Tag Archives: Gospel

God’s People, part 181: Rome

Read Acts 28:17-31

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:13, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

281: Rome. As was mentioned in the previous devotion, there was a church already established in the city of Rome. We know that this church was not established by Paul himself; however, word of the church and their faith had reached Paul and he very much wanted to visit them. We know this from his own writings to the church in his epistle to the Romans. In that letter, he wrote:

My ambition has always been to preach the Good News where the name of Christ has never been heard, rather than where a church has already been started by someone else…In fact, my visit to you has been delayed so long because I have been preaching in these places. But now I have finished my work in these regions, and after all these long years of waiting, I am eager to visit you. I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:20, 22-24, NLT)

Paul’s own words tell us that he had never been to Rome before and that someone else was responsible for bringing the Good News of Jesus Christ to them, founding them as a church. By church, it is not meant that they had a physical location to worship at that we now commonly know as a “church”; rather, the church is the group of Christian believers that are gathered in a geographical location, who probably worshiped at multiple different houses throughout the city.

To the earliest Christians, the Church or ekklesia (Greek ἐκκλησία, pronounced eh-ck-lee-sia) means an assembly or gathering of people. It matters not where they gather, but what they are gathering for. In the Christian context, the church is a gathering of Christ followers. Thus, Paul was writing his letters to the body of Christians in the specific cities he addressed them to. In the case of Romans, Paul was addressing the body of Christ followers in the city of Rome, regardless of where they met and worshiped.

While we do not know who established the church in Rome, it is safe to believe that it was someone who may have known, or at least known of Paul. Paul writes his letter to a people he presumes will know who he is. Whether it was a close associate of Paul or some other Christian who spread the Good News there, it makes perfect sense that the Christian faith would spread quickly to the heart of the empire. After all, there was a large Jewish community within Rome and, no doubt, Christians would have traveled to, and been present in, the Jewish community in the imperial city.

Paul did eventually make his way to the believers. In our Scripture today, we see that Acts concludes with Paul under house arrest in Rome awaiting trial and, of course, spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to people while he waited. Paul was in the lion’s den, as it were, and yet he boldly proclaimed the Gospel despite his impending trial.

While Acts ends the story at Paul’s arrival, the truth is that the Gospel message would eventually cost Paul his life. More than likely, he was beheaded during Nero’s persecution of Christians. The reason was that Nero scapegoated Christians for a large fire that got out of control and burned half of Rome down. Historians contemporary to the time speculated that Nero started the fire himself; however, Christians received the blame and were put to death in the most horrific of ways, making Paul’s death look like a walk in the park.

Prior to his death, Paul was visited and cared for by friends and by other Christians in the Roman community. He was loved and cared for by his fellow sisters and brothers in Christ. This should challenge us to remember that the church is just that: a community of believers who are charged with visiting and caring for each other. The church is a community of believers called to live out their love for on another, despite differences that would otherwise separate and divide them. Let us, as Christians today, remember that the mission of the church is no different now than it was then. Let us visit each other, care for each other, and love each other just as the Christians in Rome did for Paul.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Love wins. Let us be on the winning side.

PRAYER
Lord, teach me to be like Paul and the earliest Christians. By your grace, help me to love and to care for my fellow sisters and brothers in Christ, living into Christ’s new commandment for those who follow him. Amen.

God’s People, part 280: Believers

Read Acts 28:11-16

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:24, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

The Appian Way

Part 280: Believers. It is often hard for us, as modern Christians, to picture what early Christianity was like. Too often, we think of an old-time religion where everyone got along, agreed with each other, and were monolithic in their understanding of Christ and his mission. I pray, that as we have been journeying through the New Testament in the Bible, you are seeing first-hand that Christians did not have it as together as we might have imagined.

Even among the Twelve Apostles, there were differences in understanding of what it meant to be a Christian. Peter, at first, sided with James’ brother that Gentiles could not be included into the The Way unless they first converted to Judaism. Jesus was a devout Jewish rabbi and he came to the Jewish people; therefore, Gentiles needed to first accept the God of Israel and convert to the faith of Abraham and the Laws of Moses, before they could truly follow the Messiah.

It actually does make sense when you give it thought from the perspective of Jewish followers of Jesus. Yet, Paul vehemently disagreed with James and the Apostles that supported him. For Paul, a former Pharisee, the question did not start with Moses’ Laws. Yes, for Jews (including Paul), those laws were sacred and holy and vital to the Jewish faith. Also, it is true that God made a covenant with the Jewish people at the base of Mount Sinai, where he gave them the Torah (aka the Law). With that said, the covenant made to Abraham predated the Torah, and it was in that covenant that God promised to bless ALL THE NATIONS as a result of Abraham’s faith.

Thus, it is FAITH that mattered most. It was FAITH from which we were saved. It was FAITH to which the Law pointed. Those who live in FAITH in Jesus Christ, who fulfilled the Law, are SAVED by virtue of their faith in God’s only Son, just as Abraham was saved by virtue of his faith in the only true God, as opposed to the Law. This was what Paul taught to the Gentiles, that it was their faith that saved them. That they were included into the family of God through their faith in Jesus Christ.

Truthfully, in today’s Scripture, we see the fruit of Paul’s labor. In their travels beyond Malta, Paul and his fellow travelers came across more Gentile believers in Jesus Christ. When a south wind blew their ship to the coast of Puteoli, which is now modern day Pozzuoli (a city and commune of the Metropolitan city of Naples, Italy), Paul, fellow travelers, and crew were greeted by a group of believers who invited them to stay with their group for a week.

From there, they traveled to Rome and were met by Roman believers who traveled the Appian Way and met them in the Forum. The Appian Way was an extremely vital Roman road that was not only well traveled, but was the very road 6,000 slaves were crucified along following the defeat of Spartacus in 71 BC. Even more believers joined them at the Three Taverns.

These believers came because of their faith in Jesus Christ and their love for Paul who had corresponded with them. Paul had not ever been to Italy or Rome, yet, it was his advocacy for Gentile inclusion that had helped churches form in places that he had yet to travel. Their faith in Jesus Christ and their inclusion into the family of Christ is what empowered them to meet Paul and care for him. Luke tells us that Paul found encouragement in their presence and thanked God for them.

The fact of the matter is this, Christian fellowship is more than just a friendly gathering of like-minded people. I am sure that Paul could have found theological or intellectual differences between those believers and himself. What mattered most was their common FAITH in Jesus Christ as Lord. That is what bonded them together in Paul’s time of need.

We, as Christians, ought to be reminded that our common FAITH goes a lot further than our differences. We have been included into God’s family through Jesus Christ our Lord and, truthfully, it is through Christian fellowship where we become encouraged and invigorated to carry on in the mission and ministry of Christ, no matter what our circumstances are. This is why being a part of a Faith Community is SO IMPORTANT. We were not created to be islands, but to be in communion with fellow believers, who share and encourage our FAITH.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“God is so unique in giving His people ways to fellowship, witness, and remember what a mighty and merciful God He is.” – Monica Johnson

PRAYER
Lord, help me to open myself to Christian fellowship, that I might fully live into my Christian faith. Amen.

God’s People, part 279: Publius

Read Acts 28:1-10

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Fear swept through the crowd as they saw this happen. And they praised God for giving humans such authority.”  (Matthew 9:8, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 279: Publius. The last devotion in this series focused on Paul’s journey on a ship that departed from Jerusalem under the command of Captain Julius. Paul, of course, was a prisoner who was being sent to Rome since he had appealed his case to the emperor. As has been mentioned, this did not mean that Nero Caesar would hear his case, but that his case would be heard the Roman court.

Julius had taken good care of Paul and showed him an exorbinent amount of trust and respect. In fact, he had so much trust that he had let Paul leave the ship to spend time with friends, which would’ve cost Julius his life had the prisoner escaped. Paul didn’t, however, proving that Julius was right to trust him.  During a major storm, Paul even comforted Julius and his crew by sharing the vision God had given him of their safety. While the ship wrecked, every last member of the crew, and all aboard, survived.

The Scripture for today picks up there. Paul, Julius and the crew find themselves safe on the island of Malta. The people on that island were incredibly kind to them while they were there. There was one incident, however, that caused the islanders to judge Paul as someone who may be under God’s curse. Paul was gathering sticks to put on the fire, when a poisonous snake popped out and bit his wrist. This was clearly a bad omen to the people of Malta and, truth be told, it should have been bad news to Paul too; however, it wasn’t. Instead, Paul shook the snake off and, hours later, was still alive and no worse for wear. The local folks changed their mind about Paul. Instead of being under God’s curse, this Paul must be God.

Following that Paul and his companions stayed at the estate of Publius, who was the chief official of the island. Publius took care of them during their stay, which lasted three days. As it turned out, Publius’ father was ill and, upon praying over and laying hands upon him, Publius’ father was healed. It was a miracle.

If the snake wasn’t enough to cause Paul to become famous on Malta, healing Publius’ father did. After hearing about that, all of the sick people of the town came to Paul to be healed and, as might be expected, they were healed. These miracles blessed the people of Malta so much that Paul and his fellow travelers were showered with honors and Julius, his crew, Paul, and his companions were given everything they needed to complete their trip.

This should challenge us. First, it was not Paul who performed the miracles; rather, it was God’s power working through Paul. How many of us open ourselves to the presence and the power of God? Second, miracles always serve a greater purpose than the miracle itself. In fact, miracles are a means to God’s end. Miracles reveal God to the people who experience them and they draw people closer into relationship with God. This is always the case in the Bible.

Finally, while we cannot be certain that Publius converted to the Christian faith (though there is a long-standing tradition that he did), it is clear that Publius was profoundly affected by the miracle as was the entire island of Malta. As Christians, we should reflect the times in which God has worked a miracle in our lives through someone else. We should reflect the times in which God worked miracles through us. We sould also pray that God may continue to use us as a vessel for His miracles. Let us be open to the Holy Spirit and be guided by God to be vessels of God’s miracles.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I believe that miracles happen every day. Every person is a miracle. Every moment is a miracle. If only we can open our eyes, we’ll see God’s love everywhere.” – Bo Sanchez

PRAYER
Lord, what would you have me do today? Show me and I will obey. Amen.

Abomination of Desolation

Read Mark 13:14-23

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”  (Mark 13:13, NLT)

This is my first week back from renewal leave and, let me tell you, it seems like our country imploded while I was away. Last Wednesday, January 6, 2021, I did the unthinkable thing of turning on the news. We were relaxing at that moment and I figured it would not hurt to watch a little TV, since I hadn’t touched it up until that point and I wanted to see how the electoral vote confirmation was going. Within about 5 minutes of turning it and listening to a couple of senators speak, the news suddenly cut to live video from outside the Capitol Building in Washington D.C.

At first, the correspondant reported that a massive crowd had shown up and were protesting outside the Capitol, waving flags and shouting. That didn’t really take me by surprise, as that is what protestors do; however, the sheer number of people there did take me by surprise. What’s more, only a moment later, the correspondent began to report that the security perimeter had been breached. That was quickly followed by people scaling the walls and the stairs, assaulting police officers, breaking windows, and violently forcing their way into the Capitol Building.

I know this is going to seem cliché, but I had never seen something like that in the United States of America before, nor had I ever expected it to happen, let alone so easily. Yes, I have seen riots, but not directed on the Capitol itself. It was unbelievable, shocking, disheartening, maddening, and disgusting all that the same time. The emotions were raw and, honestly, they have been ever since. I am sure that is true for most, if not all, of us.

What got us here? That is a question that I have been trying to reflect, especially since I saw some Christian signs in the mix. “Jesus Saves”, “Jesus for President 2020” and even a wooden cross were among the images I saw. Now, to be clear, I am sure that there were many Christians there who came to pray and did not participate in the insurrection, which is fine; however, there were some Christians who were a part of the insurrection and who did not see the irony of carrying out a violent revolt in Jesus name. What a horrifyingly terrible witness to the love and salvation of our Lord Jesus Christ.

In our Scripture today, we see in part that Jesus was in the midst of telling his disciples about the future destruction of the Temple and the fall of Jerusalem. He talks about a time when a desecrating sareligious object is standing where it should not be. This is so important that Mark chooses to insert his own word of warning, “Reader, pay attention!”

Following that, chaos and destruction fall upon Jerusalem and its Temple. Jesus goes to length to describe the horror that befalls the people caught up in the storm. This, of course, is a prophesy of the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 A.D. by the Romans. With that said, it was not just a prophesy about that one event, but about an event in the future, when the Messiah returns again.

This is not just a prophesy for his time or for our time, but for all times leading up to the Second Coming of Christ. In Mark 13:21-22, Jesus warns, “Then if anyone tells you, ‘Look, here is the Messiah,’ or ‘There he is,’ don’t believe it. For false messiahs and false prophets will rise up and perform signs and wonders so as to deceive, if possible, even God’s chosen ones’” (NLT).

Jesus’ warning gives us valuable Spiritual insight into our own time. How did we get here? Simple. We have been duped to believe that a president, a party, and/or our government can replace Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. We have listened to our current president call himself the chosen one and have believed him or, in the case of prior presidents, we have placed such faith on our own accord in human beings that fall way short of God’s glorious standard.

We have made idols of our leaders, our parties, our government and our own partisan political beliefs. We have set those idols up where they should not be: in our hearts. As such our hearts have been defiled, corrupted and desecrated. As a result, we have found desolation in hearts, our lives, our homes, our communities and, certainly, in our country.

As Christians, we MUST remember that there is only one Messiah, only one Lord and Savior, and that is Jesus Christ. No matter who tells us that they are the one who can save us, no matter what promises are made, only Jesus Christ HAS come through in saving us. The choice for us is to either draw further away from Salvation, or to draw nearer to Him who is our Salvation. Let us all be reminded that without Christ we are nothing. Let us, who are Christ’s own, not be counted among those who have been decieved.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
Christ ALONE is Lord.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to recenter my life on you. You are my Lord and Savior. To you, and you alone, I cling. Amen.

A LOOK BACK – God’s People, part 138: Joseph

Read Matthew 1:18-25

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“And because Joseph was a descendant of King David, he had to go to Bethlehem in Judea, David’s ancient home. He traveled there from the village of Nazareth in Galilee. He took with him Mary, to whom he was engaged, who was now expecting a child.”  (Luke 2:4-5 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

JosephFatherofJesusPart 138: Joseph. One of my favorite Christmas films, a must watch annually on Christmas Eve, is The Nativity Story. Starring Keisha Castle-Hughes as Mary and Oscar Isaac as Joseph, the story chronicle Mary’s betrothal (aka engagement) to Joseph, her becoming pregnant through the Holy Spirit, Joseph’s initial reaction and final acceptance of her. It follows them as they make the difficult journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem and concludes with what everyone is there to watch: the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God.

This is my favorite portrayal of the Nativity because the actors really pull off their roles convincingly. The vulnerability that both of the actors bring out of their characters helps the audience to connect with them on a most personal level. This is especially true for Joseph. Oscar Isaac takes us on an emotional roller coaster ride as he falls in love with Mary, is broken by her seeming betrayal when she comes home pregnant, to accepting her story as truth, to supportive husband caring for Mary on the journey to Bethlehem (even to the point of short changing himself.”

Of course, Joseph was a flawed individual, just as we all are. It would be easy for us see the final result of Jospeh, rendering him to a two-dimensional character. It would be easy for us rush to the Joseph who was by Mary’s side in the manger. Yet, the reality is that Joseph almost broke off his engagement to Mary because he could not believe that she had conceived of a child through the Holy Spirit.

Honestly, which one of us would actually believe that if someone came to us and said that they got pregnant by God without having sex with anyone. Most of us would have a hard time believing that. So, we cannot judge Joseph for his disbelief; however, he did struggle to believe Mary.

That left him with two options, to keep Mary as his wife and take her shame upon himself. If he stayed with Mary, people would think the two were sexually active, which would put both of them in a bad light socially speaking. The other option would be to break off the engagement and distance himself from Mary. That would keep the shame from falling on him; however, it would put Mary in a dangerous situation. If that became public she could have been stoned to death for adultery. This was serious business.

Scripture tells us that Joseph was a just (aka righteous) man and did not wish to disgrace her publicly. So he was going to quietly break the engagement off. How he would have pulled that off without others knowing, only one can guess; however, he came very close to ending the relationship with Mary for fear that her “shame” would fall upon him and his “good name”. In other words, he was putting his own “name” and reputation in society before the woman, the human being, he was engaged to.

It took an angel in a dream to tell Joseph that he need not fear taking Mary as his wife, for all that Mary had told him was true. Thankfully, Joseph listened to the voice in that dream. The question for us is this, how do we let fear take control of our lives? Do we allow fear to dictate our actions and do we allow fear to make our decisions for us? The challenge for us is to listen to God’s voice over the many voices of fear. Let us seek God’s voice out in all things and allow God, not fear, guide us in our lives and in our decisions.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt

PRAYER
Lord, keep me from allowing fear to take control. I put my trust in you. Guide me in your love. Amen.

A LOOK BACK – God’s People, part 137: Mary

Read Luke 1:26-56

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“When his family heard what was happening, they tried to take him away. ‘He’s out of his mind,’ they said…Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him. They stood outside and sent word for him to come out and talk with them.”  (Mark 3:21, 31 NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

the_nativity_story_15Part 137: Mary.

Áve María, grátia pléna, Dóminus técum. Benedícta tū in muliéribus, et benedíctus frúctus véntris túi, Iésus. Sáncta María, Máter Déi, óra pro nóbis peccatóribus, nunc et in hóra mórtis nóstrae. Ámen.

You may be scratching your head and saying, “Well, that’s Greek to me.” Actually, it’s not Greek, but it is LATIN. It is the traditional Ave Maria prayer that has been set to some of the most beautiful music. My favorite rendition is Gounod’s setting of the prayer to his own arrangement of Bach’s Prelude No. 1 in C major, BWV 846.

The prayer reads in English as follows. “Hail Mary, full of Grace, the Lord is with thee. Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. It is a prayer to the Jesus Mother Mary, who is seen by Roman Catholics as set apart from other women because she is the Mother of God Incarnate. Some protestants like to state that this is idolatry; however, it really is NOT idolatry but rather an expression of reverence to Mary who did, Biblically speaking, who was set apart and chosen by God to bear God’s incarnation into the world. As a Protestant, I do not believe praying to Mary herself is necessary, or even effectual, but I do understand what is at the heart of it even if I believe it to be unnecessary and misguided.

The issue I have with this prayer, and our general image of Mary, is that it paints her as someone who is too holy to be human. We imagine her as a reverent, quiet, compassionate, loving woman. We think of her as having a halo over her head and as having guided Jesus from childhood to adulthood and preparing him for his ministry.

Roman Catholics, in fact, have the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception, in which lies the belief that God removed Mary’s sin at the moment she was born. In other words, she was born untainted by sin due to God’s divine will. This doctrine officially came about under Pius IX during the 12th century in order to explain how Jesus was born without sin. If his mother was without sin due to divine intervention, then that makes the explanation easy.

Sadly, it also takes away the divine mystery of the Incarnation. What’s more, the Gospels do not all agree on how much on board Mary was with Jesus or his ministry. The power of the song, “Mary, did you Know?” (one of my all-time favorites), lies in the Biblical possibility that Mary did NOT know. For instance, while in Luke Mary clearly knew what was going on, in Matthew it is less clear how much she knew. In Mark, she seems to not only be ignorant to Jesus’ teachings and methodology, but to also be disapproving of him doing ministry in the first place. Don’t know what I am talking about, read the today’s suggested Scripture.

The challenge for us is to recognize that each of us is human. We must not put anyone on a pedestal as if they are holier than the rest. Whether it be Mary, the apostles, our pastors/priests, etc., each human being is just that: a human being prone to wander and sin. The only one who was and is sinless is Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. Let us put our trust in Jesus and show the kind of humble faith that Christ is calling for.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.” – Jesus Christ in John 14:1.

PRAYER
Lord, I place my trust in you. Have mercy on me when I don’t and guide me toward trusting you again. Amen.

God’s People, part 278: Julius

Read Acts 27:1, 3

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Do to others whatever you would like them to do to you. This is the essence of all that is taught in the law and the prophets.” (Matthew 7:12, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 278: Julius. The previous few devotions have followed Paul from the Temple of Jerusalem through a couple of years of imprisonment and trial in Caesarea. We learned that Paul had not only used his Roman Citizenship to his advantage in terms of fair and just treatment under the law, he also used it to appeal his case to Caesar’s court in Rome.

This does not, by the way, mean that Nero Caesar (who was emperor at the time) would be the one hear his case; rather, appealing to Caesar meant simply that he wanted his trial to take place in Caesar’s court in Rome, where judges representing Caesar would hear Paul’s case. While it is possible that Caesar might have heard Paul’s case, it is very improbable that he had any personal invlovement.

Still, once the appeal had been made, Festus had only one thing to do and that was to send Paul to Rome. Of course, the quickest and least expensive way to transport a prisoner from Jerusalem to Rome was via the Mediterranean Sea. That is why Judaea was so important to Rome, because of its strategic location along the coast of the great sea.

Thus, Paul was put under the care of Captain Julius, who was to transport him on his ship from Judaea to Rome. I want to pause their for a split second. The number one responsibility of Julius was to ensure the safe arrival of Paul to Rome so that he may be tried in the Roman courts. Should Paul have pulled any shenanigans and escaped, Julius’ life would have been forfeit. It was NOT okay to fail Caesar.

So, it is curious to see how friendly Julius was with Paul. In fact, friendly does not do justice to the way that Julius treated this prisoner. He was not only kind to him, but showed him an exorbitant amount of respect and TRUST. For instance, while they were docked at Sidon, Julius allowed Paul to leave the boat and be visited and tended to by his friends.

If Paul had escaped, it would have been not been good for Julius; yet, the captain trusted Paul NOT to escape. This shows what a man of honor and integrity Paul must have been. Julius trusted him so much that he was willing to let Paul leave the ship to spend time with friends. Paul, as it were, would not forget that kind act of trust.

We do not know if Julius ever became a Christian or not. The chances are that he didn’t; however, Paul respected him and his entire crew. During a major storm, Paul not only comforted them, but assured them that God had shown him in a vision that NONE of the crew would be harmed. As it turned out, all of the crew indeed did survive the shipwreck. No one was harmed or died, just as Paul promised.

So, what do we make of this? Simple. Kindness goes along way. In regard to Paul, he was a person of honor and integrity and Julius could tell that about him, just as one knows that they are going to instantly click with someone they’ve just met. In regard to Julius, he was willing to give Paul his trust and, as a result, Paul was able to be cared for.

In Paul and Julius, we see models for how we ought to be. Paul shows us that we ought to be people of honor and integrity. Julius, though he may not have recognized it, placed his trust in God and did what he believed was right and just for Paul. His kindness not only blessed Paul but, in the end, it became a blessing to his entire crew. Let us, therefore be a blessing to others through our honor, integrity, and kindness through placing our trust in God and treating others as we would like to be treated.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We have committed the Golden Rule to memory; let us now commit it to life.” – Edwin Markham

PRAYER
Lord, help me to live by your golden rule, to be a person of integrity and honor, and one who shows kindness to others. Amen.

God’s People, part 277: Agrippa

Read Acts 25:13-27; 26:1-32

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“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.”  (Acts 28:30-31, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 227: Agrippa. The Agrippa of Acts 25 and 26 was actually Herod Agrippa II, who was the son of the better known Herod Agrippa I, who was the Agrippa in power back in Acts 12. If you remember, it was Herod Agrippa I who killed the Apostle James, son of Zebedee, and who had Peter imprisoned. In Acts 25 and 26, it is Agrippa’s son, also named Agrippa, who Paul plead his case before.

One of the tricky things about reading the Bible is understanding the passage of time. Years can easily pass in a chapter or two and so, as was mentioned in the last devotion, Paul had been in prison for two years before he came face to face with Agrippa II. Of course, that also means that many, many years had passed from the death of James under Agrippa I. Now his son was the ruler and Paul was nearing the end of his ministry and his life, with only another four to seven years left to live.

Agrippa, like every other politician, did not really care about Paul, himself. He cared about keeping the peace and he about order. When he arrived at Caesarea with his sister, Bernice, he was curious to hear Paul’s defense. In fact Festus wanted him to hear him as well, since Paul had appealed to Caesar. That very appeal meant that Paul had to be sent to Rome to be tried in the Roman courts. This was problematic for Festus who couldn’t send Paul with the charge of “Jewish heresy”, which is what the Jewish religious leaders were accusing him of. Rome didn’t care about the local religious matters of the Jews. Thus, Festus wanted Agrippa to weigh in on what charges to send Paul to Rome with.

Paul, then, was invited to make his defense before King Herod Agrippa II, Festus and his accusers. Paul, the great Apostle that he was, not only defended himself against the accusations of the Jewish religious leadership, he also took the time to appeal the merits of the Gospel to Agrippa, who was a learned Jew himself and an expert “on all Jewish customs and controversies” (Acts 26:3).  In fact, Agrippa was very knowledgeable in Jewish history and was a supporter of Flavius Josephus, a famous historian living during that time period.

Agrippa was certainly impressed and amazed by Paul’s zeal and passion as an evangelist. Paul even began to rhetorically question Agrippa on his belief in the prophets, in which Paul was then going to try and show the king how Jesus fulfilled all of those prophesies. Agrippa interrupted Paul and asked, “Agrippa interrupted him. “Do you think you can persuade me to become a Christian so quickly” (Acts 26:28, NLT)?

Agrippa knew where Paul was headed with his line of questioning and, though perhaps a little taken back by his boldness, he clearly was impressed. In fact, following the hearing, Agrippa confided in Festus that Paul “…could have been set free if he hadn’t appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32, NLT). In other words, Agrippa would have let him go and, no doubt, Festus would have as well, had Paul not gone up the political chain.

Still, it was Paul’s right as a Roman citizen to make such an appeal. Agrippa and Festus, as politicians, were not going to interfere with the Roman legal process and, truthfully, they were sparing themselves a headache by sending Paul to Rome. What’s important for us to take away from this is that, even when on trial, Paul put Christ and the Gospel first; instead of spending his time defending himself, he used his time in court to preach the Good News of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world

As Christians, every waking moment should be a moment to serve Christ. Everything we do should be a witness to Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. The account of Paul and Agrippa should be a reminder of not only what is at stake, but that we can and should place our faith in our sovereign God, whose plan is being carried out through us. We are the vessels of Christ. Let the Gospel fill and pour out of us into the world.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We are the vessels of Christ.

PRAYER
Lord, fill this vessel with Your love and grace and with the Good News for all people, so that I may be a witness of You and all of Your glory to others. Amen.

God’s People, part 276: Typical Politicians

Read Acts 24:1-27; 25:1-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“I am planning to go to Spain, and when I do, I will stop off in Rome. And after I have enjoyed your fellowship for a little while, you can provide for my journey.”  (Romans 15:24, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 276: Typical Politicians. As was discussed in the last devotion, Paul was a Roman citizen and he used that fact to his advantage after being arrested in the Jerusalem Temple. Following his arrest, a Roman commander was going to have Paul whipped and beaten for being a “rabble rouser” but, prior to that happening, Paul questioned the legality of that being that he was a Roman Citizen by birth and had not received a fair trial.

The question was a successful move on Paul’s part and, as a result, was placed under protective custody while he awaited trial. In Acts 24, we see that Paul’s trial fell into the hands of Felix, who was the governor of Judaea at the time. Judaean Governors, lived in the city of Caesarea and rarely came to Jerusalem, except on high holy days and other events that could break into a successful rebellion due to the massive number of people gathering in the city. Thus, Paul was transported to a palace prison in Caesarea where he awaited trial.

Paul’s trial started twelve days after he was arrested, and he was accused of being a trouble maker and someone who desecrated the Temple, which he had not done but had been accused of. Thus, Felix turned to Paul to hear his side of things. Paul did so eloquently, and he explained why he was in Jerusalem, and that as a devout Jew he was at the Temple to observe the purification ritual. He did admit to being “a follower of The Way” (aka a follower of Jesus), which he also pointed out that the Jews accusing him saw “The Way” as a cult; however, he also pointed out his deep, devout Jewish convictions and his desire to follow the Law and the prophets.

When Felix heard that he was a follower of The Way, which he was familiar with, he decided to table the trial until the commander came. Paul was kept in prison, but was allowed to have some freedoms, such as regular visitors. The problem was that Felix’s wife was Jewish and he did not want to upset her or the Jewish people. Felix had to walk a fine line and he was hoping that Paul would get himself into trouble by trying to bribe him, or to find some other cause to nail Paul on.

Days turned into weeks, which turned into months, which turned into two long years. Yet, the trial ceased to continue. After two years in prison, another governor succeeded Felix. His name was Porcius Festus and, once he took over, he resumed Paul’s trial after pressure from the Jewish authorities. The initial trial took place in Ceasarea; however, not wanting to further upset the Jewish leaders, he asked Paul if he was willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there. Paul objected and appealed to the emperor.

Little did Paul know that King Herod Agrippa was also coming to hear Paul’s case. According to Agrippa, he would have let Paul go if he had not appealed to Caesar; however, this should be taken with a grain of salt as Agrippa, just like Festus and Felix, was typical politician. With no pressure on him, he could easily make such a claim now that it was out of his hands; however, would he really have just let Paul go? Also, couldn’t Agrippa arranged to let Paul go and not send the appeal.

The point is that Paul knew that Christ was calling him to Rome. In his very letter to the Romans, he said that he wanted to go to Rome on his way to Spain. While I am sure that Paul knew that a trial in Caesar’s court might not go his way in the end, he was also sure that he could continue to witness to Christ in Rome as he knew he was called to do.

As for Felix, Festus and Agrippa, they were men of power. They didn’t care about Paul as much as they did their own prestige and station in life. All they cared about was looking good and keeping the peace. Paul was nothing to them, just a number. They were, sad to say, typical politicians. In appealing to Caesar, Paul was not actually looking for Caesar, another typical politician, to save him, but was fully thrusting himself into Christ’s plan. It was an act of faith and faithfulness. Let us, like Paul, not put our trust and hope in people, let alone politicians. They will fail us; however, Christ will not fail us and if we remain faithful to his mission, not even death will be able to stop us from our true inheritance.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There is only one Savior, Jesus the Christ, and he is our only HOPE.

PRAYER
Lord, I look to you, and you alone, as my Lord and my Savior. In you alone I place my faith. Amen.

God’s People, part 275: Roman Citizen

Read Acts 22:22-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!””  (2 Corinthians 5:20, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

Part 275: Roman Citizen. We’ve discussed Paul at length throughout Acts. Most of the Acts of the Apostles is focused, in fact, on Paul and his mission to the Gentiles.  We know that Paul was a devout Jew, a former member of the Pharisees, and a former persecutor of Jesus’ earliest followers. We know that when he “converted” to belief in Jesus Christ, he did not convert from one religion to another; rather, he saw Jesus as the the Jewish Messiah and the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Jesus Christ, for Paul, is how Abraham’s faith would become a blessing to all nations. It was through Jesus Christ as Messiah that all nations would confess and accept Lord and Savior.

For Paul the Christian faith was the Jewish faith. Christianity was not a separate religion, but the SAME religion. Of course, the Jews who disagreed with Paul saw it very differently; however, Paul was born, lived, taught, and died a devout Jewish theologian. In his very letters, he indicates just how Jewish he thought he was.

Yet, there is another aspect of Paul we have not discussed. Paul was not only a diaspora Jew from Tarsus, the capital city in the Roman Province Cilicia, but he was actually born a Roman Citizen. There are varying reasons suggested that could explain how Paul was born a Roman citizen. One such reason is that Tarsus was a freed city because it had aided Octavian (aka Caesar Augustus) and Antony in the civil wars and thus they were freed and considered to be a Roman city. Thus, most who were born within it were considered to be citizens of Rome.

There are other ways in which one could become a Roman citizen, such as performing a vital service for Rome or by purchasing citizenship at a hefty cost. In fact, the commander in our Scripture reading today said that he had purchased his citizenship; however, Paul, stated to the commander that he had, in fact, been born a Roman citizen. This proved, for Paul, to be quite a convenient fact that literally saved his hyde from abuse and torture.

The only reason Paul even mentioned his citizenship of Rome was because the commander had ordered him to be whipped. As a Roman citizen, Paul was afforded rights that non-citizens were not granted. He could not be punished prior to a fair trial and, as we will see later on in another devotion, as a Roman Citizen Paul had the right to appeal his case to the emperor.

Here’s the point that can be taken from the fact that Paul acknowledged his Roman citizenship. First, we do owe our allegiance to the government in which we live in. There is nothing wrong, for instance, for a Christian to also acknowledge and work within the confines of his or her earthly citizenship. In fact, under normal circumstances, that is how we ought to work. There is nothing wrong, even, with taking a healthy pride in where one is from.

With that said, Paul did not boast about his citizenship, nor did he use it to place himself above anyone else. First and foremost to Paul, he was a citizen of the Kingdom of God. He was of heaven even though he lived on earth. He saw his earthly dwelling as a diplomatic appointment, and he reminded all Christians that we were on Earth as God’s ambassadors.

Finally, given our divine appointment as ambassadors, we MUST remember that we ultimately represent Jesus Christ. What that means is that if our government calls us to do something that is against Jesus Christ, our allegiance is to Christ ALONE. Those who hold up Romans 13:1-7 as an absolute mandate to follow the government do so devoid of the context set in Romans 13:8-14. Therefore, Romans 13 is NOT a mandate to absolutely follow government; however, it is a mandate to follow government when doing so does not conflict with Jesus Christ.

Let us, therefore, remember that Christ is King and our mandate is to FOLLOW HIM. Being a law abiding citizen does, overall, honor Christ. With that said, we are called to follow Christ at all costs, even if it means disobeying our earthly rulers. Let us be a people who grow, like Paul, to understand when and when not to embrace our worldly citizenship so that we may further witness to the love of Christ and his supreme reign in the coming Kingdom of God.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
We are appointed as ambassadors of heaven, which means we should be representing Christ to the world around us.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to grow in my ambassadorship so that I may fully represent you in all that I do. Amen.