cccdailybiblereading

A daily encouragement to read the Bible with others from Christ Community Church, Conway.

Month: July, 2013

Bible Reading Day 212

Day 212: July 31 (Acts 28:16-31)

Good morning!

Paul has reached Rome, and we have reached the end of Luke’s account of the Acts of the Apostles. It is interesting the way in which Luke’s account ends. This Gentile doctor, who has repeatedly given us a depth of detail that verifies his account, seems to simply stop writing before the story is over.

In contrast to John’s gospel, where John writes “I suppose that if all the other things Jesus did were written down, the whole world could not contain the books” to indicate the ending of his writing (acknowledging its incompleteness), Luke simply records (as he has done many times in his account) a longer period of Paul’s life with no accompanying detail, then stops. There is no conclusion to the writing about Paul’s life, no record of his death. There is also no mention of the death of Peter in Luke’s account either.

Many commentators agree that the focus of Luke’s writing is life and not death, the spread of the gospel and the advance of the Kingdom of God, rather than simply recording the lives of the apostles biographically. We do well to recall this for our own lives: it matters more how we live day by day to advance the Kingdom of God than how our whole life achievements will be recorded biographically. The sudden ending is also widely taken to mean that the Book of Acts is still being “written” by the faith and deeds of Christians globally who continue what the Apostles started.

In that light, let’s see what we can learn from the last 16 verses of the book.

Paul has favor; a leader who knows his calling, he earns respect by his obedience to God. He is allowed to live in a house and is not confined to a jail cell. This greatly increases his impact for the Kingdom of God in the capital of the Roman Empire.

He begins his stay in Rome (as he has begun almost every visit to any city) by talking with and appealing to his Jewish brethren. He cares deeply for his own people, and longs for them to be saved. He also understands (both by revelation from God, and repeated personal experience) that the Jews are hardened by years of empty religion, so that they cannot receive the truth of what he is saying. Religion is deadly and prevents mankind from receiving what God is giving – a relationship with Him which is undeserved yet freely offered.

So Paul concludes his testimony with these words: “I want you to know that this salvation from God has also been offered to the Gentiles, and they will accept it.” It is notable that Luke’s last recorded quote refers to the offer of salvation to the Gentiles. Salvation is a free gift, and cannot be earned by observance of laws and religious traditions. Often that gift is more attractive to those who know they don’t deserve it. Like offering food to the hungry and the satisfied, the Gospel is good news more to the sinner than the saint.

And finally, Luke writes that “For the next two years, Paul lived in Rome at his own expense. He welcomed all who visited him, boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ. And no one tried to stop him.”

What a way to finish: finally this apostle, who has endured all kinds of persecution and opposition, is able to live in his own home, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, and no one tries to stop him! How can you and I continue the spread of the gospel and the advance of the Kingdom of God today? What opportunities has God given you?

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 211

Day 211: July 30 (Acts 28:1-15)

Good morning!

The island where Paul and his companions are shipwrecked is called Malta. This island would have been familiar to the sailors from ports of call on the north side (where the capital Valletta is found today), but today’s reading tells us they did not recognize the island. This suggests that they landed on the south side of the island, drifting there in the rough seas of the storm. A crime scene investigator formerly with the Los Angeles Police Department used the Biblical account and local information to pinpoint the shipwreck location. There is an interesting account of his research here.

The shipwreck is still big news on Malta today, since the miracles recorded in Acts 28 were the spark that lit the fire of an active church on the island. Centuries later, and religion has taken over much of the church, but the record of Paul’s influence remains.

Notice how unflinching obedience to God leads Paul into multiple miracles, and the effect is great honor for the good news, and the messengers. I wonder if the gospel would have a better reputation today if we focused more on being the good news, and less on merely speaking it? There is certainly a place for clear declaration of God’s love, but Paul’s life shows us that demonstration of that love (and power) is equally vital.

After three months, they are able to continue their journey to Rome. Imagine having a compelling calling from God, and going through immense trials, then waiting three months for the opportunity to move forward! Patience and faith are not contradictions to Paul. He is content to wait for God’s timing!

What does God want to do through your life today? Remember that serving others is the salt of the Kingdom. Is God calling you to demonstrate His love? To wait patiently for His timing? Or to be an encouragement to others, just as the believers who went out to the Forum on the Appian Way, and the three Taverns, encouraged Paul and the others?

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 210

Day 210: July 29 (Acts 27:26-44)

Good morning!

Paul concludes his exhortation to the ship’s company with the declaration that they will be shipwrecked on an island. And the rest of today’s reading describes the shipwreck.

As you read the second half of Acts 27, follow the thread of Paul’s leadership in the situation. He is not the commanding officer, he is not a crew member or one of the soldiers, he’s one of the prisoners! Yet he is the one who knows God’s plan in a time of crisis and his leadership is vital. The success comes at the end of the chapter, as everyone escapes safely to shore.

Have you ever disqualified yourself for a leadership role because the circumstances are too harsh, or your current position seems to exclude you? Paul would likely urge you to listen to God, and obey anyway! What are you and God going to do together today?

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 209

Day 209: July 28 (Acts 27:1-25)

Good morning!

After the back-and-forth of the trials and examinations before the high council, Felix, Festus, and Agrippa, Paul is finally on his way to Rome. He has appealed to Caesar, and so he is taken to the Emperor. Now this is not a low-risk, easy-life strategy. The Emperor at the time was Nero, not renowned as a friend of Christians, but certainly in need of hearing the gospel, just as Felix, Festus, and Agrippa had been. There is a strong sense of destiny in Paul’s journey, and Paul himself knows it.

The journey is long and difficult, at the mercy of the late fall storms common to the eastern Mediterranean. As you read Luke’s account, notice the amount of authenticating detail he includes, and also trace the thread of faith and calling which Paul is following.

In our lives, God wants us to have a strong sense of destiny and the faith to follow it.

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 208

Day 208: July 27 (Acts 26)

Good morning!

Luke’s account of the birth of the Church and the working of God through the Apostles is drawing to a close: Paul, the last Apostle to meet Jesus face to face (remember the Damascus Road?) is telling King Agrippa his testimony.

Clearly Agrippa is interested in what Paul has to say, even if he is skeptical. Festus, on the other hand, is mired in rational thinking and even shouts out that Paul is insane at one point of Paul’s defense. Paul knows the difference between the two and speaks boldy to both. With Agrippa he is challenging, with Festus he is clear in disagreement. With both men he is respectful. These approaches are remarkable in a man trained to be forcefully right – and that shows the work of God in Paul’s life.

Agrippa is the great grandson of Herod the Great (who ordered the babies killed in Bethlehem after Jesus was born), grandson of Herod Antipas (who wanted to hear Jesus before the crucifixion – not to believe but to be entertained), and son of Agrippa I (who beheaded the apostle James, and imprisoned Peter in an attempt to murder him too). Agrippa II was the last of the Herodian rulers, loyal to the Romans and ungodly in many of his choices, including his incestuous relationship with Bernice, who was his sister!

Into this mix of politics, religion, and ungodliness, Paul speaks clearly, but without condemnation. He stands for the truth at great personal cost, and does not shrink from challenging the powerful.

In the end, they agree that Paul has no charge to answer, and could have been freed if he had not appealed to Caesar. Of course that would not have fitted God’s plan at all – He wants Paul to testify in Rome.

So Paul show us that following God’s will does not make life easy, but it may well lead us into positions of great influence. Imagine if Agrippa had turned to God and been saved! Festus too.

How about you? Is your life on a smooth path of ease, or has God’s will for you taken you over rough places with opposition and suffering? You are in good company: Jesus and Paul, along with most of the apostles, shared the same pathway.

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 207

Day 207: July 26 (Acts 25)

Good morning!

After a two year delay, Festus takes over from Felix as the governor, and he goes to Jerusalem where the Jewish leaders ask for Paul to be transferred to Jerusalem (planning to kill him on the way).

Clearly the old enmities have only deepened during the delay! But Festus cares enough about justice not to be pushed around by the Jewish leaders. He has the trial in Caesarea (the Roman capital of the region) and is somewhat confused by the accusations of the Jewish leaders. Paul, of course, denies all the false charges and accusations they are bringing. Festus tries first to please the Jews by asking Paul to consent to a transfer of the case to Jerusalem (a clear example of passing the buck). But Paul instead appeals to Caesar (an option open to all Roman citizens).

But Festus has no clear charge to send with Paul to Rome, so when King Agrippa arrives to pay his respects to Festus, he is drawn in to the whole circus to hear what Paul has to say.

To some this may look like injustice, weak leadership, and political power-play (and most would agree it is). However, God is at work in all the delays and convoluted hearings; more and more influential people are getting to hear the good news.

How have you seen God at work in circumstances you would have changed if you could?

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 206

Day 206: July 25 (Acts 24)

Good morning!

Paul’s journey toward Rome takes another step today. But sometimes a step forward is not as fast as we would like! On the other hand, when you know your destiny is death in a Roman jail, it is no hardship to wait a while!

Governor Felix hears first from the lawyer Tertullus, on behalf of the Jewish leaders. Then Paul answers the accusations. Felix is familiar with The Way (as Christianity was called at that time in much of the Roman world). He is fascinated by Paul, although with mixed motives. He wants to know more, but he is also hoping for a bribe!

The result of all this is that Paul remains under arrest for two years until Felix is replaced by a new governor – Festus. And Felix leaves Paul in prison because that wins him popularity with the Jews.

How would you feel if your life calling took a big step forward and then you got stuck under house arrest for more than two years? Frustration would build and a sense of failure would creep in. But not Paul – he is content to move as fast or as slowly as God wants. And in the meantime he is being fruitful in witness and godliness. During this time he wrote some of the most significant letters now recorded in the New Testament.

Who knows – your frustration today may result in great fruitfulness tomorrow!

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 205

Day 205: July 24 (Acts 23:12-35)

Good morning!

After Paul’s speech to the Jewish high council, God tells him he will preach in Rome also. Then a group of Jews get together and take a vow not to eat or drink until they have killed Paul! It is sobering how religion can blind you. God commands that we NOT kill, and these religious men are promising God they will not eat or drink until they DO kill!

The plot is discovered by Paul’s nephew who reports it to the Roman commander. As a result Paul is moved to Caesarea where he will be tried by Governor Felix.

Although things are getting worse for Paul, his circle of influence keeps growing! How about you? Is God opening your heart to follow Him wherever that may lead? How can you influence others with your testimony?

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 204

Day 204: July 23 (Acts 23:1-11)

Good morning!

Today Luke records Paul’s defense speech to the Jewish high council. This is the same group that had commissioned him to persecute the believers (Acts 9) and so addressing them as brethren underscores his heritage, while declaring that he has lived with a clear conscience before God shows that he is not ashamed of the transformation in his life, from persecutor to evangelist and apostle.

For this the high priest has him slapped in the mouth, a common form of disrespect for a liar in that culture. Paul first rebukes Ananias, then apologizes when he is told this is the High Priest. Paul understands that even ungodly authority is appointed by God and deserves respect.

Then Paul changes his strategy and exploits the divisions on the high council by announcing that his hope is in the resurrection of the dead. At this the council splits along religious lines, sadducees against pharisees, and the Roman commander has Paul removed from the melee.

God is clearly pleased with Paul’s testimony and clear stand for faith. That night he is told “You will preach in Rome as well.”

Reflect on a time when you took a stand for Jesus. How did it go? What was the outcome and who was affected beside you? If you have not already done so, ask God for His perspective on that time.

Have a great day!

Mark.

Bible Reading Day 203

Day 203: July 22 (Acts 22)

Good morning!

The riot in Jerusalem gives Paul an opportunity to share his testimony; the story of how God has worked in his life.

What Luke records in the first 21 verses is not news to us, because we have been reading through the Book of Acts, but it must have been very challenging to the Jews in Jerusalem. It is very hard to argue against what God has done in someone’s life!

In the end, the crowd are incensed by Paul’s call to the Gentiles, and start to riot again. The Roman commander, used to dealing with these fractious people, is going to have Paul whipped to find out the truth, until Paul reveals that he is a Roman citizen! The commander, having purchased (or earned) his citizenship, is suspicious; Paul is clearly not a wealthy man, and he is not from Rome, so how did he afford to pay for his citizenship? But Paul tells the commander that he was born a citizen!

That makes it very serious that the commander had him bound and about to be whipped; that was illegal to do to a Roman citizen. In fright, the commander instead orders Paul brought before the Jewish high council the following day.

So by courageously sharing his testimony, Paul is able to point a huge crowd to Jesus (Luke does not record any salvations at this point, but the history of the church shows that persecution such as this led to many being saved). And then he is given another opportunity to speak to those in authority next.

For you and me, the opportunity to share our testimony may not be as daunting as Paul’s, but it can come without warning, so today I encourage you to review your life and record what life was like before you met Jesus, how He stepped into your life, and how life has changed as a result. Then you will be ready to testify that Jesus is alive and working in your life. No one can argue with that!

Have a great day!

Mark.