Sunday, August 25, 2019

Was Paul the Twelfth Apostle?

Related imageA friend of mine said that J Vernon McGee believed that Paul was the 12th Apostle and wanted to know what I thought about it. This means that he didn’t believe that Matthias was God’s selection as the replacement for Judas. The fact that Judas betrayed Jesus makes it clear that calling someone an apostle and being an apostle is two different things. Though Judas was called to be an apostle, he is only called that until his betrayal of Jesus. Yet the definition of an apostle is one who is called by Jesus to carry his message to the world.[1] With that in mind, any number of the original disciples could be called an apostle, and indeed the Bible even calls Barnabas an apostle (Acts 14:14). However, when it comes to the Twelve, there can be no more with that designation.
To determine if Matthias or Paul should be considered the 12th Apostle, I started with Acts 1:15-26. This passage lays out how the apostles chose Matthias to be the 12th apostle. They decided that it must be a person who had been with them from the time Jesus started his ministry (vs 21). It was from Jesus’ baptism and had to be a witness to Jesus’ resurrection (vs 22). The 120 people gathered together (vs 15) selected two people who met these criteria (vs 23). Then they cast lots and asked the Lord to select the one he has chosen (vs 25). The lot had to pick one or the other. There was no opportunity to pick someone else, therefore they presumed the Lord had picked Matthias.

As I look on this scenario, I note some things that leads me to believe that Matthias was not the Lord’s choice of the 12th Apostle. First, the people who were gathered had not yet received the Holy Spirit. That occurred later. The 120 people made the choice from human understanding, not by divine selection or guidance. There is no mention that the Lord led these people to select two people, much less these two. If you look at times in the Old Testament when someone was chosen by lot, the whole community was subdivided until an individual was taken (Josh 7:16-18, 1 Sam 14:40-42). If God wanted one of the 120 to be the 12th Apostle, it seems that Acts would have recorded that he moved Peter to do this. That may be presumptuous on my part or presumption on Peter’s part since he had not yet been filled with the Spirit. The Bible normally explains it when God prompts people to do something versus simply telling us when a person comes up with the idea out of his own head.

When it comes to Paul, he is certainly called by Jesus to be an apostle (Acts 9:6, 15). A more detailed account of what Jesus said to Paul is found in Acts 26:14-18. So, Paul wasn’t part of the early ministry of Jesus, but that was a human criterion, not necessarily God’s. He saw not only the resurrected Jesus but the ascended Jesus on the road to Damascus. He was appointed by Jesus to be a witness to the things of Jesus he had seen (Acts 26:16) to the Gentiles. If this isn’t a description of an apostle, then what is?

His life and his testimony certainly reveal that he acted in the way we would expect the 12th Apostle. He wrote more books of the New Testament than any other Apostle (most didn’t write any). No one else in Acts was directly called by Jesus. Matthias was never mentioned in the Bible outside of Acts 1:23,26. Though that would not mean God didn’t select him as the 12th Apostle, it certainly pales in contrast to the way Paul was called and what Paul did.

So there it is, my reason for agreeing with J Vernon McGee that Paul was actually the 12th Apostle.

[1] NT:652 a messenger, one sent on a mission [general] … with special ref. to the Twelve: Matt 10:2, Mark 3:14, Luke 11:49, Eph 3:5, Rev 18:20, al., equality with whom is claimed by St. Paul, Gal 1:1, 11 ff, 1 Tim 2:7, a1.; (from Abbott-Smith Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament. PC Study Bible formatted electronic database Copyright © 2014 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Common Grace

God's common grace is that which is bestowed on all peopled , the righteous and unrighteous alike. He sends rain for all people (Heb 6:7) and displays his glory in creation to us all (Ps 19:1-4). Like this Rose of Sharon which we get to see blooming most of the summer in our front yard. Many have called Jesus the Rose of Sharon (Song 2:1). With him in your heart, you will bloom all year long and you will share in his special grace.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

God’s Sovereignty Over Me

God directs and know each bird in flight (Matt 6:26-27). This is awesome to consider. But how about you or me? This study is all about God’s sovereignty over me.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-16

1. What does it mean to have God search you (1)?
This verse says that God searches and knows. The word know is the same Hebrew word used for sexual intercourse – a very intimate knowledge of another person. So when God searches, it is intimate. Nothing escapes his notice. He not only sees but understands why I am the way I am. He knows why I think the way I think, whether correctly or not. He knows my desires, joys, regrets, every secret thing about me. He knows what makes me tick. David explained it to Solomon, “The Lord searches all hearts and understands every plan and thought. If you seek him, he will be found by you, but if you forsake him, he will cast you off forever” (1 Chron 28:9.) Hebrews 4:13 and Revelation 2:23 echo this in the New Testament. The implication of his searching us is to reward us or in the case of the wicked, to punish them (Ps 11:4-5).

2. What is God able to know about you (2-4)
  • a. God is able to see what I am doing from the moment I wake up to the time I go to sleep at night. He doesn’t miss a single thing in our lives. He isn’t like a workaholic father who misses all the important times in his kids’ lives. God doesn’t miss the important or any moments in our lives. (Verse 2)
  • b. He knows my thoughts regardless of how far from him I may think I am. It is more than just knowing my thoughts he understands them. It is the difference between listening and hearing. He knows what they mean to me and whether I am processing them through his word or the ways of the world. (Verse 2)
  • c. Verse 3 tells me that God doesn’t just see what I do. He examines what I do. He discerns (NIV), scrutinizes (NAS) what I do and how I do it. He isn’t simply interested in what I’m doing but why I’m doing what I do. Am I doing this to glorify him or to glorify myself? He knows me so well, he is acquainted or familiar (NIV) with what I do and why I do it.
  • d. He knows me so well, he even knows what I will say before I say it. This goes beyond being able to predict what I will say. According to verse 16, he knows what I will say before I say it because he has known it even before I was born. He knows it because he has ordained it.

3. Does his knowledge of you change your behavior? Why or why not?
It has, and it should, but I admit that I don’t always keep this in mind. It helps me realize that everything I do, I do with Jesus living in me. What I see and do, he is there with me. I do not want to subject him to my sins. Also, since he knows me intimately, it means he is concerned for me and my wellbeing (Rom 8:28-29). He wants the best for me and that is to glorify him.

4. How does God guide you (5)?
We’ve been reading Ezra and one of the repeated themes is that God’s hand was on him. The good hand of the Lord as noted in two places (Ezra 7:9, 8:18). I also think of, “The king's heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov 21:1). Somehow, by his sovereign will. God can guide me even when I’m not aware of it. However, the best way is for me to let him. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps 119:9-11). He guides me through his word that I’ve memorize, not just read, though that is better than not. It means that I seek him, I want his way in my life, I look for it with eagerness so that I will not sin against him. His Spirit guides me also (John 16:13).

5. How does meditating on God’s abilities help you live a godly life (6)?
It puts me in perspective with him. He is infinite and so far beyond anything I am or can comprehend that I must live in a holy fear of him. Because his love is infinite, I am also reminded that Jesus died for me. If he died for me then I should be living for him out of gratitude and a responsive love for him. Because he is omnipresent, I know that he is always with me and will give the grace and strength through his Holy Spirit to walk in his way instead of the world’s way. He gives me the strength to go through “weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities” (2 Cor 12:10) and bring glory to him.

6. Are there things about yourself – physical, mental, emotional being – that you don’t like (not sin – we shouldn’t like that)? What do verses 13-16 say about these things?
When I was a little kid, I thought I should be a girl because people commented on my long eyelashes. Later, I didn’t like my hair because other kids’ hair looked good and mine went all over the place. Now, I am bald and don’t even have to shampoo it. Currently, I’m glad to be the way God made me. That doesn’t mean I like all the warts and moles, but they are part of me.
  • a. God has formed everything about me from my internal organs to the warts and moles (vs. 13). If I were to question why I’m this way, I would be questioning God’s wisdom. He knows what is best for me and had me in mind long before I was conceived. Wondering why he made me this way is no problem but accusing him of making a mistake (questioning his wisdom) is nothing but a sin.
  • b. From the very moment of my conception, the correct DNA of my mother and father came together and started doing exactly what God wanted. He saw and even directed each atom, molecule, protein, enzyme, and whatever else it takes to make up the proteins in my DNA. How intricately he has made me (vs. 15) – it is beyond human comprehension. It brings me to the point of awe of God and who am I to question who I am?
  • c. Even before my conception, God was at work. I’ve been tracing my heritage over the past year and have found relatives that date back the 15th century. The amazing thing about his is that hundreds of thousands of people from Adam until now have contributed to my DNA. Some of it has been lost, but God took the exact right segments from the right people to make me. This is how he wote his book on me. It was already written before Adam. He has my name written in the Lamb’s book of life before the foundation of the earth (Rev 13:8, 17:8). Who am I to argue with God that he got the wrong DNA or a mutation happened that wasn’t in his plan?

7. What does verse 14 say about how you should respond to the way you are made?
This should only result in praise to God. I should know this in the depth of my soul that he has made me the way I am. I must look upon myself as one of his works and give him praise just as much as when I see the beauty of his creation. He has made the universe and named the stars (Ps 147:4). He upholds the universe by his powerful word (Col 1:17, Heb 1:3). All praise belongs to him who keeps each atom and subatomic particle in its place doing what it should so that I exist and am alive.

8. How do you reconcile verse 16 with bad things that have happened in your life including sins you have committed?
This is a paradox. It is something that a finite mind can’t truly comprehend. If I say that God created me and planned for me to sin, then I am maligning God’s holiness. For God doesn’t even tempt anyone (James 1:13). It is not his desire for anyone to sin. On the other hand, if God is sovereign, even to hardening hearts (Ex 4:21) and has every day planned, then it makes it look like God wanted me to sin. Paul answers the question: “What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy” (Rom 9:14-16). I can only reconcile this by acknowledging God’s sovereignty. I am not saying that I understand his sovereignty, but I accept it and let it give me assurance in his goodness, love, wisdom, omniscience, and all his other attribute. It is a matter of trust.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Finding Grace for Temptations

Sometimes finding grace is like looking for hope through the fog. Here are some questions to meditate on after reading  Hebrews 4:12-16:

1.      Why is the Word of God so important in affecting change?
It is living – meaning it is useful for everything going on in our lives (2 Tim 3:16-17). It penetrates or judges not only our actions but our thoughts. If we let it, it will reveal our motives. It is the way God searches our hearts (Jer 17:10).
2.      Why is it important to understand God’s omnipresence and omniscience when dealing with sin and temptations?
There isn’t anywhere we can hide (Jer 23:23-24). He will judge the things we do in secret and he holds us accountable (Ecc 12:14). He rewards or punishes based on what we do in secret (Rom 2:16).
3.      Why is it important to understand that Jesus is our high priest who is now in heaven?
As a high priest, Jesus is seated at the right hand of God and intercedes for us (Rom 8:34). In heaven, he is seated, he isn’t like the priest of old who wore bells and kept moving. Each stood before God as a sinful man and couldn’t stay in the holy of holies. Through Jesus, we can remain or abide in God every moment of every day. We don’t have to leave the Holy of Holies. Whether we are constantly aware of being in his presence or not, we are!
4.      How does Jesus’ empathy with you encourage you?
I know that he was tempted way beyond anything I could stand. But he did it as a man with the help of the Holy Spirit and the Word of God. He isn’t going to turn away when we ask for help and I have the same resources available to me.
5.      How does Jesus’ sinlessness in the face of temptation encourage you in temptation?
Some people believe that because Jesus is God, it was impossible for him to sin. Others believe, as I do, that because he is also human, he could truly have succumbed to temptation but didn’t. Because he didn’t sin it reminds me that his grace and power working in me, I can face any temptation and not sin (1 Cor 10:13). I’m not claiming I don’t sin, only that I don’t have to sin (Rom 6:11).
6.      How do you picture God’s throne of grace?
I picture it like the river of living water that flows from his throne in heaven. Rev 22:1-4  Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. It is a never-ending source of mercy and grace to provide us with what we need to overcome sin in our lives.
7.      Can you draw close with confidence to receive mercy? Why or why not?
Yes, because I believe his promises to us. Based on the word of God and not on anything I have done or not done. If I couldn’t do this, then God’s promises are useless, however they are all fulfilled in Jesus and we who believe are able to agree with them (2 Cor 1:20).
8.      How does God’s grace help you when you are in trouble?
Titus 2:12-14 training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. His grace works in us when we ask for it. It helps us to look forward to Jesus’ coming when we won’t be tempted anymore. It reminds me that I don’t need to give in to sin. It gives me the desire to do good. Grace isn’t just for salvation; it is a constant source of power from the Holy Spirit to enable us to live godly lives.