Tag Archives: Holy

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 Only Solution to Racial Prejudices (Acts 10; Acts 11)

Scripture reading – Acts 10; Acts 11

We are continuing our study of the Acts of the Apostles with today’s Scripture reading, Acts 10 and 11. What exciting times those were following the ascension of Christ (Acts 1), and the coming and baptism of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). The powerful, unapologetic preaching of the Gospel (the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, 3:12-22)) spawned a movement that saw thousands trust Christ as Savior, be baptized and added to the church (2:41).

Yet, that same message of hope enflamed a conviction among the enemies of Christ, who determined to silence the preaching with threats and persecution (Acts 4-5). While persecution brought sorrow and physical suffering, it was the martyrdom of Stephen that was the catalyst for believers at Jerusalem to be “scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria” (8:1). Saul, the great persecutor of believers, was the instrument God used to thrust believers out of Jerusalem, preaching Christ wherever they went (8:3-4). Of course, Saul’s salvation and transformation (Acts 9) became a powerful testimony of the Gospel to believers and the unsaved. Those with whom Saul once consulted in his persecution of believers, then “took counsel to kill him” (9:23).

Acts 10

A Centurion Named Cornelius (10:1-8)

Acts 10 opened a new era in God’s redemptive plan, as a “man in Caesarea called Cornelius” (10:1) received a vision from God (10:3). Who was Cornelius? He was a Roman soldier, a centurion, an officer over 100 soldiers (10:1). Though a Gentile by birth, Cornelius had come to believe and “feared God with all his house” (10:2). He was “a devout man” who cared for the poor, and “prayed to God always” (10:2).

To Cornelius, a man of faith, God gave a vision of an angel who affirmed the Lord had not only seen his good works, but heard his prayers (10:4). The angel commanded Cornelius to send men to Joppa (modern Tel-Aviv), where they were to go to the house of “Simon, a tanner,” and find Peter (10:5-6). He was assured Peter would tell him “what thou oughtest to do” (10:6). Obeying the angelic messenger, Cornelius sent two servants and a “devout soldier” to Joppa (10:8).

God Prepares Peter’s Heart (10:9-23)

Unbeknownst to Cornelius, God was preparing Peter’s heart with a vision that forever changed not only his heart, but also the preaching of the Gospel. We find Peter praying on the housetop about the noon hour (10:9), and as he became hungry, he witnessed heaven open and a “great sheet” being lowered on which there “were all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air” (10:12). Then, the Lord spoke and commanded him, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat” (10:13). But Peter answered, saying, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean” (10:14). The Lord spoke again, and then a third time, saying, “What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common” (10:15-16).

Providentially, as Peter wondered what the vision meant, the men sent by Cornelius arrived at the house where he was staying. Standing at the gate of the house, they “asked whether Simon, which was surnamed Peter, were lodged there” (10:18). Peter, not knowing men were at the gate, was commanded by the Spirit, “Behold, three men seek thee. 20Arise therefore, and get thee down, and go with them, doubting nothing: for I have sent them” (10:19-20).

Peter went down from the housetop as he was told, and found three men waiting as he had been told. Remember, though he knew he was commanded to go with the men, he did not know they were Gentiles until he saw one of the three was a soldier of Rome. They introduced themselves as men sent by Cornelius, a centurion whose testimony was great “among all the nation of the Jews” (10:21-22). No doubt taking a lesson from his vision of the unclean animals on the sheet, Peter invited the three men to lodge with him that night, promising “on the morrow” he would accompany them to Joppa (10:23).

Cornelius’ Preparation (10:23-33)

The next day, Peter and six other Jewish witnesses traveled to Caesarea, and came to Cornelius’ home where he waited with “kinsmen and near friends” he had called to hear Peter (10:23-24). Even “as Peter was coming in [into the house], Cornelius met him, and fell down at his feet, and worshipped him” (10:25). Peter, evidencing humility, said to him, “Stand up; I myself also am a man” (10:26). Peter, reflecting on his vision of the unclean beasts and the command, “kill and eat” (10:13, 28), understood the interpretation of the vision and said, “God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean” (10:28).

Cornelius shared the vision he had received, and the command for him to send for Peter (10:30-33). In a wonderful testimony to the working of God’s Spirit, Cornelius humbly confessed, “we all here present before God, to hear all things that are commanded thee of God” (10:33).

The Breadth and Power of the Gospel Message (10:34-43)

Peter began to teach the Gentiles who had gathered in Cornelius’ house, and confessed, “Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons: 35But in every nation he that feareth him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him” (10:34-35). Declaring Jesus Christ “is Lord of all,” Peter realized the Gospel was not for Jews only, but was a message for all sinners, Jew and Gentile (10:36). He reminded his audience how Christ’s coming was first published among the Jews by the “baptism which John preached” (10:37), and the ministry of “Jesus of Nazareth” was manifested by good works (10:38).

Peter’s message reached its pinnacle when he declared he was a witness “of all things which [Christ] did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: 40Him God raised up the third day, and shewed him openly” (10:39-40). Confirming Christ’s bodily resurrection, Peter declared he “did eat and drink with [Jesus] after He rose from the dead” (10:41). Even the prophets were witnesses of those things, “that through his name whosoever believeth in him shall receive remission of sins” (10:43; Isaiah 53:11; Jeremiah 31:34; Zechariah 13:1).

The Salvation and Baptism of Cornelius’ Household (10:44-48)

As Peter concluded his message, the Holy Ghost fell upon Cornelius and his household, for they had not only heard his words, but believed (10:44). The Jewish witnesses with Peter were astonished, as Gentiles began to manifest the indwelling of the Holy Ghost, speaking with tongues and glorifying God (10:46). Peter then, commanded Cornelius and his household “to be baptized in the name of the Lord” (10:48). The hunger for truth was so great, the young believers begged Peter to stay with them for several days (10:48b).

Closing thoughts – Take time to read Acts 11, and consider Peter’s glowing defense and declaration that salvation had come also to the Gentiles (11:1-18). Acts 11:22 gives us the record of the first missionary sent out by the church, and once again it is Barnabas who was chosen (Acts 4:36; 11:22-25).

* 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.

Amazing Grace: From Saul the Persecutor, to Paul the Preacher (Acts 9)

Scripture reading – Acts 9

Our previous devotional concluded with Stephen being martyred for Christ (Acts 7:54-60). Luke, the author of the Book of Acts, records those who participated in the stoning “laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul” (7:58). We next read, “Saul was consenting [approving] unto his death” (Acts 8:1). Yet, the persecution of believers had the effect of not only seeing them “scattered abroad” (8:4), but also “preaching the word” everywhere they went (8:4).

Coming to Acts 9, we find “Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, [and going] unto the high priest” (9:1). Under the deluded pretense he was serving God, Saul requested letters of authority to go to Damascus synagogues, and arrest men or women who identified with “this way” (9:2).  (The “way” being the name of any who identified Jesus Christ as the Messiah.) Driven by a religious zeal contrary to the Law and Commandments (Exodus 20:13; Deuteronomy 5:16), Saul planned to drag followers of Christ out of the synagogues of Damascus, and take them bound by ropes and chains to Jerusalem, a journey of 175 miles.

As Saul “came near Damascus” (9:3), he encountered a light from heaven” (9:3). Blinded by the light (9:8), he fell to the earth “and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (9:4a). With humility, Saul answered, “Who art thou, Lord?” Then Jesus revealed Himself to Saul by name, and identified his persecution of believers as an offense against Himself.

“The Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (9:5b). Like an ox that is goaded with a long stick to prod it to obey its master, Saul had foolishly been goading God. “Trembling and astonished [amazed]” (9:6), he realized he had been persecuting the Son of God. Blind and shaken, Saul surrendered his will to God, and acknowledged Christ as Lord, saying, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?”(9:6a).

Unable to see, Saul was guided to Damascus by the very men he had chosen to persecute the followers of Christ. Though rendered “speechless” (for they had heard a voice, but saw no man), they were unchanged by the experience that transformed Saul’s heart and life (9:7). Saul arrived in Damascus; with the Lord’s promise he would be told what he must do (9:6c). For three days, the great persecutor of believers found himself blind, and with no appetite for food or drink (9:9).

While Saul waited, the Lord moved on the heart of Ananias, a devout man, and a follower of Christ (9:10). He learned the LORD had chosen him to restore Saul’s sight. He resisted the LORD, for he knew Saul’s reputation, and the path of death and destruction he had blazed. Ananias prayed, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: 14And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name” (9:13-14). Then, the Lord revealed to Ananias how Saul was “a chosen vessel” and would bear Christ’s name “before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel” (9:15). As he had persecuted believers, Saul would himself become an object of persecution, for the Lord would reveal to “him how great things he must suffer for [His] name’s sake” (9:16).

Ananias obeyed the Lord, “and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. 18And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized” (9:17-18).

Closing thoughts – Because he was a Pharisee and trained in rabbinical schools, Saul had extensive knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures. With not only his physical eyes restored, but his spiritual eyes open, he believed and began to preach Christ “is the Son of God” (9:20). The Jews of his day were amazed at the transformation in Saul’s life.

The transformation in Saul’s life was nothing short of radical. He had been transformed from the great persecutor of the followers of Christ, to a faithful apostle and preacher. What a testimony of saving, transforming grace! No wonder Paul would later write, “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17).

* 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.

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.

Rejoicing in Suffering and Persecution (Acts 5; Acts 6)

Scripture reading – Acts 5; Acts 6

Our Scripture reading in the “Acts of the Apostles” continues with today’s study, Acts 5 and 6. Acts 4 chronicled the early stirrings of persecution against followers of Christ, and concluded with a testimony of love, unity, and selfless, sacrificial giving among the believers (4:32-35). One prominent example of generosity was displayed by Barnabas, a Levite of Cyprus, and a wealthy man. We read concerning Barnabas, he, “having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet” (4:37). (This is the same Barnabas who will be Paul’s fellow missionary.) Our devotional is taken from Acts 5.

Acts 5

There was a man in the Jerusalem congregation named Ananias, whose wife was Sapphira. Perhaps not to be outdone by Barnabas and others, it appears Ananias and Sapphira vowed to sell their possessions and give the proceeds to the apostles. Tragically, they determined to portray they were giving all the earnings from the sale, and deceive other believers. Peter, though, discerned the disingenuousness of Ananias, and asked the man, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?” (5:3)

Ananias did not deny the deception, and Peter continued, “4Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God” (5:4). God’s judgment was swift, and when “Ananias [heard those] words [he] fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things” (5:5). We are not told the physical cause of his death, but the spiritual cause was that he lied to the Holy Ghost (5:3).

Three hours past, and unknowingly Sapphira, now the widow of Ananias, entered the meeting. Sadly, it was apparent she was complicit in her husband’s sin (5:7-8), and Peter asked her, “How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out” (5:9). Because her sin was public, so was Peter’s judgment, who publicly denounced her sin, and Sapphira fell dead (5:10).

The effect on the congregation concerning the consequences of lying to the Holy Ghost, was immediate and understandable. We read, “great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things” (5:11).

The balance of Acts 5 chronicled a single-hearted, vibrant growing body of believers (5:12-15). Yet, the blessing of the Spirit on the congregation was also accompanied by a growing persecution (5:17-27). Once again, the apostles were arrested, brought before the Sanhedrin, and questioned by the high priest (5:27). Stirred with indignation, the high priest asked, “Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us” (5:28).

“Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men!” (5:29) What a great model of courage, faith, and fortitude! Fearless and faithful, the apostles condemned those religious hypocrites, and ascribed to them the slaying of Jesus, and declared: “Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him” (5:31-32).

Closing thoughts (5:33-41) – What was the effect of that bold, unapologetic confrontation with the men who were guilty of the blood of Christ?

We read, “they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them” (5:33). They were convicted, but rather than humility, they were infuriated and renewed their determination to add to their guilt the blood of the apostles. There was no reasoning with calloused-hearted, wicked men of Jerusalem. They were murderers, and the spirit of murder was in their heart (John 8:44). Confronted by a message of truth that was powerful and unapologetic, they were incensed, and beat the apostles, warning them “they should not speak in the name of Jesus” (5:40).

How did the apostles respond? “They departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name. 42And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ” (5:41-42).

Lesson – If you find yourself suffering for your faith in Christ, remember to rejoice that God has chosen you to suffer for His name (5:41).

* 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.

The Last Week Before Golgotha (Matthew 21; Luke 19)

Scripture reading – Matthew 21; Luke 19

Our Scripture reading brings us to two pivotal chapters in the week leading up to the Cross. Luke 19 records Christ and His disciples passing through Jericho (Luke 19:1-27), and beginning His final journey to Jerusalem (Luke 19:28). The setting of Matthew 21 is what is traditionally referred to as Palm Sunday (although, many believe the day was most likely Monday).

Luke 19A Friend of Sinners

Luke 19 followed Jesus’ journey through Jericho, as He made His final journey to Jerusalem. Jericho, one of the oldest cities in the world, is located on an oasis in the desert, about ten miles northwest of the Dead Sea. It was in Jericho that Jesus providentially encountered a wealthy publican, a tax collector, named Zacchaeus, and demonstrated his love for sinners (19:1-10).

An Unexpected Guest for Supper (19:1-10)

Let’s step into the scene where Zacchaeus, a notorious sinner, came face-to-face with Jesus. In earlier devotions we have stated the disdain the Jewish people held for tax collectors (publicans). Employed to collect taxes for Rome, publicans were viewed as traitors of Israel. Men like Zacchaeus were infamous for cheating the people and skimming monies from taxes they collected. Publicans enriched themselves at the expense of their own people, and were named among the worst of sinners.

We read, “And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house” (19:5). Of all the homes in Jericho, the home of a publican was the last place the people would have pictured Jesus dining. Nevertheless, He knew the heart of Zacchaeus, and was received into his home with rejoicing (19:6).

The people began to murmur among themselves, and were appalled Jesus would “be guest with a man that is a sinner” (19:7). Zacchaeus, however, was humbled and moved to repentance by the LORD’s love and compassion. His sorrow over his sins moved him to rise from the table, and proclaim, “Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold” (19:8). Genuinely repentant over his sins, Zacchaeus desired to make restitution of all he had wrongfully taken (19:8).

Closing thoughts – Jesus, seeing in Zacchaeus the fruit of sincere repentance, announced: “This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of man [a Messianic title; Daniel 7:13] is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (19:9a–10).

Though a notorious sinner in the eyes of men, Zacchaeus placed his faith in Jesus Christ, and was saved from the condemnation of his sins. By birth he was a physical “son of Abraham.” By grace through faith, he became more than a “son of Abraham” (19:9-10), he became a child of God. Abraham and Zacchaeus were saved from the curse of sin because they believed God would place His righteousness to their account.

Romans 3:23–2423For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; 24Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

 Matthew 21

Jesus and His disciples were coming near Jerusalem. As they passed through Bethphage, a village near the Mount of Olives, the LORD directed two disciples to go a nearby village (21:1), and find a colt He would ride as He approached Jerusalem (thus dramatically fulfilling the prophecy recorded in Zechariah 9:9). The news of Jesus’ approach spread through the city of Jerusalem, and “a very great multitude” (perhaps tens of thousands), poured out of the city to greet Him (21:7-8).

The scene was like the coronation of a king, as the people “cried, saying, Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (21:9). Because it was about the time of the Passover, people from all over the known world were gathered in Jerusalem, and some who did not know Jesus. Thus, we read there were some who asked, “Who is this? 11And the multitude said, This is Jesus the prophet of Nazareth of Galilee” (21:10-11).

Briefly, you will notice in Matthew 21 the rising tension between Jesus and His enemies (the priests and Pharisees). I believe it was on the next day, after His triumphant entry, when Christ entered the Temple, drove out the “moneychangers,” and condemned them saying, “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (21:13).

Rebuking the hypocritical Pharisees, the LORD taught the people three parables. The Parable of Two Sons (21:28-32), the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:33-41), and the Builders’ Rejection of the Cornerstone (21:42-44). The Pharisees, and Israel as a people, were prophetically represented in the parables as rejecting Christ (which they would fulfill when Jesus would be led away to be crucified).

* 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 Parable of the Laborers and a Gracious Master (Matthew 20)

Scripture reading – Matthew 20

The story of the farmer who hired day laborers to work in his vineyard is among my favorite of the parables (20:1-16).  Jesus told the parable as He was making His final journey from Galilee to Jerusalem.  (19:1; 20:17).

Background of Matthew 20

The LORD, had traveled south along the eastern shore of the Jordan River, and encountered a man that Luke identified as a “rich young ruler” (Luke 18:18). Identified as a “ruler,” he was likely an influential leader in his local synagogue. The young ruler came and asked Jesus, “Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?” (19:16)

He boasted he had kept all the Commandments, but supposed there was a “good thing” he might do to have eternal life (19:20). Then, Jesus asked the man to give up the thing he loved most, his possessions: “Sell that thou hast, and give to the poor…and come follow me” (19:21). Matthew observed, “when the young man heard [i.e. and understood] that saying, he went away sorrowful [grieving; sad]: for he had great possessions [estate; property]” (19:22).

As the rich man turned and walked away, Jesus declared to His disciples, “a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven” (19:23).   Peter, often the spokesman for the disciples, inquired of Jesus, “Behold we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore?” (19:27)

The Twelve had left everything and endured three years of sacrifice to follow Jesus.  They had forfeited their homes, families, and friends.  They had endured hardships and suffered mocking, scorn, and persecution.  All this left Peter wondering, “LORD we have been with you from the beginning, what is our reward?”  That question was the backdrop for the Parable of the Laborers (20:1-16) that serves as an illustration of God’s grace and justice.

The Parable of the Laborers (20:1-16)

The owner of a vineyard realized his harvest was greater than his family and servants could harvest in a timely manner.  In the parable (20:1-16), the farmer went into the village on five occasions, in the same day, to hire men to work in his vineyard.  The first workers were hired at the 6:00am shift (20:1-2) and agreed to work in the vineyard for a “penny a day” (actually one “denarii”, the daily salary of a Roman soldier and a large sum for a day laborer).  Four additional hires would follow that day: 9:00am, 12 Noon, 3:00pm and the final hire at 5:00pm. All were hired without a stated salary, but with the promise the owner of the vineyard would give them “whatsoever is right” (20:4, 7).

With 6:00pm marking the end of the workday, the owner directed his foreman to pay the laborers beginning with those who were hired at 5:00pm, meaning the last hour (20:8).  To their amazement, the ones who worked only one hour were paid the same wage (a penny or denarii) as those who labored all day beginning at the 6:00am hour.

Demonstrating the jealousy and covetousness that abides in the heart of sinful man, those men who negotiated a penny wage at 6:00am “supposed that they should have received more” (20:10).  Envious and resentful, the workers began murmuring and complaining against the owner of the vineyard, and accused him of being unjust. They protested they should have received more (20:11-12).

A Lesson in Grace and Salvation (20:13-16)

The owner (a picture of Christ) of the vineyard rebuked those who labored all day (a picture of the Twelve), and reminded them they had negotiated and agreed to what they were paid (20:13-14). Furthermore, it was the owner’s business, and not the workers, to choose the wage other laborers were paid (20:15).

Closing thoughts – Whether a sinner comes to Christ as a child or, like the penitent thief on the cross in his last hour, every believer is assured of heaven and eternal life (20:16). Why? Because every sinner is saved by a gift of God’s grace, and none can earn or merit salvation and forgiveness of sin. Whether you have known and served the LORD since childhood, or you came to trust Christ as Savior in the latter years of life, all mankind are saved on the same basis: God’s mercy and saving Grace (His favor that no works can merit).

Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9  Not of works, lest any man should boast.”

Titus 3:5Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost;”

* 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.

Calling All Sinners (Matthew 9, Luke 7)

Scripture reading – Matthew 9; Luke 7

We continue our study of the Gospels and the early ministry of Jesus. In Matthew 9, Jesus not only established His authority to forgive sins, but also demonstrated His compassion for the physical suffering and hurting of His day. Among the objects of His compassion was a paralyzed man “sick of the palsy” (9:2-7).

A Miracle of Forgiveness and Healing (9:1-8)

Like Mark (2:2-12) and Luke (5:17-26), Matthew recorded the account of Jesus forgiving a paralytic man his sins, and raising him from his bed (9:1-8). Matthew took notice how the scribes whispered among themselves, saying, “This man blasphemeth” (9:3). Jesus, exercising His divine omniscience, knew “their thoughts” and asked, “Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts?” (9:4)

What a bold rebuke of those proud, religious experts in the Law! Jesus proposed to them a question, and asked: “Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise, and walk?” (9:5) To prove His divine authority to forgive sins, Jesus commanded the paralytic to do what no other man could: “Arise, take up thy bed, and go unto thine house” (9:6). Jesus not only stated the man’s sins were forgiven, He proved He had authority over sickness and disease to make the man’s body whole. The paralytic, obeying Jesus’ command, rose from his bed and walked home (9:7). What an incredible moment! All who witnessed the miracle “marvelled, and glorified God, which had given such power unto men” (9:8)!

A Friend of Sinners (9:9-13)

Matthew recorded the day Jesus invited him to be a disciple (the same was recorded in Mark 2:14 and Luke 4:27-28). That same evening, Matthew hosted supper in his home and invited his fellow publicans and sinners to dine with Jesus (9:10). “When the Pharisees saw it, they said unto his disciples, Why eateth your Master with publicans and sinners?” (9:11)

Why eat with publicans and sinners? (9:11-13)

For the same reason the sick, not the strong and healthy, seek a physician (9:12). You see, men who are too proud to see their sin, are too blind to see their need of a Savior. Jesus came into the world to save sinners, and not to persuade self-righteous scribes and Pharisees to repent. The LORD had compassion for sinners who were humbled under the weight of their sin, and willing to repent (9:13).

Closing thoughts – In addition to the paralytic whom He healed (9:2-7), Jesus raised the daughter of a leader of the synagogue from the dead (9:18-19, 23-25), healed a woman that had “an issue of blood” (9:20-22), gave sight to two blind men (9:27-30), delivered a man from a demon (9:32-33), and healed “every sickness and every disease among the people” (9:35).

With multitudes following Him, Jesus was “moved with compassion” (9:36-38), for He saw they were weary, scattered, and like “sheep having no shepherd” (9:36). He saw the potential (for “the harvest…[was] plenteous”, 9:37a). He saw the need, for “the labouers are few” (9:37b). He called upon believers to “pray…that He [would]send forth labourers into his harvest” (9:38).

In the words of Paul, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).

* 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 Sermon on the Mount – Judge Not (Matthew 7)

Scripture reading – Matthew 7

Matthew 7 continues Christ’s Sermon on the Mount. Moving beyond the spiritual character and attitudes of the followers of Christ (Matthew 5-6), chapter 7 presents us with a spiritual portrait of a believer’s relationship with others, and draws a contrast to the pride and sinful attitudes of the Pharisees. Matthew 7:1-5 is the focus of the devotional.

A Call for Righteous Judgment (7:1-5)

The mantra of 21st century society is, “Don’t judge me!” Under the guise of inclusivism and political correctness, sinners not only demand tolerance, but acceptance for their deviant practices and behavior. Some quote Matthew 7:1 to support their assertion to be above judgments. Yet, what judgments was Jesus condemning when He said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged?” (7:1)

Surely, Jesus was not condemning all judgments, after all, He reserved some of His harshest judgments for the Pharisees (for example, in Matthew 23:13-36, He pronounced eight condemnations of the Pharisees, calling them “hypocrites…false prophets…wolves in sheep’s clothing…and blind men.” Matthew 7:1-5 was not a condemnation of all judgments, but an exhortation to not be a hypocrite like the Pharisees when judging.

The Pharisees were guilty of passing judgment upon others, without first examining themselves. Jesus asked, “And why beholdest [stare; point out] thou the mote [speck; splinter] that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam [timber] that is in thine own eye?” (7:3) The Pharisees were also guilty of glossing over their sins, but being critical of others. The LORD questioned them, “How wilt thou say to thy brother, Let me pull out the mote [speck] out of thine eye; and, behold, a beam [of timber] is in thine own eye?” (7:4)

How can believers make moral judgments, and avoid being like the Pharisees?

I suggest the answer is twofold: 1) We should understand the consequences of harboring a critical spirit, lest we fall under harsh criticisms from others. Jesus warned, “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete [criticize], it shall be measured [dealt] to you again” (7:2)

A second principle is an exhortation for self-examination. Before being critical of others, we should examine ourselves. Jesus admonished, “Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye” (7:5). In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul exhorted believers, “let a man examine himself…For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:28a, 31).

Closing thought – By first judging ourselves, we recognize our own sinfulness. Such self-examination will give cause for humility and meekness when we criticize others. In other words, the goal of our criticism should fulfill Galatians 6:1 – “if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Galatians 6:1).

* 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.