Tuesday, June 26, 2018

A visit to the Temple (Acts 21:17-32)

A VISIT TO THE TEMPLE (John 21:17-32)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
There is nothing like actually going to a place to appreciate fully what it has to offer.
Two brothers, George and Carl, grew up in a small town in rural Vermont. George, however, decided to leave the area, and settled in Texas. For years he tried to get his brother to visit him. He constantly extolled the virtues of Texas, particularly noting how big everything was there. Finally, thirty years later, Carl decided it was time to take the plunge, so he bought a ticket and flew to Houston. George picked him up at the airport in a car that was bigger than any Carl had ever seen. As they drove silently out toward George's ranch, Carl remarked to himself that his brother was right; everything in Texas is huge! Finally, as they drove up a very long driveway, the large ranch house came into view. As they went up the walk, Carl was nearly overwhelmed by the size of this house. Inside, the living room seemed to be 40 feet long. Carl asked if he could use the bathroom, so his brother showed him down a long hallway. "Go to the end of this hail, turn left, and the bathroom door will be the first on your right." George went back to the living room to wait when he heard a frightening scream coming from down the hall. He ran to find out what the problem was, and discovered that Carl had turned right instead of left, had fallen into the swimming pool, and was yelling, "Help, don't flush it!"
There is nothing like actually going to a place to appreciate fully what it has to offer. Even if you have been there before, it is often good to see it again, as Paul did with "A Visit to the Temple."
After an extensive tour of Asia Minor, the Apostle Paul returns to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. It has been a while since he was in the temple, and he needed to fulfill a vow he made earlier. Besides it will be good to see some old friends. So he goes, and...
I. Paul receives a warm welcome from believers in Jerusalem (vv. 17-25).
A. They commend him.
Acts 21:17 When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. 18 The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. 19 Paul greeted them and reported what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: "You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law.
On Paul's last trip to the capital, he met with the elders of the church and gave a similar report about his ministry: "The whole assembly...listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them" (Acts 15:12). At that time, the controversy was within the believing Jewish community, which had to decide if uncircumcised gentiles could be part of the faith. The answer they proposed and Peter articulated was 'yes':
God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God...showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. (Acts 15:7-9)
This was a decision that echoed the apostle's visit with Cornelius.

Monday, June 25, 2018

"In Jesus' name" (Acts 19:1-20)

IN JESUS' NAME (Acts 19:1-20)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
Some questions lend themselves to a multiple choice answer and may leave you uncertain about the correct one.
As passengers settled in on the short commuter flight, an attendant announced, "We'd like you folks to help us welcome our new co-pilot. He'll be performing his first commercial landing for us today, so be sure to give him a big round of applause when we come to the gate." The plane made an extremely bumpy landing, bouncing hard two or three times before taxiing to a stop. Still, the passengers applauded. Then the attendant's voice came over the intercom, "Thanks for flying with us, and don't forget to let our copilot know...which landing you liked best."
Some questions lend themselves to a multiple choice answer and may leave you uncertain about the correct one. During Jesus' ministry he posed several questions to his disciples, but none of them was multiple choice, including what they will accomplish "In Jesus' Name."
When Paul is on his third missionary journey, he visits Ephesus and finds a small group of John the Baptist's disciples. While there the apostle does three things "In Jesus' Name": baptizes, heals, and frightens.
I. Paul baptizes in Jesus' name (vv. 1-10).
A. He promotes the Spirit.
Acts 19:1 Paul took the road through the interior [of Asia Minor] and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples 2 and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." 3 So Paul asked, "Then what baptism did you receive?" "John's baptism," they replied. 4 Paul said, "John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus." 5 On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.
Disciples in the early church, like those in rabbinic Judaism, mark progress in their education not by the academic degrees they receive but by the teachers under whom they study. Disciples in the Corinthian church, for example, are careful to note their academic pedigree: "One of you says, 'I follow Paul'; another, 'I follow Apollos'; another, 'I follow Cephas'; still another, 'I follow Christ." (1 Cor 1:12). Believers also mark their progress by the baptism they receive, whether from John or Jesus. John and Jesus are not the only two who baptized, but their ablutions mark a divide in a disciple's devotion, to God in general (acknowledging repentance from sin) and to Jesus in particular (accepting salvation from sin).
Despite his title, John does not inaugurate the practice of baptism among the first followers of Jesus. Ritual ablution is a common practice that God establishes through Moses centuries earlier to remedy ceremonial defilement, and He includes it in the early church to mark the ceremonial cleansing of new members. Purification is especially important for gentiles because of their contamination from idolatry. On this occasion the candidates are Jewish disciples of John who are prepared for the messiah's ministry but do not have a full understanding of his advent. They know what he taught in life—how he came "to seek and to save what was lost" (Luke 19:10)5—but not what he accomplished in death— "the forgiveness of sins" (Matt 26:28).

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Good news for gentiles (Acts 10:1-48)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
Some potentially risky situations require certain precautions to avoid complications later.
Flying to Los Angeles from San Francisco, a passenger noticed that the "Fasten Seat Belts" sign was kept lit during the whole trip although the flight was a very smooth one and relatively short. Just before landing, one passenger asked the flight attendant about it. "Well," she explained, 'Up front there are 17 University of California girls going to LA for the weekend. In back, there are 25 Coast Guard enlistees. What would you do?"
Some potentially risky situations require certain precautions to avoid complications later. When Peter leads a Jewish group to meet a gentile group at the home of Cornelius, two groups that normally are "Biblically Separate," it is necessary to take certain precautions to ensure that the two groups get along well.
Although the focus in the Old Testament is on the descendants of Abraham, God has always welcomed gentiles, either separately (e.g., Jethro, Melchizedek) or as part of the nation (e.g., Rahab, Ruth). These same two options remain open for gentiles who come to God in the New Testament. Some become converts (e.g., Nicolas) while others remain separate, called "God-fearers." The two groups differ in their observation of biblical law, with God-fearing gentiles obeying what He expects from everyone (e.g., idolatry), while converts also obey what God expects from Jews (e.g., holidays). This chapter is about a group of gentiles that remains separate and does not convert. As the account begins...
I. The Lord renews the invitation.
A. He speaks through a vision (vv. 1-8).
Acts 10:1 At Caesarea [a western port city in the north] there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. 2 He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. 3 One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, "Cornelius!" 4 Cornelius stared at him in fear. "What is it, Lord?" he asked. The angel answered, "Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. 5 Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. 6 He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea." 7 When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. 8 He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa [a western port city in the south].
Cornelius is an unusual gentile; he has a reputation for righteousness, not merely as a 'nice' person: He is "devout and God-fearing," one who gives "generously" to the poor, and who prays "regularly" (v. 2). He is one of those rare gentiles who has adopted Israel's God as his own. Moreover, he is not alone in his faith. His whole family believes, as does at least one member of his staff.
What Cornelius sees is not a vague, shadowy apparition: "He distinctly saw an angel of God" (v. 3). Angelic visitations are not common in the Bible, especially to gentiles . Whether or not the centurion realizes how rare this situation is, he responds as most people do, not in disbelief but in "fear" (v. 4). He takes seriously the instruction he receives and sends representatives to Joppa, perhaps wondering how a stranger there, a Jew, will receive him. While the synagogue in Capernaum is open to gentiles, there is no guarantee that Jews in Joppa will be like-minded. What he does not know is that God will prepare the way.
B. He speaks through a trance (vv. 9-16).
Acts 10:9 About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance. 11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air. 13 Then a voice told him, "Get up, Peter. Kill and eat." 14 "Surely not, Lord!" Peter replied. "I have never eaten anything impure or unclean." 15 The voice spoke to him a second time, "Do not call anything impure that God has made clean." 16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

The gospel spreads (Acts 2-6)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
It is important that we take charge of our lives where we can, that we manage areas we can reasonably control. For example, modern medicine enables us to manage our pain.
A patient who came to the radiology office for abdominal X-rays was already heavily sedated, but the technician still had to ask her a list of questions, the last one being, "Ma'am, where is your pain right now?" Through her medicated fog, she answered, "He's at work."
It is important that we manage areas we can reasonably control. As the gospel begins to spread in first century Judaism, both apostles and religious leaders make attempts at "Managing the Message," either to promote it or to prevent it, with mixed success.
When Jesus meets with the eleven remaining apostles before his ascension to heaven, he gives some parting instructions: "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Beginning where they are, they must work outward promoting the message of the kingdom, now enhanced by Jesus' resurrection. In this way they will increase the number of disciples for the movement he began three years earlier. What he does not mention is that their efforts will encounter resistance. Some of the same forces that opposed him will continue to oppose them, making their life difficult. Even so, God sees to "Managing the Message" as they get the word out, and their numbers increase.
The first few chapters of Luke's account chronicle this initial effort while the apostles are still together in the capital city. He records the effects of their public meetings as the news spreads: Jesus is alive, and he has accomplished something wonderful. In its nascent beginnings the propagation effort goes through three stages as the apostles' activity reaches into higher echelons of Jewish society. The first stage is the simplest because it only involves the general public. The second stage is more complex because it also involves the religious establishment. The third stage is most complex because it involves the highest court in the land.
The apostles begin where they will have the largest audience, which is in the temple. The crowd is even bigger than normal because many people have come to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost and have gathered in the sanctuary complex. Peter gives a moving sermon that culminates with an invitation to become a disciple of Jesus and recognize what he has accomplished by his death on a cross. In response...
I. The people accept the gospel.
Acts 2:38 Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call." 40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, "Save yourselves from this corrupt generation." 41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Seeing is believing (John 20:24-29)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
Gazing in the mirror as the years go by, it is difficult to believe how different I look—more gray, less hair.
A balding, middle-aged man asked his barber, "Why do I have to pay full price for a haircut when there's so little of it?" "Well," the barber replied, "I only actually charge a little for cutting it. What you're paying for mostly is my time searching for it."
Gazing in the mirror as the years go by, it is difficult to believe how different I look, but seeing is believing

In one of Jesus' final appearances before his ascension, he makes a special connection with one of his apostles to strengthen the man's faith and dispel any doubts that he, Jesus, is the risen Lord. Despite Jesus' repeated predictions of his resurrection, that event was far from the minds of his followers after his death, and only incontrovertible proof would persuade them otherwise. That was Thomas's position: "Seeing Is Believing.

I. Thomas questions Jesus' resurrection (vv. 24-25).
John 20:24 Now Thomas (called Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord!" But he said to them, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it."
Thomas, also called Didymus ("twin"), is among the first disciples Jesus calls, and he is with Jesus throughout his ministry.
These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. (Matt 10:2-4)
Presumably, Thomas accompanied Jesus during his Galilean tours as well as on his various trips to Jerusalem. The gospel writers say little about him, though, until after the resurrection. He has heard the excited reports from other disciples about a Jesus risen from the dead, but he gives no credence to second-hand accounts.
A. He doubts the other's verification.
B. He demands his own verification.
Thomas must see for himself. Moreover, he is apparently familiar with the wounds Jesus sustained during the crucifixion, although he may not have been there, and he fully expects to see evidence of them.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Jesus' high priestly prayer (John 17:1-26)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
When you pray, it is best to consider the occasion so that you can pray appropriately.
Young Jeremy had only heard his grandfather pray at Thanksgiving, Easter, and other special occasions. At those times, and to his grandmother's chagrin as the food cooled off, he typically said a long prayer. One night, after an enjoyable campout and fishing trip, to Jeremy's surprise his grandfather said a very brief blessing. With a gleam in his eye, the boy grinned at his grandfather and said, "You don't pray so long when you're hungry."
When you pray, it is best to consider the occasion so that you can pray appropriately. "Jesus' High Priestly Prayer" in John 17 demonstrates his consideration of the occasion before his arrest and execution so he could pray appropriately. The prayer is the "solemn consecration" (Morris 1971:716) of his disciples as his earthly ministry draws to a close.
This passage is unique to John's gospel. While there are other references to Jesus' prayer habits, this one includes the only extended transcript of what he says. There are several exhortations for disciples to pray as well as some instructions about what to pray but few actual illustrations of prayer, certainly none with this detail. The chapter provides a rare glimpse of how Jesus prays, and of how he prays for his followers in particular.
I. Jesus prays that God will vivify them (vv. 1-5).
John 17:1 Jesus...looked toward heaven and prayed: "Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. 2 For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. 3 Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. 4 I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.
Generally prayer is personal and private. It is not a public activity but a conversation between an individual and God. There are examples of corporate prayer and of some people leading others in prayer but with the assumption that those others are adding their own expressions of petition or contrition. While prayer is most often a solitary activity, it is not one-sided with only a single party participating. It is interactive between an individual and God, as it is here between Jesus and his Father. Nevertheless, on this occasion Jesus vocalizes aloud his prayer so that the disciples can appreciate what he is saying on their behalf. Although John does not record the Father's response, it is certainly positive.
A. He is the purveyor of eternal life.
God's purpose is not simply to extend the quantity of life, but to increase the quality of life. So Jesus defines eternal life as knowing "the only true God" (v. 5). While Jesus presumably prayed for his disciples throughout his ministry, now facing death, he wants them to receive the benefits that come from his intercession.
Jesus is clear about his responsibility...
B. He is the promoter of divine glory.
The sage says: "Let another praise you, and not your own mouth" (Prov. 27:2a), advice Jesus follows here by cultivating the Father's praise. While others may exhibit it (e.g., "heavens" Ps 19:1; "angels" Luke 9:26), asserting God's glory is the Son's primary duty. No one and nothing advances His glory to the same extent.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

"Who sinned?" (John 9:1-41)

"WHO SINNED?" (John 9:1-41)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
Often times, a particular problem needs a particular solution, one specifically tailored to the task at hand.
A warrant officer was sitting alone in the waiting room of a military hospital before a routine physical exam, but what he really needed was an appointment with the base eye doctor for glasses. Alas, every attempt to schedule something in a reasonable time failed. Just then a general walked into the reception area. The warrant officer snapped to attention, offered a crisp salute, and said, "Good morning, Colonel." "Mister," the general replied, "If you can't tell a two-star general from a colonel, you need glasses." The warrant officer had his appointment with the base eye doctor the next day.
Often times, a particular problem needs a particular solution, one specifically tailored to the task at hand. There are few physicians in First Century Judaism, and only one with the medical expertise to heal a blind man as well as the theological acumen to answer the disciples' question: "Who Sinned?"
Wherever Jesus goes in the course of his ministry he encounters people in need, either physically or spiritually, and he demonstrates his unique ability to solve any problem: "The people brought to Jesus all who had various kinds of sickness, and laying his hands on each one, he healed them" (Luke 4:40). As a rabbi, Jesus is responsible for the education of his disciples, and one particular occasion during a visit to Jerusalem provides an opportunity both to heal and to teach.
I. Jesus meets the blind man (vv. 1-7).
John 9:1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 7 "Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
A. The disciples wonder who sinned.
It was a common assumption, and not an unreasonable one, that personal suffering is the result of some indiscretion. As Jesus observed: "Those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem?" (Luke 13:4) But it is not always so, and the prevalence of suffering is attributable to a variety of causes. In this case, for example, it is to give Jesus an opportunity to highlight God's glory by healing the man:
B. The rabbi works for God.
John makes frequent reference to Jesus' divine commission (e.g., the allusion in the very name of the pool—v. 7) and to his divine example:
Whatever the Father does the Son also does. (John 5:19)
I stand with the Father, who sent me. (John 8:16)
I...speak just what the Father has taught me. (John 8:28)
I came from God.... I have not come on my own; but he sent me. (John 8:42)

Monday, June 18, 2018

Disciples (John 1:35-51)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018
When kids first go away to college they often leave parents wondering how well they will do on their own.
A student called his mother one evening from his college dorm and asked her for some money, because he was broke. "Sure, sweetie," she replied. "I'll send you some money.  
You also left your economics textbook here when you were home two weeks ago. Do you want me to send that up as well?" "Uh, yeah, OK" he responded.
After his mother sent the package, his father asked, "How much did you give the boy this time?" "Oh, I wrote a check for $20, and a note that he should ask for $200 next time." 
"Are you going crazy?" her husband asked. "Why would you do a thing like that?"  
"Don't worry," she replied, "I taped the $20 check to the cover of his book, but I put the note between the pages in chapter 15!"
When kids first go away to college they often leave parents wondering how well they will do on their own. "Jesus' First Disciples" were not kids, but their parents may have wondered how they would fare under the tutelage of this new rabbi.
Jesus begins his ministry as do other teachers in first century Judaism, by choosing disciples who will live with him and learn from him. It is a time-honored method of education that goes at least as far back as the prophets. He does not necessarily select those with great academic acumen but men with humble backgrounds. Right from the start, though, his disciples recognize that Jesus is different from other rabbis.
I. Andrew and Peter follow him (vv. 35-42).
A. He is the Lamb of God.
John 1:35 John was there...with two of his disciples. 36 When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" 37 When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. 38 Turning around, Jesus saw them following and asked, "What do you want?" They said, "Rabbi" (which means Teacher), "where are you staying?" 39 "Come," he replied, "and you will see." So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him. It was about the tenth hour.
John, although not much older than Jesus, is a teacher himself with disciples of his own. That he is ready, even eager, to transfer two of them to his cousin's tutelage indicates the confidence he has in Jesus' instruction: Jesus probably intends his question—"What do you want?"—to gauge their commitment. It is not unusual for a rabbi at first to discourage potential disciples and thereby test the seriousness of their desire to learn from him.
John identifies Jesus as "the lamb of God" (v. 36), a connection he made earlier but with the addition "who takes away the sin of the world" (v. 29), an allusion to the vicarious atonement he will secure by his death on the cross.- The analogy is only partial, however, and breaks down in that the sin offering is inferior to Jesus' offering, the animal sacrifice being temporal and ceremonial whereas Jesus' sacrifice is eternal and soteriological. Despite John's picturesque connection, it is doubtful that any who might have been present at the time understood the allusion beyond a superficial connection.