The NT365 Experiment: Mark 4

Jesus was a teacher, and he did a lot of teaching. He taught his disciples. He taught the crowds that followed him. He taught the Pharisees and the scribes. And, the subject matter he taught was always the same — the kingdom of God. Regardless of his teaching method — parables, direct instruction, interpretation and explanation of the Law, follow up on miracles — he always came back to the glory of God in his kingdom.

Like the other Gospel writers, Mark gives us a variety of accounts in which Jesus did his teaching. One such account is found in chapter 4. It is Mark’s parable chapter. He gives us four parables that deal with and explain the kingdom of God. The first is “the parable of the sower” where a man sows seed and it either grows and bears fruit or doesn’t. The second has to do with a lamp being placed on a stand, not under a basket or bed, so as to shine light on everything in the room. The third parable Jesus tells is “the parable of the seed growing.” The man sows the seed, but yet the earth brings the growth. Though the man does not know how this growth happens, he does not doubt it or question it; rather, he accepts and celebrates it. And, the fourth is a parable in which Jesus illustrates the kingdom of God which begins in a small unnoticed, overlooked way (like a mustard seed) but grows into the greatest and most lasting kingdom the world has or will ever know (like a cedar of Lebanon). There is a lot to learn from these great parables.

Kingdom Fruitfulness

By grouping them the way that he did, Mark united the parables under a common theme — kingdom fruitfulness. When the kingdom of God (the active reign of God) is alive and active in the lives of men and women, it produces fruit. It brings about heart change. It brings about life change. It is easily demonstrable in the lives of those who have submitted to Christ and come into his kingdom in faith. There is no exception. When the seed takes root and grows in divinely prepared soil, it grows and produces fruit. Period. The amount of fruit — the measure of the fruit — varies from person to person. In some it produces 30-fold, in others, 60, and in others, 100 (4:8). It’s that simple. Though we may not all produce the same amount of fruit, we produce fruit nonetheless.

Bear Some Fruit Today

I want to challenge you (and I always include myself in these challenges) to bear gospel fruit today. If the gospel has taken root in your life, then you should be bearing kingdom fruit. So, here’s the challenge:

  1. Think of one thing (there will probably be many) in your personal fellowship with Jesus that prevents you from living a life of full obedience to Jesus and keeps you from experiencing joyful fellowship with him. Deal with it. If it’s sin, confess it and repent from it. If it’s a failure to trust him fully with your life, gradually begin to relinquish the control you seek to exert over a specific aspect of your life.
  2. Work to restore or enhance one relationship that you have with another Christian that is either broken or cool. We all have these relationships. Send the person an email or a text. Pray for that person. Give them a call. Do something to seek the gospel fruit of reconciliation.
  3. Find someone that you can personally impact by serving them in a gospel way who is not a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. (For those of us in the South that means someone who is not actively involved in a Christian community or fellowship.) Bear kingdom fruit by loving them in Christ-like service.

 

 

 

The NT365 Experiment: Mark 3

Great crowds followed Jesus throughout his ministry. People came from all over the ancient world to see him — to see his miracles, to hear his teaching, to touch him, to look him in the eyes. They wanted to know what he was all about. They wanted to know just who he was. They wanted healing. They wanted wholeness. They wanted to be fixed.

Mark tells us about such a crowd in chapter 3 (verses 7-12). This crowd of people came from villages far and wide to see Jesus — from “Galilee and Jerusalem and Idumea and Tyre and Sidon” (3:8). And, when they found him, they pressed in upon him so closely that he was concerned they would crush him. Mark tells us that they did this because they were desperate. They wanted to be healed, to have their diseases taken away, and to touch him. (Jesus was a rock star to them.) Many of them received wonderful physical and emotional blessings as he responded to them in grace by healing them and casting out demons.

On the surface this is a great story. People have come to Jesus, and he has healed them. It doesn’t get much better than that, does it? But, it’s too good to be true (That’s cliche, I know; so, please forgive me).

A Crowd of Users

Notice again what Mark tells us about the crowd. The majority of them have come because they had “heard all that he was doing,” which was healing men, women, and children of diseases and casting out demons. They came to Jesus because of what he could do for them. Now, that’s not a bad motivation necessarily. But, it appears that for those in the crowd that was the sole motivation for which they came to Jesus, and it never got any deeper. They came, got their benefits, got their healing, and then left. They wanted something from Jesus, and when they got it, they left. They fell away. What they wanted were the benefits of Jesus in their life, but not Jesus himself. Their ultimate goal was to make themselves better, and Jesus was the means to do it.

Sadly, this is not a reality that remained with the scores of people who “came to” Jesus while he walked on earth. Many people still come to Jesus for the same reason. They want to make much of themselves and use Jesus to do it. They presume that because Jesus is gracious and merciful that he will gladly respond to their request and be at their beckoning call. Therefore, they come when they “need” him and drift away when they don’t. He’s the agent to make their life better, not the Lord of glory to whom they submit their lives. That’s a different mindset than that of those whom he calls to follow him as disciples.

A Band of Followers

If I could draw your attention back to the text for just a moment, I think you’ll see how Mark fleshes this out clearly. Look at verse 13 again. Jesus takes his disciples, “those whom he desired,” up on a mountain where he appointed them as those who “might be with him and he might send them out to preach.” What a difference! The crowd comes to receive or take the benefits of Christ. They come to better themselves. The disciples come to Jesus for him — to make much of Jesus, to better his fame in the world. They go out to preach; they go out to cast out demons for Jesus’ sake. They come to Jesus (because he called them) to get Jesus. They want to be with him, and go out with him and for him. And, they receive in full the benefits of Christ. Where the crowd received in part, they received in full.

A Member of the Crowd or a Follower of Jesus

Here’s the question I come to in chapter three: How often am I simply a member of the crowd instead of a follower of Christ? In other words, how do I come to Jesus just for his benefits? How often is it my desire to dimly get those benefits and then walk away from him, only to come back later for more benefits?

It’s a tendency we all have. Be focused today on examining your heart’s motivation. Do you come to Jesus for Jesus or for his benefits? If it’s not for Jesus, then you need to take some time to repent and to come to him in faith. Make him and his glory the motivation of your life and all the other benefits will flow freely.

 

The NT365 Experiment: Mark 2

Mark’s Gospel is action packed. He has little time for transition or editorial notes that provide further explanation for the life and stories of Jesus. This, I believe, is because he is  interested in getting us to the cross of Christ quickly so as to devote proper time to the climax of Jesus’ story (6 of 16 chapters are devoted to Jesus’ last week of life), and he wants to do it with brevity (something from which I could learn).

Chapter 2 contains fours stories — Jesus and the paralytic, Jesus and Levi, Jesus and the question of fasting, and Jesus as Lord of the Sabbath. All of these stories combine to give us an understanding of Jesus’ true and divine identity. This is important. Because Mark does not begin with a birth narrative (like Matthew and Luke) or a theological treatise of his eternality (like John), he has to introduce Jesus as God through stories that tell of his works and his interactions with men and women.

Four Stories and Four Divine Claims

1. Jesus Forgives Sins (2:1-12) — Only God can forgive sins. Why? because the only one who can forgive sins is the one against whom the sins were committed. According to Psalm 51 all sins are committed against God — “Against you, you only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.” Therefore, God alone has the authority, power, and right to forgive sins. By claiming that right for himself, Jesus claims to be God. To prove this claim to be true, Jesus performed a miracle of healing.

2. Jesus Calls Sinners to Himself (2:13-17) — Again God is the only who draws sinners to himself through grace and forgiveness. In Jesus’ response to the Pharisees in verse 17, Jesus says that he didn’t come to call “the righteous, but sinners.” This language indicates that sinners are those he calls to himself which they do, based on Levi’s (Matthew) story, is through faith in him and repentance. That is something the Bible reserves for God alone. He is the one who calls people to come to him in faith and repentance by a result of his grace and forgiveness.

3. Jesus Authors and Perfects a New Religion (2:18-22) — The author of Hebrews calls Jesus “the author and perfecter of our faith” (12:2). Jesus’ conversation with John’s disciples illustrates this reality well. He fulfilled the Old Testament moral and ceremonial law perfectly. In so doing, he ushered in a new, open, and full relationship with God which was not possible prior to his coming. That is something only God can do because he sets the standard of relationship with him, and he is the only one who can meet his standards.

4. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath (2:23-28) — The command to keep the Sabbath day holy is much older than Mt. Sinai. It goes back to Creation — “On the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested one the seventh day and made it holy, because on it God rested from all his work that he had done in creation” (2:2). Since God established the Sabbath day by resting after his work of Creation, only he can be Lord of it — only he can define what is appropriate on that day and what is not. Therefore, by claiming to be Lord of Sabbath, Jesus claims to be God.

Who Is Jesus to You? 

Each of the four Gospels ultimately forces you and me to answer the question, “Who is Jesus to you?” Is he God, or is he not? If he is who he claims to be, then he is worthy of submitting your life to him. That’s Mark’s point. Jesus is God. Will you follow him? That’s a great question for you to answer daily.

The NT365 Experiment: Mark 1

We start reading the Mark today. And, I’m excited. I love Mark! I don’t really know why I do; I just do. I pray you will learn to love it as well.

As a Gospel writer, Mark tells the story of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In this way he is very much like Matthew, Luke, and John. Like them, he wants us to know the story of Jesus. But, Mark goes about telling this story in a different way than his counterparts. They build Jesus’ story on a firmly laid foundation of family and genealogical roots (Matthew and Luke) or of theological understanding (John). Mark does none of that. He jumps right in. He doesn’t have time for introductory material because he wants to introduce the story’s hero to us. That’s all he cares about — Jesus: who he is and why he came. So, he starts at the beginning, the actual beginning of Jesus’ public ministry.

The Beginning of the Gospel

Mark opens his Gospel with a familiar sentence — “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” This sentence holds the key to understanding Mark’s purpose and to rightly interpreting the Gospel as Mark records it. This key is found in the word “gospel.”

“Gospel” is not a new word for most of us. We have some type of understanding of its meaning. We would probably say, when asked what “gospel” means, something along the lines of “the good news of Jesus Christ.” We may even define it more in terms of a message, i.e., the Christian gospel. And, we would be right. That’s a satisfactory and workable definition of “gospel.”

Mark, however, takes it deeper and gives it a more personal meaning. When Mark uses “gospel” he connects it to God’s faithful fulfillment of his promises to save his people from their sins and to restore them to a right relationship with himself and each other by miraculously and graciously intervening in their lives in an act of salvation. This act, this faithful fulfillment of God’s promises centers on the life of Jesus, but more than that, it is Jesus himself. Jesus is the gospel. It’s more than a story; it’s more than a message; it’s Jesus!

Reading Mark and Living Life Appropriately

In Romans 6, the Apostle Paul writes that we (Christians) are united to Christ Jesus in his life, death, and resurrection through faith. We are, then, living the gospel. It’s not just the knowledge of a story (though knowledge is important), or the acceptance of a message. It is a life lived in union with Jesus through faith. As you read Mark, think about it in those terms. Read it in a way that understands that Jesus is the gospel, and we are united to him through faith. Life with Jesus is the blessing of the gospel. Live that out today.

Take a walk around your town, around your work place, and look for a divine opportunity to touch someone with the grace and mercy of God. Look for a divine opportunity to speak a gentle word of encouragement or truth to someone. Look for a divine opportunity to pray for someone, and then tell them that you prayed for them.

The NT365 Experiment: Acts 27

We’re back, and I’m glad to be back. I have missed this time over the past week though I greatly enjoyed chapters 21-26 and the narrative they tell.

Chapter 27 begins where chapter 26 left off. Now, you will probably say, “Clint, that’s obvious,” and you’d be right. 27 does follow 26. But, I think there’s more to the connection than chronology. The last verse of Acts 26 tells us that King Agrippa said to Festus, “This man (Paul) could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.” Agrippa recognized that Paul had done nothing wrong and was willing to set him free. Think about how the gospel could have continued to flourish in the Mediterranean world if this had been the case, if he had been freed. It is hard to imagine what a great impact a freed Paul would have had on the spread of the gospel. However, it wasn’t to be.

As I read chapter 27, I asked myself, though, would Paul have been a truly free man and allowed the privilege to continue to work in the advance of the kingdom of God? I think the answer is “no” for two principle reasons.

First, he would have either been killed by the Jews in Jerusalem or forced into hiding in order to preserve his life. Remember that the reason Paul was in Roman custody was because the Jews sought his execution and even made a plan to kill him. And, they had tried to carry out their plan while he was in transport to Jerusalem from Caesarea.

Second, it was God’s will for Paul to stand before Caesar in Rome. Look at verse 27:23-24,

“For this very night there stood before me (Paul) an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart men, for I have been told…”

Paul had a divine appointment with Caesar. It was God’s plan for him to be in Rome and to testify before the head of the Roman Empire. It was God’s desire to use Paul in such a way. He had been called for a task, and he had not been released from that call. Though Agrippa and Festus would have freed him, God would not. He was bound by the will of God, and he was a willing servant.

Wouldn’t it be great if we all had such a willing heart? Paul didn’t know the Lord’s will was for him to appear before Caesar when he made his appeal to Caesar. Paul didn’t know it until the Lord revealed it to him on the boat, but he trusted the Lord in every part of his life, in the good and the bad. He took prudent and Christ-honoring action to preserve his life for the sake of the gospel, and he trusted God. That’s a great “life plan.” Try it in your life — make prudent, biblically informed decisions, take Christ-honoring action, and trust the Lord with everything.

The NT365 Experiment: Acts 21-26

At the conclusion of chapter 21, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem seize Paul and drag him before the Roman Tribune in hopes of executing him. Over the next five chapters Luke tells the story of Paul’s various trials before various the judges of the different government structures in the region.

My plan is to comment on all of these chapters together on Monday, March 17. Until then, I will encourage you to notice four themes as you read chapters 22, 23, and 24. They are:

  1. God Directs Paul’s Life — Notice the number of times Luke tells us that Paul “follows the Lord” or “the Holy Spirit leads”. God is in complete control of Paul’s life. This theme has continually risen to the forefront throughout our time in Acts.
  2. Paul Follows God’s Direction Obediently — Paul does not waver in his commitment and obedience to the will of his Father. Paul knows that he will face great personal danger if he follows God’s call; yet, he goes wherever the Lord leads him.
  3. The Opposition is Great — Jesus said, “Blessed are you when other revile and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11-12). Paul faced much persecution as did the other Apostles and Christ-followers.
  4. Paul Uses “His Testimony” in Defense of His Ministry — Paul is not afraid to share his testimony, the story of how the Lord Jesus transformed his life by grace through faith. And, he does this the right way. He doesn’t focus on his life; rather, he focuses on the life and work of Christ in his life. In other words, God is the hero of Paul’s story, not Paul himself.

May the Lord bless you read these chapters in his Holy and inspired Word. I pray the Holy Spirit will speak clearly to you through you time in His Word of truth.

 

The NT365 Experiment: Acts 19-20

Paul and the Ephesian Christians had a special relationship. For two years they lived together, reasoned together, encouraged one another, and endured much hardship and spiritual warfare for the sake of Christ their Lord.

At the beginning of chapter 19, Luke tells us of the beginning of this special relationship. During his third missionary journey, Paul traveled through Asia and eventually arrived at the region’s capital, Ephesus. There he found some believers whose faith was so much in its infancy that they had not been baptized with Christian baptism (in the name of Jesus Christ). He baptized, discipled, and reasoned with them daily for two years in the hall of Tyrannus.

Spiritual Warfare Raged

Verses 23-41 tell an interesting story of spiritual warfare that the Church apparently experienced more intensely in Ephesus than anywhere else. Demetrius, a silversmith who made idols of Artemis, incited a riot against Paul and the other believers because he was losing business as a result of the spread of the gospel and the conversion of men and women to Christianity. Luke writes, “And a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver” (19:19). The craftsmen stood to lose a lot of revenue if the gospel continued to change people’s hearts.

Their riot caused great confusion among the Ephesians. Men and women didn’t know what was going on. And, though they didn’t know the nature nor the reason for the riot, they joined in anyway crying out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” and dragging Paul’s companions Gaius and Aristarchus into the theater. They were prepared to kill these men until God intervened in his grace when the town clerk stepped up to defend these men and their rights to practice their religion. God brought their deliverance by ordinary means, by an Ephesian clerk who was not a Christian. He often does that kind of thing. He often uses the ordinary to do extraordinary things.

Given this experience, it is easy to see why Paul would later write, “For we do not wrestle (wrastle for us Chester folk) against flesh and blood, but against the rulers…authorities…cosmic powers over this present darkness…spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph. 6:12) to the Ephesian congregation. They knew the reality of this spiritual warfare, the strength of this spiritual enemy. They had experienced it first hand along with Paul. They lived in a war zone. And, so do we.

Though we are not as intimately aware of spiritual warfare as the Ephesians were — though we haven’t experienced a riot because of it, though we often overlook it — it is a very real thing that we encounter every day. Like the Ephesians we must put on the whole armor of God and be prepared to stand against the spiritual forces of the Devil that seek to do us harm. We must be on guard to see and determine the real source of our challenge, hardship, and distraction. We must stand in the Holy Spirit and rely upon Him to bring us victory through whatever means he deems necessary. We must pray earnestly in the Spirit to overcome the wiles of our great adversary.

Paul’s Farewell Encouragement — “Beware of Wolves”

Luke concludes Acts 20 with a story of Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders whom he loved and with whom he’d shared so much of his life. It was tearful and sorrow-filled goodbye. Led by the Holy Spirit, Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem, and he knew that if he went to Jerusalem, that he probably wouldn’t return to Ephesus. He was right. He would never see these beloved folks again. 

Paul’s instruction to the elders was simple “care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock…” (20:29). The church is not safe from outside influence nor from twisted men and women who seek her destruction, nor will she be until Christ Jesus should return. We are to always be on guard for there are always wolves ready to pounce and devour the Lord’s sheep. We must guard ourselves with prayerful vigilance and disciplined study of God’s word. We must guard each other by praying for one another, holding one another accountable before the eyes of God, protecting one another, ministering grace to one another, and defending the truth of God against the lies of the Devil.

The NT365 Experiment: Acts 18

God does amazing and wonderful things! He is a great and awesome God who brings light into darkness, order to chaos, hope in despair, and life into death. This is no more clearly seen than in his work of saving sinners. The Apostle Paul is proof.

When we first met Paul, he was on his way to Damascus to persecute and kill Christians. He was on a mission to destroy the church. To Timothy he admits, “I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent [of God] …I was the foremost of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:13,15). It doesn’t get any worse than that. He was a bad man.

But, by the time we get to Acts 18, he has become the first and greatest missionary, if not the greatest Christian, the world has ever seen. Where he once sought to destroy Christians, he now seeks to convert, disciple, and strengthen them. Where he once sought to tear the Church down, he now seeks to build her. Where he once organized efforts to stop the spread of Christ’s gospel, he now tirelessly organizes, participates in, and leads efforts to spread it around the world. WOW!

God is On a Mission.

From its beginning to its end, the Bible tells us that God is on a mission to save sinners and to build a people who will worship him and bear witness about him and his glory to the world. That’s what Acts is about. And, it’s especially the case in Acts 18 particularly verses 9-10.

While Paul is in Corinth, he receives a vision from God in which God tells him, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” Notice three things.

First, God has people — “there are many in this city who are my people.” The gospel has not penetrated and permeated Corinthian society yet. In fact, this is the first visit Paul makes to the city. It’s safe to assume that Paul’s visit is the first organized effort to spread the gospel in Corinth. But, God still had people in the city though they may not have known it at the time. God has people whom he has chosen from before the world existed and he works to bring them to himself in grace. Paul is the prime example — a murderer of Christians turned builder of the Church. God has people and he is building them in his mighty grace.

Second, God uses people to build his Church (his people) — “go on speaking and do not be silent.” The primary way that God has chosen, in his good pleasure, to bring men and women to himself is other people. He uses people to tell the story of Jesus and his love. He uses people to minister to others. He uses people to spread his fame throughout the world. Paul was one of those as are all others who have said “yes” to following Jesus.

Third, God promised his presence to Paul — “for I am with you.” Paul’s ministry in Corinth did not go as well as he would have hoped at first. He was reviled, opposed, and violently shaken by the Jews, and he was eventually brought before Gallio the proconsul of Achaia. Paul’s ministry throughout Macedonia can be understood in terms of persecution. He faced it wherever he went. However, while we can understand his ministry that way, we cannot define that way. His life and ministry is defined by the presence of God. Jesus promised his disciples that, as they were going into all the world, he would be with them until the end of the age (Matt. 28:18-20). Paul knew that presence.

Paul is On God’s Mission. 

In rereading the story of Acts, I have been amazed by the way in which Paul continues to plod along the rocky path. He goes from Athens to Corinth to Antioch to Ephesus. He encounters one hardship after another, but he is not deterred. He is on a mission for God; he is on God’s mission. In every aspect of his life, he is devoted to reaching his neighbors and those who are far off. That’s the heart of the Christian. The children of the king want what the king wants. Paul had been transformed from a wicked man so that every other man would know that he is not beyond the reach of God’s grace. And, Paul wanted to tell them that.

Is that what I want with my life? Is that what you want? Do we want to be on God’s mission? Are we on God’s mission? Find someone to minister grace to today. Find someone to whom you can tell the story of Jesus and his love. God has promised to be with you as you live on mission for him.

The NT365 Experiment: Acts 17

It is not uncommon for us to talk about motivation with people. We’ll talk about what does or does not motivate us — what motivates our children, what we think motivates our politicians or the leaders of our churches or our schools, etc. This is because motivation is important. It is the reason we do what we do; it’s what provokes us to action; it’s what inspires our souls; it’s the cause to which we dedicate ourselves.

In Acts 17, Luke tells us what Paul’s greatest motivation is. It is his desire for the glory of God in Christ to be known throughout the world and for men, women, and children of every tribe and nation to worship the one true God. Reread verse 16 — “Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols.” Paul was bothered, broken, burdened over the reality that the Athenians worshipped idols and not God.

His Spirit Was Provoked

Athens was great city full of its great cultural and educational establishments; yet, it was devoted wholly to the worship of false gods. Her people did not revere the God of glory from whom they received their lives and in whom they lived and had their being. This exasperated Paul and brought him to the point of tears (sorrow and anger wrapped in one) because his heart was for the people of this great city to worship God and give him glory.

Here is Paul’s motivation, not just in Athens, but in all of his life. His greatest desire was to spread the fame of the Lord Jesus Christ throughout the world. I have heard, on more than one occasion, that Paul’s greatest motivation was his desire to see people come to Christ because he loved them so. I do believe that he was motivated by his love for people; however, I do not believe that that was his primary motivation. I don’t believe that any motivation other than the spread of the fame and glory of God would have enabled him to endure the hardships of his life. To continue to minister to and love someone who doesn’t love you and is seeking to harm you requires something more than a feeling or commitment to love them. It requires a desire for the glory of God to be revealed in that person’s or that society’s life through gospel transformation. And, that was Paul’s motivation.

Motivation and Heart Transformation

This motivation was not natural to Paul. In fact, his natural motivation was the complete opposite. He wanted to destroy the Christian Church and to persecute and kill Christians while doing it. But, he had an encounter with the risen Lord. His life, which was devoted to destruction and was sure to end in eternal death was given new life and transformation of purpose by the mercy and grace of God. In this experience, he saw the glory of God, and therefore, he wanted that glory to spread across the globe through the lives of men and women.

That’s the heart of a true Christian, isn’t it? We desire to see the glory of God expand and encompass the globe because we have personally experienced the grace and glory of God in our lives. In response to him, we want to see him supremely glorified in all things.

The question that this passage leaves me with as I think through it this morning is simple. What is my motivation in life? Am I motivated to see the glory of Christ spread around the globe? Do I want to see people (even my enemies) come to Jesus so that his glory may be seen, proclaimed, and advanced through gospel transformation in their lives? Do I weep when I look at Chester and the cultural around me because of the idolatry of people’s lives that takes away from the worship and glory of God?

The NT365 Experiment: Acts 16

Persecution and hardship are real. Paul faced them in his life as follower of Christ and many others have throughout out the history of the church. As I write, there are many men, women, and children around the globe being persecuted for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ and for their faith in him. It was not just a reality for the early Christians; it is a reality today.

Imprisoned Without Condemnation

Paul and Silas were dragged into the “marketplace before the rulers” (16:19) in Philippi. There they were accused of “advocat[ing] customs that are not lawful for…Romans to accept or practice” (16:21), judged, sentenced, beaten, and imprisoned.

Why did they receive such a harsh sentence? It was because they had previously met a slave girl who had a spirit of divination that was not from God. And, they cast the demon out; even though, she proclaimed the truth about Paul and Silas, for they were “servants of the Most High God, who proclaim[ed] to [the people] the way of salvation” (16:17). She followed them for many days continually proclaiming this truth.

It may at first appear that this girl was doing a good thing for Paul and Silas. She was a young girl of Macedonia who not only knew their identity and purpose, but was willing to join them in their endeavor. But, was that what was really happening? No. She was a “fortune-teller” who was illumined by a demonic spirit, not the Holy Spirit. As such, she was a distraction for the message and work of Paul and Silas. Instead of lending credence to their ministry she brought ridicule. In addition, God had forbidden fortune-telling to his people in the Old Testament. Thus, allowing her to walk around with them and to be a part of the ministry was sinful.

So, Paul commanded the spirit to come out of her in the name of jesus Christ. It did. This made her owners unhappy. They had lost their cash cow, so to speak. They made money off of her “ability,” and now her ability was gone. She could no longer tell fortunes. There was only one thing to do — create a riot and have Paul and Silas arrested, jailed, and exiled from the city.

Rejoicing in Hardship Brings People to Jesus

While in prison, Paul and Silas join together in singing hymns to God as the other prisoners listened in. Suddenly, the Lord brought an earthquake that caused all the doors of the prison cells to be opened and the prisoners shackles loosed. But, all the prisoners remained inside their cells by the grace of God and at the urging of Paul and Silas. The jailer rushed in and found the surprise of his life — all the prisoners still there. He knew something great had happened, and he knew that Paul and Silas were at the center of it.

At once he asked them, “What must I do to be saved?” Their answer was, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (16:30-31). He responded in faith, was baptized along with his household, and became a servant of the Most High God.

Paul and Silas were unjustly condemned and sentenced to prison. They were unfairly treated. They were given undue hardship by the hand of the Macedonians. But in God’s sovereign providence, they were placed in the midst of hardship for his glory, their benefit (though its hard to see at the moment), and the salvation of the Philippian jailer and his family. This a beautiful thing.

The way we endure hardships, the way we walk faithfully in the midst of strife, the way we rejoice when our circumstances are anything but pleasant is often the greatest testimony to the glory of God in Christ that our lives can bear. And, it is staggering to see the number of conversions to faith in Christ that God has wrought in people’s lives through the testimony of believers who rejoice and continue to praise God in the midst of hardship and persecution.

Follow Suit and Pray for the Oppressed and Persecuted

You will face trouble. You will face hardship. You may be enduring in one way or other today. Are you rejoicing in it? Can others see that your faith is set in the sovereign and providential God of all glory? Does your endurance of hardship bear witness to your faith in Christ? Be like Paul and Silas: break out into a hymn sing. Let your faith in the supreme God carry your through. And, take a moment to pray for those who are oppressed, persecuted, and carrying huge burdens today.