Acts 5-7

Acts 5-7

In Acts 6, we see the creation of the positions of Elder and Deacon within a local church. It would be very easy to read this as though the apostles were saying, “We’re too good to serve tables. After all, we’re apostles. Let’s pick out seven flunkies who can do that, while we devote ourselves to the tremendously spiritual work of prayer and preaching the word.” If you read it that way you completely misread this passage because that is not what they did at all.

Remember that these apostles had been in the upper room with the Lord Jesus. They had seen him divest himself of his garments, gird himself with a towel, take a basin of water, and wash their filthy, dirty feet. They had heard his words, “the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves….” (Luke 22:26). They were not, in any sense, downgrading the ministry of serving tables. They made this decision on the basis of a difference in spiritual gifts. Here we have a very clear example of the way the early church assigned duties upon the basis of the distribution of gifts by the Holy Spirit.

The glory of this church was that they were conscious of the superintendency of the Holy Spirit — so aware that the Lord Jesus himself, by means of the Spirit, was the head of the church. He was apportioning gifts, giving certain ministries to various individuals and sending them out, giving the orders. All through this book of Acts you can see tremendous manifestation of the direction of the Holy Spirit.

Here, then, they recognize that he had given various gifts. The apostles understood that their gift was that of an apostle. They were to lay the foundation of the church, for it was given to the apostles to lay foundations. That foundation is the Scriptures. It is on the Scriptures that the church rests. The minute the church departs from these Scriptures it loses its strength, its light and understanding, and its ability to operate. That has always been true. Whenever the church has rested upon the foundation laid by the apostles, the truth as it is in Jesus, the church has always had strength, power, and grace.

Therefore it was necessary that the apostles give themselves to the ministry of apostleship, which involved, “prayer and the ministry of the word.” As they met together in prayer they learned and understood the mind of God. The Spirit of God reminded them of things which the Lord Jesus had taught them, and they in turn imparted this to the church. At that time, none of the New Testament was in writing. Yet all of the truths which we have reflected in these New Testament pages were being uttered by the apostles as they taught the people from place to place. They taught them what we now have written down for us. And all we have, of course, is the word of the apostles. This whole New Testament is nothing but the word of the apostles given to us. So it was essential, as they understood it, to devote themselves to this.

Ezekiel 1-12

Ezekiel 1-12…The Vision.

Immediately after describing the historical circumstances of his prophetic call, Ezekiel describes his first vision of the Lord. This incredible vision has perplexed many people in the modern world, for the imagery is indeed strange to us. More sensational readings of Ezekiel 1:4–28 have even suggested that the passage describes an encounter that the prophet had with extraterrestrials. Such theories impress upon us the importance of paying attention to the historical and literary context of the Bible so that we might escape ludicrous speculation, for Ezekiel’s vision makes perfect sense in his own setting.

The prophet’s vision concerns “four living creatures” that served as a type of chariot for the divine throne, the place from which “the likeness of the glory of the Lord” spoke to Ezekiel (vv. 4, 26, 28). Each of these beings had four different faces—human, eagle, lion, and ox (v. 10). In Scripture, each of these creatures is significant. Human beings, of course, are made in the image and likeness of God, reflecting His capacity for wisdom, dignity, and so forth (Gen. 1:26–28). Eagles are prized in God’s Word for their speed and stateliness (Ps. 103:5; Jer. 48:40). The lion is known for its strength and courage (Judg. 14:5; Isa. 31:4), and oxen were found throughout the temple and the sacrificial system in which the presence of God was experienced (Num. 7; 1 Kings 7:23–37). Indeed, there were several elements in the temple that looked very similar to the creatures Ezekiel described, which indicates that these creatures carried the Lord Himself on His throne. Taken with the qualities mentioned above, they symbolize God’s omnipotence, wisdom, swiftness, and life-giving nature. Although archaeology has discovered figures and art of creatures that combine lions with eagles and so forth in the palaces and temples of other ancient Near Eastern peoples, other nations did not combine all four of the aforementioned creatures like we see in Ezekiel’s vision. This again points to the uniqueness of the Lord of Israel. He is the perfect embodiment of all of the attributes of deity, lacking nothing in Himself.

The throne above the expanse above the winged creatures (and their wheels; see Ezek. 1:15–20) recalls the pavement of God’s throne room, where the elders ate and drank before the Lord when the old covenant was inaugurated (Ex. 24:1–11; Ezek. 1:21–28). Thus, Ezekiel saw a vision of God about to go forth on His chariot. He was getting ready to move from His traditional dwelling place in Canaan.

Song of Solomon 5-8

Song of Solomon 5-8…The love of Christ.

Yesterday, we looked at the reality that Song of Solomon is not exclusively about Christ and His church. Today, we’ll consider how this book does point us to Jesus, and that love outside of the context of our relationship with Christ will always be distorted.

First, we need to dispel the myth that emphasizing what a text says about humanity is a man-centered approach. If we rightly understand what the Bible says about mankind and the actions demanded of us, we are being Christ-centered even if Jesus is not mentioned explicitly. Our Lord and Savior said that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15), and His commandments are found throughout Scripture because Jesus is divine and the Bible is God’s inspired Word (2 Tim. 3:16–17). When we base our thoughts and actions on God’s holy Word, we are obeying Jesus and are therefore centered on Him.

That being said, there are two other ways the Song of Solomon points us to Jesus. First, it helps us understand the strength of His love for us. The climax of the Song of Solomon, found in today’s section of scripture, tells us that love is like “the very flame of the Lord” in its intensity (Song of Solomon 8:6). Given the strength of the love of a bride for her groom and vice versa, it is no surprise that Scripture compares the relationship of God and His people to marriage (Isa. 62:5; Rev. 19:6–10). If the love between man and woman is as intense as the Lord’s fire, imagine how great the Almighty’s love for His people must be. Though we are undeserving, He is passionate for His own (Zeph. 3:17).

Secondly, the Song of Solomon encourages us to long for Christ. As noted, the Song depicts love and marriage in an idealized form. Yet every married couple knows that no matter how strong their relationship is, it still cannot fulfill their every need, much less always reach the heights depicted by Solomon. Even the best marriages have their bad days. This imperfection makes us long for a love that satisfies us wholly. Such love is found only in Christ (Rom. 8:38–39).

Psalms 128-130

Psalms 128-130…A song of ascents.

Psalm 130 is a “song of ascents”–a worship song intended for use on pilgrimages to Jerusalem. It can be divided into four couplets. The first is a cry for God’s mercy. The second conveys that though we stand justly condemned, we can rely upon His forgiveness and love. The third couplet describes an intense period of waiting for forgiveness, and the fourth admonishes all Israel to trust in God in this same way.

By “waiting,” we don’t imply that God is toying with our emotions. “Waiting” in this case means waiting with eagerness and hope–not wishful hope but sure hope. God will answer, His mercy and forgiveness will arrive, and the joy of fellowship will return. The psalmist is like a watchman waiting for a certain sunrise (cf. Isa. 52:8; Lam. 3:25–26).

Today or sometime soon, make room in your schedule for an extended time of confession before the Lord. Make sure you choose a time and place where you won’t be disturbed. Take your Bible and perhaps some notes with you, and resolve to “do business with God.”

Psalms 121-127

Psalms 121-127…Rest.

“In vain you rise up early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat–for he grants sleep to those he loves.”

Our desire for rest is actually built into our bodies by the God who gave us a day to come apart from the work week so we won’t come apart at the seams. God even set the example when He rested from His creative work on the seventh day and “made it holy,” setting it aside as special (Gen. 2:2-3).

Later, the Sabbath was incorporated into the law (Ex. 20:8-11), forbidding Israelites to do any work on that day. It allowed them to give their attention to worshipping God while refreshing their bodies and spirits.

By the time of Jesus, the Jewish leaders had turned the Sabbath from a blessing into a bondage. There were so many rules that this day fit like a straitjacket. And the Pharisees were greatly appalled when they saw anyone breaking the rules.

The principle that one day of the week is to be devoted to rest and worship is important for us to learn. If we ignore our responsibility to be good stewards of our time, we misuse God’s gift and pay the price of stress on our bodies, minds, and spirits. And God may withhold His blessing if we are stealing from His worship and from the time He has given us for rest, to try to get ahead.

Many of the arguments about what violates God’s standard of a day of rest revolve around specific activities, such as professional sports or various forms of recreation. The Bible gives us principles the Holy Spirit uses to guide us in any situation if we are seeking God’s will.

For instance, Psalm 127 teaches the futility of work to the point of exhaustion. It’s not only tiring, it also deflects God’s blessing.

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ disciples were picking grain to eat, which was allowed under the law (Deut. 23:25) but not under the Pharisees’ rules. Jesus’ defense of His men teaches us that God created a day of rest for our benefit–not to put us under bondage. What we do on this day, in addition to worship, is something we need to determine in our hearts before God (see Rom. 14:5).

Psalms 119-120

Psalms 119-120…Contemplating the Lord.

Scripture tells us time and again that the practice of meditation involves not forgetting the Word of God (Josh. 1:8), reading it, and contemplating it so that it might penetrate our hearts and sanctify us by the power of the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16–17; Heb. 4: 12–13).

Many of the Old Testament verses on meditation are found in the Psalms, particularly in Psalm 119, which extols the virtues of the Lord’s inspired teaching that makes up the canon of Scripture. Verses 97–104 of this psalm are particularly pertinent for giving us a more thorough explanation of the kinds of things we should think upon as we meditate on God’s Word. In speaking of the blessings of the law of God, the psalmist gives us some insight into the practice of meditation.

First, we are told that the commandments of the Lord make us wiser than our enemies (v. 98). It is appropriate, then, as we are meditating on God’s Word, to consider why the passage before us is superior to the accepted ways of the world. Furthermore, the psalmist links the continual presence of the commandment with him to the wisdom it provides (v. 99); thus, mulling over a portion of Scripture should include asking how we can make its teaching a perpetual part of our lives.

Second, there is an emphasis in today’s passage on hating “every false way” and avoiding evil in order to understand and keep the Word (vv. 101, 104). Achieving the right meaning and application of a text as we meditate on it requires attention to personal holiness. A refusal to repent of known sin and a complete failure to put into practice that which we already know from Scripture will guarantee that we miss the point of what the Spirit wants to teach us in the text.

Finally, meditation should also include a consideration of the text in light of the new covenant in Christ. Since the Word of God gives us wisdom and understanding (vv. 98–99), we profit from it only if we read it with an open eye on Him who is the incarnate wisdom of God (1 Cor. 1:18–25). By the Spirit and in communion with the church, Jesus gives us the meaning of His Word.

Psalms 101-118

Psalms 101-115…Christ in the Old Testament.

“What do you think of the Christ?” In guiding the Jerusalem leaders to contemplate this question of eternal weight, Jesus turned to the authority of what is written “in the book of Psalms,” specifically Psalm 110 (Matt 22:41–46; Mark 12:35–37; Luke 20:40– 44), and asked a question childlike in both simplicity and profundity, the answer to which plunges one into the unfathomable wonder of the incarnation of God: How could David refer to his son as Lord? This probing question was but the application of what Jesus would later declare, that He Himself is the object of all the Scriptures of the Old Testament, summarizing their threefold division in Luke 24:44 as “the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms,” with the Psalms standing as the summary representative of the Writings.

That much of the Psalms concerns “the Christ” was (and is) commonly accepted; the New Testament’s glorious proclamation is that Jesus is this Christ, the long-expected “Anointed One” of whom these Scriptures speak. And so we read of Peter, who, after quoting two psalms, declared to the crowds gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost: “God has made this Jesus whom you crucified both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). We read of Paul, too, who reasoning from the Scriptures (again, the Old Testament), demonstrated that the Christ had to suffer and rise again, saying, “This Jesus, whom I preach to you, is the Christ” (Acts 17:2–3). The apostles, to be sure, drew heavily from the Psalms for their inspired testimony regarding the person and work of Christ. The book of Hebrews, for example, is woven together by psalms, showing us that Jesus is the “son of man” of Psalm 8 who was made “for a little while lower than the angels” through the incarnation but now has been crowned “with glory and honor” through His resurrection and ascension (Heb. 2:5–9). Matthew’s gospel unveils the Psalms as key to Jesus’ own self-understanding, Satan quoting Psalm 91 to Him in the wilderness (Matt. 4:6) and Jesus, upon the cross of agony, sifting His suffering through the sieve of Psalm 22: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). That He meditated often on the Psalms, and upon what they spoke concerning Himself, is evident in how Jesus summarized His suffering and exaltation with the lines of Psalm 118:22: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Matt. 21:42; see also Mark 12:10; Luke 20:17; Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:7).

Thus, the New Testament continually uses the book of Psalms to fix our gaze upon the excellencies of Christ, upon the majesty, beauty, and glory of the One who through His humiliation and exaltation reigns over the nations, leading them to the heavenly Mount Zion so that, lost in wonder, love, and praise, they may proclaim eternally the glory of the triune God.

Psalms 71-75

Psalms 71-75…God alone is perfect.

God alone does marvelous deeds (Psalm 72:18). He is perfect, and His perfect creation which was tainted by the Fall, will one day be restored to perfection. The human race has been dreaming of utopia from the beginning. But an ideal world requires a ruler who is perfect in wisdom, righteousness, justice, and mercy.

Only one person meets these qualifications–God’s sinless Son, Jesus, who has been made “both Lord and Christ” (Acts 2:36). The second half of Psalm 72 continues the exciting description of the justice, mercy, and prosperity that will prevail on earth when Christ takes His seat on David’s throne. It will be a kingdom of universal righteousness and blessing, and it’s in our future!

You probably have noticed by now that the Old Testament writers often focused on, and celebrated, Messiah’s future reign as universal King. But the idea of a suffering and crucified Christ, rejected by Israel and hanging in shame on a Roman cross, was a concept many devout followers of Christ simply could not grasp. Even Jesus’ disciples refused to believe His predictions of His impending death in Jerusalem. And after His resurrection, Jesus had to explain to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that it was “necessary” for the Christ to suffer (Luke 24:26).

Even though we know there are no perfect people or situations in the world, sometimes we can begin to expect perfection from ourselves and others. Are you holding someone to an impossibly high standard? We often expect the most from the people we love the most. But demanding that other people be perfect can create frustration and strained relationships. Be humble, see your own sin objectively, and be ready to help or forgive others when they do stumble.

Psalms 62-65

Psalms 62-65…Unmerited grace.

Studying the book of Romans before his conversion, Martin Luther felt unable to find peace with God: “My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage Him.” At last he found the answer. “I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love.” In short, Luther had finally understood that God forgives! Salvation is not about “merit” but mercy. His feelings–of being reborn or of entering paradise–parallel the psalmist’s in today’s reading.

Psalm 65 frames this psalm of praise, particularly in verses 1-2. Verses 5–8 describe God’s awesome power over nature and nations, and verses 9–13 conclude with images of God’s blessing. These references to fertility and abundance give people more reasons to worship, even as creation itself joins in.

Verses 3–4 speak directly to what Luther described. What’s the human condition? We’re overwhelmed by sin, unable to help ourselves. We’ve been defeated. What’s the solution? “You forgave our transgressions” or “You made atonement for our transgressions.” As we’ve seen throughout the Old Testament, God’s forgiving love comes to the rescue.

Since forgiveness is part of God’s nature, when He forgives, we experience His presence and rejoice in it. The psalmist used a metaphor of living in the Lord’s house (cf. Ps. 23:6; 84:1–4). To be forgiven means to be loved, or in other words chosen. We who have been chosen by God join His family. He’s personally present in our lives, filling them with good things. To be “filled” means to be saturated, that is, fully satisfied.

Psalms 56-60

Psalms 56-60…Praying in anguish.

A person who is facing a crisis, not of war, but of intense spiritual turmoil, knows that situations like the ones outlined in Psalms 56-60 do in fact try our souls. And in times like these we learn the difference between being a “sunshine patriot” who shrinks back from trouble, and a soldier who stands strong during the conflict and experiences the joy of winning something of priceless value.

It’s safe to say that most people who have prayed consistently have had times of agonizing prayer. This is another side of prayer we need to explore. It’s much more exciting to talk about answered prayer and prayer that flows out of deep joy. But there is also power in the prayer that comes from an anguished heart, when it seems that God is far away and the problem is pressing us to our limits.

David was no stranger to trouble himself. He had real enemies with real weapons hounding him. Even though most of us haven’t faced that reality, who hasn’t expressed wishes like the ones David does in these Psalms? We believe that honest, trustful, tenacious prayer in times of pain provides us with that refuge. And we believe this because we know that our God is faithful and true.