Category Archives: Israel

The Tower of Babel and One Big Unhappy Family (Genesis 10; Genesis 11)

Click on this link for translations of today’s devotion.

Scripture reading – Genesis 10; Genesis 11

Having established His covenant with Noah, his three sons and their wives, God commanded them, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (9:1). So, the common ancestry of mankind can be traced to Noah’s three sons, Shem, Ham, and Japheth (Genesis 8:16, 18; 9:1).

Genesis 10 recorded the origin of the races and nations of the world and listed the descendants of Noah’s three sons. The genealogy of Japheth, Ham and Shem were given in Genesis 10, and the genealogy of Shem was repeated in Genesis 11, and continued to Terah, the father of Abraham (11:27-32).

Genesis 10

In Genesis 10, God began to deal with the Hebrew people through Shem’s lineage.
Although the Old Testament focused mainly on God’s dealings with the Hebrews, we are nevertheless reminded the LORD never forsook mankind. Genesis 10 gives us the names of sixteen sons who were born to Noah’s three sons (and perhaps as many daughters). While time and space do not allow a detailed study of each name, a close examination of Genesis 10 will reveal a historical registry of 70 nations that emerged from Noah’s sons: 14 nations associated with Japheth (10:2-5), 30 linked to Ham (10:25-27), and 26 from Shem (10:21-31).

Lineage of Japheth (10:2-5)

Japheth, Noah’s eldest son, was father of many Gentile nations (9:27; 10:2-5). From his progeny came some of the greatest empires of human history. Persia, Greece, and Rome can be traced back to Japheth’s bloodline. Modern European nations, namely, Germans, Russians, Italians, French, Spanish, and the English trace their origin to Japheth.

Lineage of Ham (10:25-27)

In Genesis 9:25, Noah cursed Ham, his youngest son, and called him “Canaan” (Ham’s grandson). Ham’s descendants founded some of the great empires of the ancient world. From his lineage came the Egyptians, Hittites, Sumerians, Canaanites, Phoenicians, and tribes of Africa (10:6-20). (There is some debate regarding the ancestral origins of people of Eastern Asian, and the American Indians; some assert they are descendants of Ham, others of Japheth).

Although Ham was cursed to be a “servant of servants” (9:25-27), the accomplishments of his posterity was so vast it appears they set their minds to cast off the curse of being a “servant of servants.” Nimrod, the grandson of Ham, and the son of Cush, became the first ruler after the flood (10:8-10). He was described as a “mighty hunter” (10:9), a powerful warrior, and a great leader. He founded “Babel…in the land of Shinar” (10:10), the plain from which the great city of Babylon would spring.

Lineage of Shem (10:21-31)

Shem, Noah’s second born son, was “the father of all the children of Eber” (10:21-31). Scholars believe the name “Eber,” was an ancient word from which the word “Hebrew” was derived (10:21). “Eber” was the father of the Hebrews (Abraham was later described as “the Hebrew” (Genesis 14:13), and the nomadic tribes and nations of Arabia. Shem’s lineage was the ancestral line through which God fulfilled His promise of a Savior Redeemer. Notice Genesis 10 concluded, leaving no room for doubt, that all nations and people in the world are descended from Noah’s three sons:

Genesis 10:32 – “32 These are the families of the sons of Noah, after their generations, in their nations: and by these were the nations divided in the earth after the flood.”

Genesis 11 – The Tower of Babel

The history of man is one of sin and rebellion, and Genesis 11 demonstrated man’s resistance to God’s command to “replenish the earth” (9:1). Rather than disperse and repopulate the earth (9:1), the descendants of Noah’s sons and their families were determined to continue as “one language, and of one speech” (11:1). They congregated in a land that would become Babylon, “a plain in the land of Shinar; and they dwelt there” (11:2).

Exerting their desire to continue as they were (11:1), mankind resolved to build “a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven” (11:4). The sinful pride and self-sufficiency of man was summed up in an act of rebellion, for men said, Let us make us a name, lest we be scattered abroad upon the face of the whole earth” (11:4).

Closing thoughts (11:6-8) – We are again made privy to a triune counsel of the Godhead. We read, “the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do” (11:6). In an act of mercy, the LORD knowing the wickedness and rebellion of man, determined to intervene lest man be carried so far there would be no hope of salvation (11:6).

Confounding their one language into multiple languages, the LORD caused the work on the tower and the city to cease, and forced humanity to scatter abroad “upon the face of all the earth” (11:7-8). Genesis 11 concluded with a record of Shem’s lineage, and brings our Bible study to a great crossroads in human history: God calling Abraham to separate from his country, kindred, and family, and by faith go “unto a land that [the LORD]” would show him.  (11:31-12:1)

Never forget, the story of history is “His-Story” — a testimony of God’s sovereignty, providential leading, and His “Amazing Grace.”

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization.

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Armageddon and the Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath (Revelation 16; Revelation 17)

Click on this link for translations of today’s devotion.

Scripture reading – Revelation 16; Revelation 17

Review – The Seventh Trumpet and Its Judgments (Revelation 11-15)

The seventh trumpet sounded in Revelation 11:15, and announced the third woe poured out on the earth and its inhabitants. Rather than repent of their wickedness, and turn to God, the nations of the world were stirred to anger and their sins demanded God’s judgments (11:18). The devil was revealed as the “great red dragon” (12:3, 9), and the antichrist, empowered by him, was promoted to rule over a great coalition of nations (13:1-2).

Another man of great wickedness, the false prophet, was empowered by the devil, and deceived the nations of the earth. He commanded all men and nations should worship the antichrist as god (13:11-15). Men who refused “the mark, or the name of the beast, or the number of his name,” were denied an opportunity to “buy or sell” (13:17).

John beheld the Lamb, Jesus Christ, standing on mount Zion, and with him the 144,000 preachers of the tribulation (14:1). The apostle, then, saw three angelic messengers sent from the throne of God (14:6-8). The message of the third angel was a warning, that any who received the mark of the beast (antichrist) would be tormented forever (14:11).

Two judgments followed the third angel, and the first was portrayed as a harvest of grain (14:14-15), and the second a harvest of grapes (14:17-20).  Then, John “looked, and, behold, the temple of the tabernacle of the testimony in heaven was opened” (15:5). “[S]even angels came out of the temple, having the seven plagues, clothed in pure and white linen, and having their breasts girded with golden girdles [or belts worn round the waist]” (15:6). To each of the seven angels was given a “golden vial” or bowl filled with “the wrath of God” (15:7).

Revelation 16 – Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath

The Five of the Seven Bowls (16:1-11)

The seven angels were sent, and commanded to pour God’s wrath out of their bowls upon those who worshipped the antichrist (beast), and had accepted his mark in their hand or forehead (16:1). Each bowl or vial represented a judgment of God. The first angel poured out a judgment that caused “a noisome and grievous sore” (or ulcer, 16:2). The plagued poured out by the second angel turned the sea to blood, and so contaminated the waters that “every living soul [creature] died in the sea” (16:3).

The third angel, bearing the third bowl, turned the fresh waters of the earth to blood (16:4). Destroying the fresh water of the earth would be catastrophic for all humanity. Lest any complain and protest God’s judgment, the angel declared spoiling the fresh waters with blood was a fitting judgment for mankind, for “they have shed the blood of saints and prophets, and thou hast given them blood to drink; for they are worthy” (16:6). Then, the altar itself said, “Even so, Lord God Almighty, true and righteous are thy judgments” (16:7).

The judgment borne by the fourth angel followed, and was poured out “upon the sun” (16:8). The consequence was an increase in the sun’s heat and radiation that “men were scorched with great heat” (16:8). Rather than repent, and call out to God for mercy, men “blasphemed the name of God, which hath power over these plagues: and they repented not to give him glory” (16:9).

Then, “the fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat [throne] of the beast [antichrist]; and his kingdom was full of darkness” (16:10). The darkness shrouded the lands and people ruled by the antichrist (16:10), and the terror was so excruciating that men “gnawed their tongues for pain” (16:10b). Still, they did not repent, but “blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores” (16:11).

The Sixth Bowl – The Euphrates River Dried Up (16:12-14)

The judgment brought by the sixth angel was directed against “the great river Euphrates” (16:12), which is the longest and most important river in the Middle East. The region depends upon the Euphrates for navigation (ships can sail up the river some 1200 miles), and irrigation of farms and orchards. Although a 2000-year-old prophecy, the unthinkable is happening today…the Euphrates River is drying up! With the salt water and freshwaters polluted by blood, and the Euphrates dried up, John saw what he described as “three unclean spirits like frogs come out of the mouth of the dragon, and out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet” (16:13). Frogs are deemed unclean (Leviticus 11:10, 41), and their vileness was symbolic of the demons that had influenced the antichrist and false prophet (16:13). So, was revealed the means by which those evil men had influenced the earth (16:14).

It was “the spirits of devils” that compelled “the kings of the earth and of the whole world, to gather them to the battle of that great day of God Almighty” (16:14). While the nations of the earth gathered “into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon” (16:16), the Lord comforted those believers who had survived the judgments of the tribulation, and promised, “Behold, I come as a thief” (16:14).

The Seventh Bowl (16:17-21)

The seventh and final angel came forth with the wrath of God filling his bowl, and God lifted up His voice, and said with a loud voice, “It is done” (16:17).  Thundering’s, lightnings, and an earthquake greater than any that had preceded it followed the pronouncement (16:18). The city of Jerusalem was “divided into three parts, and the cities of the nations fell: and great Babylon came in remembrance before God, to give unto her the cup of the wine of the fierceness of his wrath.” (16:19). The earth will be so devastated by the earthquake that islands and mountains will disappear (16:20). Hail will fall from heaven, and the weight of each hail stone will be “about the weight of a talent” (100 pounds or more, 16:21).

Closing thoughts – I hope to address the balance of our Scripture reading (Revelation 17) at another time, and in another year. I conclude for now with the observation that men will refuse to repent of their sins, even though all mankind will have suffered before the Second Coming of Christ. Instead of crying to God for mercy, the wicked who refuse the Lord will blaspheme the name of God (16:21). I close today with the invitation by the writer of Hebrews:

Hebrews 3:15 – “While it is said, To day if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation.”

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

What is in Your Heart? (Hebrews 8; Hebrews 9)

Click on this link for translations of today’s devotional.

Scripture reading – Hebrews 8; Hebrews 9

We continue our study of the Epistle to the Hebrews (chapters 8 and 9), and are reminded of the twofold focus of this passage: Christ, the believer’s High Priest; and the New Covenant which He established.

The writer in Hebrews 7 observed how Jesus was “made a surety of a better testament” (7:22). The word “testament,” was a legal term that described a covenant. For example, you might draw up a “Last Will and Testament,” that is effectively a covenant. Such a document is a binding legal agreement between two parties. The purpose of a “Last Will and Testament” is to direct your intentions (plan) for distributing your possessions upon your death. (Unfortunately, greedy relatives and crooked lawyers seemed to have embraced the lawless spirit of our day, and have little respect for wills, testaments, or covenants.)

Fortunately, God is not only the Lawgiver, He is also a just Judge, and forgiving High Priest. We read of Christ, “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.” Christ is more than our intercessor (7:24-25), He is our Savior and Redeemer. While the priests of the Old Covenant offered sacrifices for their sins and the people, Christ “offered up Himself” (7:27), and established a New Covenant (Hebrews 8).

Hebrews 8

A Superior High Priest, and A New Covenant (8:1-2)

The New Covenant is the subject of chapter 8, and continued the revelation that Christ is our High Priest, and “is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (8:1). Earthly priests were types or symbols of the superior High Priest, Jesus Christ. Because of His sacrificial, substitutionary death, and resurrection from the dead, Jesus is our priest, and ministers in the heavenly, “true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, and not man” (8:2).

An Inferior Tabernacle (8:3-5)

We find a contrast between the earthly tabernacle built by Moses, and the heavenly, eternal sanctuary where Christ is the believer’s High Priest. Because Christ was not of the tribe of Levi, He would not have served as an earthly priest. The priests of Levi offered the blood of sacrifices during Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness. Once a year, only the high priest might enter the “Holy of holies,” and then only with the blood of sacrifice “which he offered for himself” (9:7). Though Moses directed the construction of the tabernacle, according to the patterns God gave him (8:5b), that which was provided was a “type,” an “example and shadow of heavenly things” (8:5).

Israel Broke the Old Covenant (8:6-9)

Notice the adjectives “excellent” and “better” in verse 6. The writer of Hebrews, writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, described the ministry of Christ as “a more excellent [surpassing, stronger] ministry.” As our High Priest, Christ “is the mediator of a better [stronger] covenant, which was established upon better [stronger] promises” (8:6). Earthly priests were inferior to Christ, who offered Himself as the perfect, sufficient sacrifice for sins. The weakness or “fault” of the “old covenant” (8:7) was not the covenant, but the sinfulness of men (including the priests).

Lesson – A covenant is only good when both parties keep their vows. For instance, when a man and woman marry, they bind themselves in a “marriage covenant.” God and others present are witnesses of their vows (promises), and the couple exchange rings as a token of their covenant. Tragically, more than 50% of marriage covenants are eventually broken because either the husband or wife fail to keep covenant, not only with their spouse, but with God and those who witnessed their exchange of vows.

The prophet Jeremiah, quoted in Hebrews 8:8-11, observed how the children of Israel had broken covenant with God (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Like a wife who betrays her vows and breaks her marriage covenant, Israel had failed to keep her covenant with God. In Jeremiah’s day, Israel had become not only a divided nation, but her idolatry and failure to keep the Law and Commandments, had robbed the nation of God’s blessings (Deuteronomy 28; Exodus 31).

The Promise of a New Covenant (8:10-13)

If men had kept the first covenant, there would have been no need for a second covenant (8:7b). However, because Israel had not kept her covenant with the LORD, and disregarded His Law, God foresaw the need to establish a “Covenant,” and Christ serve as the everlasting High Priest(8:10).

The first covenant required external obedience, keeping the written law and offering sacrifices. The Lord promised under the “New Covenant,” He would “put [His] laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (which will be fulfilled in the Millennial Kingdom, 8:10). In other words, motivated by their love and communion with the Lord, believers should keep covenant with God. The old covenant depended on earthly priests offering sacrifices, and acting as mediators between God and man (8:11a). Under the “New Covenant,” every believer will come before the Lord, “for all shall know [Him], from the least to the greatest” (8:11).

Closing thoughts (8:12-13) – While the old covenant pictured forgiveness through blood sacrifices, the “New Covenant” promised God’s mercy and forgiveness of sins (8:12). Therefore, knowing Christ has established a “Covenant” by His blood, we are confident He is our High Priest and Mediator, and sits “on the right hand of the throne.” Understanding the “New Covenant” has replaced the old (8:13), believers should delight in obeying the principles and precepts of God’s Word, trusting in His grace and promises.

Only as you study and meditate in God’s Word, will His truths rule your heart. What is in your heart?

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Praise God for His Sovereign, Providential Care (Acts 23)

Click on this link for translations of today’s devotional.

Scripture reading – Acts 23

Claudius Lysias (23:26), the “chief captain” and commander of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem, had saved Paul from a riotous mob that would have killed him (21:30-35). When the chief captain learned Paul was a citizen of Rome, he was afraid, knowing “he had bound him,” and violated his civil rights (22:25-29). The next morning, the captain determined he would investigate the cause for the tumult against Paul (22:30).  Summoning the members of the Sanhedrin (“the chief priests and all their council to appear,” 22:30), the captain “brought Paul down, and set him before them” (22:30).

Acts 23

Paul’s Courage and Defense (23:1-5)

With the Roman garrison as his backdrop, and the captain of the Roman guard his judge, Paul was given opportunity to address his accusers (the chief priests and the Sanhedrin). Paul began to speak to the council (of whom there were at least 70 members), and said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (23:1). Paul’s speech was suddenly interrupted when “the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him [Paul] to smite him on the mouth” (23:2). Then, Paul rebuked his antagonist, and declared, “God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?” (23:3) Some who stood near, challenged Paul, saying, “Revilest thou God’s high priest?” (23:4)

The apostle’s response to that question has been a subject of debate, for he answered, “I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest” (23:5a). Perhaps Ananias was not adorned in the robe of the high priest, and therefore Paul did not recognize him. (An interesting fact of history recorded by Josephus, the Jewish historian, is that there was a vacancy in the office of the high priest at the time Paul was tried. Ananias had served as high priest, but was succeeded by another priest named Jonathan. Soon after he became high priest, Felix, the Roman procurator of Judaea, became a bitter enemy of Jonathan. Felix plotted Jonathan’s assassination, and the office of the high priest was vacant at the time Paul was tried.)

Sadducees vs. Pharisees (23:6-10)

Knowing two factions of the Sanhedrin were bitterly divided over the doctrine of the resurrection (23:6), Paul provoked the Sadducees (who rejected the resurrection), and pitted them against the Pharisees. Identifying himself as a Pharisee, Paul said, “Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question” (23:6). Suddenly, there arose a bitter clash between the two Jewish factions, until the scribes of the Pharisees declared Paul was innocent, saying, “We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God” (23:9). The conflict became so threatening, the chief captain ordered Paul be taken to the castle (23:10).

A Comforting Assurance from the Lord (23:11)

Lest Paul wonder what would become of his life, the Lord came to him in the night, and “stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome” (23:11). With the assurance the Lord was with him, Paul was commanded to not be afraid, and be a ready witness in both Jerusalem, and eventually in the city of Rome.

A Conspiracy to Kill Paul (23:12-22)

The next day, more than forty Jewish men plotted to kill Paul, and with a solemn curse, invoked God’s judgment on themselves should they fail (23:12-13). Those same men came to “the chief priests and elders,” and revealed their plot to kill Paul (23:14). They intreated the help of their religious leaders, and requested a meeting with Paul that they might lie in wait and kill him (23:15).

Somehow, a young man identified as Paul’s nephew (his “sister’s son), learned of the plot and told Paul (23:16). Paul then sent for “one of the centurions,” and requested his nephew be taken to the chief captain, and the plot to kill him be divulged (23:17-22). When he learned of the plot, the chief captain called for two centurions (each a commander of 100 men), and ordered, “Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night” (23:23). The chief captain, identifying himself as Claudius Lysias, penned a letter to Felix the Roman governor, and explained the cause for Paul’s transport to Caesarea.

A Military Escort of Nearly 500 Soldiers (23:23-35)

With nearly 500 soldiers escorting him, Paul and his company were conveyed to Antipatris (23:31), a town thirty-five miles from Jerusalem. The next morning, Paul was escorted to Caesarea, and delivered to Felix along with the letter of explanation from the chief captain (23:33). Far from the volatility of Jerusalem, Felix, governor of that province, promised Paul a speedy trial, and determined to hear the matter when his accusers were come to Caesarea (23:35).

Closing thoughts – So much more might be written concerning the events recorded in today’s Scripture reading. Let us acknowledge that purveyors of truth are not exempt from trials and persecution. Paul had done no wrong, but his testimony and bold preaching of the Gospel and grace of God, provoked bitter hatred. If not for the intervention of Roman soldiers, Paul would have been killed by the ones he identified as his brethren. Praise God for His sovereign, providential care of His servants.

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Marvelous Grace! (Acts 15; Acts 16)

Scripture reading – Acts 15; Acts 16

I introduced you to James, the author of the Epistle of James, in a prior devotional. He was believed to be the half-brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), and the head of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 12:17). That same James appears in today’s Scripture reading in the role of the senior pastor\elder of the congregation in Jerusalem.

Acts 15

Today’s Scripture reading chronicled the growth pangs of the 1st century church. While the church began with Jewish converts, the growing number of Gentiles who believed presented a theological crisis. Because there were historic prejudices between the Jews and Gentiles, it was inevitable that conflicts would arise in the Antioch congregation that was comprised of both Jews and Greeks. The arrival of “men which came down from Judaea” (15:1a) created a conflict that threatened not only the unity of the church, but questioned the foundational doctrine of salvation by God’s grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8-9). The men of Judaea taught, “Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (15:1b).

Paul and Barnabas confronted the dissension that was created by those men, and it was determined they, along with other men, should “go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about [the] question” (15:2). The same debate soon raged in Jerusalem as believers “of the sect of the Pharisees” maintained that Gentile believers must not only be circumcised to be saved, but also be commanded “to keep the law of Moses” (15:5).

The Jerusalem Council (15:6-21)

The apostles and elders gathered as representatives of the congregation, and listened as the dispute over circumcision raged (15:6-7a). Peter finally arose, and declared what had already been agreed upon in an earlier council (15:7b). It had been determined the Gospel was not only for the Jews, but for all men (Acts 10:1-48). When Cornelius, a Roman centurion heard the Gospel and believed, God gave him the indwelling of the Holy Ghost (Acts 10:44-48). Peter observed how God had “put no difference” between the men of Jewish ancestry, and those who were Gentile. All sinners come to salvation by faith (15:9).  Peter declared, whether Jew or Gentile, “we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved” (15:11).

Then, the people fell silent, as Paul and Barnabas shared how the Lord had validated their preaching and teaching by “miracles and wonders” that only the LORD could have produced (15:12). James, whom I believe was the senior pastor\elder of the Jerusalem congregation (Galatians 1:19), declared he was in agreement with Peter (i.e. Simeon, 15:14). He reminded the believers how the prophet Amos had foretold that Gentiles would be a part of God’s kingdom (Amos 9:11-12). James counseled the members of the church to accept the doctrine of salvation by grace though faith alone, and not overburden Gentile believers with instructions that were not required for salvation (15:19-21).

There was a consensus to accept James’ summary, and affirm the decision in writing. Furthermore, two men of the Jerusalem congregation were chosen to accompany the letter, and act as representatives of the church to believers in Antioch (15:20, 22-23). The letter also urged Gentile believers to, “abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood” (15:20), truths from the Old Testament they needed to know and practice.

The Effect of the Letter Addressed to Antioch Believers (15:31-41)

The letter affirming salvation by grace alone stirred up a spirit of rejoicing among believers (15:31). Silas, one of the two men sent from the Jerusalem congregation, remained in Antioch, and became a missionary peer of Paul (15:34). Paul and Barnabas “continued in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord,” and “many others also” became teachers and preachers (15:35).

Closing thoughts (15:36-41) – The concluding verses of Acts 15 remind us that, though Paul and Barnabas were giants of the faith in the early church, they were nevertheless human. With the dissension over the doctrine of salvation by grace resolved, Paul announced his desire to journey and visit believers in the cities and towns where he and Barnabas had “preached the word of the Lord” (15:36). Yet, Barnabas insisted on bringing John Mark (15:37), whom Paul opposed for he had deserted them in Pamphylia (15:38). The quarrel between the two men was so great, they separated themselves, “and so Barnabas took Mark, and sailed unto Cyprus” (15:39).

There has long been a debate regarding who was right concerning John Mark, Barnabas or Paul? I could make several arguments on this point, but because Paul was an apostle and Barnabas was not, I wonder if Barnabas failed to submit to authority? Another point in Paul’s favor is, when he and Silas departed, they were “recommended by the brethren unto the grace of God (15:40). The same affirmation was not said of Barnabas and John Mark. Nevertheless, at the end of his life and ministry, Paul wrote of John Mark: “Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:11).

In the providence and sovereignty of God, John Mark not only came to Paul’s aid, he would later author the Gospel of Mark! What marvelous grace!

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please enter your email address in the box to the right (if using a computer) or at the bottom (if using a cell phone).

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Fury and Death of Herod, Enemy of God (Acts 12; Acts 13)

Scripture reading – Acts 12; Acts 13

Acts 12 begins with the phrase, “about that time,” and gives us cause to consider “the time” that was the setting for today’s devotional. Putting our Scripture reading in its historical context, it was “the time” that followed Peter learning the Gospel was to be preached to all men, Jew and Gentile (Acts 10:1-48). Peter had given a defense of his doctrine before the believers of the church in Jerusalem (Acts 11:1-18), and they “glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (11:18).

The church in Jerusalem commissioned and “sent forth Barnabas, that he should go as far as Antioch” (11:22). The work was so great that Barnabas determined to travel to Tarsus, and invite Saul to minister with him in Antioch (11:25-26). It was also at the time when a believer named Agabus prophesied the world would experience a “great dearth” (a time of famine, 11:28). Exercising love and compassion for their brethren in Jerusalem, the believers in Antioch “determined to send relief unto the brethren which dwelt in Judaea,” and “every man [gave] according to his ability” (11:29). Barnabas and Saul were sent with an offering for believers in Jerusalem (11:30).

Acts 12

Perhaps for political reasons, and to distract the people from the famine, king Herod (the grandson of Herod the Great), began a systematic pattern of persecuting the church. The king “killed James the brother of John with the sword” (making him the first of the apostles to be martyred, 12:2). When he realized his actions “pleased the Jews” (12:3), he determined “to take Peter” and would have put him to death had God not intervened (12:3-4).

With Peter in prison, the believers of the church began to pray “without ceasing” (12:5). While they prayed, “Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison” (12:6). What faith, and confidence Peter had in God’s care and providences. Then, God miraculously intervened, and sent an angel who struck Peter in his side to awaken him, and commanded him, “Arise up quickly” (12:7). So deep was his sleep, the angel instructed him to put on his shoes and his garments. Even then, Peter believed it wasn’t so, and he was having a vision (12:8-9).

Peter was delivered from the prison by the angel, and then made his way through the streets to where believers were gathered to pray at the home of Mary, whose son was named “John, whose surname was Mark” (12:12). (This is the same John Mark who would be the author of the Gospel of Mark).

Arriving at the house, Peter knocked and a young lady named Rhoda, answered the door (12:13). Hearing and recognizing his voice, Rhoda was so excited she neglected opening the door for Peter to enter the house (12:14). She told the believers Peter was outside the gate, but they accused her of being “mad” (literally out of her head or mind, 12:14). Some suggested she had seen Peter’s angel, though Peter continued to knock (12:16).

Finally opening the door, the believers rejoiced to find Peter standing before them! (12:16) He quieted their enthusiasm, and explained how he had been delivered from the prison (12:17). He then instructed them to send a message to “James, and to the brethren” (this is probably James, the half-brother of Jesus, and the son of Joseph and Mary, 12:17b). By this time, James appears to be the leader of the believers in the church in Jerusalem. Wisely, Peter departed from Jerusalem, “and went into another place” (12:17c).

Herod’s Fury and Death (12:18-23)

When it was day, the soldiers and keepers of the prison discovered Peter was missing (12:18). Those who slept in his cell, and those who stood guard at the door of the prison, had no explanation for Peter’s absence (12:19). Herod then ordered the execution of those men who failed to keep Peter prisoner (12:19).

The king then departed for Caesarea (a city on the Mediterranean Sea), and remained there (12:19b). Proud of his position and power, the king set a day of pageantry for himself, and “arrayed in royal apparel, sat upon his throne, and made an oration unto them” (12:21). The people flattered the foolish king, “saying, It is the voice of a god, and not of a man” (12:22). Herod accepted their blasphemy, and even as they praised him, an “angel of the Lord smote him, because he gave not God the glory: and he was eaten of worms, and gave up the ghost” (12:23). Imagine the horror of seeing the king struck down, and worms consuming him till he was dead! (12:23).

Closing thoughts (12:24-25) – While the persecution of believers increased, so did the reach of the “Word of God,” which increased more and more (12:24). Acts 12 concluded with Barnabas and Saul departing Jerusalem and returning to Antioch, and this time in the company of “John, whose surname was Mark” (12:12, 25).

Though today’s Scripture reading continues with Acts 13, and the historical record of the beginning of modern missions, I must leave that study for another time.

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Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Be Strong in the LORD and Bold in Your Witness! (Acts 7; Acts 8)

Scripture reading – Acts 7; Acts 8

Recorded in Acts 7 and 8 are two of the great pivotal points in the maturing of the early church: The death of Stephen, the first martyr of the church (Acts 7); and the conversion of Saul the great persecutor of the church (Acts 8).

We first met Stephen in Acts 6 when he was named among the seven men chosen to assist the apostles in the rapidly growing congregation. Though there is some debate, I believe the seven were the first Deacons, one of only two Biblical offices in the New Testament church, the other being the Pastor\Elder (1 Timothy 3).

The role of the seven was defined as serving tables (Acts 6:2), meaning the menial, but intimate care of the members of their assembly. Particularly noteworthy was the spiritual character that was demanded of those who would be Deacons. Those men were to be “men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom” (Acts 6:3).

Of the seven chosen, Stephen, was specifically distinguished as a man, “full of faith and power, [who] did great wonders and miracles among the people” (6:8). His testimony and boldness in faith, spiritual wisdom, and power in the spirit made him a formidable witness among those in the synagogues (6:9-10).

As it was with Christ, so it was for Stephen; the enemies of the Gospel were determined to silence him. After arresting Stephen, evil men were employed to bring false accusations against him (6:11-13). Hurling lies against his character, those who sat in the council were amazed, for his countenance was “as it had been the face of an angel” (6:15).

Having heard the charges of his accusers, Stephen was asked by the high priest, “Are these things so?” (7:1).

Stephen’s defense reflected a breadth and depth of knowledge in the Old Testament Scriptures, that made his argument before the council powerful and convicting (7:2-53). He systematically set forth a historical case for Christ beginning with Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, and Solomon (7:2-50). Concluding his defense, Stephen fearlessly rebuked the council, exposed their hypocrisy, and charged them and their fathers with the deaths of the prophets (7:51-53).

Rather than answer Stephen’s indictment, the lawless members of the council broke their laws, and without an answer or passing judgment, stoned him to death (7:54-58).

The religious hypocrites were guilty. They were guilty of the blood of the prophets, and having already rejected Jesus Christ, they added to their condemnation the blood of Stephen. There was, however, one exception in that crowd of mockers: “the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul”(7:58). Saul of Tarsus, the great persecutor of the church, would soon come face to face with the reality of a crucified, buried, and risen Savior, Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1-9).

Closing thought – I trust Stephen’s knowledge of the Scriptures, and his courageous example will stir your heart to study the Old and New Testament Scriptures, and embolden your faith to be a faithful witness for Jesus Christ.

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

Eyewitness Accounts of Christ’s Resurrection (Mark 16; Luke 24)

Scripture reading – Mark 16; Luke 24

With the cry, “It is finished,” Jesus “bowed His head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30). Soldiers were ordered to hasten the deaths of those on the crosses, and they broke the legs of the thieves to speed along their demise. When they came to Jesus, they found He was already dead. Rather than break his legs, a soldier thrust his spear through Christ’s side (John 19:34-37), and thus fulfilled Zechariah’s prophecy, “they shall look upon me whom they pierced” (Zechariah 12:10).

Departing Golgotha

The chief priests, Pharisees, and scribes, must have been the first to leave Golgotha. Like politicians, they had plotted Jesus’ death, and stirred the people to consent, crying, “Crucify Him!” (Mark 15:13-14; Luke 23:21; John 19:6, 15). Those who lifted their voices against Jesus, went to their homes with hands stained with the blood of an innocent, sinless man. Spiritually blind, they observed the Passover, not understanding they had sacrificed the “Lamb of God,” Jesus Christ (John 1:29, 36).

Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin who “had not consented to the counsel (Sanhedrin) and deed of them” (Luke 23:51), had gone to Pilate and courageously “begged the body of Jesus” (Luke 23:52). With love and tenderness, he claimed Jesus’ lifeless body, and “wrapped it in linen, and laid it” in his sepulchre (Luke 23:53). With the tomb sealed and guards posted, the high priests and elders were confident the tomb was secure. They had done what they could to ensure Jesus’ followers would not steal His body, and then claim He had been raised from the dead as He had taught (Matthew 27:62-66).

He is Risen! (Mark 16; Luke 24:44-49)

We have considered the historical details that give numerous proofs concerning the bodily resurrection of Jesus from the dead (Matthew 28). Mark 16:1-14 and Luke 24:1-12 offer us a perspective of their authors, and together the absolute harmony of the greatest event in human history… “Jesus was risen early the first day of the week” and He appeared to Mary Magdalene (16:9), two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus (16:12; Luke 24:13-32), and then to “the eleven as they sat at meat” (16:14).

The fact of Jesus’ bodily resurrection from the dead forever changed the lives of His disciples.  They were commissioned to preach the news of Christ’s suffering for sin (24:26), and to preach in His name a message of repentance and remission of sins “among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (24:47). Of those things, Jesus commanded, “ye are witnesses of these things” (24:48). With a blessing, and promise they would go in His power and authority, Jesus ascended to heaven (24:50-51). The hearts of the disciples were filled with joy, and “they worshipped” Him, “and were continually in the temple, praising and blessing God” (24:53). With the exception of John who was exiled (Revelation 1), each of the disciples faced a martyr’s death. Yet, their tongues could not be silenced, and each died giving testimony that they served a risen Savior!

Closing thoughts – Christ’s resurrection was the pinnacle moment in God’s redemptive plan. Jesus was crucified, died for our sins, was buried, and on the third day was raised from the dead as He foretold. His sacrificial death paid the penalty of sin in full (Romans 6:23), and His resurrection promises hope to all who believe.

I close with the apostle John’s eyewitness testimony:

1 John 5:1313 These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.

Is Jesus Christ your Savior?

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

The Ending was Just the Beginning! (Matthew 28)

Scripture reading – Matthew 28

Our chronological study of the Gospel of Matthew concludes today with the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and the commissioning of the disciples (less Judas who betrayed Him) to “Go…teach all nations” (28:19).

The Greatest News: “He is Risen, As He Said” (28:1-6)

“Mary Magdalene, and the other Mary” had followed Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus to see the place where the body of Jesus was laid (27:61). When the Sabbath was past, several women began making their way to Christ’s tomb to anoint His body (although Matthew named only two in his Gospel, “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary,” 28:1). Matthew records “there was a great earthquake [and] the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it” (28:2). The sight of the angel, whose “countenance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow” (28:3) terrified the guards who “did shake, and became as dead men” (28:4).

When the women arrived at the tomb where Jesus had been buried, they found it open, and an angel waiting. Luke identified two angels in his Gospel (Luke 24:4-5); however, Matthew only mentions the one who spoke to the women, and said, “Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified” (28:5). Calming their fears, the angel communicated an extraordinary message that not only changed their lives, but changed the course of history forever. The angel “said unto the women, “Fear not ye: for I know that ye seek Jesus, which was crucified. 6He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay” (28:5-6).

The Greatest Privilege (28:7-10)

With the command, “go quickly, and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead” (28:7), a small handful of faithful women were entrusted with the greatest privilege…to tell others Christ was risen from the dead! As those same women departed, they came face-to-face with the risen Christ, who saluted them with the words, “All hail” (28:9). Imagine the joy, the hope, the emotions when they saw Christ! They fell before Him, and “held him by the feet, and worshipped him” (28:9). He then comforted them with the words, “Be not afraid: go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me” (28:10).

The Great Dilemma (28:11-15)

The news of Christ’s resurrection was celebrated by the women, and the “eleven disciples [who] went away into Galilee” (28:16). Yet, when the soldiers reported to the chief priests “all the things that were done” (28:11), the religious leaders set in motion a plot that we would refer to today as “damage control” (28:11). No effort was made to locate Jesus, instead, the Sanhedrin was assembled and it was determined there was only two possible explanations for why the body was not in the tomb: either Christ rose bodily from the dead, or His body was stolen (28:12).

The elders then bribed the soldiers with a great sum of money, and charged them to say, “His disciples came by night, and stole him away while we slept” (28:13). A solider sleeping at his post was deemed a capital punishment offense, but the Jewish leaders urged the guards to lie, and assured them, “if this come to the governor’s ears, we will persuade him, and secure you” (28:14). The soldiers agreed to the bribe, “took the money, and did as they were taught: and this saying is commonly reported among the Jews until this day” (28:15).

The Greatest Mission (28:16-20)

Our study of the Gospel of Matthew concludes with the disciples receiving their commission to spearhead the greatest mission of all…to tell the news of Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to the nations. With the assurance of Christ’s power and authority, the disciples were given a threefold mission that would be for all people, races, and nations:

Matthew 28:19–2019Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.”

* You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.

“Behold the Man!” (John 18; John 19)

Scripture reading – John 18; John 19

Our devotional readings in the Synoptic Gospels have followed Christ from His last supper (Passover) with the disciples, through Judas’ betrayal and His arrest (Matthew 26:47-49; Mark 14:43-45; Luke 22:47-49). Each human author brought his own perspective, and yet all are in harmony as they recount the trials that followed Jesus’ arrest (Matthew 26:57-27:25; Mark 14:53-15; Luke 22:54-25).

John 18 – Jesus Betrayed, Arrested, and Tried

In his Gospel, the apostle John rendered an eyewitness account of Christ’s betrayal by Judas, and arrest (18:1-11). Jesus had warned Peter, he would deny Him three times before the crowing of a rooster announced the morning sunrise (13:36-38). Tragically, Peter fulfilled that prophecy (18:15-18, 25-27), and when he heard the cock crow, he went out and “wept bitterly” (Matthew 26:75; Luke 22:62).

Altogether, Jesus faced six trails before He was condemned to be crucified. The initial trials occurred while it was yet dark, with Annas, the former high priest presiding over the first (18:12-14). John did not record the second trial before the high priest Caiaphas, nor the trial before the Sanhedrin (though all were agreed Jesus must die). John picked up the narrative of Jesus’ trials with Jesus being led “from Caiaphas unto the hall of judgment” (18:28).

Because it was the Passover, the religious leaders refused to enter Pilate’s Hall, lest they be ceremonially defiled (of course, those same hypocrites were plotting to stain their hands with Christ’s blood, 18:28). Pilate committed several legal maneuvers in an attempt to put a distance between himself, and the Jews’ demands that Jesus, an innocent man be put to death. He heard the accusations, nevertheless, judged Jesus had committed no crime that demanded His death (18:29-40).

When Pilate agreed to free a prisoner in honor of the Passover, he asked, “will ye therefore that I release unto you the King of the Jews?” (18:39) Instead of Christ, the people were stirred by the chief priests to say, “Not this man [Christ], but Barabbas” (18:40). John wrote, “Now Barabbas was a robber” (18:40). So, Barabbas, an insurrectionist, murderer and robber, was set free as the Jews demanded.

John 19 – Jesus Scourged, Scorned, and Crucified

Hoping to appease the murderous Jews, Pilate ordered Jesus be scourged by his solders, who then “platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head” (19:1-2). “They put on him a purple robe, and said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands” (19:2b-3). Pilate declared to the mob, “I find no fault in him” (19:4), and then brought “Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man!” (19:5)

The sight of Jesus beaten, and bloodied did not dissuade the crowd’s thirst for innocent blood. The chief priests and Sanhedrin officers cried out the more, “Crucify him, crucify him” (19:6). Hoping to devoid himself of responsibility for crucifying Jesus, “Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him” (19:6). Hypocritically, the Jews asserted, “We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God” (19:7).

Pilate was troubled when he heard Jesus had “made Himself the Son of God” (19:7). He questioned Jesus, saying, “Whence art thou?” (19:12) Implying, who are you? From where have you come?

When Jesus did not answer, Pilate was offended, and declared, “knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee?” (19:10) Then, Jesus rebuked Pilate, and asserted the sovereignty of God, and said to him, “Thou couldest have no power [no right; no authority] at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin” (19:11).

Closing thoughts (19:14-42) – Convinced Jesus was innocent, Pilate exhausted every means to release Jesus, until he succumbed to the pressure of the mob. When he declared to the people, “Behold your King!” (19:14), they answered, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him” (19:15).

The scene at the Cross, and its fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy (Isaiah 53) will be addressed at another time. For now, I close with a simple observation: Christ died on the cross that was intended to be Barabbas’ place of execution. Pilate, representing civil authority and the power to give or take life, judged Jesus was innocent, and by right should have been set free. Tragically, the Roman procurator made the fateful decision to not only crucify an innocent man, but sealed the fate of his own soul.

By dying on a cross reserved for a murderer, Jesus completed the portrait of a sinless, substitutionary sacrifice. He was innocent, and yet, He died not only in the place of Barabbas, but because “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), He died for the sins of the world (John 1:29).

Is He your Savior? (Romans 10:13)

 * You can become a regular subscriber of the Heart of a Shepherd daily devotionals, and have them sent directly to your email address. Please email your request to HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com.

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

Heart of A Shepherd Inc is recognized by the Internal Revenue Service as a 501c3, and is a public charitable organization. Mailing address: Heart of A Shepherd Inc, 6201 Ehrlich Rd., Tampa, FL 33625. You can email HeartofAShepherdInc@gmail.com for more information on this daily devotional ministry.