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The Story Still Goes On | Acts 28

Commissioned:  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain Jesus told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:16-20

Jesus Prays: My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. John 17:20-21  

When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. Acts 28:16

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness and without hindrance! Acts 28:30-31

The book of Acts ends with Paul chained to a soldier in his own rented house in Rome. However, he was not prevented from teaching about Jesus Christ and proclaiming the kingdom of God to anyone and everyone who visited him. And the soldiers who rotated through as guards must have heard Paul’s message many times over. Philippians 1:13 mentions that the palace guard and everyone had learned that he was in chains for Christ. And people would be talking about Paul and coming to see him and hear the message and it would spread.

Looking back to Acts 2:5-11 we see that the people who heard about Jesus were from many parts of the known world. In Acts 2:41 we see that about 3,000 people believed and became disciples. From then until Stephen was stoned many more people joined the disciples, brought by both the preaching and teaching, and also by the life example of the apostles and other believers. Then, after Stephen was stoned and persecution broke out against the church, all but the apostles scattered throughout Judea and Samaria.

And these believers took the message back, probably to the place they came from. And the gospel spread slowly, by word of mouth, by letters, by the writings that would become Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and the letters from Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude and those who received them and the daily living of people through the centuries and now to us.

Most especially, Jesus was praying for each of us before his crucifixion and as the risen and ascended Christ, seated with his Father, he is praying for each of us by name now! Think about this! Jesus is praying for you! By name! Let the wonder of that wash over you, especially now as we head into the Advent season. Jesus, whose birth we will celebrate soon is with his Father, praying for you.

By Carolyn Schmitt

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The Story Still Goes On | Acts 282021-11-17T10:50:46-07:00

Who is Lord of the Ship? | Acts 27

When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. Acts 27:1

The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. Acts 27:3-4

We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea. Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest. Acts 27:8-12

Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” Acts 27:33-34

Acts 27 tells a story full of danger, faith, arrogance, selfishness, humility, prayer and terror in the midst of a storm. Sounds like a movie, right? Wrong! This story is true and there is much to observe, learn and discern in this chapter. Read through Acts 27. Now, go back and look at what Paul says in this chapter. Who told Paul what would happen if they set sail from Crete? Look at the decisions the Centurion made in this story. What kind of voyage did the ship have from the time they left Sidon?

What sort of advice does Paul give the Centurion in Acts 27:10? Whose advice does the Centurion listen to in Acts 27:11? Luke tells us in Acts 27:9 that, “it was after the Fast,” meaning it was after the Day of Atonement, which was usually in late September or October. Keep in mind sailing on the Mediterranean Sea was a difficult prospect after the middle of September and many considered it to be suicidal after the middle of November.

Fourteen days in hurricane force winds, being blown west, with no way to steer, no way to navigate, afraid the ship would fall apart and all would be drowned, had to be a terrifying experience for all 267 on board. Read Acts 27:21-24 again. Take note of Paul’s confidence in God and His provision. In Acts 27:31-32 a change has occurred in the Centurion, who now listens to Paul and follows his advice. Notice the attitude the Centurion has toward Paul in Acts 27:43. Did everything God said through his servant Paul occur? Compare how the soldiers, sailors and the Centurion made decisions when the shipwreck occurred.

Who was the Lord of this ship? Who is the Lord of your life? Take some time to think about the different areas in your life. Have you given all areas over to God’s control? Perhaps, it is hard to listen to God’s advice in certain areas of your life. Perhaps God’s way does not seem sensible, reasonable or even logical to you. The Centurion in Acts 27 learns, listens, and humbles himself to listen to the advice of one of his prisoners because his prediction – that God gave him – came true. Paul and God were proven to be trustworthy. God is trustworthy in our lives as well. Give God the opportunity to be Lord over all of your life.

By Grace Hunter

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Who is Lord of the Ship? | Acts 272021-11-17T10:48:27-07:00

Will You Testify? | Acts 26

Read Acts 26

I will praise you to all my brothers; I will stand up before the congregation and testify of the wonderful things you have done. Psalm. 22:22

Acts 26 records the story of the Apostle Paul brought before King Agrippa to receive an official pronouncement of charges against him. If you’re reading from one of those red letter Bibles, you’ll notice Paul uses Jesus’ words as part of his defense. These words came from Paul’s supernatural revelation on the road to Damascus and Paul uses his humiliating and life-changing encounter with Jesus to testify to what happened when he had to answer to the God of the Universe. Here, Paul stands before the court of an earthly king and doesn’t hesitate to speak up on behalf of how the king of all kings intervened for his deliverance.

Paul’s influence from this moment on has shifted the way Christians define the noun “testimony.” Where once testimony was a formal statement given in the court of law, Christians now apply “testimony” as a spoken proclamation of what the Lord has done in their lives.

In a letter to his protege Timothy, Paul wrote, “never be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me, his prisoner.” (2 Timothy 1:8a) Similarly, the disciple John writes in his prophetic word to those in the last days, “They triumphed over [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Revelation 12:11a)

Testimony triumphs. Speaking up on behalf of what God has done in our lives won’t necessarily rescue us from the hands of our earthly captors, but it will free us from our battle against the real enemy. When we speak aloud as God’s children, we agree with the King of all kings and take back our rightful authority overcoming the devil and his schemes. So, how have you personally experienced Jesus recently? Ask Jesus to arrange a moment for you to speak up on behalf of what God’s done in your life and intentionally take the opportunity he’s set before you today.

By Yvonne Biel

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Will You Testify? | Acts 262021-11-17T10:45:51-07:00

Opposition Doesn’t Stop Us Now | Acts 25

Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” Acts 25:10-12

There are many things about God’s economy that are counterintuitive. Things like “the first shall be last,” “love your enemies,” and “consider others more important than yourself.” It is counterintuitive because our fallen nature doesn’t naturally operate like that. God teaches us to operate differently from our nature; he, too, works differently than we expect. The final chapters of Acts give an example of that. What we find in these closing chapters are oppositions to Paul and his message.

Paul finds himself in multiple jail cells, standing before various judges, and ultimately shipped to Rome to be tried in the highest court. The unexpected part of all of this is how God uses each step to advance the message of salvation. Paul preaches to influential political leaders; he shipwrecks on an island of an unreached people group and preaches to them. Finally, he finds himself in prison in Rome but he preaches openly without hindrance (Acts 28:30-31). Read in isolation, these chapters don’t show us the pattern. But if you compare this to other texts, it seems that God delights in working this way. God seems to revel in the opportunity to advance his goodness despite and through opposition. When he does, he proves himself to be the King of Kings.

If you look at your circumstances and doubt that God could work through them, maybe that is when he wants: to work mightily. Listen to the song “Battle Belongs” By Phil Wickham and remember that God is at work beyond our weakness. He works beyond our capacity, and he moves beyond the barriers.

By Aaron Bjorklund

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Opposition Doesn’t Stop Us Now | Acts 252021-11-17T10:43:14-07:00

Slivers of Light Reveal Open Doors | Acts 24-28

…these who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin—unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: ‘It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.’” (Acts 24:20(b)-21 NIV)

“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’

“ ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:15-18 NIV)

Some who study the prophetic warnings given to Paul prior to his final journey to Jerusalem believe Paul overrode God’s voice and plunged into unnecessary danger. Others believe Paul was more focused on reaching both Jews and Gentiles with the Gospel than risk management.
Whatever side of that argument you favor, Acts 24-28 pictures the accused and arrested Paul taking advantage of illuminated cracks shining through seemingly closed doors all the way from Jerusalem to Rome. The result was that he escaped certain death and continued preaching the resurrection of Jesus to the upper tiers of Jewish and Gentile power.

I know God’s ways are not our ways but my humanity is often uncomfortable with the idea that unjust accusations and imprisonment could be the best way to open doors for the Gospel. My first reaction to contemporary situations where the Gospel seems silenced by powerful opposition too often takes the form of hand-wringing or doom saying.

Paul’s mindset in Acts 24-28 encourages me to take another approach. His thoughts and words show conviction that the eternal presence of Jesus illuminates potentially disastrous situations. This mindset enabled him to be bold in every circumstance recorded in his last missionary journey.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (John 1:1-4).

John 1:1-4 reveals the immense power Jesus had shown to Paul, not only at his conversion, but in so many ways after. Meditate on these verses and ask to see the light of Jesus’ resurrection shining through a door you thought was closed or a circumstance you’ve thought was hopeless.

By Kathleen Petersen

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Slivers of Light Reveal Open Doors | Acts 24-282021-11-17T10:41:00-07:00

What Now? | Mark 16:8

And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. Mark 16:8

We read this story and wonder why they would run away from the empty tomb. Perhaps we think them foolish, all because we read the texts and understand Jesus’ talking about this moment time and again. But, before we get too judgmental, let’s remember they were living it while we’re only reading about it. There’s a huge difference between the two.

How many times have we been involved in something and were told repeatedly the outcome? Then, when it actually happened, we were surprised. Whether it’s being told the due date of a project, tax day, or the loss of a loved one to an illness, we’re sometimes surprised. Our being told, for whatever reason, was either forgotten or set aside as something not to think on.

Over the years, I’ve become more and more sympathetic towards the disciples in what sometimes seems to be blind ignorance. But, as the richness of the scriptures unfolds into a living story, I see myself most likely behaving the same way! Clamor seems to have been present whenever Jesus went into a public setting, and that’s not always the optimal learning experience. Certainly, there were times the disciples were in a quiet setting, with Jesus teaching, but we all know how our minds are, having wandering thoughts as we sit in our tiredness. The disciples experienced the same, I’m sure.

I imagine this to be an Easter celebration few to none have experienced before. We’re told not to congregate, keeping our distance. This is exactly the opposite of what we desire. But, in our experience, maybe we’ve moved away from what Easter really is. Our celebrations surrounding the resurrection of Jesus have perhaps shifted from focus on Jesus to focus on celebration. Now that we’ve celebrated Jesus’ resurrection, maybe we can realign our Easter back to a focus on Jesus, and probe the question ‘who is Jesus to us?’ We’ve read and heard these Gospel accounts of Jesus, sometimes being told who he is. Remember, the relationship sought of us by God’s son is a personal one, which sounds a lot like we need to figure out who this Perfect Man is. As we reflect on our experience this Easter, this may be the perfect time for us to celebrate who we are in Jesus and what he IS to us!

By Rich Obrecht

What Now? | Mark 16:82020-04-10T11:24:29-06:00

Why the Cliffhanger? | Mark 16:1-8

When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb and they asked each other, “Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.’” Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

Humans love resolve. When we read novels we want happy endings. When we listen to music, our bodies ache for that final chord to reach a beautiful melodic resolve. We can only hold so much tension at any given time. And it’s no different when it comes to Scripture.

An addendum to the Gospel of Mark was added due to this very fact. For years, many have viewed Mark 16 as unfinished. However, N.T. Wright says, “Mark rewards careful study.” Although John Mark seems to blaze through the life and ministry of Jesus and leave us with a rather uncomfortable cliffhanger, perhaps this is exactly his literary strategy.

His audience is a group of young believers in Rome suffering under intense persecution. Mark’s gospel reminds them Jesus IS the Son of God and his resurrection informs the way his disciples live under unexpected circumstances. In the first half of this book, only demons understood who Jesus was, even his own disciples only understood in part. Finally, in chapter 15 we see a Roman centurion making a definitive statement that “Jesus is truly the Son of God” while the disciples in today’s passage ran away in fear.

Here’s where we believe the book of Mark was intended to end. Like any literary cliffhanger, Mark ends abruptly in order for the story to have gravitas. When we end at Mark 16:8, this story begs so many questions. Today, take a few minutes to identify and answer the questions this gospel poses to you.

  • For those who doubt the resurrection- How does Mark’s account of Jesus’ resurrection make you feel? What are you going to do about it?
  • For those who believe in the resurrection- When God shows up in unexpected ways, will you cower in fear or rise up in faith?
  • For those who proclaim the resurrection- How can your life reveal the relevance of Jesus’ resurrection today?

By Yvonne Biel

Why the Cliffhanger? | Mark 16:1-82020-04-10T11:21:52-06:00

What About Joseph? | Mark 15:42-47

 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Mark 15:42-47

How have you been spending your time during the Stay at Home? It’s almost like God is giving the world a huge “time out” to check our attitudes and what’s important. Even more surprising is the timing, right before Easter during the Lenten season. The forty days of Lent are for spiritual growth and renewal, fasting and repentance. Lent is a time to be aware of the sin that separates us from God and what it cost him to be reunited to us in right relationship.

Joseph of Arimathea got his relationship right with Jesus and was waiting for the Kingdom of God (Mark 15:43). He is mentioned only four times in the Bible, Matthew (27:57) as wealthy, Mark (15:43) respected in the Sanhedrin, Luke (23:50) as a good and righteous man, and in John (19:38) a secret disciple and follower. The day Jesus died on the cross – his waiting was over. He openly approached Pilate and boldly asked for Jesus’ dead body. He bought a linen shroud (Mark 15:46) and secured help (including Nicodemus, another Pharisee, John 19:39) to take him down from the cross. They prepared Jesus’ body for burial, and laid him in a tomb, between the 9th hour and the Sabbath at sundown. All this in 180 minutes. The other disciples scattered in fear, but Joseph, at great risk to his family and career, respectfully gave his Savior a proper burial. This was a critical part of Jesus’ story and Joseph was uniquely suited to help him in those three hours, and did everything he could.

God has prepared good works for all of us as his followers. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10). These good works are a result of a right relationship with Jesus. Take inventory of your God given gifts, talents and influence. What is God calling you to for such a time as this? Are you willing to bear the cost? It was time for Joseph to be bold and courageous, and so it is for us. God has uniquely fitted you for the work he has for you. Like Joseph’s 180 minutes, it will be personal, and it will be important in God’s Kingdom. During the imposed solitude of Lent this year, spend time with Jesus, listening to how he wants to use you and your influence for his Kingdom, then obey.

By Donna Burns

What About Joseph? | Mark 15:42-472020-04-10T11:17:49-06:00

Why So Many Women? | Mark 15:40-41

“Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were there.” Mark 15:40-41

“Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.” Mark 15:47

“When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body.” Mark 16:1

Mark tells us several women were present at Jesus’ crucifixion. He says Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and Joses, and Salome were among them, implying there were others. John 19:25 says, “Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.” In Luke 8:2-3 we are given a few details, “and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.” It is reasonable to assume many of these women were present at Jesus’ crucifixion. Several of them saw where Jesus was laid, and came back on Sunday, bringing spices with them to anoint Jesus’ body – out of devotion to him.

Women did not have power, voice, or influence in Israel in 30 AD. But these women heard Jesus teaching, were healed in their spirits, minds and bodies, and thus became devoted to Jesus and his ministry. They showed their devotion by following Jesus, using their own money to supply food and daily needs. In this way they served Jesus and his disciples and helped to further his ministry. The gospel of Mark tells us the kingdom Jesus proclaimed welcomes men, women, and children, Jews and gentiles. All are welcome.

Paul tells us briefly of two other women, “I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois, and in your mother Eunice,” II Timothy 1:5. Paul writes to Timothy, whom he considered to be his son, and “fellow worker” Romans 16:21. He reminds him of the spiritual heritage he is blessed to have – both a mother and a grandmother who were believers. His father evidently was Greek and not a believer in Jesus. Timothy was influenced and nurtured by a believing mother and grandmother, who surely helped him gain spiritual maturity.

Do you know a woman, or women who have been devoted to Jesus? Maybe she or they have influenced you on your spiritual journey? Perhaps a mother, grandmother, aunt, sister or friend was the person who pointed you to Jesus. Reach out and thank them. Affirm a woman or women who have helped you to mature and grow in your spiritual journey.

By Grace Hunter

Why So Many Women? | Mark 15:40-412020-04-10T11:15:34-06:00

Who is Jesus? | Mark 15:33-39

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”  And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Mark 15:33-39

Confessions. Mark begins and ends his story with confessions, and includes several in between. First his own, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God” (1:1). He carefully chooses miracles and ministry moments of Jesus that leave no doubt to his supernatural power and authority. After the feeding of the five thousand and the calming of the sea, Jesus takes his disciples on a retreat to Caesarea Philippi and asks Peter, “who do you say I am?” Peter passes the verbal confession saying, “You are the Christ, the Son of God!” But, Peter and the disciples are still expecting a different kind of leader, one where they will sit on his left and his right, not a suffering servant. Jesus tells them three times he is going to die in Jerusalem. Jesus is transfigured on the mountain before them and God says “this is my Son”. The religious establishment refuses to acknowledge him as the Son of God, but one scribe who understands the greatest commandments gets encouragement. Jesus tells him he is so close to the Kingdom of God. The last confession in the story is made by a Roman centurion, who said as he saw how Jesus breathed his last, “truly this man was the son of God” (15:39).

This Roman centurion was an outsider, the enemy, the oppressor of the Jews. He was a Gentile, part of the outer courts of the nations. If his job was to guard the crosses of crucifixion he probably saw many people die. The profound way Jesus died impacted the Roman personally. How did Mark know the impact was by the way the centurion saw Jesus breathe his last? Only if he saw it, the centurion himself told him or someone else. What did the centurion do after this intense experience in the days that followed? That’s the question Mark wants to leave with us also.

You have heard the story and the message of the Son of God from Mark, now what do you say and do? Mark was sure Jesus was the Messiah, the crucified Son of God. The Centurion was sure Jesus was the Messiah, the suffering King, the Son of God. As a review, go through Mark and notice all the confessions. There are many (Mark 1:1, 11, 24; 3:11; 5:7; 8:38; 9:7; 12:6; 13:32; 14:36,61; 15:39). Thoughtfully recite the Apostles’ Creed. Worship Jesus, the Son of God, the Suffering Servant, profoundly this Easter.

I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth;
And in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried.
He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven,
and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty.
From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.

By Donna Burns

Who is Jesus? | Mark 15:33-392020-04-10T11:13:00-06:00
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