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The Calling of the First Disciples November 3, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 4:18-22.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus calls the following pairs of brothers as His first disciples:

  • Peter and Andrew
  • the sons of Zebedee – James and John.

These fishermen willingly abandon their livelihoods and follow Him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Peter, Andrew, James and John all obey Jesus when He calls them to follow Him. This spurred me to consider how God calls modern-day believers to follow Him. Note that Scripture does provide general guidance along these lines, including:

  • Ephesians 4:1, which states that God has (generally) called all believers
  • Matthew 22:37-40, which states that believers should love God and love others
  • Matthew 28:19-20, which states that believers should spread the Gospel message.

Yet believers throughout the ages have had difficulty discerning their specific calling from God. While we sense that we have certain gifts and inclinations, if we are unaware of our specific calling, we may not know how to put them to good use. Now I should note that some of my friends have received a specific calling from God and responded by changing their careers and/or moving overseas. In general, they did not hear an audible voice from God; instead, they sensed that God was drawing them in a particular direction. For example, they saw Him at work when they:

  • were laid off from a cherished position
  • engaged in a deep conversation with a missionary on home assignment.

Over a period of several months – or even years – they prayed and sought the counsel of others before gradually arriving at the point where they could take a dramatic step in the direction of fulfilling a specific calling. Their experiences remind me that I should continue to pray that God would grant me wisdom and discernment. I pray that if/when He calls me in a new direction, I would be able to sense His calling and respond appropriately.

Simon the Sorceror June 18, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 8:9-25.

Summary: In this passage, a sorceror named Simon had captivated the Samaritans by his actions. His hold on them was broken by the arrival of Philip – who preached the Gospel message, bearing much fruit. The apostles in Jerusalem then sent Peter and John to Samaria to build on the good work of Philip. In particular, Peter and John:

  • laid their hands on the Samaritan converts so that they might receive an extraordinary gifting of the Holy Spirit
  • rebuked Simon for attempting to leverage the Holy Spirit for a pecuniary advantage
  • preached the Gospel message.

Thoughts: Simon the sorceror is a central figure in this passage. How did he acquire his powers of sorcery (e.g. by making a pact with Satan)? What was his understanding of the Gospel message that Philip presented? After he was baptized, did Philip instruct him on how to live obediently to God? How did he respond to Peter’s sharp rebuke of his pecuniary motives? Was he convicted of his sin and compelled to live a righteous life? I certainly hope to meet him in the next life and learn about God’s work in his life.

In verses 15 and 16, we see that while the Samaritans had been baptized, they had not received the Holy Spirit. Calvin offers some insights on this potentially confusing point in his commentary on verse 16:

A question arises here. Luke says they were only baptized into the name of Christ and that they had not yet received the Holy Spirit; but either baptism must be empty and confer no grace, or else its power must come from the Holy Spirit…He must be speaking about those special gifts that God gave certain people in the early days of the Gospel to honor Christ’s kingdom…So we conclude that the Samaritans already had the Spirit of adoption, and the special graces of the Spirit were then added.

Initially, I was confused by these verses; thus, Calvin’s insights were immensely helpful. Now I am curious as to whether these “special graces of the Spirit” can still be communicated today through the laying on of hands. We occasionally see believers – even in churches that adhere to a conservative doctrine – laying hands on pastors and missionaries at special ceremonies. Does God furnish them with extraordinary gifts at those ceremonies? Or are those ceremonies symbolic – confirming what God has already done?

Peter and John Before the Sanhedrin May 3, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 4:1-22.

Summary: In this passage, the Jewish aristocracy arrested Peter and John – since they continued to proclaim the Gospel message to the Jewish proletariat. The Sanhedrin gathered in Jerusalem and questioned Peter and John regarding the miracle that they had just performed. Peter responded by:

  • giving glory to God
  • citing the healing power of His Son – Jesus Christ of Nazareth
  • quoting from Psalm 118:22 to spur them to repentance – as they had crucified the Son of God.

The Sanhedrin was caught in a bind, as the news of this miracle had spread throughout Jerusalem – yet they did not want to legitimize the Gospel message. They ordered Peter and John to refrain from preaching the Gospel message – yet the apostles continued to obey God and acknowledge His sovereignty in this matter. Moreover, many Jews gave glory to God for this miracle and received the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: In verse 11, we see that Peter quotes from Psalm 118:22 to illustrate the supremacy of Jesus Christ of Nazareth – even though He was rejected by the Jewish aristocracy. This reminds me that Peter quotes from the same passage in his first epistle – highlighting the fact that after he received the Holy Spirit, he yielded his entire life to the supremacy of Christ. Formerly, Peter was driven by worldly desires, including political grandeur and competition with the other apostles – yet the Holy Spirit drove away those desires and replaced them with subservience. I do pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to effect a similar change in my life.

In verses 19 and 20, we see Peter and John declaring their ultimate allegiance to God Himself – not to the Jewish aristocracy. This reminds me of the oft-persecuted Shouwang Church in Beijing. I remember that during one Sunday service, one of the former pastors at my old church made a Skype call to one of the Shouwang Church members. The Shouwang Church member was at home; he noted that the police were watching him and preventing him – and other church members – from attending Sunday services. He also noted that the government had repeatedly blocked the church’s attempts to purchase a building that could serve as their worship center. The Shouwang Church member appeared to be in good spirits, though, and he repeatedly gave glory to God. Indeed, it is amazing that believers who are subject to state-sponsored persecution continue to disobey their political leaders in order to worship God; I pray that their actions would encourage other believers in First World countries.

Peter Heals the Crippled Beggar April 27, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 3:1-10.

Summary: In this passage, Peter and John went to the temple in Jerusalem for the afternoon prayer. They encountered a beggar who had been crippled since birth, and he asked them for money. Instead, God performed a miracle through Peter – healing the beggar of his infirmity. The beggar then joined Peter and John as they entered the temple courts; he praised God for what He had done for him, and the onlookers pondered this miracle.

Thoughts: In verses 7 and 8, we see that when Peter healed the beggar of his infirmity, “his feet and ankles became strong” and he began “walking and jumping.” As a sports fan, I have grown to appreciate the importance of the feet and ankles in terms of maximizing an athlete’s performance. Injuries such as plantar fasciitis, Jones fractures and Achilles tendon ruptures generally prevent athletes from competing at a high level, as they are unable to push off their feet; they must endure lengthy stretches of rest and rehabilitation. It should be noted, though, that the beggar in this passage had never been healthy; this highlights the role of Christ as the Great Physician, as He is able to instantly heal any infirmity.

Jesus is Coming March 22, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 22:7-21.

Summary: In this passage, God the Son declares that:

  • He is coming soon
  • those who heed His warnings in this book will be blessed, as they will be able to 1) enter the Holy City, 2) partake of the tree of life and 3) partake of the water of life
  • those who do not heed His warnings in this book will be punished, as they will be 1) excluded from the Holy City, 2) excluded from the tree of life and 3) afflicted with many plagues
  • He is the ultimate author of this book.

John also declares that he is the human author of this book. He concludes by praying that his readers would receive the unmerited favor of God as they anticipate the coming of God the Son.

Thoughts: This book demonstrates that those who refuse to worship God and hold to His testimony will be punished. Indeed, Christ promises to judge unrepentant sinners by:

  • removing a lampstand from its place
  • fighting against His opponents with the sword of His mouth
  • casting Jezebel on a bed of suffering
  • causing those who commit adultery with Jezebel to suffer intensely
  • striking down the children of Jezebel
  • coming like a thief
  • spitting them out of His mouth
  • trampling them in the great winepress of His wrath
  • causing them to experience physical anguish
  • destroying the world.

While we are conditioned to seek short-term pleasures, God repeatedly warns us that indulgence in short-term pleasures will have long-term consequences. Thus, we must continue to heed His warnings in this book and worship Him – even in the midst of difficult circumstances (e.g. persecution).

This book also demonstrates that those who worship God and hold to His testimony will be rewarded. Indeed, Christ promises to reward His true followers by granting them:

  • the right to eat from the tree of life
  • the crown of life
  • preservation from the second death
  • some of the hidden manna
  • a white stone with a new name written on it that will only be revealed to its recipient
  • authority over the nations
  • the morning star
  • white clothes
  • His acknowledgment before His Father and His angels
  • preservation from the hour of trial that will come upon the world
  • a pillar in the temple of God – with His name and the name of His city written on it
  • the right to sit with Him on His throne.

While these rewards may appear somewhat abstract as we live in this material world, God repeatedly calls us to meditate upon them and live holy lives that are worthy of them. On a personal note, I have been greatly encouraged by my stroll through this book, and I pray that I would be able to live a holy life that is worthy of these rewards – with God Himself being the greatest reward.

The River of Life March 18, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 22:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, the angel from the previous passage shows John the river of the water of life. God is its source, and He uses it – through the tree of life – to remove the curse of the Fall. In particular, He will grant His people the light of His eternal presence. The angel then certifies that God is the ultimate source of this vision.

Thoughts: I long for the time when I will be allowed to:

  • “drink” from the river of the water of life
  • “eat” from the tree of life – especially since it bears fruit every month.

Now I think that believers will not (literally) eat or drink in the next life – as God will grant us new bodies that transcend our current physical limitations. Thus, this passage demonstrates the wondrous fact that God will continually meet our spiritual needs and desires in the next life. As believers, we should earnestly desire that glorious state – and continue to live out that desire in our current (ephemeral) state.

The New Jerusalem March 16, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 21.

Summary: In this passage, God declares that He will enter into a new union with His people – where He will completely remove the consequences of the Fall. He exhorts His people to hold to His testimony so that they can enter into this new union – especially since those who do not hold to His testimony will be thrown into the lake of fire. One of the angels who poured out a bowl of the wrath of God then shows John the new Jerusalem; it is a beautiful city that reflects the glory of God. Indeed, its streets, gates, walls and foundations are composed of the most precious stones and metals. John notes that only those who hold to the testimony of God will be able to enter the new Jerusalem.

Thoughts: In verse 4, we see that believers will no longer be subject to “death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” These words must have greatly encouraged John’s original readers while they faced intense persecution for their faith. It would have been natural for them to abandon their faith and receive (short-term) pleasures – especially when some of their brethren were dying for their faith, leaving others to mourn their passing. Yet God called them to maintain their faith in the face of their (short-term) sufferings so that they could receive genuine (long-term) pleasures. These words should also greatly encourage modern-day believers who face intense persecution for their faith.

Here, John delights his readers with a wondrous description of “the Holy City, Jerusalem.” I am inclined to believe that John had a heavenly vision, and he had the challenging task of conveying the contents of that vision to his readers using earthly language. Perhaps the description of the foundations of the city walls that he provides in verses 19 and 20 demonstrates that his vision was consumed by an entity of infinite worth, and so he conveyed that infinite worth by mentioning an array of precious stones. My prayer is that I would eventually see this entity and experience the same sublime feelings that overwhelmed John when he wrote this letter.

In verse 27, we see that “the Holy City, Jerusalem” will be pure and unspoiled. Henry offers some insights on this point in his commentary:

There the saints will have no impurity left in them. In death they will be cleansed from everything that defiles. On earth they feel a sad mixture of corruption with their graces, which hinders them in God’s service, interrupts their communion with him, and intercepts the light of his countenance. But as they enter the Most Holy Place, they are washed in the bowl of Christ’s blood and are presented to the Father spotless.

I often struggle to maintain my communion with God, as I am easily distracted during worship services, daily quiet times and prayer. I often wish that God would heal my distracted mind – enabling me to focus on Him and give Him my undivided attention – yet I am acutely aware that I will never be able to honor Him fully in that regard during my earthly existence. While this is rather frustrating, the present state of affairs causes me to long for the next life, where I will be able to maintain my communion with God; indeed, I long for the time when I will savor all of His words and delight in His presence.

The Dead are Judged March 12, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 20:11-15.

Summary: In this passage, John observes the throne of God – where the dead are judged based on their (recorded) deeds. If their names are not found in the book of life, then they are thrown into the lake of fire – which is the second death.

Thoughts: This passage reminds me of the third verse of Jesus Paid It All. In particular, I know that my earthly deeds do not merit a mention in the book of life; thus, I am completely dependent on the:

  • grace of God in my election to His family
  • finished work of Jesus Christ in securing my election.

Since I am constantly aware of my sinfulness, I cannot imagine boasting about my earthly deeds before the throne of God. That being said, I pray that the Holy Spirit would continue to work in me so that my earthly deeds would demonstrate that I am mentioned in the book of life. Moreover, I pray that when I stand before the throne of God, I would be able to rejoice in (and with) Him during the proclamation of His (recorded) deeds through me in this life.

Satan’s Doom March 9, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 20:7-10.

Summary: In this passage, Satan is released from the Abyss. He then gathers the nations for a climactic battle against all believers. They place believers in a quandary – yet God abruptly destroys them with fire. Satan is then thrown into the lake of fire – joining the beast out of the sea and the beast out of the earth in their eternal torment.

Thoughts: While I believe that many of the events that are described in the preceding chapters of this book have already occurred, I also believe that the events that are described in this passage will occur at the end of time. Thus, my curiosity is piqued regarding the identity of “the nations in the four corners of the earth – Gog and Magog.” How will Satan influence them to oppose God and His people? Will all believers migrate to a single location at some point in the future – or will they be attacked wherever they reside? How will God deliver them from their enemies in their hour of need? Will the events that are described in this passage occur in this generation? In any event, believers can be encouraged by this fact – God fights for them. Moreover, He will finally defeat Satan and deliver them from his power.

The Thousand Years March 5, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 20:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, John observes an angel holding a chain and the key to the Abyss. This angel binds Satan, throws him into the Abyss and seals it for a thousand years. John also observes Christian martyrs – in particular, those who refused to worship the beast out of the sea. They reign with Christ during the imprisonment of Satan in the Abyss. Indeed, they have overcome both physical and spiritual death; now, they will serve God.

Thoughts: This passage may indicate that Christian martyrs will receive greater rewards in the next life than other believers. While the concept of a heavenly hierarchy is debatable, I certainly hope that if a heavenly hierarchy exists, then martyrs would be placed above other believers. I believe that those who suffer in a special way for the name of Christ should receive a special reward, as they have consciously decided to hold to His testimony – while overcoming the persistent temptation to commit apostasy and embrace the pleasures of this world. I also believe that if a heavenly hierarchy exists, then Christians who are not martyred will not experience feelings of resentment in the next life – as they will be content with their heavenly rewards. If any readers have some thoughts on this point, feel free to share them as a comment.