And the voice came to him again a second time, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” Acts 10:15
As ugly as it is and as much as we don’t want to believe it, we all have prejudices. Places we pre-judge; pre-convict others. We are prone toward judgment, bias, and justifying our actions while condemning others. Even if we genuinely and sincerely don’t want to.
In Acts 10 we see how gentle God is with us when He is breaking down our prejudices to further His kingdom. I don’t know about you, but this is what I want. I want to chase truth, not just my idea of what truth is. I want God to soften my heart where I am wrong about things that don’t line up with His truth.
The story begins with an essential prerequisite to understanding truth: time with God. Both of the main characters in this account, Cornelius (a Gentile Roman officer) and Peter (a devout Jew and apostle), are in the habit of time in prayer with God. Our chances of hearing and obeying God are significantly improved if we spend time with Him. During a time of prayer, they each hear from God. God is orchestrating a meet-up that will change both of their lives…and ours as well.
In prayer, Cornelius sees a vision, and God instructs him to send people to Joppa to bring Peter to his home to hear what he has to say.
Roughly thirty miles away, Peter is in prayer and falls into a trance. The heavens open and a great sheet descends, being let down by its four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals – clean and unclean according to Jewish law. God’s voice comes to him, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter has come a long way, but Peter is still Peter as he replies, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything common or unclean.” God is patient with Peter. He replies, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” Three times Peter received the same instructions. And while pondering the vision, the Spirit tells him three men sent by God have come, and Peter is to accompany them without hesitation.
Questions: Because of preconceived ideas or bias, do you think you ever miss people or assignments from God? How can you change this?
And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Acts 9:5
Saul is knee-deep and fully committed to ridding the world of “the Way” – the growing movement claiming Jesus alone as the Way to Salvation, the only Truth, and the source of Life.
Saul wasn’t looking for Jesus. Quite the opposite…he was looking to eliminate Jesus from the Jewish narrative. But Jesus was looking for Saul.
Mid-stride in Saul’s latest plot to destroy the Christian movement he is literally blinded by a light from heaven. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” the voice says. “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asks. “I am Jesus, who you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
Those traveling with Saul see nothing, but they all hear the voice. They guide their newly blind friend the rest of the way to Damascus. Three days of blindness and fasting before Saul (also called Paul) regains his sight, is filled with the Holy Spirit, gets baptized, and eats. His zeal is about to take a 180-degree turn… from an enemy of Jesus to one of His greatest advocates and messengers. From this point on, Paul’s entire life will be about knowing Jesus more intimately and making Him known. It will become his life’s mission. His knowledge of Jewish history, law, and prophecies, his zealous personality, his laser-focused determination will now be used for Jesus rather than against him. It won’t be easy – God even said He would show Saul how much he will suffer for His name – but Saul (Paul) won’t be deterred. He will travel and teach and plant churches and endure and comfort and correct and encourage and love, and he will write…oh, he will write; he will write the majority of the New Testament letters.
Challenge: Intentionally pray for a Paul in your life. That family member or friend or loved one that feels too far off to be saved; who is not only agnostic toward Jesus, but antagonistic; who is stubborn and hard-hearted. Take comfort in this truth displayed most beautifully in the life of Saul (Paul): There is NO ONE too far gone for God’s hands to reach and God’s plans to pursue.
And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria. Acts 8:1
That day. The day that Stephen was stoned to death. The day that changed everything. The day they were sure they would look back on as one of the worst days of their lives; of the Christian movement. Stephen’s stoning opened the floodgates of brutal persecution against Christians. No longer the close-knit community huddled together over laughter, love, hope, security in knowing their brothers had their back, and of course good bread. They were scattered, separated, scared.
But yet, they shared the Gospel. They weren’t trained pastors or missionaries. They were regular people in love with Jesus. And where each one landed – Samaria, Gaza, Azotus, Caesarea, and everywhere in between; quiet desert roads and bustling towns – they shared the Good News. They created new community.
Rewind to Jesus’s command in Acts 1:8, “…you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” The Christian church was commanded to teach where they were (check!), but also to go (uh oh). They were comfortable in the staying, but reluctant in the going. Their ministry remained isolated in Jerusalem. Often when things are feeling easy, successful, comfortable, safe, we can get content in the staying even when we are called to go. David Guzik says, “Sometimes we have to be shaken out of our comfortable state before we do what God wants us to do.”
The persecution – though horrific – became a catalyst for going. Saul and his fellow persecutors’ attempt to nip this Jesus movement in the bud only served as a tidal wave of the Good News spreading even more quickly to even more places. God has a way of making the beautiful out of our “that day”; the worst days of our lives. His blueprint looks vastly different than ours.
Challenge: If you are in the midst of a “that day,” draw near to God. Open your Bible and start reading. Get on your knees and pray. Talk to God. He is in the business of making beauty out of ashes.
And as they were stoning Stephen, he called out, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Acts 7:59
Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, responds to the religious leaders’ charges against him with an overview of the Old Testament. Rather than defending himself against their attacks, he is boldly proclaiming truth. Essentially, he is showing how they are no different than their ancestors who continually rejected God. The religious elite don’t take this well. They endured this from Jesus while He was alive and they aren’t about to take it from His followers after His death. They are burning with rage.
Unafraid and undeterred, Stephen continues, “Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”
Jesus is there and He is standing. We often hear of Jesus seated at the right hand of God, but as Jesus watches this earthly encounter, He STANDS.
Standing in unity with Stephen. A standing ovation as the first of many Christian martyrs prepares to leave the pain, persecution, suffering, sin-filled earth; as Stephen is about to fall asleep in this life to awaken in a much better place face to face with Jesus standing to welcome him home.
The enraged Jewish leaders cast him out to be stoned. In Stephen’s death, he has the same attitude of the One he unashamedly follows to the bitter end; the One standing at the right hand of God...no doubt along with the Holy Spirit providing Stephen with peace, encouragement, and courage. Enduring the pounding of stones, he falls to his knees and cries out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Who can do this? Only one who KNOWS and sees Jesus.
Meanwhile, off to the side, a young zealous Jewish man named Saul is supervising the operations. Little does Saul know how powerful Stephen’s last words – his prayer to not hold this sin against them – will be answered in Saul’s life.
Questions: How is Stephen’s life and death an inspiration to you? What do you think about Jesus standing as Stephen looks on before his death?
…they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit. Acts 6:5
Do you ever look at others and feel less-than? Do you perceive others are more valued, useful, and gifted? Do you feel like you get stuck with all the “less impressive” assignments? Do you feel like you are always in the shadows, while others are brightly shining in the spotlight? I think many people struggle with this (even if we hate to admit it)! And when this is our mindset, we are quick to bristle at things like submission and the apostles saying things like, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” (Acts 6:2).
But let’s call it what it is…pride. It is a posture of self-pity and a desire for self-glorification. Contrast that with Stephen, one of the seven chosen to serve the widows. He is a picture of a beautiful, faithful, spirit-filled, unafraid and undeterred servant of God. He had the opposite reaction to being a part of this community. He wasn’t in the spotlight. He wasn’t in a leadership position. He was a regular guy; a Greek convert to Christianity. But God was his focus and prize. He joyfully stepped into his new role of service. And wow, was God ever beside him in it.
Instead of taking offense at a serving role, feeling it is below him or not an elevated enough status for his impeccable reputation and spiritual stature, Stephen thrives with his eyes fixed upward. He is filled with grace and power. He does great wonders and signs among the people. And this… “gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw that his face was like the face of an angel.” Oh, to be like Stephen.
When we step into our calling and ordained assignment instead of coveting someone else’s, the beautiful and holy happen. Our lives are in sync with what we were created to do. It is like a puzzle piece nestled in its created place. There is joy in living in our unique purpose each season. God, let us never look down at any assignment from You. Let us humbly and boldly step into them and allow the Holy Spirit to guide us. May we desire expansion of Your kingdom over expansion or our status.
Question: Do you generally embrace your assignments or covet the assignment someone else has been given?
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. Acts 6:1
The church is growing like crazy. So fast it can’t keep up with the needs of all the people. Add to it a mix of cultures, backgrounds, languages, and baggage among believers. The Hellenists (Greek converts) believed their widows were being neglected and not treated as equitably as the Hebrew (Jewish) widows. They are feeling divided on racial and cultural lines.
Satan is pulling out all the weapons to stop this new movement he knows will be the end of him. Externally, he is stirring up opposition, intimidation, and outright persecution. But he is working on the inside too, planting seeds of dissent and corruption, and working to pit internal groups against one another. Same old tried and true tactics he uses today.
The twelve apostles – the witnesses and primary teachers – can’t do it all. They are spread too thin, and balls are being dropped. The devil would love nothing more than to distract them from their primary calling to share and teach what they have SEEN and been imparted with. It might be tempting to think it would be noble of them to humble themselves to serve the Hellenistic widows, but that is not their calling in this season.
A plan is devised to select seven men to serve in this new role. It isn’t an afterthought, and it isn’t a lesser part. It is so valued and vital to the health of the church at this critical juncture. The requirements for service: good reputation, integrity, honesty, full of the Spirit, and wisdom. Yes, it essential that the Gospel is taught well by the apostles, but this work of serving, loving, caring, providing for the church is beautiful and holy to God.
In everyone doing their part, the Word spreads, and the church grows exponentially. No one can do everything, but everyone can do something.
Questions: When things are really happening and on fire for God, how have you seen Satan at work to stir things up? Does it cause more tension or turn into an opportunity to strengthen the work at hand?
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. Acts 4:13
Our inclination is to look for the quick fix to push us over the hump to meet our goals or do something bigger than ourselves. We search YouTube, infomercials, experts, friend’s advice, pills, podcasts, more training, self-help books…anything.
But the truth is, if we want to do something big in God’s kingdom, the formula is different. The secret sauce is in Acts 4:13… ”they had been with Jesus.”
The religious leaders are wracking their brains trying to figure out how these lowly fishermen and other nobodies – uneducated and unqualified – can be so empowered to heal people, give killer sermons and even call the Jewish elite out so boldly. They are unafraid. They are different. In the face of continued persecution, thousands believe the message they are preaching. “What is it?” they ask themselves. The only common denominator they can come up with: THEY HAD BEEN WITH JESUS.
Why do we search elsewhere in our everyday lives today when the truth is in our DNA? And it shouldn’t come as a surprise to us. Jesus taught the same…seek first the kingdom, abide in Him, set our mind on things above… He even modeled it in how He always got away for quiet time with God the Father.
Perhaps we simply over-complicate things with so many voices pulling us in the world’s direction. What is impossible for man alone is quite possible with the Holy Spirit. But we have to be with Jesus to receive it.
If we want to be bold and do the impossible in the kingdom of God, we need to be with Jesus. Abiding in Him, filling ourselves with God’s Word, searching the Scriptures, asking for wisdom, being still and listening. Spurgeon says, “Live in such a way that men may recognize that you have been with Jesus.”
Challenge: Make intentional time to BE WITH JESUS this week.
And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple that is called the Beautiful Gate to ask alms of those entering the temple. Acts 3:2
Fresh off a Spirit-filled sermon, thousands of new Jesus followers, and passionate fellowship with believers, John and Peter walk the familiar steps to the temple at the hour of prayer.
Crowds gather, including the usual beggars. Friends carry a grown man, lame from birth, to the Beautiful Gate outside the temple. But he isn’t feeling very beautiful. Day after day others hoist him up and then lay him down at the gate. Day after day he begs for spare coins to make it to the next day. This is his lot, and he’s learned to make do. He has long since lost hope of anything more. On the outside he lays, and on the outside, he stays. Money for survival is what he needs, and this is the best place to get it.
Countless times Peter and John likely saw this man outside the temple. Perhaps they have even given him a coin or two. But today is different. The Holy Spirit speaks something in their soul about this man. Peter and John both feel it and direct their gaze on him. I imagine faith and power burning inside them ready to explode. Is that what it feels like?
“Look at us,” Peter says to the man. Don’t just see us; LOOK AT US; fix your eyes here.
The man looks up at Peter hopeful, expectant.
“I have no silver and gold…” Peter says. The man likely looks down, his countenance changed. The thing he expected, hoped for, needed isn’t going to come from this crew.
“…but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” Peter commands as he reaches out and takes the man by the right hand, raising him up to walk for the first time.
Questions: Are we asking for the right things? Are we seeking a meager handout or healing?
And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. Acts 2:42-47
A beautiful picture of Christian community is emerging in the early church. A people freshly filled with the Holy Spirit. A people on fire and on mission. A people deeply devoted to a kingdom bigger than themselves. They haven’t lost their first love or become lukewarm. It is the simplicity of fellowship and devotion to the Lord. So, what does it look like?
Devoting themselves to the Word. Devouring it together. Sitting under anointed teachers.
Fellowship with believers. Eating together. Praying together.
Witnessing wonders and signs outpouring from faith and obedience.
Taking care of one another. Sharing each other’s burdens.
Attending church together. Worshiping together.
Abundant gratitude and generosity.
And people on the outside notice. They want it.
Day by day new believers are added to the family.
God, let it be so in our lives.
Questions: How is your faith community similar to the early church? How does it differ? Are you in this type of Christian community?
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. Acts 2:4
Francis Chan says, “If it’s true that the Spirit of God dwells in us and that our bodies are the Holy Spirit’s temple, then shouldn’t there be a huge difference between the person who has the Spirit of God living inside of him or her and the person who does not?”
Do you ever think about this? I think about it a lot! I think about the power of the Holy Spirit we see in Acts, and I’m convicted that we have this incredible power available to us – in us – and we are missing it somehow. We are suppressing it for I don’t know why…fear, comfort, familiar, pride, desires, cultural assimilation? I fear every time we try to do something in our own power and of our own will, we push further down this greater power inside us.
I often feel like I am one of the followers still stuck in the room before the Holy Spirit came. I know Jesus, I believe Jesus, I love Jesus, I declare Jesus my Lord and Savior…but I am still scared behind closed doors not receiving or activating the power that has been given to me. I am hesitant, still trying to maintain some false sense of control. And I am missing out.
God, break away any pride, fear, settling, striving, manipulating, coveting that is keeping me from tapping into the power You have already given me through my belief in the work of Jesus. Help me not to be so afraid of the mighty wind and tongues of fire, content with what the world says is “comfortable” and “safe.” I want all of You I can get – Father, Son, AND Holy Spirit. I don’t want to miss any of it. I want my life to look like something I could never do. Only You. As missionary David Brainerd said, “Lord, let me make a difference for you that is utterly disproportionate to who I am.”
Questions: Do you relate more to the people when they were huddled behind closed doors still a bit afraid, or with the spirit-filled transformed people boldly proclaiming the Gospel? If you still feel like you are stuck in that room, write a prayer to God in your journal about it.
When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. Acts 2:1
The men and women huddled in the upper room waiting for this power promised them KNEW the Son of God. They walked with Him, learned from Him, watched Him. They loved Him. They believed in Him. They trusted Him as their Lord and Savior. They followed Him, even when it wasn’t easy. They SAW and SPOKE to the resurrected Jesus. He breathed on them; commissioned them.
But here they sit. Gathered together behind closed doors…waiting…
…until…one day, while sitting behind those closed doors, a sound came out of nowhere. Loud, different from anything they had ever heard. The closest way to describe it is a MIGHTY RUSHING WIND. Strong, powerful. And it FILLED the entire house. Sound filling space. Out of the corner of their eyes, they see divided tongues as of fire appearing, then resting on EACH. ONE. OF. THEM. Words came out of their mouth they had never heard before. Suddenly a crowd starts to form outside the dwelling. People from EVERY nation under heaven gathering because they too heard the sound. Voices, so many voices…but yet so clear; understandable in each native language. It wasn’t just noise; it was beautiful. Impulsive, foot-in-his-mouth, often misguided Peter stands and lifts his voice. The first of many BOLD and BRAVE sermons under a new covenant. Thousands believe. And more and more each day.
THIS is the power of the Holy Spirit. THIS is the power we have in us.
Insignificant to Influential.
Fisherman to Fisher of Men.
Denier to Defender.
Spontaneous to Spirit-Led.
Terrified to Trailblazer.
Mess to Mighty Warrior.
Challenge: Write your _____ to ______ phrases of how you have seen, or would like to see, the power of the Holy Spirit work in your life.
Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olivet, which is near Jerusalem, a Sabbath day’s journey away. Acts 1:12
After forty days of appearing to over 500 people and speaking of the kingdom of God, Jesus leaves His followers in the capable hands of the power that will soon come upon them.
The disciples make the short journey to Jerusalem as Jesus instructed. The plan? To wait. Power is coming. Power is promised. Power is needed for the charge at hand. Jerusalem is where the most devout Jews are…the ones who ordered Jesus crucified…the place Jesus encountered the most hostility. And this is where they are told to go and tell what they have seen and heard and learned. They go to the upper room, and they wait. This assignment can only happen with the help of something supernaturally more powerful than themselves.
Christian theologian James Boice says, “Humanly speaking, [Christianity] had nothing going for it. It had no money, no proven leaders, no technological tools for propagating the gospel. And it faced enormous obstacles. It was utterly new. It taught truths that were incredible to the unregenerate world. It was the subject to the most intense hatreds and persecutions.”
It doesn’t look promising at this point. Jesus is gone and 120 or so frightened, uneducated, unsure-what-to-do followers wait in an upper room. God’s story is so unlikely it can only be His.
We are the next generations of the 120 in that upper room. If we believe Jesus to be our Lord and Savior, we are witnesses. We have a story to tell…of what we have seen, and learned, and experienced with Him. We have spheres of influence and reach both near and far away…some friendly, some hostile. But like me, you may feel like the crew in the upper room. A bit paralyzed and scared and unqualified and overwhelmed by it all; not sure where to start. Keep reading, friends, this story is for you and me!
Questions: What do you think is going through the mind of the followers as they wait? What do you think they think they are waiting for?
And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. Matthew 28:20b
Here we are, at the end of the Gospels…the accounts of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus – the Christ, Messiah, Lord of all, King of Kings. What a ride so far.
Before Jesus ascended back to heaven, He leaves His followers with final marching orders…
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me,” He begins. Jesus has all power and all authority.
Continuing, He says, “Go therefore…” Action is required. We may be scared. We may be filled with joy. We may be both at the same time. One thing we must do is GO.
“…and make disciples of all the nations…” Disciples: scholars, teachers, students. Not just converts; disciples. And not just Jews…ALL nations. This good news is for everyone.
“…baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Not circumcising and converting to Jewish law observation, but baptizing. In the name (singular) of the Father, Son, Holy Spirit. One God in three persons.
“…teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” Don’t just baptize them, teach them about Me. Help them to know Me as you know me.
He concluded, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” I will never leave you. I will always be with you.
The great commission to the first hearers of the words and to us comes with: power and authority, instructions, and a promise from Jesus to be with us always.
Challenge: Believe the Gospel, and then GO and BE the Gospel.
And he [Jesus] led them out as far as Bethany, and lifting up his hands he blessed them. While he blessed them, he parted from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and were continually in the temple blessing God. Luke 24:50-53
“You are witnesses of these things,” Jesus tells those in the room He appeared before.
“And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high,” He continues.
He tells them to come and follow Him as He leads them to the outskirts of Jerusalem, as far as Bethany.
The hands that three days earlier were raised, secured by nails to a cross, are now raised high in praise. The raised hands of suffering now raised hands of blessing and victory. There was a price paid for this blessing. The most expensive free gift we will receive.
With their own eyes, they see Him carried up to heaven. And it is transformational...
No longer hiding in fear and self-pity they worship and return to Jerusalem with great joy. They continually go to the temple – the headquarters of the persecutors of Jesus – and praising God.
God, open our hearts and minds. We don’t want to believe in our heads while doubting in our hearts. We want to SEE You; to KNOW You. Move us from what we have heard and read about You to a CONVICTION and ASSURANCE that make us bold and brave to worship You and make You known.
Challenge: Spend time in prayer today asking God to help your belief; to make you bold; to open your eyes to see HIM; to recognize His power and great love.
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” John 21:20-21
For each of the three times Peter denied Jesus, Jesus offers Peter an assignment to feed and tend to His sheep. A beautiful calling to continue the Kingdom work. Jesus also tells Peter what his life will look like living for Him and what kind of death he will experience. With such a heavy calling, Jesus wants him to know what he is getting into. A life lived for the gospel isn’t always an easy one, but it is the most valuable, fulfilling and rewarding.
Fresh off this encounter of forgiveness, restoration, and anointing, Peter turns to John and asks Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?”
Jesus simply replies, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!”
Even in the midst of a wonderful calling, why are we tempted to look to the right or left and compare the calling and circumstances of others? Instead of gratitude and diligence in our charge, why do we look at anyone else and wonder, “Why aren’t they suffering?”, “Why don’t I have what they have?”, “Why do they get to do that?”, “What about me?”
The truth is…it isn’t about us. We get to play a part in God’s incredible story, but it is all for His glory. We are all created in His image and likeness. We are all fearfully and wonderfully made. We are all created for good works. We are all made on purpose for purpose. Our race is our own, ordained and anointed by God. And it is good.
But of others, “what is that to you, [insert your name]?” Our charge: “You, [insert your name], follow me!”
Questions: Do you sometimes fall into the trap of comparing your calling or circumstances with others? What do you think the implications of this type of thinking and living are? How does it impede living your best life?
Simon Peter said to them, “I’m going fishing.” John 21:3a
Peter, still confused, afraid, and wondering what will come next, reverts to the familiar…”I’m going fishing,” he says. After hours of no fish, a voice from ashore instructs them to cast their nets on the right side. Suddenly John recognizes Him. “It is the Lord!”
Jesus makes breakfast with bread and the newly caught fish. It is beautiful and familiar and just feels right. But I imagine deep in the pit of Peter’s stomach he is wondering if the elephant in the room is going to be addressed. I wonder if he is living in the tension of joy that Jesus is here and shame for abandoning Him. I wonder if the pretending nothing happened is killing him. He doesn’t have to wait long.
After breakfast, Jesus turns to Peter, “Do you love me more than these?” Peter replies, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus continues, “Feed my lambs.” Three times Jesus asks Peter this same question.
Three times Peter denies Jesus… and three times Jesus offers Peter the chance to express his love. Three times Jesus gives Peter a mission. God is so gracious in His love, forgiveness, and constant pursuit of us.
Our ability to serve Him isn’t based on our successes, but on His. God doesn’t call the equipped; He equips the called. The same invitation to “Follow Me” that was given three years earlier remains, though this time through a new lens of what the good news and following Jesus looks like.
Like Peter, Jesus invites us to answer the question, “Do you love me?” followed by an invitation to FOLLOW HIM. Not because we are uber qualified, always do the right things, keep all our promises, or anything else rooted in who we are. It is all because of who He is. He is perfect FOR US and He invites us to be part of His mission on earth. He invites us to help continue to share the good news with those around us. To love and care for His sheep.
Questions: Why do you think Jesus repeated His question to Peter three times? Are you ready to say “yes” to Jesus and follow Him?
When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight. Luke 24:30-31
Settled in to eat, their guest – the stranger that met them on the road – breaks bread. I wonder if their eyes grow wide as they see His nail-scarred hands in full view. He says a familiar blessing. Their eyes are opened! In the simple breaking of bread and thanksgiving.
They see! It is Jesus.
And He vanishes…
Their hearts are likely pounding out of their chest as they check under every surface and behind every door. Where has He gone? I imagine them talking over each other sharing how their hearts burned as He spoke Scriptures to them. Jinx.
Onward to tell the others. This good news must be shared!
While still breathlessly talking one hundred miles an hour with the other followers they ultimately reunite with, Jesus Himself appears among them.
“Peace to you!” Jesus says. The room could use a little peace to break through the fear, anxiety, anger, and uncertainty heavily looming over the room. They are startled and frightened; troubled and full of doubt.
He wants them to be certain of His presence. To examine His body. His hands and feet. He eats with them. He reminds them of the promises and prophesies in Scripture fulfilled in Him. Nothing they haven’t heard before, but suddenly rich with life and light. They remember. They believe.
Questions: What are your thoughts on how Jesus is appearing to His followers? What about His actions and words?
“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” Luke 24:27
The two men walking with Jesus (though they don’t yet recognize Him) on the road to Emmaus, respond to Jesus’s questions…
Here is what they know: this person was named Jesus, He was a prophet, He was mighty in deed and word, He promised to redeem Israel, He was delivered by the chief priests, He was brutally crucified, and He has been gone going on three days now.
Here is what they heard: some women among their group of followers said the tomb was empty and an angel said Jesus was alive.
Here is what they hope: Jesus is who He promised, and He is alive as the angel has said.
It is a doubtful hope. They are sad and disappointed. Jesus diagnoses their core problem: they believed in their heads, but not in their hearts.
As they are walking, Jesus – still not recognized by them – teaches, interpreting all the scriptures and how they point to Him.
The men reach their destination, but Jesus starts to continue further. The men insist He stay and eat with them. They don’t know who He is, but there is something about Him they can’t quite put their finger on. They are drawn to Him. They want to remain in His presence; they want Him to stay.
Jesus never pushes Himself on anyone but is always willing to come when invited. Jesus accepts their invitation to stay.
To be continued…
Question: How can we keep Jesus close, even in times when we aren’t seeing clearly and don’t have all the answers?
That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. Luke 24:13-16
One thing that constantly shocks me is the overwhelming number of times in these Biblical accounts that people are with Jesus, but don’t see Jesus; hear Jesus, but don’t understand Jesus; spend time with Jesus, but don’t know Jesus.
Two of Jesus’s followers are walking along the road. Sad, confused, lost. They are talking together – mourning, processing, rehashing. All. The. Things.
A man joins them. It is Jesus, but they don’t recognize Him. It’s the person they previously followed and are now in deep discussion about. Why don’t they see Him? Why don’t they know Him? We are told their eyes are kept from recognizing Him. How does this happen?
Jesus asks about their conversation, noting their sad countenance. He must have fought hard the urge to laugh as they asked Him if He was the only one in Jerusalem who did not know what had happened these last few days.
Oh, He knew.
Jesus probes further…pulling their hearts and thoughts into words. He knows what we are feeling and thinking. He wants us to speak it to Him.
To be continued…
Questions: How often do you think we should be seeing or hearing Jesus, but we miss Him? Why do you think we often miss Him? What can we do to ensure we see and hear Him?
On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” John 20:19
“Peace be with you.” - In Jesus, we can have peace. When our hope, faith, trust is in Him, peace will prevail.
“…He showed them His hands and His side…” – Yes, we have faith. But along the way, we are given many proof points to bolster our faith. Many hints, foreshadowing and fulfilled prophecies. We have faith, and we can know. John ends this chapter saying these things/signs he has written, “…so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
“As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” – We aren’t living an aimless, waiting-for-heaven existence. We have a purpose. To go and tell what we have seen and experienced. To show what it looks like to be forgiven, and to offer that forgiveness to others in the name and work of Jesus.
“Receive the Holy Spirit…” – Approximately seven weeks later Jesus will have ascended, and the Holy Spirit will come in a mighty way. And this same power is available to us when we believe.
God spoke through messengers and prophets in the Old Testament. The Gospels tell of the life and work of God in the flesh, His resurrection, and ascension back to His rightful throne. The story continues with the arrival of the Holy Spirit coming into each of us; God with us. In God’s great story, the baton is being passed, and it is currently in our hands. We have His peace, proof, power, and purpose. We have a commission to go and continue the work; to continue the story fueled by God in us. The face cloth is folded neatly in the tomb. The story is planned from the beginning and won’t be rushed. Step into it. Run the race set out for you to continue the story. There is still work to do, and we have been created for this purpose; for His glory. It is finished, but we are not as long as we have breath. For one day Jesus WILL return.
Question: Do you see yourself as part of God’s ongoing story?
So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” John 20:2
Likely full of mixed emotions, Mary goes to get the others.
John and Peter go with her to the tomb. It is empty, as Mary said. They frantically look around assessing the situation. The linen grave clothes are tossed to the side, but the cloth that was on Jesus’ head is folded neatly in a place by itself. John made sure to preserve this for us to read thousands of years later. The God of order, the Prince of Peace, did not leave in a hurry. He took His time; he folded His face cloth.
Not sure what to make of it, the disciples retreat yet again into hiding, while Mary makes her way back to the tomb. In a conversation with who she thinks is the local gardener, she hears, “Mary.” Her heart skips a beat. She can hardly breathe. Immediately she knows with whom she is speaking. “Go, tell the others…,” Jesus proclaims.
Doors locked, huddled in fear, uncertainty, and a sprinkle of hope, the disciples gather and wait. Minutes feel like hours as time drips drips drips by. Day melts into evening.
Suddenly Jesus appears standing among them. “Peace be with you,” He says. His words proclaim the opposite of what they had been feeling. Still processing how in the world He got in through the locked doors, He shows them His hands and sides. Don’t be mistaken; this is no ghost or vision. This is the real thing. Again, “Peace be with you.” But this time He adds, “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” Then He breathed on them. I imagine the intimacy of His presence and gift to them. Did he one by one gently grab them by the shoulders, lock eyes with them, and exhale?
There is no door, no barrier, no emotion Jesus can’t break through to get to us. Nothing is beyond His reach, even when we are too scared to seek Him at the moment. He comes with peace, proof, purpose, and power.
Question: Do you believe Jesus can meet you wherever you are?
And he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him.” Mark 16:6
The stone was rolled away not to let Jesus out, but to let us in. God is so good to let these women, who stuck with Jesus till the bitter end, SEE that the tomb was empty. And not only that, but the angel says they will get to SEE HIM.
The women GO to the tomb. They didn’t have a plan; they didn’t have all the details figured out yet, but they went.
They are told NOT to BE AFRAID. This is shocking and unknown territory. God knows it elicits fear of what is to come, and He says, “do not be alarmed.”
The angel sent by God invites them to COME and SEE the place where He had been laid. To come and see for themselves that He was, but is no longer, there.
They are instructed to GO and TELL the disciples. They can’t linger long in the empty tomb or keep this incredible news to themselves. They must go and tell others.
And in the going, they are told they will SEE HIM, just as He promised.
It was a new beginning for the three women. It was a new beginning for the disciples. It was a new beginning for the kingdom of God. It IS a new beginning for us.
We need to GO; to take action to seek Him, despite our doubts. We need to COME and SEE; to examine truth for ourselves. We need to GO and TELL others what we’ve discovered. And most of all, we need to MEET HIM; to personally experience Him.
When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalen, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. Mark 16:1-2
“Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb?” the three women talk among themselves as they gather up all of the spices to give Jesus the preparation for burial He didn’t properly get. They never expected to find the tomb empty. It was the end of a good run with a good man, but it was over. Their beloved Jesus was gone. They would never see Him again.
To their surprise, when they approached the tomb, the stone had been rolled back. I wonder what the women were feeling as they made their way into the tomb...Were they cautiously entering full of fear? Were they excitedly rushing in? Were they full of hope that maybe He had risen as He said? Were they angry thinking someone had taken Him?
The tomb isn’t empty, but Jesus isn’t there either. Instead, a young man in a white robe was sitting in the tomb.
“Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”
Steven Furtick says, “The tomb may have looked empty…but it was full of hope, potential, possibility and new beginnings.”
The empty tomb isn’t the end of a story, but instead a new beginning.
Jesus WAS crucified, but He IS risen.
Questions: Jesus had told His followers many times about His death AND resurrection. Why do you think they were surprised to see the empty tomb? Why were they scared? What do you think they thought happened?
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John 19:30
Tetelestai….Greek for It. Is. Finished. The last words spoken by Jesus.
I am not finished, but IT IS FINISHED.
Sin debt paid in full. Tetelestai.
Debt wiped away completely and forever. Tetelestai.
Lost sought and saved. Tetelestai.
Atonement for sins of all who believed and will believe. Tetelestai.
Reconciliation of man with God. Tetelestai.
Old Testament prophecies and foreshadowing. Tetelestai.
Seed who would crush the serpent’s head. Tetelestai.
Power over sin and Satan. Tetelestai.
All that I set out to do in human flesh. Tetelestai.
Not abolishment, but full and complete fulfillment of the law. Tetelestai.
All works given to me by the Father. Tetelestai.
Bearing witness to Truth. Tetelestai.
Lighting the way, making the path known, becoming the path. Tetelestai.
Nothing more to add; nothing more to do. Tetelestai.
The final word in the redemption of humankind. Tetelestai.
Question: What does the finished work of Jesus mean to you?
When the centurion and those who were with him, keeping watch over Jesus, saw the earthquake and what took place, they were filled with awe and said, “Truly this was the Son of God!” Matthew 27:54
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus cries out from the cross. He is quoting Psalm 22, something that would be extremely familiar to the Jewish onlookers.
A holy God must turn His face from all the sin. This moment is what Jesus dreaded in the Garden…not so much a painful death, but a momentary separation from His Father as He assumes the full wrath of God for our sins. He takes it all.
Once again Jesus cries out with a loud voice and yields up His spirit. No one could take it from Him. He willingly, purposefully, and obediently gives it up. Jesus takes the punishment for our sins, securing them forever between the splintered wood and His bloody hands. But it doesn’t end there…He also gives us His righteousness. A holy, spiritual transaction.
Simultaneously the following occurs:
As hard as it is to read or comprehend, may we never lose the significance or awe of the details surrounding the death of Jesus. The fulfillment and culmination of God’s sovereign plan from the beginning of time.
Truly this IS the Son of God. My Savior and Lord!
Challenge: Read Psalm 22 that Jesus quotes from the cross.