Sunday, April 24, 2016, 4:24 a.m. – The Lord Jesus put in mind the song, “All Through the Night.” Speak, Lord, your words to my heart. I read Acts 28:17-28 (ESV). It is Spoken Against (vv. 17-22) After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews, and when they had gathered, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar—though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason, therefore, I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am wearing this chain.” And they said to him, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” Under the Old Covenant, the Jews were God’s chosen people. Paul was a Jew and had been a Pharisee. The Jews were given a promise of a Messiah to come, but when Jesus came, many did not believe in him, though some did. Paul, formerly called Saul, previously did not believe and, in fact, had been a staunch and passionate persecutor of Christians, as well as he had given his approval to many of their deaths. But, God called Paul to turn to faith in Jesus Christ and to be a minister of this gospel of salvation which he once opposed. Now he was among the persecuted, instead of being a persecutor. And, it was because of his faith in Jesus Christ, and because of his testimony to God’s saving grace through faith in Christ that he was persecuted, and that he was placed under arrest, and that he was kept in prison as long as he was. Everywhere that Paul went, even when he was in chains for the gospel, as much as he had opportunity to do so, he told people about Jesus Christ, and that he was the fulfillment of the prophecies of scripture regarding the Promised One, “the hope of Israel.” But a large majority of the Jews were against this teaching, for they would not accept Jesus Christ as their Messiah. They wanted to hold on to what they had always known, even though they knew the prophecies concerning the Messiah to come. Yet, many of them were not content with just disbelieving in Jesus, but they spoke openly against faith in Jesus Christ. I find this to also be true of many who call themselves Christians today, that they want to hold on to what they have always known, or to what they had been taught previously, even if the Word of God says otherwise. Many who call themselves followers of Christ are actually followers of humankind, or they are followers of religion, but they don’t have a relationship with Jesus Christ. Although some of these do have a relationship with Jesus Christ, they also have blinded their minds and hearts to much of the truth because it goes against their traditional beliefs and practices. Even if you show them the truth from the Word of God, still they will not listen. They are set in their ways and will not budge. And, some among these who remain headstrong in their humanistic or traditional teachings, who oppose the teachings of Christ, will also turn to persecuting those who stand on the Word of Truth. Hearing, But Never Understanding (vv. 23-28) When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in greater numbers. From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets. And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved. And disagreeing among themselves, they departed after Paul had made one statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: “‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’ Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.” For many people, even among those who profess to believe in Jesus Christ, it is not that they don’t know the truth, but it is that they refuse to believe the truth, or that they just ignore what doesn’t fit with their lifestyles. They like to hold on to what fits with their comfort zone. So, even though they hear the truth, and they have been shown the truth, they still go their own way as though what has been revealed to them does not exist. And, this is true even among those who call themselves ministers of the gospel. They have been so inundated with humanistic philosophy that they oftentimes accept the teachings of humans over and above or in place of the teachings of Christ. For example, the Bible clearly teaches that faith in Jesus Christ involves death to sin and living to righteousness, all in the power and working of the Spirit in our lives, as we cooperate fully with that work. Peter said that Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness (1 Pet. 2:24). Paul said that if we walk according to the flesh, we will die, but if by the Spirit we are putting to death the deeds of the flesh, we will live (See: Ro. 8:1-14). John said that if we say we have fellowship with God, but we continue to conduct our lives in darkness (in our sinful flesh), we are liars, and the truth is not in us (1 Jn. 1:6). As well, Jesus said that if we want to come after him, we must deny self, take up our cross daily (die daily to sin and self) and follow (obey) him. He said if we hold on to our old lives (of living for sin and self) we will lose them for eternity, but if we lose our lives (die with Christ to sin), we will gain eternal life (Lu. 9:23-25). Yet, why do so many teach that God requires nothing of us – no repentance, no obedience, and no death to sin and living to righteousness? They have reduced faith in Jesus Christ to the acceptance of a religion or of certain religious practices, but they have deleted the necessary heart transformation of the Spirit of God in which we are crucified with Christ in death to sin and we are resurrected with Christ in newness of life, “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). They have also made salvation out to be merely an escape from hell (if hell is even mentioned) and the promise of heaven when we die, but they forget that Jesus died that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; that we might no longer live for ourselves, but for him who gave his life up for us (2 Co. 5:15). They forget that God’s grace is not liberty to continue in sin without guilt and without remorse, but his grace, which brings salvation, teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives while we wait for his return (Tit. 2:11-14). They forget conveniently, because they don’t want to remember, because they don’t want to forsake their sins, and they don’t want to follow Christ in obedience, but they want to just have a religion, because it eases or it masks the guilt they might feel over their sinful lifestyles. They can then convince themselves that they are followers of God and doers of what is right even though they know in their hearts that much of their life choices are contrary to God’s word and to the teachings of Christ. Because they attend church services on Sunday and they serve in the community, and they give money to the church, too, they think that makes them good in God’s sight. And, so these words apply to them, as well, that they are ever hearing but never comprehending, and they are ever seeing, but never perceiving, because they have closed their minds and hearts off to whatever truths make them feel uncomfortable. And, thus they don’t turn from their sins, and they don’t turn to follow Jesus with their lives, and they are not healed spiritually. If we point these things out to them, and we show them the truth, but they refuse to believe the truth, they may turn on us, and they may hate and reject us, and even put us out of their church fellowships. Yet, we are blessed that we are counted worthy to suffer for the sake of Christ and his gospel. Yet, we are not to be afraid of what humans may do to us, for God is with us, and he will not leave us. In return for their mistreatment of us we are to love them, pray for them, do good to them, and forgive them, and we are to trust our lives and their lives into God’s hands, believing our Lord for the salvation of human lives. All Through the Night / An Original Work / December 7, 2013 Based off Various Scriptures Blessed are you when you’re persecuted Because of your faith in Jesus Christ. Blessed are you when people insult you, And falsely say what leads folks to doubt. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is Great in the heavens. You’re not alone. When you are persecuted in one place, Flee to another. God will be there. You will be hated by all the nations Because you testify of God’s grace. Many will seize you and persecute you, And put to death the foll’wers of Christ. Yet, do not fear what humans may do to you, For I’m with you all through the night. I tell you, love your enemies with my love, And forgive as I forgave you. Pray for those who do evil against you. Rest in my love and grace from above.