Wednesday, December 5, 2018

A demonstration of commitment (Acts 21:17-36)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

Sometimes when you try to fix something, you only end up making it worse than it was.
Steve is in charge of water and sewer billing for a small city. Some customers complain that the postcard-sized bills look too much like junk mail and that they occasionally throw them away by mistake. So the billing department decides to use a full-sized letter and announces the new format a month ahead. To Steve's surprise, complaints start to come in over the proposed change. When he reviews the original announcement, he understands the reason. It reads... "Coming soon! New Larger Bills!"
Sometimes when you try to fix something, you only end up making it worse than it was. The apostle Paul tries to fix something on a visit to Jerusalem but only manages to make it worse.

Paul's ministry, especially his outreach to gentiles, has not endeared him to some in the Jewish community, despite the general acceptance of God-fearers in the synagogue. The false rumors about how he supposedly denigrates the law to make his teaching more appealing to non-Jews is particularly hard for this Pharisee to bear and is something he must address before it becomes too widespread and too difficult to correct.

Paul does not know it yet, but when he enters the temple to fulfill a Nazirite vow it will be his last public appearance. His return to Jerusalem is "A Window of Opportunity" to make the case that he is not a traitor to his people.

I. The elders receive the itinerant missionary (Acts 21:17-26).
Acts 21:17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James; and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. 23 Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; 24 take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you but that you yourself live in observance of the law. 25 But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity." 26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself with them and went into the temple, to give notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for every one of them.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Putting God's priorities first (Num 25)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

It is appropriate to honor those who are above you or older than you, at least listen to them:
An elderly man strode into his doctor's office and said, "Doc, my druggist said to tell you to change my prescription and to check the prescription you've been giving Mrs. Smith." "Oh, he did, did he?" the doctor shot back. "Since when does a druggist second guess a doctor's orders?" The old man replied, "Since he found out I've been on birth control pills for the last two months."
It is appropriate to honor those who are above you, as Phinehas does in being "Zealous for God's Honor."

As Israel makes its way from Egypt to the Promised Land, the nation encounters several obstacles. Some obstacles are direct, like that from the Amorites, who attempt to stop Israel's passage by using its army. Other obstacles are indirect, like that from the Moabites, who attempt to slow Israel's passage by using prophetic intervention through Balaam. Still other obstacles are even more insidious, like that from the Midianites, who attempt to subvert Israel's progress altogether by inviting the people to a seemingly innocuous celebration.

People in general want more out of life than what they currently have, and they look for what they lack in various places outside themselves, often resorting to some form of religion. God satisfies that need for all people who look to Him. Unfortunately, some people look elsewhere, even to gods of their own making, a practice that achieves some popularity even among God's people, those who should know better. Worshiping idols rarely stops with paying homage to them. Released from the moral constraints that come with worshiping the true God, idol worshipers are free to indulge themselves in any way they please, which they do.

I. Idolatry is rampant in Israelite society (Num 25:1-5).
A. The people adopts foreign influences.
Num 25:1 While Israel was staying in Shictim, the men began to indulge in sexual immorality with Moabite women, 2 who invited them to the sacrifices to their gods. The people ate and bowed down before these gods. 3 So Israel joined in worshiping the Baal of Peor. And the LORD'S anger burned against them.
Adam and Eve receive no prohibition against idolatry, neither does Noah or the Patriarchs. In fact, idols are a common part of early households for generations:
When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father's household gods. (Gen 31:19)

Monday, December 3, 2018

The oracles of Balaam (Num 22-24)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2018

People often treat prayer like reciting a grocery list, and with good reason. After all, Paul says, "In everything, by prayer and petition... present your requests to God" (Phil 4:6).
A pajama-clad tot called out to his family: "I'm going upstairs to say my prayers now. Does anybody want anything?"
People often treat prayer like reciting a grocery list, but prayer should never simply be an enumeration of requests. In fact, God may direct you to focus your interaction with Him in a direction different from what you initially intend, as He does when instructing the prophet Balaam about "God's Protection Plan for Israel."

After Israel leaves its exile in Egypt, God's people travel through areas where other people groups have settled. These other people groups are not necessarily welcoming to large numbers of strangers traipsing through their territory, especially as the motive of these transients may not be clear. Are they just on their way to somewhere else, or are they looking for new places to conquer? Because of this uncertainty, the Israelites do not always receive a warm reception as they make their way to the Promised Land.
  • When the Israelites came to the city-state of Arad, forces from that region attacked, but Israel "completely destroyed them and their towns" (Num 21:3).
  • When the Israelites came to Sihon, the Amorite king rejected their offer to pass through his country without taxing its resources: Moses assured the king, "We will not turn aside into any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well" (Num 21:22b). Instead, the king "mustered his entire army and marched...against Israel.... Israel, however, put him to the sword and took over his land." (Num 21:23-24)
  • When the Israelites came to Bashan, that king "and his whole army marched out to meet them in battle.... [But] they struck him down, together with his sons and his whole army, leaving them no survivors. And they took possession of his land. (Num 21:33, 35)
Another people the Israelites encounter is the Moabites, descendants of Lot, Abraham's nephew. The Moabites have settled east of the Jordan River and have a king named Balak, who is not thrilled when the Israelites reach his border.

I. Balak's plan is to seek Israel's destruction.

While others have resisted by force Israel's trek to Canaan and have invariably suffered as a result, this monarch attempts to avoid a confrontation and deals differently with this foreign invader, although his ultimate goal of eliminating the threat is the same as that of Israel's previous enemy encounters.