A Divine Calling.

For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with anyone; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia, and returned again to Damascus.

Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord’s brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ.  They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me. – Galatians 1:11-24 ESV

Paul will spend a great deal of time in this letter defending his apostleship in order to validate his message of justification by faith alone in Christ alone. There were those who were questioning his right to claim apostleship and were attempting to undermine his credibility. But Paul had no doubts about his calling or the commission he had received directly from the lips of Christ. So he provided his readers with a brief history of his salvation story. More than likely they had heard it story before, but Paul probably provided them with some extra added details. He began by clarifying that the message he preached was not given to him by any man. He hadn’t learned it from any human teacher. He had not been led to faith by anybody, but had been personally witnessed to by Jesus Himself. On that fateful day on the road leading to Damascus, Paul had had an intimate encounter with Jesus, the resurrected Christ. He had been struck blind by the very one he had been on a rampage to discredit and whose disciples he had been out to destroy.

The truly amazing thing about Paul’s testimony was the radical nature of his transformation. One day he had been on his way to the city of Damascus in order to arrest any Christians he found there, and then some days later, after his conversion, he was proclaiming Christ in the synagogues.

And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. – Acts 9:19-22 ESV

Even the Jews who heard him preach in the synagogues of Damascus were shocked at the undeniable transformation that had taken place. Paul, the persecutor, had become a proclaimer of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The self-appointed exterminator of Christianity had become its divinely-commissioned defender and proponent. There was nothing that could explain this radical change in his life other than the power of God. Up until that point, Paul had not met a single apostle. He had received no instruction of any kind. He had simply had a divine encounter with Jesus. And then he had spent three years in Arabia. We are not told exactly where Paul went or what he did while he was there. But it is likely that Paul, a student of the Old Testament Scriptures, spent his time reviewing all that he knew in light of what he had just experienced. His understanding of the Word of God was to be radically changed by the new revelation he had received from Jesus. It could be that Jesus did for Paul what He had done for the two disciples along the road to Emmaus when He had appeared to them immediately after His resurrection.

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. – Luke 24:27 ESV

And after Jesus had left them standing by the roadside, they said to one another,

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” – Luke 24:32 ESV

Whatever happened during those three years in Arabia, Paul was to return a dramatically changed man. He went immediately to Jerusalem, where he met with Peter and James. But he did not go to seek their approval or to get their permission. He was virtually unknown to the believers in Jerusalem, but his conversion had become the talk of the town. “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy” (Galatians 1:23 ESV).

Paul was a changed man. He not only had a new calling, but a new nature. His heart had been transformed. His passions and pursuits had been redeemed by God. Paul confessed that God, “who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me” (Galatians 1:15-16 ESV). Paul’s conversion was God’s doing. His change of heart had been the work of God. And what he preached was the word of God concerning salvation through His Son.

It would seem that Paul’s greatest defense of his gospel message was his gospel transformation. His radically altered life was the greatest testimony to the validity of his message. It seems that far too often, what we proclaim about the gospel is not present in our own lives. We tell others of its transformational power, and yet our lives reveal little of that power at work. We talk of having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, but our knowledge of Him has grown little since the day we first met Him. We can easily tell others about the day we came to faith in Christ, but we have a hard time telling them how we are living by faith on a day by day basis. Paul’s strongest proof for the authenticity of his message was his personal story of life change. The gospel was believable because his life made it visible. The transformative work of God in my life should be the greatest proof of the gospel’s power and veracity.

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Prayer With A Purpose.

But we pray to God that you may not do wrong—not that we may appear to have met the test, but that you may do what is right, though we may seem to have failed. For we cannot do anything against the truth, but only for the truth. For we are glad when we are weak and you are strong. Your restoration is what we pray for. – 2 Corinthians 13:7-9 ESV

The apostle Paul was always having to defend his apostleship. There was no shortage of individuals who would question his authority and criticize his claim to be speaking on behalf of Christ. But while Paul was not shy in defending himself, his greater concern was for the spiritual well-being of those who had come to faith in Christ through his preaching and teaching. Since his own salvation experience on the road to Damascus, Paul had dedicated his life to spreading the good news about Jesus Christ to both Jews and Gentiles. He traveled near and far to make known the gospel message and to see lives transformed by the saving power of Jesus Christ. And if he had to suffer in the meantime, he was more than ready. But he was not willing for anyone to question his authority or discount his message, because he had received his commission from Jesus Christ Himself.

In this, his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul finds himself defending his apostleship once again. He writes, “you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me” (2 Corinthians 13:3 ESV). But the greatest proof of Paul’s claim to being a spokesman for Jesus Christ was the very power evident in their midst that had made possible their transformation. “He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you” (2 Corinthians 13:3 ESV). Lives were being changed. Hearts had been transformed. The message of new life in Christ had taken root and born fruit. But while Paul was away and absent from their midst, he prayed. He prayed with a purpose. He was asking God to produce fruit in the lives of the believers in Corinth. In other words, he was asking to see the byproduct of practical sanctification in their lives – as a form of proof of their salvation. Their faith in Christ should have been producing fruit. And it was for this that he prayed. “But we pray to God that you may not do wrong…” The presence and power of Christ within them, in the form of the Holy Spirit, should have been producing in them a growing desire to do what was right and to turn away from doing what was wrong. Living in the power of the Holy Spirit should have been producing holiness, obedience, and acts of righteousness. Paul told them that “your restoration is what we pray for.” The Greek word Paul used was katartisis and it means “a strengthening, perfecting of the soul.” It comes from root word that has to do with restoration or repair. It means to “make one what he ought to be.” Paul was praying that the believers in Corinth would be experiencing the transforming, restorative power of Jesus Christ in their lives. That power would be ample proof of Paul’s status as a messenger of Jesus.

Paul wanted to see lives changed. He wanted to see the power of God released in the lives of those who had come to faith in Jesus Christ, His Son. He desired to see those who had accepted Jesus as their Savior radically restored to a right relationship with God with lives that reflected their newly restored natures. Salvation is a wonderful thing, but it is just the beginning. Sanctification is an essential byproduct of a new relationship with Christ. Growth in Christ-likeness should accompany the presence of His Spirit within us. Paul prayed for proof of that presence. He wanted to see lives transformed. He wanted to see evidence of the saving power of Jesus Christ. Jesus had died, not just to make it possible for us to one day spend eternity with Him in heaven, but to radically reform our lives here on earth. And it was to that end that Paul prayed.

But do we pray for transformed lives? Do we long to see believers living radically different lives right here, right now? Or do we pray more for physical healing than holiness? Do we pray for freedom from trials more than we pray for a display of Christ’s righteousness in the midst of them? Are we so busy asking God to make our lives easier that we fail to recognize that Christ died to make our lives more righteous? Paul prayed for life change, not circumstantial change. He prayed for holiness and righteousness. He wanted to see the power of the presence of God lived out in the everyday lives of the people of God. In his first letter to the believers in Corinth, he had reminded them of just how far they had come since accepting Christ. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV). God had  transformed them from what they once were to something new and radically different. But His work was not done yet. He was still in the process of changing them from the inside out. And it was to that end that Paul prayed. So should we.

Internal Evidence.

Whoever believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself. Whoever does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has borne concerning his Son. – 1 John 5:10 ESV

1 John 5:6-12

John has mentioned three witnesses that testify to the truth of Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah, the Son of God. “For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree” (1 John 5:7-8 ESV). Then he adds the testimony of God Himself. “If we receive the testimony of men, the testimony of God is greater, for this is the testimony of God that he has borne concerning his Son” (1 John 5:9 ESV). Even God the Father has testified on the behalf of Jesus, declaring Him as His Son and claiming to have sent Him to “to bring good news” and “to proclaim that captives will be released and prisoners will be freed” (Isaiah 61:1 NLT). But John had more evidence to add to his argument. So far, his proof has all be external in nature – the baptism of Jesus, His crucifixion, the coming of the Spirit, and the verbal acknowledgement of God. Now he brings us the testimony within – the very indwelling presence of the Spirit of God that every believer receives upon acceptance of Jesus as their Savior. The apostle Paul tells us, “but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:15-16 ESV). When brought before the Jewish council, Peter said, “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him” (Acts 5:30-32 ESV).

The Holy Spirit is living proof of Jesus’ messiahship. The very presence of the Spirit within the life of the believer should unequivocally convince us of any of His other claims. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit would come. “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you” (John 14:16-17 ESV). He had told them that the Holy Spirit would testify to them regarding Him. “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me” (John 15:26 ESV). And that’s exactly what the Spirit does. He bears witness, testifies and gives evidence of Christ’s life-changing, heart-transforming power in the life of the believer. “So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord—who is the Spirit—makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 NLT).

We have the very Spirit of God within us, empowering, equipping and testifying. His presence should make a profound difference in the way we live our lives. Paul explains it quite succinctly. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires” (Galatians 5:22-24 ESV). As we see that fruit produced in our lives, we can know that Jesus’ death and resurrection are what made it possible. Had Jesus not died, rose again, and ascended back into heaven, the Holy Spirit would not have come. His presence here is proof that Jesus sits at the right hand of the Father, and that someday He is going to return to this earth to finish what He began. He will restore this world back to its original God-ordained glory. He will destroy sin and death once and for all. He will remove all pain, sorrow, tears, heartache and any other evidence of the fall – forever.

The evidence is overwhelming in favor of Jesus. He is the Son of God. He is the Savior of the world. He is the long-awaited Messiah whom the prophets of old had long-ago predicted. And over the last 2,000 plus years, His claims have been proven true by the miraculous spread of the Good News of Jesus Christ around the world. Millions have come to faith in Christ, of all walks of life and every conceivable people group. And the Kingdom continues to expand. The Holy Spirit is hard at work, guiding, motivating, sending, and equipping God’s people to do His Work. But at the end of the day it all boils down to a fairly simply formula: “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12 ESV).

Day 81 – John 10:22-42

Guilty of Being God.

John 10:22-42

Once again the people picked up stones to kill him. Jesus said, “At my Father’s direction I have done many good works. For which one are you going to stone me?– John 10:31-32 NLT

The people wanted a Messiah. They had been looking for him to come for generations. Now they had to confront the rumors of whether or not Jesus was the one for whom they had been waiting. But so much didn’t seem to make sense. Yes, He did miraculous works. He did inexplicable wonders right before their eyes. He healed the lame, the blind, and the mute. He even raised the dead. But something wasn’t right. Maybe it was because He didn’t look the part. After all, He was just a common-looking peasant from the backwater town of Nazareth. He had no known pedigree. They would have had no clue that He was David’s rightful heir to the throne. They simply saw Jesus as a virtual nobody who burst on the scene unexpectedly and who was stirring up excitement among the people and anxiety among the religious leadership. For many of them, Jesus had become more of a sideshow than a potential savior. He was a welcome distraction from the day-to-day misery of life under Roman rule.

So when Jesus showed up at the Temple during the Festival of Dedication, or Hanukkah, a crowd surrounded Him and asked, “How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly” (John 10:24 NLT). They wanted Him to come right out and declare His intentions to establish His rule and reign and begin His plan for saving the people of Israel from their oppressors. They were ready for Jesus to start acting like the kind of Messiah they had been waiting for. But the kind of salvation came to bring had nothing to do with the tyranny of Rome. It had nothing to do with earthly thrones or kingdoms. At least, not yet. Jesus came to offer freedom from sin and the gift of eternal life. And all the miracles He had done in their sight were more than proof enough that He was exactly who He had been rumored to be. “The proof is the work I do in my Father’s name,” he told them. Jesus tried to get them to understand that the miracles He performed were evidence that He had been sent by and worked for God. But the majority of the people in the crowd that day were looking for more. Miracles were not enough. But their skepticism had to do more with blindness than anything else. Jesus told them, “you don’t believe me because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me. For my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one” (John 10:26-30 NLT).

Jesus knew that there would be those who never believed in Him. They would reject both His message and His miracles. Not because His messages and miracles were unimpressive, but because they were spiritually blind to the truth. Jesus told them point-blank, “You are not my sheep.” They didn’t belong to Him. God had not opened their eyes to the reality of Jesus’ mission and message. They were still spiritually dead and incapable of recognizing the Messiah who stood right before their eyes. And evidence of their spiritual blindness was their reaction to Jesus’ statement, “The Father and I are one.” They immediately picked up stones to kill Him. They saw Jesus as a mere man, not God. He was guilty of blasphemy and deserved to be stoned to death. But the real reason they wanted to kill Jesus was because He was exactly who He claimed to be: The Messiah, the Son of God, and the King of the Jews. He was God, and for that they wanted to kill Him. It would be the same thing that would lead to Jesus’ conviction and crucifixion at the end of His life. His crime, as proclaimed on a wooden sign hung above His head on the cross, was “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” Jesus died for being who He claimed to be. He was guilty for being God and He died because of it. All along the way, Jesus had been doing the work of His Father. He had given ample evidence of His deity. And He told the people that day in the Temple courtyard, “Don’t believe me unless I carry out my Father’s word. But if I do his work, believe in the evidence of the miraculous works I have done, even if you don’t believe in me” (John 10:37-38 NLT). Look at the evidence. Recognize that it is of God, not man. But their eyes remained closed and their hearts remained hardened. But many believed in Jesus that day. There were some sheep among the goats, some believers among the doubters, some converts among the crowd.

Father, there is so much evidence surrounding Your Son that validates His claims. And yet millions still reject Him even today. Their eyes are blinded and their hearts are hardened. And unless You open their eyes and soften their hearts, all the evidence in the world will never win them over. Salvation is an act of God, not man. It is completely up to You, not us. Thank You for opening my eyes and softening my heart so that I could see clearly for the first time and recognize the truth of Jesus’ claims and accept the free gift of eternal life He offered. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org