Role Reversals from God

Today’s reading: Job 16-18; Acts 9:1-22

4 I also could speak as you do,
if you were in my place;
I could join words together against you
and shake my head at you.
5 I could strengthen you with my mouth,
and the solace of my lips would assuage your pain.                                  Job 16:4-5

13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”                                                                                                      Acts 9:13-16

God in His Providence is able to cause people to switch places either actually or figuratively for their growth in faith, understanding, and godliness.

Job is weary of his trials which have only been increased by the harsh and hurtful criticisms of his friends. For a moment he imagines switching places with them. He says essentially that if he were in their shoes he could either be critical (as they have been) or he could use his words to strengthen and comfort them. It seems Job is claiming that if given the chance he would not do what they do, but seek to be encouraging to them. Later in Job’s story, we will learn that he does switch places with his friends and he has the opportunity to use his words to bless them.

Saul, who supported the stoning of Stephen and helped launch the persecution against the Church, had gotten arrest warrants for the believers in Damascus. On his way to bind others, he himself is stopped and bound in blindness by Jesus Christ. Saul is changed immediately and follows the instructions the Lord has given him. Ananias in Damascus seems to know that Saul is coming to arrest them, but God tells him to look up Saul at a certain address and lay hands on him so that he may regain his sight. Ananias is understandably nervous and hesitant, but the Lord assures him that Saul is His chosen instrument to carry His name before the Gentiles, kings, and Israel. Ironically, the man who was going to lay hands on Ananias to arrest him, had Ananias’ hands laid on him. What a reversal of roles that was!

God’s Providence  may have peculiar turns, but all is under His wise and sovereign will. Be alert to those turns and be ready to trust and glorify God no matter how unexpected and bizarre those turns seem to be.

God’s Ambassadors

Today’s reading: Job 13-15; Acts 8:26-40

15 You would call, and I would answer you;
you would long for the work of your hands.
16 For then you would number my steps;
you would not keep watch over my sin;
17 my transgression would be sealed up in a bag,
and you would cover over my iniquity.                                                Job 14:15-17

35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.                                                                               Acts 8:35

God has appointed His people to be His ambassadors to those who do not know Him. The gospel goes out by word of mouth from those who have believed.

Scholars believe that Job lived about the same time as Abraham. Before his call from God, Abraham was a polytheist (believing in many gods). Job on the other hand, seems to grasp a theology of a single sovereign and holy God. But Job has no clear understanding of the resurrection or of life after death. Yet Job does show a longing for reconciliation with God through some kind of covering for his sin. He seems to have an inkling of hope of a resurrection, perhaps like a tree that is cut down but grows back up from its roots (14:7-17). It’s just not very clear, yet. He longs to know more and, soon, God will tell him more.

In the period following the stoning of Stephen and the subsequent persecution, God sends Philip to speak with an Ethiopian eunuch, the queen’s treasurer, who had been in Jerusalem to worship. Philip is able to explain to him the meaning of Isaiah’s writing and the good news about Jesus Christ. This results in the official’s baptism. In these touching words, Luke records that the eunuch, after this one-on-one Bible study with Philip, “went on his way rejoicing.”  We can only imagine the impact of this man’s testimony before the court officials of Ethiopia.

God knows the hearts of those who seek Him, Job, the Ethiopian, and everyone else. He may directly intervene, as He will do with Job later on in our reading, or He may send someone to explain the gospel as He did in the case of Philip and the queen’s treasurer. Did He send someone to you? Has He sent you to be a light to someone else? Give thanks for His providence in sending those who can help us understand His truth and in sending us to pass on the good news of Jesus. If you belong to Christ, God has appointed you His ambassador because the gospel goes out by word of mouth powerfully (2 Corinthians 5:11-21).

Why, God?

Today’s reading: Job 10-12; Acts 8:1-25

I will say to God, Do not condemn me;

let me know why you contend against me.                                                    Job 10:2

4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. 5 Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ.   8 So there was much joy in that city.                                                                                                       Acts 8:4, 5, 8

Believers are not automatically sheltered from suffering in life, but God is sovereign, good, and trustworthy whether or not He reveals to us the purpose of that suffering.

To Job, his suffering seemed like condemnation from God. It felt like God was punishing him and he wondered why. His assumption was wrong. God was not punishing him, so the question why could not be answered by some failure in Job. Job was truly left in the dark for quite some time. His friends did not help with their comments and mixed-up analyses. Some of what they said was true, but they certainly had less insight into what God was doing than even Job.

Job says some wise things in the midst of his pain. For example, “In the thought of one who is at ease there is contempt for misfortune; it is ready for those whose feet slip.” (12:5)   In other words, suffering is ready to pounce on you when you slip, but those who have no suffering look with disdain on those who do. We are truly sustained by God’s mercy and grace. Our heart beats and our lungs breathe at His will.

Some who suffer for their faith get a glimpse of why it is. The disciples were scattered from Jerusalem due to the severe persecution that began with the stoning of Stephen. They naturally told the good news of Christ and the hope of the resurrection wherever they went. Philip, one of the seven men chosen with Stephen to wait on tables, saw powerful results from his preaching in Samaria so “there was much joy in that city.” Ask one of those Samaritans why they thought God allowed a persecution against the believers in Jerusalem. You would probably get an enthusiastic answer to the effect that the persecution brought them the gospel and life eternal.

God is free to do with us what He will. He is also free to reveal His reasons or not. We are called to walk by faith, even in the dark. But He has promised to never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:5-6). Walk on in pain, if that is your lot today. He had a purpose for Job and the disciples in Jerusalem. He knows what He is doing with you, too.

Wanted: Celestial Mediator

Today’s reading: Job 7-9; Acts 7:44-60

1 Then Job answered and said: 2 “Truly I know that it is so:
But how can a man be in the right before God?
3 If one wished to contend with him,
one could not answer him once in a thousand times.                               Job 9:1-3

52 Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, 53 you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it.”                                                                                                                          Acts 7:52-53

The dilemma of fallen man since the Garden of Eden is to learn how to be right before God. Yet man did not and could not find a solution for that dilemma. God provided the solution and man rejected it by crucifying the only Perfect Man.

Job struggles with the reason for his suffering while his would-be comforters heap accusations on him in an effort to explain the frowning providence of God in his life. Job does not claim to be perfect, but he does not understand how his suffering is punishment that fits the crime. He recognizes that a man cannot be right before God on his own terms. But destitution, poverty, bereavement, and relentless pain seems over the top. “There is no arbiter between us, who might lay his hand on us both,” moans Job (9:33). So here God is showing us through Job that there must be a mediator between God and man in order for reconciliation to take place. That can only be God Himself, His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, God Incarnate.

As Stephen closes his defense, which could also be called a sermon, he indicts the Jewish authorities for their killing of that mediator. They have continued in the footsteps of their forebears, resisting the Holy Spirit, persecuting the prophets, and, now, executing the Righteous One, the arbiter that Job longed for. They prove his point by immediately stoning him to death.

Two men, Stephen and Job, suffer for their faith. One is delivered by death almost immediately and the other is made to stagger on in suffering a while longer before experiencing relief.

God has different paths for each of His children to trod, but in the end, those who are His trust Him, do not justify themselves but seek the arbiter whom the Lord has appointed, Jesus, the Righteous One, who alone can mediate between God and man (I Timothy 2:5; Acts 4:12). Walk on trusting Him, my fellow disciple.

Do not Forsake the Fear of God

Today’s reading: Job 4-6; Acts 7:20-43

14 “He who withholds kindness from a friend forsakes the fear of the Almighty.                                                                                                                                        Job 6:14

37 This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, ‘God will raise up for you a prophet like me from your brothers.’                                                                                    Acts 7:37

When people lose their reverent fear of God, they are capable of all manner of atrocities toward other human beings made in His image.

Job’s friends sat quietly with him. They listened when he finally broke his silence. Then Eliphaz spoke. He lectured about God’s discipline of His children assuming that Job has deserved to be corrected. He missed the truth and failed to comfort his suffering friend. Job responded with continued lament for his condition but then complained about the lack of support from his friends. He considered that Eliphaz had “[withheld] kindness from a friend.”

How can anyone cold-heartedly turn his back on a loved one in his moment of extreme anguish? Why wouldn’t common decency make a person feel sympathy towards even a complete stranger in dire straits? Job says that it is due to that person having forsaken the fear of the Almighty. One must be arrogant to think that the Omnipotent God of Creation and Providence could never bring him to the same condition. One has to be overly self-assured and proud to feel immune from God’s powerful hand.

The authorities that examined Stephen in Acts 7 seem to have a similar problem. They accuse him falsely and demand an explanation, but they are about to get more than they bargained for. Stephen is giving them a summary of the history of Israel, tracing the theme of their rebellion against Moses, God’s chosen leader.  Moses, whom they accuse Stephen of blaspheming, foretold that a prophet like himself would be sent to them. But these leaders continue the policies of their forefathers, rejecting the ones whom God sends to deliver them. They, like Eliphaz, have forsaken the fear of God.

What part does the fear of God play in your life? Does fear of God drive you to confession of sin, to eager obedience, and to love for others? Fear of God is not an outdated, Old Testament concept, but is part of the mindset that has been renewed by God. Peter wrote, “Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.” (I Peter 2:16-17).  Practice those things and never forsake the fear of the Almighty.

 

 

Everyone’s a Theologian

Today’s reading: Job 1-3; Acts 7:1-19

9 Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.” 10 But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women would speak. Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips.                                                                                                                                Job 2:9-10

And the high priest said, “Are these things so?” 2 And Stephen said: “Brothers and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he lived in Haran…                                                                           Acts 7:1,2

One’s speech will reveal what he believes about God, never more so than in times of extreme stress and pressure. As RC Sproul has said, “Everyone’s a theologian, but not everyone is a good theologian.”    In our reading today, we meet two men whose speeches under immense stress showed that they were theologians and they were good ones.

Job was an upright man. In every way, his life was exemplary. He was chosen by God for a special task, although he did not consent to it nor did he know what it was. He suffered every imaginable loss: his wealth, his children, and his health. Even his wife urged him to “curse God and die.” But he would not. He clung to his faith that God had given him good things and it was only right to accept “evil” from Him. Job was not in denial as we see in chapter 3 and throughout the book, and he certainly lamented his situation. He wished he had never been born. But he never sinned with his lips. He knew God and determined to keep trusting Him even when his pain-wracked life made no sense.

Stephen was so powerful in his speaking about Christ that the authorities concocted a plan to eliminate him through a blasphemy trial with false witnesses. He is asked to answer the charges that he has blasphemed Moses and God and stated that Jesus would destroy the temple and change the customs of the Mosaic law. Stephen goes into a brilliant and God-honoring review of the history of Israel. It is clear that he understands how God is the One working in the world and showing grace, mercy, and power to His people. Here he has common ground with the Jews, so they listen. Stephen is no blasphemer. He tells the story of the great Jehovah who guides Israel and wisely and sovereignly works to bring about His purposes.

What does your speech say about your theology? Does it reveal an awareness of the presence and power of God in both your personal life as well as the world around you? Rewind the tape. What would your hearers today say is your view of God? Be a good theologian, and honor God in your speech.

Who’s he? Nobody!

Today’s reading: Esther 7-10; Acts 6

2 And the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai. And Esther set Mordecai over the house of Haman.                     Esther 8:2

2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers,[b] pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.                                                                                          Acts 6:2-3

God uses whom He chooses for His purposes and is not limited to those who hold high standing in their contemporary society. In today’s readings, we find two men greatly used by God who were not particularly notable from the point of view of the watching world, well, not until God used them.

Mordecai is an example of a man who was faithful in the small things. He stepped up when his uncle and aunt died leaving a young daughter, Esther. He became her guardian and raised her. He reported a plot against the emperor, Ahasuerus, which may have saved him from assassination. Mordecai played a key role in saving the Jews from extermination throughout the Persian Empire when he urged Queen Esther to appeal to the king for relief. He took all of these actions without holding any power or position. He just did the right thing when he had opportunity. Yes, he was eventually recognized. His enemy was hung on the gallows meant for him, and he took over that villain’s property and authority. All this was by God’s providence.

Stephen was named to a group of seven servants whose task was to free up the apostles by serving tables, waiting on the widows of the Hellenists. God had an even bigger role for Stephen.   He filled him with grace to do great wonders and signs and to be an invincible debater for the gospel (Acts 6:8-10). He was faithful in the position he had, and God allowed him to rise to greater prominence and effectiveness.

In my college days at home basketball games, our student body would taunt the players of opposing teams when they were introduced. After the announcer gave a name, one side of the coliseum would shout, “Who’s he?” and the other side would respond, “Nobody!” Mordecai was nobody. Stephen was nobody. Yet God used them mightily for His purposes in the plan of redemption. He still does this. Be faithful where you are, even though you may be considered nobody. You do not need a high profile position to do the work He has for you.

Obedience by Faith

Today’s reading: Esther 4-6; Acts 5:17-42

“Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Esther 4:16b

17 But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy 18 they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, 20 “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.”                                                                               Acts 5:17-20

Obedience to God must be by faith, because it does not always bring pleasant results immediately and, sometimes, it can even cost you your life. Yet for the Christian, his obedience always has a positive outcome because even loss of life brings him into the glorious presence of God.

Esther was queen, but she and all the Jews were under a death sentence because of Haman’s instigation of the king’s decree. Mordecai challenged her to go to the king and plead for a reprieve from the law. After some back and forth, Esther agreed, knowing that, if the king did not hold out the golden scepter to her, she would be executed. She uttered her famous words, “if I perish, I perish.”

Of course, in her case the king did receive her and her plea was heard. She did not have to wait long for the reward of her obedience.

The apostles continued to preach the gospel of the risen Christ, and the chief priest and the Sadducees had them thrown back into prison. This time the angel of the Lord opened the door of the prison and sent the apostles back to the temple to preach. The officials looked like fools when they sent to the prison and could not find them. Finally, a report came in that they were preaching in the temple again. At their hearing they maintained that they “…must obey God rather than men.”

There really is no downside to faithful obedience to God for even if we perish, we win the victor’s crown. Be ready to obey by faith today, no matter what the outcome. If you are opposed, or prosecuted you may go straight to glory, but, if not, you will be able to rejoice “that you were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.”

Mordecai Wins; Ananias Loses

Today’s reading: Esther 1-3; Acts 5:1-16

15 The couriers went out hurriedly by order of the king, and the decree was issued in Susa the citadel. And the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was thrown into confusion.                                                                                                      Esther 3:15

11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. 12 Now many signs and wonders were regularly done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon’s Portico. 13 None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high esteem.                                         Acts 5:11-13

The presence of God’s people within an unbelieving culture can be a cause of great impact and the society does well to consider how God will deal with those who touch the apple of His eye.

The Jews, because of their unfaithfulness to God’s covenant with them, were taken into captivity in Babylon which by the time of Esther was under the rule of the Persians. Through a fascinating series of circumstances, Esther, a Jew, becomes the queen, Haman, the Agagite, becomes second to the king, and Mordecai, Esther’s cousin and guardian, causes Haman to become infuriated by his refusal to show him homage. Haman, learning that Mordecai is a Jew, decides to use his newly acquired power to exterminate, not only Mordecai but, all the Jews in the empire. With the decision announced, the king and Haman relax with a cool drink while the capital city is thrown into chaos. Details are not given, but the order to commit genocide and plunder the property of the Jews must have raised questions about where this kind of policy might be heading.

The early church was alive with passion for the gospel and with love for its members. Enter two hypocrites, Ananias and Sapphira, who attempt to impress the church by pretending to give all their wealth to the apostles. Instead of impressing, they are struck dead for their lie. The news spread and fear gripped everyone both inside and outside of the church. This group of believers was not to be trifled with. No one dared to join them, but, on the other hand, “…the people held them in high esteem. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women…” (vs. 13b-14). The point is no one joined them unless they truly believed. You would not join a group where you might die if you were a phony.

Do you, like me, long for a revival in the Church of Jesus Christ, where the level of commitment to God and His people is such that hypocrisy would melt away? We may see that in coming days as the society around us heads toward the establishment of secular relativism and the intolerance of any kind of moral absolutes. Be ready. Mordecai wins. Ananias loses. God is glorified.

Praying to a Big God for Big Things

Today’s reading: Nehemiah 12-13; Acts 4:23-37

14 Remember this also in my favor, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love.                                                              Nehemiah 13:22b

23 When they were released, they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. 24 And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them,                                                                                  Acts 4:23-24

How a person prays reflects much about his or her faith in and knowledge of God.

A notable feature of the book of Nehemiah is his prayer life. On a number of occasions, he asks God to “remember him” (5:19; 13:14, 22, 31). It appears that Nehemiah is comfortable turning to God in the midst of his writing. He shows a recognition of God’s holiness and his own need for forgiveness, despite his many works of obedience. At times, it seems like he is offering his works as a basis for his acceptance before God, but we should probably not judge him too severely if he did not grasp as fully as we can the grace of God through the atonement for sin made by the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly, in the verse quoted above, he shows an awareness of and dependence on the love of God.

In Acts, Peter and John have been released from arrest by the chief priests after being warned not to preach in the name of Christ. What do they do? They look for their friends, their fellow believers, they make a report as to what had occurred, and then they begin to pray. How do they address God? They address Him as the “Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them.”  What do they pray for? Well, they do not ask for safety. They do not pray for the destruction of their enemies. They pray for boldness to keep speaking God’s Word. And God hears their prayer, fills them with His Holy Spirit, and gives them continued boldness.

What can you learn from these examples of prayer? Be sure you remember who God is and what He wants of us. Pray to a big God. Pray for big things, things that you know He wants. After all, He is the Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, isn’t He?