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Posts Tagged ‘God’

Verse 8: “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?”

Way back when DC Comics had published the storyline “The Death of Superman”, in which Superman seemingly perished defending Metropolis from the alien monster known as Doomsday, the eventual return of Superman to life was depicted in the storyline “Reign of the Supermen”. As an epilogue to that story, Superman and Lois Lane were shown by the supernatural detective, Dr. Occult, just how Superman “came back from the dead”. Long story short, it was a series of factors and events that only occurred in a once-in-a-lifetime configuration; Superman was as close to death as he could be (for a Kryptonian). This fact was lost on a gathering of people who began to worship Superman, as he had “come back from the dead” in their eyes. Kal-El was horrified to see that these people flocked to him like he was a god, and he had to vocally reprimand them that, telling them that he was mortal (although he has “power and abilities far beyond mortal men”, to quote the old Adventures of Superman TV show). He could no more raise people from the dead or cure the sick supernaturally than they could. Thankfully, his words snapped them back to reality.

Paul begins his defense before King Agrippa by harkening back to his defense before the Sanhedrin: that he believes in the resurrection of the dead. He evens parlays it into the rhetorical question he puts before Agrippa: “Why should it be though incredible by you that God raises the dead?” If God is truly all-powerful, omniscient, and omnipresent, then why wouldn’t He be able to raise the dead? Paul is laying the foundational basis for his later arguments regarding Jesus.

I am reminded of the times when we have to be reminded of God’s power. Take Matthew 8: 23-27 and Matthew 14: 22-33. Both times, when out on the water, Jesus performs miracles over the power of the storm and of the sea in the face of his disciples’ fears. He then reminds them, “why did you doubt, o ye of little faith”. The disciples’ replies that marvel at His power are perfectly summed up in Matthew 14:33: “Truly You are the Son of God”.

Why should we think it incredible that God can’t do the impossible? He’s God!

More to come.

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Verse 27: “For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him.”

Some time back, I recall reading an interesting tidbit of an article in Uncle John’s Biggest Ever Bathroom Reader, on page 402 of the “Odd Elvis Quiz” regarding Elvis Presley. It seems that Elvis was once approached about performing at a party at the White House hosted by President Richard Nixon. It is considered quite an honor to perform at the White House. However, when Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager, heard that Elvis wouldn’t be paid for performing (that is the caveat; performers enjoy the honor and prestige, but no monetary pay), he reportedly growled, “Elvis doesn’t play for free.” Thus the deal fell through, and Elvis was never invited back. Thus Elvis missed his chance of performing for the President of the United States.

Some time back, I mentioned how Paul, in his captivity, would have extraordinary opportunities to share the Gospel with individuals he might not otherwise have had the chance to (God works in mysterious ways). Already he had spoken with 2 governors, and now he had the chance to address King Agrippa, who came to visit Governor Festus. Festus had to send some official charge of Paul’s offense when he sent him to Rome, but was having trouble expressing just what the charge was. Part of the ceremony of hosting King Agrippa was for Festus to have Paul lay his case out before the king as well. Agrippa expressed that he would like to hear the case.

Opportunity knocks through the divine Hand of God on the door. And in this case, Paul wasn’t going to let this opportunity pass without preaching the Good News of Jesus Christ! Today, as you go about your way through life, Christian, pray that God would show you those “open doors” that He wants you to knock upon.

Something to think about.

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Verse 27: “But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.”

For want of a nail the shoe was lost,
for want of a shoe the horse was lost,
for want of a horse the knight was lost,
for want of a knight the battle was lost.
So it was a kingdom was lost – all for want of a nail.
JLA: The Nail

In the DC comic book special, JLA: The Nail, an alternate tale of the beginning of the Justice League is told. Most everyone who has ever heard of Superman knows his origin: rocketed from the dying planet, Krypton, his spaceship nearly crashes into the travelling truck of Jonathan and Martha Kent. The Kents adopt the baby, and their parenting guidance paves the way for Superman’s moral code. In this story, (the background of which can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/JLA:_The_Nail_series ), a nail causes Jonathan Kent to have a flat tire, delaying their fated rendezvous with Kal-El’s spaceship. Instead, an Amish couple find and raise Kal-El in the isolation of their community, thus altering the familiar storyline of Superman and the Justice League.

In the passage today, it would seem Paul has hit a nail. Even though he has conversations with Governor Felix several times, reasoning and witnessing to him, Felix is afraid and keeps sending Paul away. The passage evens states that he hopes Paul would bribe him to let him go. So after all the trial and testimony, trying to do the Jews a political favor on his way out the door…Felix leaves Paul in custody.

Some might see this as a nail altering the story and mission of Paul; here he is, stalled in house arrest at Caesarea. Not so; remember, God had promised Paul he would see Rome as His missionary. What may seem like a delay, simply was God’s plan for Paul to tell the Good News to even more officials. Enter the new Governor Festus and later King Agrippa. The Kingdom here is not lost for want of a nail…it is held in place by divine direction of Jesus Christ.

Something to think about.

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Verse 10: “Then Paul, after the governor had nodded to him to speak, answered: “Inasmuch as I know that you have been for many years a judge of this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself,””

When I attended college, I would pass through the main concourse of campus and frequently see two “sidewalk pastors” who used to deliver the “fire-and-brimstone” style of evangelism. Most times, even if the pair were speaking the Truth, it was lost amidst the circus-like barking and yelling that they did. I feared that most students who gathered around them (some to taunt and some to egg them on) didn’t hear the real message, because it was lost in all the noise. I guess you could call them “sideshow pastors” instead of “sidewalk pastors”!

In contrast, I had a friend from the Baptist Student Union, who also would take up a perch elsewhere along the concourse. He was a devout Christian and a good preacher himself, but he simply chose to read out loud (but not scream out loud) passages from the Word to the students as they walked by. I don’t ever recall him drawing much of a crowd, but he didn’t do what he did for show. Occasionally, I stopped just to say hey and I’d pray for him. I like to think, in his quiet way, that Bruce was able to preach the Word and reach folks just because he wasn’t “in your face”.

Paul here acted much like my friend Bruce. Both parties in this legal proceeding opened their arguments with a customary captatio benevolentiae (I found this in a footnote of my Holman Bible, it is Latin for “winning of goodwill”); it was meant to curry favor with the presiding judge. Tertullus, in my humble opinion, went way overboard in his opening, as shared previously. Paul, though, was courteous without being fawning, and acknowledged Felix’s experience as a judge to hear his defense. Paul calmly put forth “just the facts” (to paraphrase Sgt. Joe Friday of Dragnet), and gave his defense, pointing out that he had not broken any Roman laws, that his accusers had no evidence of their charges, and that the only squabble they had was of a religious nature, not political.

I have no doubt that God had His hand on Paul’s delivery. Even Felix could see through the “smoke and mirrors” approach that Tertullus and company were presenting. We need to remember Paul’s example today more than ever, especially in the rancorous climate we live in where each side of arguments clamor to be the loudest. The Truth is still the Truth, no matter how loud the lies are proclaimed.

Something to think about.

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Verse 25: “And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, “Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?””

In the 1979 TV special The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t, Count Dracula (played comically by Judd Hirsch) and the other monsters are trying to stop the Wicked Witch (played equally comically by Mariette Hartley) from leaving his castle; if she doesn’t fly over the moon, there will be no Halloween. The Witch is tired of being seen as ugly and unimportant, and wants to quit. As all the monsters corner her in the hallway and attempt to dogpile her, she causes the lights to go out briefly. Igor (played comically by Henry Gibson) has a stranglehold on her, gloating, “I got her. I got her! Now she’ll never get away!” As they all get up, the caped figure turns out to be a snarling Count Dracula, with Igor meekly saying, “She got away.” The look and reaction on their faces is the typical screwball comedy ploy of “whoops, we caught our leader”!

Once more, Paul uses his legal knowledge in God’s service. About to be scourged to ascertain why the mob is out for his blood, he calmly asks the centurion if it’s legal to scourge a Roman citizen who is uncondemned. You could almost hear the figurative “brakes screeching” as all the soldiers backed away and the commander realized the trouble he was in and could be in, even worse! Romans loved their laws and prided themselves on applying that to conquered societies as part of the Roman way. They saw it as part of their “civilized” structure. And if you broke that law…big trouble. Though not out of the woods yet, Paul used what he knew and used it in the service of the Lord, as a way of furthering the Gospel.

Like the old joke about the man threatened by a flood, when God told him “I sent you two rowboats and a helicopter”, God wants us to use what we know and what we have in His service.

More to come!

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Verse 14: “So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, “The will of the Lord be done.””

I was contacted once by an old friend about applying for a position that his group had open; the friend had told me that God had put my name into his prayers about applying. So, I prayed as well…at first, I heard “yes”, so I applied for the position with the group. The interview went pleasantly enough; however, a couple of weeks later, I was informed I didn’t get the position. During that interim, I began hearing “wait” in my prayers, instead of “yes”. When I contacted my old friend, I asked him quietly how did I do? He replied that everyone liked me and my experience, etc. He also added that, to a member, the interview team had voted “no” that I wasn’t the man for the position. I reassured my friend, “then, that’s God at work”. I was at peace, and wanted my friend to be as well. God is in control.

That last statement is what Paul’s friends had to finally understand; that God is in control. Sometimes it can be hard to see something fearful coming, especially for a friend or family member, but God can use that situation for good. It’s something that bears remembering in the world we live in today.

Something to think about.

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Verse 24: “But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.”

In the summer of 1980, a young man went abroad to Europe and to England as part of a 100 piece student ambassador orchestra. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and he thoroughly enjoyed the 3 week trip. However, the route home had some bumps in it; you see, that was about the time that the air traffic controllers union in the United States went on strike. This impacted air travel all across America, and for connecting flights coming to America. The student orchestra’s plane was delayed 8 hours returning from Europe. While in the skies over the Atlantic, he heard rumors of what flights were still on, and which ones were cancelled. He was nervous, because this trip had been his first time flying ever! Arriving back in New York, he and his travelling companions found their return flight to Atlanta cancelled, but made it on standby at a rival carrier. All the while, the young man prayed that they could make it back to the South, because he knew his parents could come get him, if he was stuck in Atlanta. To add to this drama, he literally had to race across Atlanta airport; he arrived within 5 minutes of his connecting flight being on-time to leave to Birmingham! Never was anyone so glad to finish this race to get home as this young man.

Well, that’s the best earthly analogy I can think of when reading Paul’s words here. The apostle is talking to the Ephesian church elders, possibly for last time, and is giving them instruction and teaching. Though the Holy Spirit has told Paul in stop after stop along his missionary journey that he will suffer earthly conflict and inflictions, Paul still strives in his mission to the Lord. He wants to be a good finisher in God’s eyes, striving to minister in Jesus’s name, even up to the point of death. Now, that’s commitment!

Fellow Christian, strive to finish strong today in your race for God.

Have a blessed day in the Lord!

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Verses 37-40: “For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. For we are in danger of being called in question for today’s uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering.””

I heard the story told of an elderly Christian woman who lived alone. She didn’t have much money; she lived humbly. Every day she would go out on her front porch and thank God for what she had, thank Him for His provision, and give her prayer requests to Him. This annoyed her next-door neighbor, an atheist, who always vocally jeered her prayers and her faith. One day, the atheist sought to “teach a lesson” to the old Christian lady. He overheard her asking God for food to eat for the week, so the atheist went to the grocery store, bought 2 big sacks’ worth of groceries, hurried home, and placed them at her front door on the porch. Then he hid in the bushes and waited. Sure enough, when she opened the door and saw the groceries, she raised her hands and thanked God. Jumping out from his hiding place, he shouted, “Aha, old woman! Your God didn’t provide those groceries; I bought them myself and delivered them. What do you say to that?” Once the old woman realized what the atheist had said, she smiled, raised her hands to Heaven and said, “Thank you Lord! Not only did you provide me the groceries, you had the devil deliver them to me, as well!”

God is in control. The city clerk of Ephesus, probably a high-ranking official in the city, finally calmed down the crowd. He matter-of-factly informed them that Paul and his fellow Christians had broken no laws; if they had, take them to court! That’s what the courts and proconsuls do! He further warned the crowd that if they wanted to pursue any charges or inquiry against Paul, do so in the legal assembly. Why? Because the near-riot was sure to attract the attention of the Roman Empire for violating Roman law! (And the city of Ephesus didn’t want that kind of attention!) At which point, everyone went home.

Two things jump out at me here; the city clerk probably wasn’t defending Paul and the Christians; he just wanted civil order to be restored. Also, it proves again that God can work for good in all situations. The unlikely hero here was an administrative official. The world might say, “coincidence”. I like to say “God-incidence”!

Have a blessed day in the Lord!

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Verse 15: “And the evil spirit answered and said, “Jesus, I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?””

In the movie Doctor Strange, we find this dialogue when Strange is learning the mystic arts (Wong and Baron Mordo are already accomplished masters helping in his training):

[Strange is experimenting with time manipulation using the Eye of Agamotto]
Karl Mordo: [bursting in] No! Tampering with continuum probability is forbidden!
Dr. Strange: I was just doing exactly what it said in the book!
Wong: And what did the book say about the dangers of performing that ritual?
Dr. Strange: I… don’t know, I hadn’t gotten to that part yet.
Mordo: Temporal manipulations can create branches in time. Unstable dimensional openings, spatial paradoxes, time loops! You want to get stuck experiencing the same moment over and over again forever, or never having existed at all?!
Dr. Strange: …They really should put the warnings before this stuff.

The preceding quotes can be found at https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Doctor_Strange_(film)

It never fails: trying to tamper with forces beyond man’s ability most always leads to disastrous results (or in Dr. Strange’s case, almost does!) Here, Strange was experimenting with magic spells that he didn’t fully grasp the consequences of. In today’s Scripture passage, verse 11 states that “Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul,”. Even items of clothing that had touched Paul’s body were being used to heal the sick. The current Jewish exorcists and other magicians of the day figured, “hey, let’s try to cash in on this Jesus in our work!” Would that they had had Han Solo there to quote his famous line: “I got a bad feeling about this!”

So when these exorcists tried to simply use Jesus name to remove an evil spirit, the spirit responds with verse 15. The demon knew Jesus, and knew of Paul, but he lets these would-be magicians find out that they didn’t know what they were doing. They were trying to literally use Jesus’s name like a magic word. It’s through faith in Jesus, that all-saving faith, that Paul could do these miracles. Jesus wasn’t a magic wand; He is the Messiah, the Savior, God the Son! These exorcists found out the hard way that you don’t call on Jesus’s name flippantly. This particular section ends appropriately with verse 20: “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed”.

I wish that people today who call Jesus’s name flippantly would learn from this passage.

Something to think about.

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Verse 32: “And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on the matter.””

Between high school and moving out on my own, I lived with my grandmother; this allowed me to stay “at home”, and at the same time, gave me some “freedom”, since I was in college. I was still living with my grandmother when I got my first job in the Information Technology department of a textile company. I would come home from work that first year of employment, and my grandmother would ask, “How was your day?” “Oh, it was fine.” “Good! So…what did you do?” Now, my grandmother was not technical in any sense; she was one of those people that couldn’t program the clock on her VCR. At first, I was in a quandary; how do I explain to my grandmother that I dealt with mainframe jobs, using procedure modules, COBOL code, and job control language (JCL)? Well, I resorted to what I like to use in such cases: analogies. My grandmother was one of the best cooks in the world, and she knew recipes! Therefore, I described what I did in a way that sounded like I was following a recipe and cooking in the kitchen. She understood perfectly.

We find Paul here with the rare opportunity to speak to the men of Athens at the Areopagus. He wanted to make the most of this chance to witness to these people, but this was not his usual audience. He had to reach them in a way that would hold their attention. I marvel at how he seized on their very idol worship, to explain that the unknown god whom he saw an altar set up for, was the One he spoke of. He then proceeded to explain the Good News in a manner that focused on God as the Creator and eventually led to the saving grace of Jesus. Paul had to explain this to them in a manner that they could understand.

Some did understand Paul; others mocked him. Still others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” According to some text I’ve read in my Holman commentaries, this merely indicated curiosity, or even polite acknowledgment. While Paul’s stay in Athens didn’t result in a crusade-like coming to salvation, there were those who did hear and believe, such as Damaris and Dionysius. Remember, even if you tell masses of people about Jesus Christ, don’t be discouraged if the number of responses don’t tally up to what we think is successful. To the Lord, every soul is precious, and all need to hear the Good News!

Have a blessed day in the Lord!

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