The Power of Grace

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This is the Roman road in Ephesus that Paul walked on…it is probably similar to the one going to Damascus as the city was redesigned entirely by the Romans after Pompey conquered it.

Acts 4:33 And with great power gave the Apostles witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, and great grace was upon them all.

Read Acts 9:1-20  Saul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and was converted to Christianity, and God’s grace was upon him because he accepted Jesus, and was humbled before God.  Then Saul set out to be obedient to God’s wishes for his life, and continued to live under God’s grace and forgiveness.  Although Saul who became known as Paul after his conversion, was a known persecutor of Christians, and held the cloak of the people who stoned Stephen, the first martyr.  You know the funny (ironic) thing about Paul is that the whole time he was killing Christians he was doing it for God.  He thought that they were heretics and that as a honorable, faithful Jew he should do all in his power to stamp out those of the new religion who were causing so many of his fellow Jews to convert to Christianity and believe in this Jesus as their Messiah.  Paul who was trained really well from childhood as a Pharisee, and knew his scriptures extremely well.  He was trained by a well known Pharisee/scholar named Gamaliel.  Being trained by Gamaliel would probably be the equivalent of being taught about Einstein’s theory of relativity by Einstein himself.  Gamaliel was probably just about as famous in scholarly circles in Paul’s time as Einstein is in scientific circles today.  This just goes to show that even if you are taught the truth, of the scriptures, you can miss the main point.  Paul had the message of the Messiah right there in the scriptures, yet he did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah until Jesus showed up in front of him on the road to Damascus.  There are more than 400 prophecies about the Messiah throughout the Old Testament of the Bible and Jesus fulfilled every single one of them without exception.  

Now there are some people who might say, “Well, Jesus probably knew what they were and he just set out to fulfill them all….”

Well, I am here to tell you, that even if a person tried to do so, they could never have enough control over their own circumstances to fulfill all of those prophecies even if they set out to do so.

 I know, the next question is, “Why not?!!”  Well, the thing is a lot of those prophecies had to do with the circumstances, time and place of Jesus’ birth, and with his death and resurrection, and with the performing of miracles.  No one can control where they are born, or who their parents are related to, no one can control whether or not they rise from the dead.  Also here is a really concrete couple of examples of prophecies about Messiah, the casting of lots for his clothes, the rejection and persecution by his people (the Jews), and that he would die without having any broken bones, and that water would run out of his side.  These are just a few prophecies that would be uncontrollable by a person setting out to prove to people that they were the Messiah.  Psalm 22 is full of prophecy descriptions of the Messiah’s death. Isaiah 53:9 talks about a sinless person who was put to death with the wicked, yet buried with the rich.  There are many many verses about the Messiah in the Old Testament. I won’t overburden you with them here.  If you care to look them up, they are easily available on the web, you can search through them yourself.  I believe that I have made my point at any rate.  Jesus could never have chosen to fulfill all of the prophecies about the Messiah because a large number of them are not controllable by man.  Only God with his infinite power could control the timing of and the person in whom those prophecies were fulfilled.  That person was none other that Jesus the Christ.

God actually made it so that anyone who knows the scriptures should be able to recognize the truth of Jesus Christ as the Messiah.  Yet, we have Saul of Tarsus, who was a well trained person who willfully refused to accept what was right in front of his nose and locked in his head because he was probably afraid to closely examine what he had been taught, and to go against his elders who were telling him that the Christians were a bad lot…who were heretics.  Jesus had to show up right in front of him to get his attention, and even when he did, he just asked Saul (Paul) why he was persecuting his children; oh yeah, and he blinded Saul/Paul to get his attention completely on him.  I find the blinding to be another dose of irony…knowing Paul’s intelligence he no doubt would have noticed this irony also.  The irony that the person who was spiritually blind, yet thought they were acting in a very spiritual way on God’s behalf, was now physically blinded in order to be made able to see things in a spiritually clear manner, and truly start acting as God’s servant in bringing more people to know God through testifying about his son, Jesus Christ.  Isn’t God awesome?!!

I noticed a long time ago, that God really has an awesome sense of humor at times when he is trying to get your attention, or test your faith (really what he is doing is teaching you about the amount of faith you have and helping you to have stronger faith.)

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When you don’t believe in yourself – God does!

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Arnold Friberg’s  “Moses and the Burning Bush (1957)

Romans 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this, while we were still sinners Christ died for us.

Read Exodus 3:2-4:20 and 6:30-7:2 Moses tells God that he stutters and stumbles on his words and that he doesn’t think he is up to talking to Pharaoh, that Pharaoh won’t give him the time of day because he can’t speak well.  So God shows grace towards Moses’ weakness and uncertainty by sending Aaron with him to do the actual talking to Pharaoh.  Basically, God tells Moses what to say, then Moses tells Aaron what to say to Pharaoh.  So God understood Moses’ weaknesses and his needs, and worked with him anyway.

The story of Moses starts in Exodus chapter 2.  If you take the time to read the whole story it really shows you how God was prepping Moses from birth for the task he had planned for him.  Here is a short recap of Moses’ life up until he gets to this meeting with God in Exodus chapter 6.

At the time of his birth the Pharaoh had ruled that all baby Hebrew boys should be put to death at birth.  Moses’ Mother saved him and hid him for a while until he became too hard to hide, then she put him in a basket and had his sister watch him (they put him where they knew Pharaoh’s daughter would be bathing.  He was adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter and she paid his own Mother to take care of him for several years.  (Isn’t God good).  The thing about this is that his natural Mother could continue teaching him the Hebrew customs and beliefs, and also because he was in the Pharaoh’s palace he was raised knowing how to deal with those folks also.  It came to a point that Moses killed an Egyptian who was beating a Hebrew and he had to flee for his life into the desert.  There God gifted him with a time of peace where he could mature.  He married and had some children.  Then the day came that God wanted him to do his true purpose and that brings us up to Exodus 4:10.  God tells Moses that he wants him to go back to Egypt and stand in front of Pharaoh and demand the release of his people the Hebrews.  Moses tells God that he doesn’t believe he can do it because he cannot speak well.  (Many people think this means he stuttered, but it could be any manner of impediment, from nerves, to just thinking and speaking slowly. The bible describes his speech and tongue as slow and his having faltering lips.)

We are told that God’s anger kindled against Moses because of his faintness of heart.  Moses straight out told God to find someone else. This was even after God had shown him some miracles with the his shepherd’s staff.  However, despite God’s irritation with Moses, he patiently gave him what he needed to be emotionally ready for the work at hand.  God told him that he could get his brother Aaron to do the actual talking for him.  This gave Moses the boost of confidence that he needed to believe that he wouldn’t make a fool of himself and let God down.

 I am sure that Moses was not jumping for joy at the assignment anyway, as when he left Egypt he was fleeing for his life.  So why would he want to go back and jump into the frying pan where he might be killed, and his people were enslaved anyway?  God also let Moses know that all the men who had been seeking his life were dead so the danger of returning and being imprisoned or killed did not exist anymore.

No matter how much Moses doubted his abilities, God told him that he had a job to do and that he wasn’t going to get out of it!  God knew that he had been training Moses his whole life just for this purpose. He already had all of the skills he needed inside of himself.    We are never told how long Aaron spoke for Moses, but it doesn’t seem like it was always that way.  During the Exodus Aaron was appointed the first priest of his people.  Moses was the leader and the judge.  Moses at some point must have started speaking without the prop of Aaron…after all his father in law eventually told him that he needed to appoint others to help him judge because one man couldn’t do it all.  Moses mentions his speech impediment three times once in chapter 4 before he got to Egypt and then twice again after he got there in chapter 6.  It is evident that Moses just didn’t really believe in himself.  If we go by what Stephen the first Martyr of Christianity said in his speech to the Sanhedrin in Acts 7:22…”Moses was educated in all the learning of the Egyptians, and he was a man of power in words and deeds.”

This story tells us that sometimes God gives us a task he has been training us for all along.  Even when we don’t realize it, and we don’t think that we can do it.  God knows what we are capable of doing, and he is with us to help us do it.  Sometimes, even when we don’t believe in ourselves, we need to take time to remember that God knows what he has planned for us, and he always…always…fully equips us to do his will for us…we just need to wait upon him and find out what he wants us to do.  We run into trouble when we try to work outside of God’s will for us.

God Strengthens You

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Baptistry in St. John’s Basilica Ephesus Turkey was built in the 6th century A.D. in the time of Emperor Justinian

2 Timothy 3:12-17 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.  But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Job 1:1 In the land of Uz there lived a man whose name was Job.  This man was blameless and upright; he feared God and shunned evil.

Genesis 6:9 This is the account of Noah, Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time, and he walked with God.

Note:  Job 1:1, and Genesis 6:9, both give us a definition of the word righteous or upright, as a man (or woman) who fears (respects) God, and shuns (turns away from) evil.

Read Acts 6:1-15, Acts 7:51-60 (Note that during Acts 7 Stephen recounts the old testament relationship of the jews to God up until Acts 7: 51 where Stephen berates them on God’s behalf for being stiff-necked, At this point the members of the Sanhedrin get pretty upset and attack Stephen, even though this was the Holy Spirit speaking through Stephen.  In Stephen’s speech he reminds the jews how powerful and great God is and that God created everything, and has worked on the relationship with the jews all along, but that they have let him down repeatedly. Stephen was strengthened and uplifted to show God’s glory and endure persecution with the grace of God evident to all who witnessed his persecution and death.  This is a great example of God strengthening someone through a great personal trial, and harsh experience.

There are many people still being persecuted in this world for their Christianity, on one level or another….even some unto their death.  There is a group called Open Doors if you have further interest in finding out more about this issue.