Church

Week 10

Paul’s Approach and Ours | Acts 17:22-27

Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship —and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. Acts 17:22-27 NIV

If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make full use of my rights as a preacher of the gospel. Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I Corinthians 9:17-22 NIV

This sermon of Paul’s in Athens at the meeting of the Areopagus is unique in the book of Acts. Luke tells us Paul is waiting in Athens for Silas and Timothy to join him and that he has spoken to the Jews in the synagogue. Acts 17:16 informs us, “he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.” Paul considers his audience carefully, learns about the types of idols they are worshipping, then he uses this knowledge to present the gospel to members of the Areopagus.

Paul noticed, “an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD,” Acts 17:23. He uses this altar as a means of introducing the God of the universe to these people in Athens. I don’t think this was the only time he had done something like this, although this is the only example we have in Acts. Paul later wrote to the church at Colossae urging them to, “pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone,” Colossians 4:3-6.

I believe Paul took advantage of every opportunity to proclaim Christ as the Savior of the world to whomever he met, wherever he was. He encouraged the Colossians to do the same, but to do it with words that were, “always full of grace, seasoned with salt,” Colossians 4:6a. In I Corinthians 9:17-22 Paul talks of becoming like a Jew, or a Greek as needed in order to proclaim Christ to all. He concludes with, “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some,” I Corinthians 9:22b.

How can we apply Paul’s example to ourselves? Perhaps we need to think carefully about the words we use, and treat each person with respect – when speaking to someone who does not have a relationship with Christ. An opening might be “How can I pray for you today, what needs do you have?” Most people feel loved, cared for and are willing to share if I offer to pray for them. Try this approach this week.

By Grace Hunter

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Paul’s Approach and Ours | Acts 17:22-272021-11-11T14:58:41-07:00

How We Use Influence | Acts 17:1-15

When Paul and his companions had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead. “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah,” he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and quite a few prominent women.

 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials, shouting: “These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.” When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go.

As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men.

But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea. Those who escorted Paul brought him to Athens and then left with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible. Acts 17:1-15

This chapter begins with a whirlwind of activity and it’s swarming with characters. Take a moment to observe all the characters in this first scene. We have leading characters like Paul and Silas bringing forth a message of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but also find many sideline characters such as the curious Jews, devout Greeks, leading ladies, jealous Jews, wicked men, swindler types, mean mobsters, as well as Jason and a few of his brothers. Not to mention the crowds and the city authorities who were quite disturbed by that day’s traumatic event.

Luke seems to highlight a stark contrast between the overwhelming number of “bad characters” (poneros) in Thessalonica with the number of “noble characters” (eugenes) in Berea. Berea was swarming with a whole different genre of characters. They were of nobility yet they were also noble-minded, ready to receive words of truth with eagerness and willing to examine new ideas with careful attention. And that day resulted in many Berean men and women filled with faith.

Good stories usually involve both heroic and villainous characters. In today’s reading, it’s interesting how those with good quality character are noble in all senses of the word while those society knows to be swindlers and of bad nature are called upon to create a scene resulting in bad qualities of disorder and dissension.

Where would you be in this story? If you heard new ideas about someone rising from the dead how would you have first responded? Spend some time sharing your thoughts with Jesus and ask him what he has to say about your character.

By Yvonne Biel

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How We Use Influence | Acts 17:1-152021-11-11T14:56:45-07:00

Distressed But Not Judging | Acts 17:16-23

The longer Paul waited in Athens for Silas and Timothy, the angrier he got–all those idols!  The city was a junkyard of idols!

He discussed it with the Jews and other like-minded people at their meeting place. And every day he went out on the streets and talked with anyone who happened along. He got to know some of the Epicureans and Stoic intellectuals pretty well through these conversations. Some of them dismissed him with sarcasm: “What a moron!”  But others, listening to him go on about Jesus and the resurrection, were intrigued: “That’s a new slant on the gods. Tell us more.”   

These people got together and asked him to make a public presentation over at the Areopagus, where things were quieter. They said, “This is a new one on us. We’ve never heard anything quite like it. Where did you come up with this anyway?”  Explain it so we can understand.” Downtown Athens was a great place for gossip. The people hanging around, natives and tourists alike, waiting for the latest tidbit on most anything.

So Paul took his stand in the open space at the Areopagus and laid it out for them. “It is plain to see that you Athenians take your religion seriously.  When I arrived here the other day, I was fascinated with all the shrines I came across. And then I found one inscribed, TO THE GOD NOBODY KNOWS. I’m here to introduce you to this God so you can worship intelligently, know who you’re dealing with” Acts 17:16-23, The Message

This passage brings up different aspects of the culture in which the gospel was spreading through those who had come to believe in Jesus and live in the truth of the good news of the gospel. Paul had, by the time he got to Athens, been living and growing in his love of Jesus for around 16 years since his experience on the road to Damascus. In Athens, the culture expressed itself in idols and lots of conversations on philosophy about how to live and worship.

Culture, by simple definition, is a society’s way of life, customs, traditions, heritage, habits and values. Some of the cultural things that show up in this passage are not too different from now, such as ethnicity, worship styles and ideas about how to live life.

Paul’s attitude and actions may help us as we navigate similar situations in our own lives. For instance: Paul wasn’t angry at particular people. He was angry about the delusion that the idols represented. He went first to discuss it with the Jews and other, “like minded” people. He built a relationship with people he met as he walked around the city and agreed to present what he had to say in a basic and clear way. He acknowledged their commitment to religion and worship. He was courteous in his introduction of the true God and appealed to their intelligence. He didn’t nag or pass judgement on them if they disagreed.

How would you define the culture you live in and possibly prefer? Who do you know that has different, or very different ideas from yours? Are there people who can give you counsel about how to approach the situation or person? Pray about the situation, the people and your desire for Christ in their life.

By Carolyn Schmitt

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Distressed But Not Judging | Acts 17:16-232021-11-11T14:54:12-07:00

The No Bible Sermon | 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

‘For though I be free from all men , yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; to them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you. ‘ 1 Corinthians 9:19-23

We continue in our series through the book of Acts, and this week we are focused on Acts 17, but the text from 1 Corinthians 9 helps us understand Paul’s sermon in Acts 17. The discourse in Acts 17 is a prime example of Paul contextualizing the message of Jesus to help his audience understand. At first, this seems entirely natural for most of us, but the question we must ask is, how far can we go to contextualize the message of Jesus before it loses its core truth?

I confess the title of this post makes me a bit nervous a. You see, the scriptures are so dear to me, which is true for most of us. After all, the scriptures are the reason we know anything about Jesus. The No Bible Sermon is a title that causes me anxiety because I would generally frown upon a sermon not anchored in the scriptures. If I were to hear about a preacher who doesn’t even directly reference a passage of scripture, I would seriously doubt their authority, but that is precisely what we find in Paul’s sermon here. Instead of quoting from the scriptures, Paul quotes several secular (pagan) poets and points out visual illustrations from around the city. What are we to do with this?

We don’t have the time to unpack an entire theology of the scriptures (bibliology). Instead, I point to the implications of our/my discomfort. There is a tendency in the evangelical stream of Christianity to worship the scripture more than or equal to God. The truth is, God seems quite comfortable using all sorts of things to draw people to himself. God uses broken people, secular poets, storms, and more to communicate to his creation. God uses Paul’s sermon in Acts 17 to accomplish his goal even with its lack of scriptural references. Let us not reduce the God we worship to paper and ink. The text is just a means to knowing him.

Take a moment to thank God for giving us his word but then ask him to teach you to hear his voice through other means as well. Ask him to use nature, poetry, secular music, the conversation with a friend, and any other means to help you hear and know him.

By Aaron Bjorklund

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The No Bible Sermon | 1 Corinthians 9:19-232021-11-11T14:52:02-07:00

Distressed by the Marketplace? | Acts 17:16-21 NIV

While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols.So he reasoned in the synagogue with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to debate with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we would like to know what they mean.”(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.) Acts 17:16-21

A short 16 years ago the social media giant Facebook went international. Since then, a plethora of social media platforms have sprung up to offer “free” memberships, almost unlimited personal expression, and opportunities to link to a myriad of new and long lost friends and relatives. They have drawn billions into a planet wide Areopagus of news and ideas that have power to both thrill and threaten us.

Like Paul and me, you are likely distressed by the false and deadly ideas so easily glamorized and disseminated to the gullible and impressionable. The social media Areopagus and its surrounding marketplace can be fickle, volatile, and dangerous.

As we read further in Acts 17, Paul delivered his famous Areopagus or “Mars Hill” speech. In that speech he skillfully gathered bits and pieces of ideas familiar to his pagan audience in order to relate the message of the resurrected Jesus. The reaction of most of the audience to the speech was either dismissal or a false promise to hear him “later”. Only a couple people responded positively.

If you posted your most thoughtful appeal on social media to help your friends see the resurrection of Jesus as the answer to all human suffering and confusion, would you be intimidated and discouraged by the kind of dismissive or weak response received by Paul in Athens? Are you frightened you might be pursued by a politically motivated or religious mob as Paul was in Thessalonica and other cities? Yes, all those things are possible, even probable.

The possibilities also scare me. I want others to think well of me. I want to be the “nice” Christian who is adorable…superior to all the rest of the Christian rabble through the ages. Sometimes I think if I remain uncontroversial many will trust in Jesus because of me. But, so far, being uncontroversial has proved unsuccessful in attracting outsiders to Jesus.

How does my approach need to change? Adhering to a political agenda or intentionally starting an argument about a controversial subject will likely turn heads in the wrong direction. I believe Jesus is who He says He is. I want others to know Him too. What should I do?

Here is an idea for those of us not as bold or clever as the Apostle Paul. Stories are time-honored in their power to carry a truth message. Would you join me in asking Jesus to help communicate His truth to social media friends using real-life stories we’ve observed or experienced? Let’s see what might happen.

By Kathleen Petersen

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Distressed by the Marketplace? | Acts 17:16-21 NIV2021-11-11T14:28:46-07:00

A New Mission | Luke 24:46-49

He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.” Luke 24:46-49

I hate sitting in the unknown. I tend to get anxious and impatient. I find myself thinking, “If only I knew what was coming, I could work to prepare for it.” I just want to get there and get going!

Jesus has just appeared to the Disciples and reminded them that His resurrection is fulfilling what the prophets had written about Himself. In doing so, Jesus is bringing the forgiveness of sins- so long as we repent to Him. Then He previews the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Disciples, but tells them they need to wait. At this moment, the Disciples are probably getting uncomfortable, knowing that they are to go out and spread the good news of Jesus, but having to wait before they go. What the Disciples didn’t know was that the Holy Spirit was about to move amongst each of them, giving them the ability to share Jesus’s teachings and forgiveness with the entire world, regardless of language and in one day bringing 3,000 new followers to Jesus (Acts 2:41).

Jesus calls us to share His teachings with everyone in the world, making disciples of all people and obeying His commands (Matthew 28:16-20). Think about how you can work to fulfill this calling today. How are you able to share the Gospel message with all ends of the Earth? Look into South’s local ministry partners and see if God is prompting you to get involved with one of them.

By John Egland

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A New Mission | Luke 24:46-492021-07-22T13:58:22-06:00

Scripture Fulfilled | Luke 24:44-47

He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. Luke 24:44-47 NIV

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. Hebrews 10:19-23 NIV

For the second time that same day, Jesus explained from the scriptures about how he had to die so the sins of men could be forgiven. This time, he was explaining the message he wants his followers to share with Jerusalem and with all people – Jews and Gentiles. “He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’ Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. He told them, ‘This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem,’” Luke 24:44-47. Jesus used Scripture from different places in the Old Testament to explain how He had to die, rise again so that all people could have the opportunity to respond to His sacrifice with repentance and receive forgiveness from sin.

Some of the scriptures He might have used are Isaiah 53, Isaiah 49:6-7, Psalm 22, Psalm 16:9-11, Genesis 12:1-3, and Exodus 19:5-6. All of these passages refer to different aspects of prophecy about the Messiah and about God’s intent for His people. Read several of these passages and look for the promises God has made to His people, and to us. Look for the language used to describe Messiah’s suffering and the sacrifice required for the forgiveness of sin. Thank Jesus for being that perfect sacrifice – the atonement for all of our sin. Examine your heart, in light of these verses, confess any sin, and accept the forgiveness His shed blood offers to you and to me.

By Grace Hunter

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Scripture Fulfilled | Luke 24:44-472021-07-22T13:54:49-06:00

Blessed in Belief | Luke 24:37-39; John 20:20-29

They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” Luke 24:37-39

Minutes ago, the disciples were sharing the wonderful news that they had seen the risen Christ. The women’s report was proved true, Jesus was alive! And then Jesus appears among them and they are “startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost” (v. 37). They know the reality of the situation- Jesus is alive. They have been telling each other the reality of the situation. But clearly, by their reaction when they actually see Jesus, they don’t fully understand or believe the reality of the situation. What holds them back? They are startled and frightened by a sudden appearance. Jesus’ resurrection is certainly not what they were expecting and they are probably still wrapping their minds around what that means. But regardless, in this moment they hold back from fully embracing the full implications of who Jesus is and what he has done.

Jesus clearly knows their doubts and hesitation. In his grace, he gives them physical signs- like seeing his wounds in his hands and eating fish- to help them understand and fully believe. One of the most famous examples of this is Jesus’ interaction with Thomas in John 20:24-29. Thomas is apparently not present during Jesus’ appearance in Luke 24 and therefore tells the other disciples “unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (v. 25). Of course, Jesus gives him that very opportunity and Thomas believes, declaring “my Lord and my God!” (v. 28).

Unlike Thomas, we don’t have the ability to see Jesus’ scars with our own eyes, at least on this side of eternity. Yet Jesus still says, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (v. 29). We are the ones that Jesus calls blessed! Today, let your soul rest in the knowledge of Jesus’ blessing. If your faith feels weak today, like believing is a struggle, tell Jesus about it. Ask him to hold and strengthen you today.

By Jessica Rust

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Blessed in Belief | Luke 24:37-39; John 20:20-292021-07-22T14:12:37-06:00

A Surprise Appearance | Luke 24:36

They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. Jesus Appears to the Disciples While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” Luke 24:33-36 NIV

Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:1-2 NIV

I love to watch news stories about a child being surprised by their deployed parent suddenly turning up at the child’s birthday party, or a special moment at school. The look of pure joy, love, amazement on the child’s face always brings tears to my eyes.

The people gathered in Jerusalem on this Sunday night have just received a similar surprise. John tells us a few more of the details. “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and side. The disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord,” John 20:19-20.

This first day of the week, Sunday, had been filled with different people seeing and talking with Jesus in various places. Jesus appeared to the women at the tomb early in the morning, then to Mary Magdalene nearby. Peter also saw him and the two on the road to Emmaus had a conversation with him. But this is the largest group by far to see him at once. Luke tells us the two who went to Emmaus, “…got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread,” Luke 24:33-35. The disciples and others with them were confused, frightened, and cautiously excited by all these sightings and conversations. Perhaps their dashed hope that the kingdom of God was on the brink of being ushered into their world was beginning to be renewed. Certainly, once they saw Jesus appear and greet them – they realized Jesus had a different kind of body.

Jesus made a disruptive entrance – interrupted their discussion – in order to give them an unsettling message about their future. Has your life had a surprising detour lately? Have you had one in the past? Make yourself available to God – to share Jesus’ love with others in this disruption to your plans.

By Grace Hunter

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A Surprise Appearance | Luke 24:362021-07-22T12:37:21-06:00

Whose Son is the Christ? | Mark 12:35; Psalm 110:1

While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “How is it that the teachers of the law say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared: “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I put your enemies under your feet.”’ David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight. Mark 12:35-37 NIV

Jesus has turned the tables by asking a question; he has gone on the offensive. Jesus asks, “how the teachers of the law can say the Christ (Messiah) is the son of David when David calls him Lord?” Jesus is really asking, “whose son is the Christ?” This is a question we all need to answer for ourselves.

“The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’” Psalm 110:1 is quoted here in Mark, in Matthew 22:44, Luke 20:43-44, Acts 2:33-35, and in Hebrews 1:13. This is a Messianic Psalm, composed by David most likely for his son Solomon’s coronation. But it is also prophetic. David is full of the Holy Spirit and proclaims the Messiah – David’s descendant – is David’s Lord.

In Matthew 26:64, Luke 22:69 and Mark 14:62 Jesus tells the Sanhedrin that he is the Messiah, and will be seen sitting at the right hand of God and coming on the clouds of heaven. Sitting at the right hand of God is a position of favor and power second only to God himself. David in Psalm 110, Paul in Romans 8:34 and the writer of Hebrews in Heb. 12:2 all declare Jesus is Messiah, Jesus is the son of God, Jesus is God.

The second part of Psalm 110:1 talks about God making all of his enemies a footstool for his feet. In II Chronicles 9:18 Solomon’s throne is described as having a footstool attached to the throne. I Kings 5:3b says, “he could not build a temple for the Name of the Lord his God until the Lord put his enemies under his feet.” Conquering kings in the Old Testament would actually put their feet on the necks of their conquered enemies. David and Jesus are using this vivid imagery as a picture of what God will do in our lives and in the end times.

Whose son is the Christ? Whose son is the Messiah? He is a descendant of David, but more than that, He is Lord of all, the King of Kings, he is the Son of God, and he is seated right now at the right hand of God, his work is finished. This week, look at some of these passages from the Old and New Testaments and answer this question for yourself.

By Grace Hunter

Whose Son is the Christ? | Mark 12:35; Psalm 110:12020-03-26T15:02:46-06:00
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