Attention in the Book of Acts begins to shift toward Paul (Saul of Tarsus) as the church in Syrian Antioch begins some intentional missionary outreach.
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Jesus was never light on sin. While infinitely gracious, compassionate and kind toward flawed and fallen people like ourselves, he understood the depth of our affliction. He absolutely refused to minimize it. As he saw it, both the tempter and the tempted put themselves at the most serious risk of judgment.
7 “Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes!8 And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire (ESV).
No solution for sin and its effects is too radical for Jesus. Cut off the guilty body part and throw it away. But here the depth of the problem is revealed. We might imagine ourselves amputating till there was almost nothing left and still struggling against sin. The source of our guilt cannot be found in the hand or the eye, or anything else that is removable. Sin thrives in the lowest recesses of the heart.
David grasped this when he prayed in Psalm 51:10,
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me.
And this is what God promises in Ezekiel 36:26-27,
26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.
This is what we need – a heart that desires to please God. We don’t need one less limb or useful organ. We need to become new people. Receiving new life in Christ accomplishes this. If we don’t have it, then that is what we need. If we do have it, we need to learn to walk in it. This is clearly summed up in the words of Paul.
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires,23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Sin is severe – and probably more awful than we can understand, since our very perception of it is distorted by, well, sin! Jesus took it so seriously he paid for it on the cross. A new heart, a whole new self, is now available to us in Christ.
Sometimes God works clearly, obviously and quickly. Sometimes he does not. Please keep reading
1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.
2 Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, 3 and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron, and Hezron the father of Ram, 4 and Ram the father of Amminadab, and Amminadab the father of Nahshon, and Nahshon the father of Salmon,5 and Salmon the father of Boaz by Rahab, and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, 6 and Jesse the father of David the king.
And David was the father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, 7 and Solomon the father of Rehoboam, and Rehoboam the father of Abijah, and Abijah the father of Asaph, 8 and Asaph the father of Jehoshaphat, and Jehoshaphat the father of Joram, and Joram the father of Uzziah,9 and Uzziah the father of Jotham, and Jotham the father of Ahaz, and Ahaz the father of Hezekiah, 10 and Hezekiah the father of Manasseh, and Manasseh the father of Amos, and Amos the father of Josiah,11 and Josiah the father of Jechoniah and his brothers, at the time of the deportation to Babylon.
12 And after the deportation to Babylon: Jechoniah was the father of Shealtiel, and Shealtiel the father of Zerubbabel, 13 and Zerubbabel the father of Abiud, and Abiud the father of Eliakim, and Eliakim the father of Azor, 14 and Azor the father of Zadok, and Zadok the father of Achim, and Achim the father of Eliud, 15 and Eliud the father of Eleazar, and Eleazar the father of Matthan, and Matthan the father of Jacob, 16 and Jacob the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom Jesus was born, who is called Christ.
17 So all the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to the Christ fourteen generations.
All of those names. This can feel like a tedious passage – unless you enjoy reading the unfamiliar names of unfamiliar people. All of those names remind us that God is always quietly at work.
In Genesis 12:3 God gave a promise to Abraham that in him all the families of the earth would be blessed. And then God worked while Abraham waited. And God kept working long after Isaac was born and Abraham died. About 1000 years later he gave another promise. Maybe he just wanted to show people he was still there and hadn’t forgotten.
In 2 Samuel 7 God gave a promise to David of an offspring whose kingdom would be established. This kingdom, throne, this dynasty would be made sure forever. And then God kept working while David just went on for a while being king. And then David died, his son Solomon died, and so on. About 1000 years later we come to Matthew 1.
It can be very encouraging when God works suddenly and decisively. It is also wonderful to know that he remains faithful to his promises – to promises that can take thousands of years to fulfill. Oh how impatient I am when I want God to do something today. It took about 2000 years to get from Abraham to Christ, but how encouraging that Christ finally came.