Category Archives: Israel

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!

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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.

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.

Inquisition of Jesus, and a Cross-Bearer (Mark 15; Luke 23)

Scripture reading – Mark 15; Luke 23

The Middle East has always been a boiling caldron mixed with violence, rebellion, and nation seeking to conquer nation.  In Jesus’ day, the Romans were imposing their “Pax Romana” (Roman Peace) on Israel, but many Jews were unhappy under Rome’s oppression. They despised paying Roman taxes and disdained the presence of Roman soldiers.

For Rome, the threat of rebellion was constant and no Roman official was more efficient at putting down insurrection than Pilate, the Roman procurator appointed by Caesar Tiberius. Pilate’s harsh rule fueled rebellion and fanned revolution among the people. The news of his excessive cruelties even reached to the ears of Caesar.

Trials under the cloak of darkness were illegal, and forbidden by the law, but the chief priests, elders, and scribes were not interested in the smallest pretense of justice or law. Their goal was to see Jesus put to death, and the slightest formality would not stand in their way. The Gospel of John recorded the first trial held covertly in the darkness of the night. Annas, the former high priest and father-in-law of the ruling high priest, was the presiding judge (John 18:12-23). The second trial, as illegal as the first, was held before Caiaphas, the current high priest (Matthew 26:57-68).

The Inquisition Before Pilate (15:1-15)

The third trial occurred “straightway in the morning” (15:1), and was before the Sanhedrin, the 70-member tribunal that consisted of the high priest, elders, scribes, and other wealthy Jewish leaders. Having ruled Jesus must be put to death, but lacking the authority to do so under Roman law, the “whole council” “delivered [Jesus] to Pilate” for sentencing (15:1b).

Pilate entertained the accusations against Jesus that were brought by the chief priests, elders and scribes. The powerful Roman procurator was amazed Jesus was silent, and refused to answer His accusers (15:2-5).  Pilate understood Jesus’ adversaries were not interested in justice, and were motivated by “envy” and spite (15:10). He unsuccessfully attempted to free Jesus from the entanglement of Jewish injustice (15:6-9).

Because there was a tradition to free a prisoner during the Passover, Pilate suggested Jesus be freed (15:9). Yet, the chief priests stirred up the people to demand he “release Barabbas unto them” (15:11), a notorious robber, insurrectionist and murderer (15:7, 11).

A Travesty of Judgment: Innocence Condemned (15:14-20)

Though he declared Jesus to be innocent, saying, “I find no fault” in Him (Luke 23:4), Pilate nevertheless yielded to the cry of the bloodthirsty mob (15:14). He made the fateful decision against his own soul, and “willing to content the people, released Barabbas unto them, and delivered Jesus, when he had scourged him, to be crucified” (15:15).

The Lord’s fate being decided, Roman soldiers led Jesus to a judgment hall called the Praetorium (15:16). They called “together the whole band” of soldiers (some 40-60 men), and began to mock and humiliate Jesus (15:16). They adorned Him in a robe of purple, “and platted a crown of thorns, and put it about His head” (15:17). They mocked and hailed him as, “King of the Jews!” (15:18). They struck Him about the head, spat upon Him, and made a pretense of “bowing their knees” and worshipping Jesus (15:19). Stripping Him of the purple robe, they then “led Him out to crucify Him” (15:20).

Simon a Cyrenian: Bearer of Christ’s Cross (15:21-22)

The scourging, beatings, and loss of blood had left Jesus weakened and unable to bear the beam of the Cross to Golgotha (the place of the skull, 15:22). Along the way, a man named “Simon a Cyrenian” was compelled to assist Jesus with His Cross (15:21). It is on that fact; I invite you to pause and ponder a question: “What became of Simon after he helped bear the cross on which Jesus was crucified?” 

I invite you to consider Mark 15:21 to address that question: “And they [the Roman soldiers] compel one Simon a Cyrenian, who passed by, coming out of the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to bear his cross” (15:21).

Mark gave the names of Simon’s sons, Alexander and Rufus. First century believers apparently knew those men. It is only my speculation, but I wonder if Alexander and Rufus, like their father Simon, became believers and followers of Christ. I cannot prove that point; however, of the thousands saved following the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, the mention of that father and his sons by name, gives me hope they were well known believers in that day.

Closing thoughts (15:27-34) – I do not know what became of Simon after he bore the cross to Golgotha, but I like to think he stood near the cross and observed Jesus, an innocent, sinless man, dying and bearing the sins of those who crucified Him.  Simon’s Passover pilgrimage from Cyrene (northwest Africa, our modern Libya) providentially led him to the “Lamb of God” (John 1:29, 36).

Have you been to Golgotha, the place the Romans called Calvary? Have you gazed upon the man dying in the midst of two thieves (15:27-28; Isaiah 53:9a)?  Have you listened as the crowd cried for His crucifixion, listened as He prayed, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34)?  Behold the man, not only forsaken by those whom He loved, but in the darkness praying as He bears the penalty of our sins, praying, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

Is He your Savior? If not, I invite you to confess you are a sinner, and “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).

* 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.

Innocence Betrayed: Jesus Tried and Condemned (Matthew 27)

Scripture reading – Matthew 27

Rich with drama, the passage we are reading today brings us to the spiritual crossroads of human history. This is God’s redemptive plan of salvation for man’s sin, conceived in the heart of our Creator before the foundation of the world was laid (Ephesians 1:4-5; 1 Peter 1:18-20). Our devotional could focus on many aspects of Jesus’ path to the Cross; however, I will limit myself to one thought: Judas: his remorse, and death.

Judas: Remorse is Not Repentance (27:1-10)

The chief priests and Sanhedrin had tried and condemned Jesus to die (Matthew 27:1-2). They led Him away to the Roman governor’s palace where Pontius Pilate held court, and where Jesus would be tried, and sentenced to death by civil authority.

Judas watched the proceedings with regret, and the effect of his betrayal brought a wave of remorse over his soul (27:3). Perhaps it was when they led Jesus away to be tried by Pilate (27:2), that he realized the treachery of his betrayal. How could one privileged to be numbered among Christ’s Twelve, betray Him into the hands of His enemies? How could Judas, after enjoying the intimacy of Jesus’ company, now be His enemy? When they took Jesus away, Judas did not confess, “I made a mistake.” No, he said, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood” (27:4). Nevertheless, Judas was like so many; a follower, but not a believer that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God.

Poor, sad, miserable soul. Judas realized too late the scorn those religious hypocrites held not only for Jesus, but for him. They answered him with contempt, saying, “What is that to us? see thou to that” (27:4b). Those religious pretenders cared nothing for Judas’ soul, nor did they offer him counsel (27:5a). He realized too late there was no place, and no one to whom he could go to find relief for his wickedness. Unable to bear the weight of his sin, and betrayal of “innocent blood” (27:4a), Judas realized no act of contrition could ease his guilt. Casting down the thirty pieces of silver, he fled through the streets of Jerusalem, “and went and hanged himself” (27:5b; Acts 1:16-19).

Magnifying their hypocrisy (for they were determined to kill Jesus), those religious leaders disingenuously debated the lawful expenditure of blood money, the silver Judas had hurled at them (27:6b). In an effort to conceal their sin, the chief priests and elders proposed an act of charity, and purchased “the potter’s field, to bury strangers in” (27:8). Unknowingly, they fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah (27:9-10) that was recorded by Zechariah, saying: “So they weighed for my price thirty pieces of silver. 13 And the Lord said unto me, Cast it unto the potter: a goodly price that I was prised at of them. And I took the thirty pieces of silver, and cast them to the potter in the house of the Lord” (Zechariah 11:12–13). The public would later learn the secret of their purchase, and did call the place, “The field of blood” (27:8).

Closing thoughts – What sorrow and depravity. There was no justice that day, instead all was a charade of justice and pseudo-piety! Yet, such is the way of the wicked. Too many learn too late, the sorrow of remorse is not sincere repentance. Judas confessed to the religious leaders, “I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood” (27:4); however, he failed to confess his sin to God. Judas found himself in a state of hopelessness. His remorse was too little, and his repentance came too late.

Friend, don’t make that mortal mistake. I invite you to confess your sin to God, and turn to Him knowing Christ has borne the penalty of your sin on the Cross.

1 John 5:11–1311 And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life. 13 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.

* 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.

Christ alone is the Prince of Peace! (John 16; John 17)

Scripture reading – John 16; John 17

We continue our study of the latter chapters of the Gospels. John 16 and 17 give us a record of those things Jesus taught His disciples after they observed the Passover, and were making their way to the Garden of Gethsemane. With passionate fervor, knowing His hour was come (16:32), Christ taught His disciples some of the great principles of our faith. Remembering this was His last speech to His followers, we should pay special attention to the truths contained in today’s Scripture reading. Our devotional challenge is taken from John 16.

John 16

Jesus warned His disciples, when He was gone out of the world, they would face persecution and be “put out of the synagogues” (16:2a). Some would be put to death by those who believed they were serving and pleasing God (16:2b). Religious zealots would commit gross wickedness against believers, for they neither knew God the Father or His Son (16:3-4). Jesus was departing, and the hearts of His disciples were filled with fear, and sorrow (16:5-6). Yet, He promised they would not be alone.

The Work of the Holy Spirit (16:5-15)

Jesus had promised He would send a Comforter (14:16-17), and in John 16 rehearsed with them the ministry of the Holy Spirit in their lives: “when he [the Holy Spirit] is come, he will reprove [convict] the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: 9Of sin, because they believe not on me; 10Of righteousness, because I go to my Father, and ye see me no more; 11Of judgment, because the prince of this world is judged [the fate of the devil would be sealed]” (16:7-11).

What is the work of the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit convicts us of sin (16:9), and of righteousness, and of judgment (16:10-11). The Holy Spirit is “the Spirit of truth,” a guide to truth, and a teacher and revealer of things to come (16:13). The work of the Holy Spirit is also to glorify Christ (16:14). What a blessed Comforter believers have in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit!

The Central Doctrine of the Resurrection (16:16-33)

The disciples had yet to understand Christ must die according to the Scriptures (Isaiah 53), and “go to the Father” (16:16). Foretelling His death, Jesus warned they would “weep and lament [His death], but the world would rejoice” (16:20a). While they would sorrow, Jesus promised, “your sorrow shall be turned into joy” (16:20b).

Like a mother suffers labor pangs before she rejoices in the birth of her infant, Jesus promised after a season of sorrow, the disciples would see Him again, and their hearts would be turned to rejoicing (16:22). Notice the resurrection of Jesus Christ not only gives believers cause for rejoicing, but also gives us an assurance of answered prayers (16:23-24). What a wonderful promise we have when we read, “Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you…ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (16:23-24).

Closing thoughts – How did the disciples respond to Jesus revealing He would die, and after that be raised from the dead? They affirmed they believed He was the Christ; and yet, Christ asked: “Do ye now believe?” (16:30-31).

The disciples were unaware Judas was gone to the high priests, and would be leading soldiers to the Garden to arrest Jesus. He warned them, “the hour cometh, yea, is now come, that ye shall be scattered, every man to his own, and shall leave me alone: and yet I am not alone, because the Father is with me” (16:32). Though their hearts would soon be overwhelmed with sorrow, Jesus promised, 33These things I have spoken unto you, that in me ye might have peace. In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world” (16:33).

Tragically, there are many looking to the philosophies and pleasures of the world, to fill the emptiness of their hearts (1 John 2:15-17). Lest we be tempted, Jesus warned the world brings trouble and tribulations (16:33b). Christ, however, promised peace that overcomes the world (16:33c). After all, He alone is the “Prince of Peace”(Isaiah 9:6).

* 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.

Love = Obedience (John 14; John 15)

Scripture reading – John 14; John 15

John 14 continued Christ’s conversation with His disciples, after the Passover meal was ended. Fear rose up among the disciples when they heard Jesus say, “one of you shall betray me” (13:21). Although Judas was dismissed from the table and departed, none suspected he was the traitor in their midst (13:22-30).

Fear then turned to dread, when the disciples heard Jesus say, “Whither I go, ye cannot come” (13:33). Understanding His death was imminent, the LORD urged His followers to “love one another” as He had loved them (13:34-35). Peter, ever the impetuous one, spoke up, and asked, “Lord, whither goest thou? I will lay down my life for thy sake” (13:36). Imagine the moment when Jesus questioned Peter, “Wilt thou lay down thy life for my sake?”, and then declared, “The cock shall not crow, till thou hast denied me thrice” (13:38).

The narrative that followed Jesus’ ominous declaration, that He was going away and Peter would betray Him, embodies some of the most beloved promises in the New Testament. John 14-17 chronicled what Christ taught His disciples as they departed the Upper Room. Having observed His last Passover, Jesus taught His followers as He led them to the entrance of the garden where He prayed (18:1).

John 14

Apart from John 3:16, the sentiments found in John 14:1-6 convey some of the most beloved and comforting promises in the Gospels. While John 3:16 encourages the hearts of sinners with the promise of God’s love and eternal life through Christ, John 14 comforts the saints with the promise of an eternal place Christ has gone before and prepared for His children (14:2). What a wonderful truth we have, when we read, “I am the way, the truth, and the life!” (14:6)

Jesus Christ and God, the Father are One (14:8-12)

Philip, one of the disciples, intreated Jesus saying, “Lord, shew us the Father, and it sufficeth us [i.e., we will be satisfied]” (14:8). Christ answered Philip’s request with a loving rebuke, and asked, “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me, Philip?” (14:9) Jesus then declared, “he that hath seen me hath seen the Father” (14:9). What an amazing revelation! Affirming He was incarnate God, Jesus said, “Believe me that I am in the Father, and the Father in me: or else believe me for the very works’ sake” (14:11). In other words, hear my words, and see my works [miracles], and believe! (14:12)

Closing thoughts (14:16-31)

So much more could be written, but I will conclude today’s devotional with two great spiritual truths. The first truth is the revelation of the person and work of the Holy Spirit (known as the doctrine of pneumatology). Christ promised His disciples, when He was gone out of the world, He would send“another Comforter,” the “Spirit of truth” (14:16-17). Who is this Comforter? He “is the Holy Ghost” whom Christ promised would not only be a Comforter, but also a Counselor [i.e., Teacher]. We read, “He [the Holy Ghost]shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (14:26).

Notice also a simple, but profound truth: Love = Obedience. (14:15, 23, 31). Let’s be honest; the love of the 21stcentury is shallow, self-serving, and typically driven by emotions and physical passions. When people say, “I love you,” they are not saying, “I love you enough to sacrifice my all for you.” Yet, that is the Scriptural definition of the highest form of love. Biblical love is not self-serving, it is self-sacrificing (10:15, 17; 15:13; 1 John 3:16).

Jesus challenged His disciples, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (14:15). Someone might profess with their lips a love of God; however, the test is not what they say, but whether or not they obey, and keep the LORD’s commandments. Jesus expressed the same truth in John 14:23-24 where we read, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. 24He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me.” (14:23-24)

A son or daughter cannot pretend to love his or her parents, if they do not obey them. The same is true for God. If you love the LORD, you will keep His commandments.

* 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.