By the Grace of God – 2-24-22

When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” Acts 11:18 NKJV

Today’s reading is short but FULL of GRACE! And we all know how much I LOVE GRACE! Grace that takes a sinner such as me and transforms me into someone who hungers to be who God created me to be! I met the Lord as a child and believed. But I had never experienced grace. As an adult grace touched me and I was instantly changed. I looked the same. But something indescribable happened and other knew instantly I was different. Many no longer wanted to be near me after that. It wasn’t me, it was God’s presence in me that they were running away from. I knew what it was like to run from God, so I was kind and gentle with them. I pray for them to come to the point where they are open to understanding that God is real and He wants a personal relationship with us.  And I pray that at that point in their lives – they are touched and transformed by grace!
I also am praying for grace for the people in the Ukraine. I pray for Russia to follow God instead. I pray for my country (the USA) and that we would get on the correct side of this and NOT continue to align ourselves with evil. Because, Dear Lord, we need more time to bring in the harvest!

RELATIONSHIP:

Do you already have a relationship with a powerful God who cares about your every need because He loves you? Did you know my God can communicate with you and protect you – He has a plan for you to prosper if you just submit to His will and let His plan play out in your life!!! God wants a relationship with you and has already made a plan for your life. He loves you so much He sent His son to this world, to die as a sacrifice for your sins and rise from death with victory over sin and the ability to have a personal relationship with you.
“If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.” Romans 10:9-10 NIV
Here is a prayer for you to pray:
Jesus, I believe you are the way, the truth, the life, and the only way to the Father. I believe you are the son of God, you came to Earth and lived. That you died on the cross as a sacrifice for my sins, and rose again so that I may be saved from my sins and be able to get to know you. I declare: Jesus, you are Lord!
Therefore, I confess that I am a sinner and I ask that you forgive me of my sins and come into my life. Help me to turn away from my sins and transform me into what you have lovingly created me to be. Help me through a real personal relationship grow and accept your will for my life – that I may live in your blessings. Please walk with me, and talk with me – I accept a relationship with you and with our Father God, through you. In the name of Jesus I pray ~ Amen

BIBLE READING:

Dear Heavenly Father – Please give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of who you are, who Jesus is, and who the Holy Spirit is. Open the eyes of our understanding, please, so we may know the hope of our calling and the vast sovereignty and power of the grace of the cross. Please do not let us miss out on what you want and need from us today. Lord, I pray that your word prepares us and not scares us! We forbid the works and influences of fear over your word and our sound mind. And please keep us and bless us and shine your face upon us and pour out grace over us and give us peace! Thank you! – In Jesus name we pray, Amen

Today’s reading is the Book of Acts chapter 11 (embedded below for your convenience in the NKJV).

Peter Defends God’s Grace

11 Now the apostles and brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles had also received the word of God. And when Peter came up to Jerusalem, those of the circumcision contended with him, saying, “You went in to uncircumcised men and ate with them!”

But Peter explained it to them in order from the beginning, saying: “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, an object descending like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came to me. When I observed it intently and considered, I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, creeping things, and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘Not so, Lord! For nothing common or unclean has at any time entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered me again from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ 10 Now this was done three times, and all were drawn up again into heaven. 11 At that very moment, three men stood before the house where I was, having been sent to me from Caesarea. 12 Then the Spirit told me to go with them, doubting nothing. Moreover these six brethren accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen an angel standing in his house, who said to him, ‘Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, 14 who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.’ 15 And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. 16 Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, ‘John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If therefore God gave them the same gift as He gave us when we believed on the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?”

18 When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.”

Barnabas and Saul at Antioch

19 Now those who were scattered after the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch, preaching the word to no one but the Jews only. 20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.

22 Then news of these things came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent out Barnabas to go as far as Antioch. 23 When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. 24 For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord.

25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to seek Saul. 26 And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So it was that for a whole year they assembled with the church and taught a great many people. And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.

Relief to Judea

27 And in these days prophets came from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 Then one of them, named Agabus, stood up and showed by the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine throughout all the world, which also happened in the days of Claudius Caesar. 29 Then the disciples, each according to his ability, determined to send relief to the brethren dwelling in Judea. 30 This they also did, and sent it to the elders by the hands of Barnabas and Saul.

MEMORY VERSE CHALLENGE:

Matthew 5:16- “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

STUDY/DEVOTIONAL:

Did the Gentiles first believe under the teaching of Peter which we read yesterday – or is it possible it happened earlier to the Hellenists in Antioch? Most of us think about Cornelius, and his family, as the first believing Gentiles. But they believed and prayed long before Peter showed up. So they heard the message somewhere.

Sometimes our head makes these fragmented stories (being taught on Sunday mornings in short periods and separated from the whole book) into very black and white as well as linear concepts. First this, then that and this is good, that is bad. But our world is very muddy and messy – and people are messy and muck things up; so why do we often approach the Bible as if everything is so clean and tidy, and as if there are not complicated layers to all of this, overlapping and difficult to tell as a story?

First, we read Peter came back and reported what God had done and many accused him of sin. Then he defended the grace of God. To my surprise, he did not quote the many places in the Old Testament that foretold it. But Peter was a fisherman, not a scholar. Paul, on the other hand, will include those passages in his work – and Paul had studied the scriptures and was a Pharisee.  
We read about Peter’s return first, because it connects to the passage we read yesterday and acts like a bridge. (We are talking about Luke’s writing structure here.) And then Luke refers back to something that happened back when Stephen was stoned – to finish the bridge.

When Stephen died – the believers were scattered. Here we learn not only where they went (traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch), but when they scattered they were not running away from the church and God – and that they maintained communication with the base in Jerusalem.

So let’s clear up how this went, since I know I read it am million times before I understood, it is possible other also do not understand what happened.  So the believers went all the way to Antioch, telling all the Jews about Jesus – and only Jews, because that was what Jesus did and that is what they thought was right. But while converting people, they never explained to them their understanding that it was only for Jews. So they preached, then left. At the next town or village they preached and left. Some settled down in some of those places and started churches. But mostly all believer moved around a lot, because they were still being hunted (there were men who took Saul’s place when he stopped persecuting the believers). So In Antioch they converted many to Christ and many others heard as well. And with no further guidance and no formal church they just started telling EVERYONE how Jesus changed them through grace. And suddenly we have gentiles believing. Word got back to the original scattering folks who were plugged into the group in Jerusalem. So they sent someone back to let the Apostles know that Gentiles in Antioch were believing. Luke says it so much simpler – but I think we sometimes miss the nuances and chain of events.
So starting when the word got to Antioch and then word got back to Jerusalem was a longer period of time than when Peter spoke to Cornelius and then came back to Jerusalem to report what God had done. Meaning, Gentiles believed in other places before Cornelius and Cornelius was not the first. But to understand further… maybe that is also wrong since we do not know when Cornelius believed. He was praying and practicing his faith in God for a while, and God said – ‘I heard your prayers I’ll send you Peter to explain it all.’
This means, people – all people, were beginning to believe and we truly do not know how far it reached. The original scatterers only kept track of where they had been and not were all those who heard from them went with this good news! God was opening hearts and minds all over but Cornelius was used by God to explain it to the original apostles in a way where they could accept it and God would get the Glory.

So they send Barnabas up to Antioch to check it out. He was sent alone, because he was on a mission to just investigate what was happening and also the check on Paul while he was out there. When he got to Antioch he learned a great number had to turned to Jesus and…
“When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord.” Verse 23

He must have realized work needed to be done to instruct these people more. All they had was second, third, and forth had testimony of Jesus and a small amount of instruction carried out to them. Can you imagine what your walk with the Lord would look like if you only had someone else’s account?
I had a friend who had a preacher in the family – he preached salvation often, apparently, and “All you must do, is believe” so much so, that my friend can recite the message word for word 10 years later. My friend believes. And continues in sin seeing nothing wrong with it. He could also quote the verse about not denying Jesus – and he hasn’t. But that is all you need to know in his mind – because as he watched this preacher witness to other over and over and all he received was the salvation message. Not by works but all Grace and a free gift. It is a beautiful message. But it is not all you need to know. My friend can recite and explain the sacrifice of Christ and how Jesus took our place better than anyone I know. But he never had an experience with grace, himself. He was never changed. He not only continues in sin but lives a completely fleshly lifestyle and is ruled by anxiety and depression – not ruled by God. I have tried to explain his need to read the Bible – and even bought him a Bible. But the chains of bondage forbid him from opening it, even if the chains aren’t bound, but held in his own hands. This is what it looks like when you receive salvation and are made into a disciple. Let’s flash back to the verse which tells us what we are to be doing:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matthew 28:19 NKJV
Yes, the King James version says “teach all nations”. But I looked up dozens of version and the rest all say “make disciples”.  So I grabbed the Amplified Classic and it says:
Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations [help the people to learn of Me, believe in Me, and obey My words], baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” Matt 28:19 AMP

We are not just supposed to get them to the point where they are saved and leave. We should help them learn of Jesus, believe in Jesus (and belief and faith come by hearing according to Romans 10:17 – so you need to be talking), AND we need to teach them to obey the Word (so I suppose we better teach them to read, understand and hide the word in their hearts so they do not sin according to Psalm 119:11). My friend was a child who went with his relative who was a preacher and the preacher never realized the child never heard the rest was never made a disciple. And what we have is an adult in bondage who denies he has done anything wrong because Christianity is nothing more than the salvation message he was given. What we have is an Antioch without a Barnabas and Paul to make disciples.

When Barnabas gets to Paul in Tarsus, he takes him right back to Antioch to get to work making disciples. It was here in Antioch that Paul build his first church and where the disciples were first called Christians! They were growing and God was moving and it drew other who wanted to be where God is moving. Like in verse 27 prophets came there. We know that was a real prophet because Luke says in verse 28 that the prophecies actually happened later (in the days of Claudius Caesar).  The prophetic word was – there was going to be a famine. So the church of Antioch took up an offering for all of Judea’s Christians!
When there is a famine, God always has a Joseph in place (Genesis 47).  As we hear on the internet, some self-proclaimed prophets warn of a famine this coming summer. Fear not, if there is a famine, God has prepared a Joseph or an Antioch to bless you.

So many juicy bites of meat in today’s short reading. Think on the reading and let God reveal deeper and further truths in it. Especially in today’s world. Especially with everything going on. It is so important right now that God is first, saving souls are second, and our needs, wants, provisions, circumstances, trials and tests are lastly. Give and then receive.
Please continue to pray for the harvest and for our world.

***

Thank you for reading in 2022 – a Year of Wisdom and Salvation
May the God of peace keep you and bless you. May you stay focused on Christ and covered in grace.
Maranatha ~ Come Lord Jesus!

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