Principles from Peter toward Traditions
October 29, 2012, 5:53 pm
Filed under: Searching for our Savior in His book | Tags: , , , , ,

Last week we ended Acts 9 by reading what may have seemed like unimportant information,  “And it came to pass, that he tarried many days in Joppa with one Simon a tanner”.   It is important to remember that God’s word was not randomly written by man, but carefully constructed by God.  Remember when we read the Bible, “all scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable”.  There is nothing in it that isn’t important.  So why is this important?

Peter, in chapter 10, will do something that is against the traditions that he has followed most of his life.  The last verse in Acts 9, tell us that God was changing Peter because he stayed with a “tanner”.  Peter is going against what is socially acceptable in Israel.  Tanners were despised by the Jewish society, and especially the legalistic Pharisees.  First, they had to deal with dead animals, a practice that was contrary to Jewish ceremonial practices. Second, a tanner probably smelled because of dealing with dead animals.   Most likely the local synagogue had shunned Simon the tanner.  In order to transform Peter into a witness to Gentiles, God had to chip away at his preconceived beliefs and practices that had turned into useless and limiting traditions and prejudices.  God had to prepare Peter and the church to move from having a Jewish focus to a world-wide focus which would include Gentiles.  The first step was having Peter stay with Simon the Tanner, perhaps as long as two years.  Peter’s prejudices and traditions, based on Old Testament law, were being transformed because he was now free from the law.  Christ had fulfilled the law and had imputed His righteous life as a man to Peter as well as to all believers.  Beginning with the story of Cornelius in Acts 10, we see how God worked in Peter, a Jew, to reach Gentiles and can apply it to how He is working in us, Gentiles, to reach all in this world.

Why Peter?

Peter was the instrument God used in growing the church in its infancy.  Back in Matthew 16:19, the Lord Jesus Christ, our God, said that He was giving Peter the keys of the kingdom of heaven to Peter.  He planned on having Peter unlock the doors of the church to all groups.  He preached the first sermon of the church and 3000 Jewish men were saved, baptized and added to the church.  Later as persecution drove the church away from Jerusalem, Peter was used by God to open the door of the church to the Samaritans, who were part Jewish and part Gentile.    In Acts 10, Peter is used by God to unlock the door to the church to the Gentiles.  Because of a life full of Jewish traditions, legalism, and prejudice this was a door that Peter would find difficult to unlock without God chipping away at those preconceived beliefs and practices that served as a barrier to obedience in Peter’s life.  The great thing about the indwelling Holy Spirit in a believer’s life is that He works within us to give us the ability and power to always obey God’s commands and calls.

The New Covenant was designed to knock down the barrier between Jew and Gentile.  Paul spoke on God’s intention to reconcile both Jew and Gentile to Him, and place them together in one body, a mystery to past ages, but a reality in the church.  Jews struggled with understanding this reconciliation after a lifetime of viewing Gentiles as lesser beings, even referring to them as “dogs”.

A strict Jew would never be a guest in a Gentile’s home and he would never permit a Gentile to be a guest in his home.  Jewish law described Gentile homes as unclean.  Dirt from Gentile countries were even considered unclean, and would defile the dirt of Israel forever.  Whenever a Jew left a Gentile country, they would shake off the dust from their feet to prevent Gentile dirt from coming to Israel.  When the 70 went out to preach the gospel, those who wouldn’t hear their words were to be treated as a Gentile, by shaking off the dust from their feet.  They were still under the law.  But the cross changed everything!

Jews and Gentiles were at odds.  The Jews viewed Gentiles as unclean and had strict laws that prevented Jews from being defiled.  Milk from a cow milked by Gentile hands couldn’t be used by Jews.  Bread and oil prepared by Gentiles could never be used by a Jew.  Even utensils used by a Gentile had to be purified by fire and water.  Gentiles in reaction to this treatment, scorned Jewish practices such as circumcision, Sabbath rest, worship of an invisible God, abstinence from food declared unclean, and hundreds of restrictive rules.

Now Christ intended to make them ONE in Him.  Only God can transform lives of hatred and prejudice and if any is in Christ, he is a new creature.  Old traditions and ways would change and be replaced by new principles and ways, but as sinful creatures, we rebel and follow our beliefs at times.  Peter struggled with this at times, but always came back to following Christ.

God’s plan always involves God’s preparation.  In Acts 10, we see God preparing two people, Cornelius, a Gentile and Peter, a Jew.  Each receives a special vision as a part of the preparation.  By Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council was held and came to the conclusion that Gentiles were a part of the church.  Jesus Christ changes things!   In this passage we see how God prepares the receiver of the gospel (Cornelius), and the messenger of the gospel (Peter) and then at the perfect time, God brings the two together.

God chose a man to receive the Gospel but He always gives that man a choice.  This is election and free will working together.

 Here’s what we learn about the man.  First, he lived in Caesarea.  Caesarea was the location of a military garrison and the headquarters of the Roman government.  The majority of the population was Gentiles.  Caesarea is about 30 miles north of Joppa, which today is called Tel Aviv.  Caesarea was a gift to Herod the Great from Roman Emperor Augustus.  Cornelius was a centurion of an Italian band or group of 100 men.  A Roman legion was 6,000 men, divided into 10 groups, called cohorts, of 600 men.  Each cohort had 6 centurions, one of which was Cornelius.  We also know that Cornelius had a seeking heart and mind.  We also see that Cornelius was described as devout, feared God, influenced his house, gave alms or money to the people (a word used in Acts to speak of Jews), and prayed to God continually.  In spite of his good works, Cornelius had a great need.  He was separated from God and need to be redeemed.  He needed Jesus to change all things.  Cornelius had a certain amount of light and sought to know in a personal way the God he knew about.  When we see Cornelius referred to as one who feared God, we see a Gentile who was sick of his own worthless religion and who came to the conclusion that the true God was Jehovah, the God of Israel.  He worshipped in the synagogue, and followed the ethics of the Old Testament, including alms-giving and prayer.  He had not become a proselyte because he had not been circumcised.  This step was necessary to convert to Judaism.  This act would fully identify the Gentile with Israel and he would be considered a Jew in a spiritual sense.  In Acts 11:14, Peter related that he was to tell Cornelius the message of salvation so he and his house could be saved.  We read that at the ninth hour (3 p.m.) God sent a vision to Cornelius.  This was the time of evening prayer for the Jews.  We see God moving in response to prayer.  God was about to answer his prayer by giving him more light and then giving the receiver, Cornelius, the opportunity to actively respond.  Notice also that the angel mentioned in the vision didn’t share the gospel.  The vision itself didn’t share the gospel truth.  He wanted a man, Peter, to share the gospel.  He wanted Cornelius to be obedient to the truth.  Also notice that Cornelius was to send men to Peter.  He wasn’t to go himself.

In addition to Cornelius, God was preparing Peter.  Remember, Peter was to unlock the door to the Gentiles but he had to go in faith to Cornelius.  Peter was told by the three Gentiles who arrived at his door to come meet a man who wants to see you.  Second, Peter would go to the Gentile’s house to lead him to the Lord.  If the church were to spread to the Gentiles, Jewish believers would have to go to the Gentiles.  Remember Jews wouldn’t go to the house of a Gentile.  God was breaking down barriers because Christ changes everything.  The great thing about Cornelius is his immediate obedience.  He sent two servants and one soldier to go to Peter about 30 miles away and ask him to come and share the gospel.  While the Gentiles made the 30 mile trip, God began to work on Peter.  About noon, Peter went to pray on the roof top.  While there, Peter got hungry.  But instead of eating, he went into a trance.  God used Peter’s hunger to teach him a great truth.  We read that Peter was heaven open and a tarp pulled together and tied with a rope that extended back into heaven being lowered.  It was full of animals, both clean and unclean.  In Leviticus God laid down absolute standards regarding the diet of Jews.  Some animals were called clean and others were called unclean.  No self-respecting Jew would eat an unclean animal.   In this distinction we see the grace of God.  While one reason for the diet was to separate the Jews from the other nations, it was to keep the Jews away from socially interacting with Gentiles because the Gentiles were idolatrous and God wanted the Jews to stay away from idols.  As we read the Old Testament, in spite of God’s desire to keep the Jews from the worship of worthless idols, they still turned to them and away from Him.  God’s grace was frustrated.  In the New Testament, Christ changes things.  While we are set apart people unto God, we are called to take the gospel to the world.  God, in His grace, wants us to be His instruments that He lives through.  When we let our traditions and prejudices keep us from sharing the gospel, then we frustrate the grace of God today.  The second reason God set dietary laws for the Jews was to keep Israel from the diseases and epidemics experienced by the pagan Gentiles.  Today, God has principles that when we follow, keep us from both physical disease but more importantly, spiritual disease.  The church of today is far too often going through the motions of church.  We seek to have great numbers as we build our churches while forgetting it is Christ who is to build His church.  We place more importance on the quantity of our worship than on the quality of it.

So Peter is faced with a dilemma.  Obey God and eat clean and UNCLEAN animals, or follow his traditions and prejudices.  Peter chose to disobey.  Peter had responded to Christ by rebuking Him and every time he ended up failing.  Here again we see his stubborn pride and rashness.  Three times Jesus asked if Peter loved Him and three times Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep.  Three times here God told him to eat the animals.  Then the tarp and animals were taken back up into heaven.  What was God doing?  I think the first thing was teaching Peter that the Old Testament had been fulfilled in Christ and was no longer in effect because Christ changes everything.  The dietary laws were primarily designed to separate the Jew for the Gentile, but Christ changed that.  He was building His church which would be made up of Jew and Gentiles.  In this new body, Christ emphasized unity.  The social barrier had to be removed because through Christ they were to be one.  Love was to unite them in their worship and service for the only One Who matters, the Lord Jesus Christ.  In the early church, Jews and Gentiles wouldn’t eat together at times because the Gentiles would eat things that the Jews wouldn’t eat.  Paul tells them to act in love and while they were free, demonstrate love toward their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ who were still struggling with this new freedom in Christ.  Jews were told not to make Gentiles conform to dietary laws that God set aside.  God wanted unity and love was the agent to achieve this one-ness.  The tarp is the church, the animals represent Jews and Gentiles, and the coming down from heaven tells us that the church is created or built by Christ and the going up into heaven can represent the rapture, with Jew and Gentile believers being taken together into heaven.

Let’s stop here to talk about us.  In Matthew 15:1-20, Christ told the people that there is nothing from outside a man that defiles him, but that which comes from within.  Food is processed and removed from our system.  If it is eaten with clean or unclean hands, it will soon be removed.  The Pharisees had made washing hands a part of the law requirements of the Old Testament.  While it is a good thing to wash hands eating with dirty hands will not destroy you.  I remember playing baseball as a boy and after the game, a parent would bring out a watermelon.  We rush to grab a piece of the delightful treat, with hands dirty from playing the game.  No one got sick or died from the experience.  Sure our moms would have preferred that we wash our hands, but we were just boys being boys.  But washing hands was a rule added by the Pharisees to the law and the disciples of Jesus were considered “sinners” for not washing their hands.  Even God took Old Testament law, clean and unclean animals and set it aside because the law was made perfect or complete in the finished work of Christ.  But from within us, in our heart or inner being, are evil thoughts, immorality, violence, covetousness, as well as a number of other sins.  God is more concerned with what comes out of us.  In I Timothy 4:3-4 God, through the writings of Paul, tells us that false teachers try to put us back under the law.  Today, what traditions do we have.  Our pastor recently preached about what Jesus said about traditions.  From his sermon, I was challenged to examine what traditions I hold to and practice.   Sadly, many churches have elevated traditions to an equal status with the Bible.   Jesus, in Matthew 15, evaluates traditionalism.  Notice what Jesus said is the problem with traditionalism in verse 6.  “Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition.”  The Pharisees had complained to Jesus that His disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate.  Jesus then asked why they broke God’s law of honoring their parents.  Pharisees taught that you could say “Corban”, or declare that money that could be used to honor and take care of parents was a gift for God and that you were then free from honoring and taking care of your parents.  If you then used the gift for God by giving it to the Pharisees or if they used it themselves, according to the Pharisees, you were free of any responsibility to your parents.  Their man-made tradition was more important to these legalists than God’s word.  That’s the problem with traditionalism and legalism.

What are we doing that in effect makes the word of God void?  Have we spent a lifetime in memorizing the Bible, thinking that will make us right with God, but follow our traditions and wrong beliefs while setting aside the Word of God in our daily life.  Being obedient to man-made rules and our traditions is NOT the same as being obedient to God and His Word, regardless of what is widely accepted by leaders and the majority.  When we follow something other than God’s truth, we are hypocrites, pretending we’re right with God in our outward actions while setting aside His word in our hearts.  We follow men’s teachings and opinions even more than we follow God’s.  We might look the part of a God follower, but like Cornelius, we’re lost.  Often when we follow traditions and legalism, we talk about God’s power and presence but have no real connection with Him because we have frustrated the grace of God. So we find ourselves in a catch 22-cycle.  I have no power with God because I’m not right with God so I try to be right with God by following more rules that men give.  I am frustrating the grace of God so I continue to be without His power and presence.  Until I make the break from following outward rules and regulations, I don’t connect with Christ.  If I can be right with God through anything other than Christ, then Christ died in vain.    I also lose meaningful worship with Christ through His word when I try to live to a religious standard.  I connect to Christ through His word.  Have you gone to church and felt empty when you left?  You went because you’re suppose to but while a lot of stuff went on, it didn’t seem like Jesus was there.  I’m not talking about emotionalism because some churches try to replace the actually presence of God with fake experiences.  I’m talking about a worship that focuses on God and not on entertainment.  Is your church experience one of sitting in a pew while being entertained with music and then a sermon or are you actively worshipping God?  A sad result of traditionalism and legalism is that Biblical teaching and preaching is traded for sermons that leap from a text verse into the opinions of men about subjects that the passage doesn’t even deal with and the Bible never mentions.  How sad it is to go to a church were no matter what the passage is, the sermon is the same service after service and never changes.  We reflect about the old fashion church and live in the past when God was present because our services now are now filled with something other than worship.  Many continue in this type of church because they grew up or have always gone here and after all, the pastor has taught them that he is always right and that any other church is a lesser church.  We have a world to reach and we are trying to do it on our own.  Let’s examine our traditions and rules and get rid of the ones that have no foundation in the scriptures.  We need to keep the ones based on the Bible and the teachings of Christ and the early church.  According to II Thessalonians, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle”.  What traditions should we be practicing?

  • Humble yourself both before the Lord and others (Matt. 18:4)
  • Love others, even your enemies (Luke 6:27)
  • Treat others the way you want them to treat you. (Luke 6:31)
  • Give freely to others (Acts 20:35)
  • Pray
  • Worship
  • Serve
  • Submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ

The types of traditions that we are to follow are the ones that only come as Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, transforms us internally.  When we do our worship will be God-centered, Spirit-controlled and alive.  We look forward to getting together to worship and learn from His word.

At just the right time, God sent the three men to Peter.  God is always an on time God.  The Spirit told Peter to obey and go with the men.  God was required active faith from Peter.  Notice that Peter was obedient and allowed these Gentiles to stay with him.  Christ changes everything.


Three Words that Change Everything
October 19, 2012, 7:13 pm
Filed under: Searching for our Savior in His book

The Lord’s Prayer is a familiar passage from the Bible. Most of us can quote it from memory. Maybe we take the words and teachings of this model of prayer for granted because it is so familiar. Often times when Jesus taught, He started with something familiar and moved to application. Today, I want to talk about the first line in the prayer, “Our Father, who art in heaven”. From this I want to answer the most important question any of us can ask, “Does anybody really care?”
In teaching the disciples to pray, Jesus starts with the phrase “Our Father who art in heaven”. I want us to consider “our”, then “Father”, and then “in heaven”. Under the New Covenant, we have a special relationship with God that is unlike anything under the Old Covenant. The key to understanding the difference between saints in the Old Testament and saints in the New Testament is found in this beginning phrase.
Let’s start by looking at the word “Our”. When I pray “our”, I am admitting some basic truths. First, I don’t pray alone. The words “I” and “me” aren’t in the Lord’s Prayer. When I pray “our” I am admitting that I am not the only one who has a request to bring to God. I am a part of a body. One of the most important things that this phrase teaches is that I am a part of a family, the family of God. I am praying and I can pray with others. “Our” focuses my attention on those who are on this journey with me. It is so easy to become “me-oriented” when I pray. When I become “me-oriented” I really don’t spend the time I need to in worshipping God and in asking that His priorities become my priorities, because I am only concerned with my needs. I quickly pass off the needs of others by praying general statements about other’s needs and focus on seeking and even demanding God’s help in making my desires and dreams become a reality. When I pray “our” my view of the universe expands beyond me and I see me as a part of God’s family, a body in which Christ is the head. I also see the greatness of God. He is able to love all His family, He is powerful enough to answer each request, and He is wise enough to do what is best in each situation. When I pray “our” I am humbled and yet excited that I have a family that cares for me. When I pray “Our”, I am confessing that my problems are not the only problems in the world. We all have concerns just as big throughout the world. As a church, when we pray “Our”, we cease to be individuals coming to church with our own particular burdens. Instead, we see that we are a part of a spiritual family with the same Father and a common inheritance and with shared values. We have a close-ness with our church family that is even closer than with our unsaved biological family. It is a family created by the new birth and made possible by the shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ for our redemption.
Second, I can pray “Our Father’”. When we call God “Father,” we are saying there is one in heaven who hears and knows and understands and cares. We are encouraged in the truth that we have a Father who cares for all who are a part of His family. He will not leave us all alone. A good father on the earth will do almost anything for his children. If one of my three children would come into this room, motion like they needed to tell me something, I would immediately go to see what they needed. If I, an earthly dad, would do that, what would my heavenly Father do?
A quick glance at a concordance reveals that the name “Father” is applied to God very infrequently in the Old Testament and never by a person referring to God as “my Father.” For the 14 times it is used, it always refers to God as the Father of the nation of Israel. However when we come to the New Testament, we see a change. Jesus called God “Father” more than 70 times in the Gospels. In the Sermon on the Mount, Father appears more than 17 times. Why this enormous difference? In Galatians 4:4-7 we read that when God sent forth Jesus in the fullness of time, our relationship with Him changed. When Jesus died on the cross, the veil in the temple was torn, from top to bottom and man gained access to God in a personal way. God could become our Father. In the Old Testament we were servants, but in the New Testament, we became sons of God. In I John 3:1, John talks about the love that allows us to be called the sons or children of God. The Holy Spirit now responds to God as “Abba” (Daddy) and we can have a Father-Son relationship with God.
God revealed that due to the coming of Jesus Christ into the world, He showed us the Father-Son relationship that would become our relationship with the Father through Him. God is my personal Father is based on my relationship through Jesus Christ. It’s not that he wasn’t a Father to his people in the Old Testament, but that’s not the primary way He revealed Himself. Only in the New Testament do we discover that God is now the Father of those who come to the Lord Jesus Christ by faith.
The word “father” in the Bible means three basic things. First, it refers to source. God is the source of all that you have. When we sing the Doxology, we begin with the words “Praise God from whom all blessings flow“. Or as the Scripture says, “In him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:25). When you call God “Father,” you declare that your ultimate origin rests with him.
Second, the word Father speaks of authority. He is God and you are not. He is running the show and you are not. He is a father; you are his child. We must not use the fact of God’s love as an excuse to reject his right to rule over us. Because he is our Father “in heaven,” he has the right to do as he pleases even if his ways do not always sense to us. “He may send us pain and circumstances that frustrate us. We must not act like spoiled children when this occurs”. We should affirm our confidence in his goodness toward us at all times.
Third, when you call God “Father,” you confess that he is a God of tender loving care. There’s a Hebrew word in the Old Testament-hesed-which is translated a number of different ways. In the King James, hesed is usually translated as lovingkindness. As in “thy lovingkindness is better than life”. The word also has the concept of faithfulness to it. This word speaks of God’s loyal love to all His children. It is the love that keeps on loving no matter what we do or how badly we blow it or how many dumb mistakes we make. He is a God who never lets his children go. He loves his children with an everlasting love that is faithful and loyal no matter what happens. In Romans 8, we read
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?
36 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
37 Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us.
38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,
39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Nothing turns Him away. Does anybody care? Our Father does.
When we were far away, he loved us. When we turned our back on him, he loved us. When we broke his law, he loved us. When we went our own way, he loved us. When we said, “Leave us alone, we don’t want you around anymore,” he said, “I’m going to stay around anyway.” And when we ran, he followed. When we hid, he found us. When we cursed him to his face, he just smiled and said, “I love you anyway.” That’s what loyal love is all about. That’s the Father’s love for his children. He is always near us whether we see Him or feel Him or even whether we believe He is there or not.
He calms our fears.
He cheers us on.
He provides what we really need.
He lets us go our own way.
He welcomes us back from the far country.
“In heaven“ means that you don’t have a problem that he can’t handle.
Our Father in heaven = I pray to one who has the power to help me. “In heaven“ – that speaks of Authority. In heaven = I do not struggle alone.
Third, we pray to our Father who is “in heaven“. That’s usually a throwaway line for most of us. We tend to think it means that earth is where we are and heaven is where God is, which we imagine is beyond the farthest star. That’s not what it means. The phrase “in heaven” refers to heaven as the center of the universe and the seat of all authority and power and dominion and greatness. We are on earth and are therefore limited to this little ball of dirt floating around the sun in a little corner of a big galaxy called the Milky Way. This galaxy is just one of millions of galaxies in a universe so huge that we cannot accurately measure it. When we say that we are “on earth” it means that we pray from a position of weakness and comparative insignificance. God is in the seat of all authority and all power. Therefore, when we say, “Our father in heaven” we are proclaiming that He has the authority and power to hear us and to help us when we pray. I don’t have a problem that He can’t handle. It is precisely because God is in heaven that He has the power to help you. When I pray every single word is important. Every single word is crucial. I don’t have a need in my life that He can’t meet because He’s a father in heaven who hears and answers prayer.
Jesus told a story in Luke 15:11-32 that beautifully illustrates this truth. We call it the Parable of the Prodigal Son. It’s all about a young man who made a foolish decision and what happened to him as a result. The story begins with a younger son who rebels against his father. So he demands his inheritance from his father who agrees to give it to him. Taking the money, he leaves home and journeys to a place the Bible calls “the far country.” There he spends every dime he has on riotous living. Whatever he wants, he buys with his father’s money. Eventually the money runs out. When a famine comes, not having any money and being too far away from home, he attaches himself to a farmer who says, “The only work I have is feeding my pigs.” The prodigal son ends up penniless, homeless, starving, feeding the pigs, eating the pods from the carob trees. He who had eaten prime rib just a few weeks earlier now dines with the pigs. In the end he lost everything. The prodigal son has hit rock bottom. That’s when his life began to change.
First, he came to his senses and realized what a fool he had been. Second, he decided to return to his father. Third, he mentally rehearsed how he would confess his sin to his father. Fourth, he got up from the pigpen and started the long journey home.
As he returned, no doubt he wondered what his dad would do. His dad had suffered great loss. The money was the least of it. His reputation was lost. Most importantly, he lost a son. After all years of loving his son, of holding him, teaching him, and investing in him his son breaks his heart and the dad is left with a huge hole in his heart. Words cannot express the pain, the sadness, the loss the father feels. The son doesn’t know what dad will do.
The Bible says that while he was still a long way off, his father saw him. This is a great moment. His father sees him first. His father saw him and was moved with compassion. Day after day the father watched for his son. Night after night he waited for his return. Nothing deterred him, not the weather, not the jeers and jokes of the skeptics, not the doubting looks of his friends. Deep in his heart, he knew his son would someday come back home. Then it happened. One day, late in the afternoon, when the sun was beating down and sweat covered his face, he saw a figure slowly come over the rise and begin to walk hesitantly toward him. Throwing all dignity aside, he ran to meet his son, embraced him, threw his arms around him, and kissed him. The word Jesus used means he smothered him with kisses. In that one moment all questions were answered. The son’s fear melted away in the tears and hugs.
No one could ever have predicted what happens next. It is for this that we love this story. We read it over and over again, we cling to it, believe it, hope in it, stake out lives upon it–all because of the father’s welcome to his erring son.
There are five signs of the father’s welcome:
1. The kiss, the sign of forgiveness.
2. The robe, the sign of honor.
3. The ring, the sign of authority.
4. The sandals, the sign of freedom.
5. The feast, the sign of a joyful welcome.
Verse 24 brings the first part of the story to a close with these wonderful words of hope: “So they began to celebrate.” At the father’s command, a party begins that lasts for hours. How does the father feel about his son who has come home? “We had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of your was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found” (Luke 15:32). Back from the dead! Found! Alive again! Home again! No wonder the father said, “Let’s have a party.” It was the Father’s love that made him run to the son while his son was still a great distance away. And that same love caused him to kill the fatted calf and throw an enormous party. The son who was lost had now been found. Even during the darkest days and the longest nights, the father never gave up hope that one day his son would come home. That’s what God’s “loyal love” is all about.
You’ve never done anything that could make God stop loving you. “But you don’t know what I’ve done this week.” That’s all right. God knows, and he loves you anyway. You’ve never even imagined anything that could make God stop loving you. “I’m far away from God.” He still loves you. “I’ve sinned.” He still loves you. “You don’t understand.” I don’t have to understand. He knows and he loves you anyway. “I don’t care. I’m going to go my way.” It doesn’t matter. He still loves you. And when you’re ready, he’ll be ready. When you turn around, and you will, he’ll be standing at the door to welcome you back. That’s the mighty love of God. That’s the love of a God who is called Father. Aren’t you glad this prayer didn’t begin, “O First Principle, Hallowed be thy name,” or “O Ground of all Being, Give us this day our daily bread.” We wouldn’t have believed that. That wouldn’t have helped us.
The Lord’s Prayer answers the greatest question of the universe-Is there anybody up there who cares about me? Is there anybody up there who watches over me? Is there anybody up there who knows my name? And the answer comes back-Yes. Yes. Yes. There is a God in heaven who cares about you. And he is called Father
Good news! Good news! In Jesus Christ we have discovered the greatest news of all-that our God is not some impersonal deity, not fate or chance or some mechanical kismet or karma, not something mystical, not a God who’s so far off he doesn’t care. In Jesus Christ we’ve discovered the most important truth of the universe. Our God wants to be “our Father”. He loves us so much that He did something I would never think of doing. He gave His own Son to die for me. He loves us inconceivably because He did the inconceivable. He gave His Son for us, proving that He is “our Father” and that He truly loves his children.
All that a good father is to his children God will be to His children when they approach Him in prayer. The most profound prayer you will ever pray has only three words-“Our Heavenly Father.” Can you pray those words today because He is your Father? Jesus made this real simple because we are simple people. The message of these simple words is profound, “Everything God has for us and that He is for us is wrapped in the word “Father.” When we come to Him in Jesus’ name, we are not coming to an angry God, but to a friendly Father. So don’t be afraid to talk to God. Your Father is waiting to hear from you.
A Truth to Remember: In Jesus Christ, we’ve discovered the most important truth of the universe. Our God wants to be our Father. Come to Him today, through Jesus. He will give us the power or authority to become the sons of God. He will become our Father.

Real Faith of a Forgotten Saint
October 19, 2012, 7:11 pm
Filed under: Searching for our Savior in His book

A. A Real Man with a Surprising Commission
The Command (10-12) to test the genuineness of Ananias’ obedience. In the New Testament times, the name Ananias was a common name among the Jews. It is the Greek form of the Hebrew name “Hananiah”. In the New Testament, three lives are recorded of men named Ananias. The first Ananias is found in Acts 5:1-11. He was a member of the assembly of believers who made up the first church in Jerusalem. Along with his with, Sapphira, Ananias sold a piece of property and lied about the amount, bringing a smaller portion as a gift to the church. Before Peter, Ananias lied and was rebuked for his sin. Immediately he fell down dead. Later, the same fate came upon his wife. Forever, he is a picture of hypocrisy within the church.
The last Ananias was the high priest and president of the Sanhedrin at the time of Paul’s arrest as recorded in Acts 23:2. He was appointed high priest in A.D. 48 and remained until 58. His arrogance at the time of Paul’s arrest was characteristic of his whole tenure. His apparent cooperation with the conspirators who were seeking to assassinate Paul (23:12–15) further reveals his unscrupulous character. In A.D. 66, when the Romans came to subdue the Jewish people, Ananias was himself murdered by assassins for his collaboration with the Romans. He is an example of the emptiness of a life founded on the practice of legalism and the worthless traditions of man.
The most important of the three was the disciple from Damascus whom God used to minister to Saul (Paul) after his conversion. Paul describes him as “a devout man according to the law,” with a good testimony before others (22:12). As Ananias laid hands upon Saul, he was showing the love of God. He called Saul, brother, as a way of showing acceptance. Saul received his sight and was filled with the Holy Spirit. The apostleship of Paul wasn’t founded on the ministry of another apostle, which could have been assumed if an apostle was the instrument God used. It was founded on Christ, who used this forgotten disciple to love on Saul. It is also striking to see that God used this average disciple to tell Saul that he would undergo great suffering for the cause of Christ. Little else is known of Ananias. There is nothing else revealed about him in the Bible. Tradition says that Ananias later became bishop of Damascus and died a martyr. He is a picture of the grace of God toward sinners. Jesus is the friend of sinners and He wants us to be the instrument He uses to show sinners today, that He is gracious. Interestingly, the name Ananias means, “The Lord is gracious”.

a. Notice that the Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision, but Ananias knew it was the Lord Jesus Christ. To me this indicates that in order to have God speak to you, you have to have a personal relationship in which He talks to you and you talk to Him. The word “disciple” indicates his unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ. The Greek word here is “mathetes” which means “to learn”. This was a part of the process Ananias was going through to learn spiritual maturity. We often think that a relationship with Jesus Christ is only based on what Christ can do to make our lives better. The other part of the story is what He can do through our obedient lives. We are His hands, feet, and mouths. He loves others through us. Here Ananias is told to do the following:
i. Arise
ii. Go to Straight Street (or Avenue) where he hadn’t been before
iii. Go into a house he had never visited before belonging to a man named Judas who he didn’t know
iv. Look for Saul of Tarsus, the murdering butcher who came seeking to capture Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem to be tortured or killed for their faith, who was “PRAYING!!!”
v. Greet Saul, who is looking for you. He saw a vision that you would come, place your hand on him, and restore his sight.
Notice that God gave Ananias a simply task, but that this task was of amazing importance. Maybe Ananias understood the significance of his faithfulness and maybe he didn’t. The thing for us to understand, is that when we are asked to do something by God, it doesn’t matter if we understand it or not, we are to obey. God’s will is known by God and that’s all that is important. We are to be faithful in surrendering to God’s will.

b. The Argument (13-14)
Ananias responded like many of us would; he questioned the word and will of God. To make sure that Jesus knew who He was asking him to visit, Ananias wanted to tell the Lord Jesus Christ, all about Saul. His argument could have gone like this:
“Ananias protested, “Master, you can’t be serious. Everybody’s talking about this man and the terrible things he’s been doing, his reign of terror against your people in Jerusalem! And now he’s shown up here with papers from the Chief Priest that give him license to do the same to us.”
Here is Saul’s resume:
1. He is the object of everybody’s conversation.
2. He did a lot of violence and evil to Christians at Jerusalem
3. He was the attack dog of the chief priests to arrest Christians, with their full authority and permission.
Reluctance to do God’s will is purely an earthly and a human response. Heaven knows reluctance to do the will of God.

c. The Command (15-16)
Notice the word “but”. In spite of all that Saul was known to be, God had a plan for both Ananias and Saul. For Ananias, God wanted him to “go” and be his instrument to help and teach Saul. Through Ananias, the church would see a leader giving approval to Saul’s conversion. For Saul, God was going to use him as a chosen (or handpicked) vessel (or carrying case) for God and the message. Saul planned to use Saul to preach and teach the Gentiles about Jesus Christ, the Jews, and earthly kings. God also wanted Saul to know that there would be a cost involved with sharing the gospel, and Saul would suffer many great things for the sake of Christ. Paul was a chosen apostle to the Gentiles. In order for Saul to become what God planned for him to be required the complete obedience of Ananias in going to Saul. Remember, God uses us as His instrument to reach and teach others. Who is in your life because wants to use you as His intervention to teach him what God’s plan for his life? Ananias was the instrument used by God to turn the raging bull known as Saul, into the bleating lamb known as Paul. Though he didn’t know how God’s plan could possibly work, God had a key that would be used in the life of Saul and he would never be the same.

B. From Raging Bull to Bleating Lamb (17-22)
God was planning on using suffering to transform Saul. Suffering is Christ’s classroom where we learn humility, compassion, character, patience, and grace. Years later, the Holy Spirit had Paul recount some the tools used to transform him. In II Corinthians 11:23-28, we are given insight into the suffering experienced by Saul. Make sure that you remember, God will sacrifice your outward comfort for inward transformation. Paul’s body wore the enduring stripes of suffering that he had experienced in severe beatings, stoning, imprisonment, shipwrecks, disease, loneliness, disease, ambushes, robberies, starvation, insomnia as well as the stress involved with the planting of new churches and then dealing with the infant churches’ growth processes.

C. A Forgotten Hero (17) The great majority of God’s Servants are just ordinary people just like you and me. All we need to be are willing instruments, surrendered to the will of our Father. We need to be faithful.
Lives characterized by FAITHFULNESS
a. We are willing to go. “Went”
b. We are willing to do. “Entered”
c. We are willing to love. “Put hands on” (which was an act of love)
d. We are willing to accept others. Called him “Brother” (which was an act of acceptance)
e. We are willing to proclaim. Told about Jesus
f. We are willing to help. Helped (Notice that the healing was immediate and permanent)
g. We are willing to invest our lives. Later Saul was baptized, probably by Ananias.
h. We are willing to reproduce. Notice that Saul began to point people to Jesus as the Savior and Redeemer. Of special interest is verse 22. Paul was said to be proving that this is “very Christ”. Not only did Paul preach (proclaim) Jesus but the word “proving”, which means “to knit together from several different strands”, indicating that he share Jesus as Christ in a way that was knitted together, seamlessly delivered with compelling logic.
D. Some Surprising Elements of God’s Will (amazed- ecstatic)
a. God’s surprises are always a part of God’s leading! Take notice of the surprising elements in this narrative: “Light from Heaven”, “Life-changing transformation”, “illogical and unreasonable command given in a vision”.
b. Surprises always intensify our need for faith. God often calls us to do things that only total faith in Him enables us to do.
c. Stepping out in faith always brings the details of God’s plans into clearer focus. When we step out, God often gives new insights that put the finishing touches on His amazing plan
E. Obedience always stimulates growth because God allows us to be stretched beyond our limits and we will see God do amazing things in and through us.

F. Let’s Get Real- Right now, are you totally trusting Him with all of your life?

1. Have you ever been skeptical of whether God can really take care of you if you totally follow Him?

2. Why did you doubt the reality of a God’s ability or willingness to fulfill His will in and through you?

3. How has God stretched your faith through others?

4. Why does God sometimes put us into difficult situations which are beyond our abilities to solve apart from Him?

5. We pray for God’s will to be done in the Lord’s Prayer in earth as it is in heaven. When God shows His will to you, how does your immediate response compare to the angels’ response in heaven?