Tag Archives: Worship

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.

Join me for tonight’s final “Uncommon, Common Sense” lesson from Proverbs 31

You are invited to join me for tonight’s final lesson from the Book of Proverbs.

This verse-by-verse, proverb-by-proverb study began in 2020 (of course, with many interruptions along the way). To my knowledge, it is a “one of a kind” study that is “Uncommon, Common Sense.”

Tonight’s study will be taken from Proverbs 31:13-31, and the subject is The Virtuous Woman. The class will begin at 6:30pm, and be broadcast live on www.DailyTestify.com and www.HillsdaleBaptist.org.

In the near future, I hope to publish this study of Proverbs in a format that will be a useful  resource for personal and family devotions, and group Bible studies.

See you tonight at 6:30!

With the heart of a shepherd,

Travis D. Smith
Senior Pastor

Copyright © 2022 – Travis D. Smith

I Serve a Risen Savior! (John 20)

Scripture reading – John 20

We are once again privileged to reflect on the stunning revelation of Jesus Christ’s resurrection from the dead (John 20). Like the Synoptics, we find John’s Gospel in perfect harmony with Matthew, Mark, and Luke (a wonderful testimony to the divine inspiration of the Scriptures; 2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21).

John was an eyewitness of Jesus’ life, ministry, and agonizing death on the Cross (John 19:33-35). What a blessed joy to share in his firsthand account of Christ’s resurrection, and His physical appearances that followed Him being raised from the dead! I believe John remained near the Cross until Jesus “bowed His head, and gave up the ghost” (19:30, 35). With love and compassion, he led Mary, the mother of Jesus from the Cross (19:26-27), as other women followed Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea (John 19:38-39), who placed the body of Jesus in Joseph’s tomb (John 19:39).

John 20

The other Gospel writers focused on two or more women who found the tomb empty, John, however, focused on Mary Magdalene (20:1). She came to the tomb early on the first day of the week, “when it was yet dark” (20:1). Much to her grief, she found the stone that sealed the tomb was “taken away from the sepulchre” (20:1). Without waiting on the other women, she left the tomb hastily, and ran to “Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, who Jesus loved” (John’s typical reference to himself, 20:2).

Mary left before the angels revealed themselves to her, and thought the worst had happened. Supposing Jesus’ body was stolen, she said to Peter and John, “They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him” (20:2b). Peter and John ran to the sepulchre, and the latter apparently being younger, came to the tomb first and stood without peering inside (20:4-5). Peter entered the tomb, and found it empty, and the linens that had wrapped Jesus’ body in place, and the napkin that had been about his head “in a place by itself” (20:7).

Peter was perplexed, for if the body had been stolen by Jesus’ enemies, surely, they would have taken it away wrapped as it had been buried. Though the Lord had often foretold His death and resurrection, those disciples did not understand “the Scripture, that He must rise again from the dead” (20:9). We read how Peter and John departed, and “went away again unto their own home” (20:10).

Mary lingered “at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre” (20:11). She “seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain” (20:12). The angels asked Mary, “Woman, why weepest thou?” (20:13). Because they appeared as men, she did not yet understand they were angels (20:13). In her anguish, Mary confessed, “they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him” (20:13).

Then, turning from the tomb, Mary came face-to-face with Jesus. With her eyes clouded by tears, she did not recognize Him and supposed he was a garden keeper (20:15). Jesus then asked her, “Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?” (20:15). Mary implored Him, saying, “Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away” (20:15).

Jesus then said her name, “Mary,” and her heart resonated with joy and affection. She answered Jesus, and said, “Rabboni; which is to say, Master” (Rabboni being a title of honor and deep respect, 20:16).

Closing thoughts (20:17-18) – Of all men and women, Jesus chose to first appear to Mary (Mark 16:9). Imagine Mary’s profound joy when she understood Jesus was more than an apparition! Surely, she might have clung to Him out of joy, but He said to her, “Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God” (20:17). Obeying Jesus, Mary departed immediately and “came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her” (20:18).

Like many who hear, but refuse to believe, the disciples doubted Mary and the accounts of the other women. When Jesus appeared to His disciples that evening, He rebuked them for “their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen” (Mark 16:14). Of course, Thomas even doubted the witness of the disciples (20:24-29).

I close, inviting you to put your faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, raised from the dead, and victorious over sin and the grave! (20:31)

* 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.

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.

The Power of Persevering Prayer (Luke 18)

Scripture reading – Luke 18

We continue our study of the Gospel of Luke, but I remind you the chapter breaks in the four Gospels will not be as exacting as the historical timeline that led Jesus to His appointment with the Cross. That explanation is not meant to confuse you; but to remind you that the numbering of verses and chapters in your Bible have been added by translators and editors to assist students of the Scriptures in private study and public worship. For example, today’s Scripture reading is Luke 18 and chronicles Christ’s oft repeated prophecy of His arrest, suffering, death, and resurrection (18:31-34). A parallel record of Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem, and the prophecy of His betrayal, suffering, death, and resurrection is also recorded in Matthew 20:17-19.

Luke 18

Luke 18 opened with a principle on prayer followed by a parable that illustrated both the privilege, and power of persevering prayer.

The Duty of Prayer (18:1)

Jesus began His parable by saying, “men ought always to pray and not to faint” (18:1b). The word, “ought,” indicates prayer is a perpetual necessity. In essence, discouragement and weariness are never cause for neglecting prayer. In principle and practice, we are to persevere in prayer, and never grow discouraged or lose heart, because our answers are sent from the Lord. Be confident of this, God hears and answers prayer!

The Parable: A Widow’s Appeal to a Heartless Judge (18:2-5)

Following His exhortation to always pray, and not lose heart, Jesus illustrated the power of persistent prayer (18:2-5). He told a parable of a widow who petitioned a heartless judge for relief from her poverty, but the man neither feared God nor revered men (18:2).

Widows in 1st century Israel were often poor, and relied on numerous sanctions for their care. Because some sons and daughters neglected the command, “Honor thy father and mother” (Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16), widows would often fall to being dependent on charity. In Christ’s parable, the judge did not fear God’s judgment (18:2), and had little regard for his petitioners; in fact, he had even less concern for fairness or justice. Though tasked with a charge to dole out justice, such a judge would often be calloused, and spurious in matters of the law.

Though the identity of the widow’s “adversary” was not revealed (18:3), her perseverance in demanding of the judge her right to justice, was finally heeded when he succumbed to her endless appeals (18:4a). Admitting he was unmoved by a fear of God or man (18:4b), the judge nevertheless yielded to the widow’s demand, and reasoned: “Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me” (18:5).

The Purpose and Application (18:6-8)

If a heartless, unjust, and wicked judge could be moved to justice and action by a poor widow’s appeal, imagine how much the heart of a loving God is moved by the persistent petitions of His people (18:7-8a). We have here a great promise: God hears the prayers of His people (“His own elect” – 18:7a), and in His season, exacts revenge against their enemies.

Closing thoughts – Will you pray, and trust the LORD to answer your prayer in due season? Will you commit to not “faint” or grow weary, believing God hears and answers prayers? Though your adversaries boast, be sure the LORD will answer prayer, and His judgment will fall upon your enemies “speedily,” and without warning (18:8a).

Heed the Widow’s Example, Don’t Lose Faith!

* 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.

Dead Man Walking (John 11)

Scripture reading – John 11; Luke 18

The Resurrection: Dead Men Will Walk Again! (11:1-45)

Bethany, the hometown of three siblings, Mary, Martha, and Lazarus, is the setting of our devotional study in John 11. Verse 2 reminds us this was the same Mary who anointed Jesus “with ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair (11:2). The scene is one of a crisis and desperation, for “Lazarus was sick” (11:2). His sisters, Mary and Martha, sent for Jesus, and said “Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick” (11:3).

Surely, Mary and Martha believed Jesus would come quickly to their home in Bethany, and heal Lazarus whom they believed was terminally ill. Nevertheless, Jesus expressed with certainty: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (11:4b). Though He tarried, John 11:5 assures us, Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus.” Still, Jesus’ love did not spare Lazarus of his illness, nor move Him to leave with haste to where Lazarus resided. Two days passed, when Jesus suddenly announced to His disciples, “Let us go into Judaea” (11:6).

The mention of going to Judaea raised alarm with the disciples. Knowing the village of Bethany was to the east of Jerusalem, the disciples desired to dissuade Jesus from going (11:8). They reminded the LORD His enemies had threatened to stone Him (John 10:31; 11:8). Then, Jesus announced plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (11:14).

After a day’s journey, Jesus and His disciples arrived on the outskirts of Bethany, about “fifteen furlongs off” (i.e., 2 miles out, 11:18). They were met by some who informed Him Lazarus was dead, and had been “lain in the grave four days already” (11:17). When Martha heard Jesus was close by, she came to Him and complained, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (11:21). Nonetheless, Martha expressed her faith that, with God’s power, Jesus could perform a miracle. Jesus answered her faith, “Thy brother shall rise again” (11:23).

Martha stated her faith in the “resurrection at the last day” (11:24); however, Jesus encouraged her weak faith saying, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?” (11:25-26)

Confessing faith that Jesus was “the Christ, the Son of God” (11:27), Martha rushed back to the house, and finding Mary, whispered, “The Master is come, and calleth for thee” (11:28). Mary instantly rushed out of the house, and came to Jesus overcome with sorrow, and through tears said, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died” (11:32). Moved by her tears and sorrow, Jesus asked, “Where have ye laid him?” (11:34). The Scriptures, wonderfully and tenderly recorded the shortest verse in the Bible: “Jesus wept” (11:35).

Martha protested when Jesus commanded the removal of the stone that sealed the cave where Lazarus was buried (11:39), saying, “Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days” (11:39). Jesus lovingly rebuked Martha when He asked, “Said I not unto thee, that, if thou wouldest believe, thou shouldest see the glory of God?” (11:40).

Then, lifting His eyes up to heaven, Jesus prayed, and with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth” (11:43). Miraculously, Lazarus came from the tomb, his hands and feet bound “with graveclothes: and his face…bound with a napkin” (11:44a). Jesus then said to the people, “Loose him, and let him go” (11:44b).

An Intolerable Crisis (11:45-57)

Looking back, the apostle John realized Jesus raising Lazarus after he had been dead four days was the zenith of Jesus’ miracles. Two responses to Lazarus being raised from the dead are noted (11:45-46). The miracle gave cause for many Jews to believe Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God (11:45).  For His enemies, however, the miracle was intolerable and they determined Jesus must be die, or else their power and position among the people would be lost (11:46-53).

Jesus withdrew from Jerusalem, for He knew the hearts of His enemies were against Him (11:54). Only when it was time to present Himself as the Passover Lamb did He return to Jerusalem, and present Himself as the Christ, the Son of David, and heir to the throne of Israel (11:54-57).

Closing thoughts – God has appointed a day when Christ will return, and on that day: “The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout…and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

Are You Ready for His Coming?

* 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 Passion and Peril of a Faithful Witness (John 7; John 8)

Scripture reading – John 7; John 8

Today’s Scripture brings us to a pivotal moment in the life and ministry of Jesus. John 7 and John 8 reveal a change in Christ’s relationship with the religious rulers of His day.

He withdrew from Judaea (southern Israel that included the city of Jerusalem), and retreated to His beloved Galilee (7:1a). The reason for His decision was “because the Jews sought to kill Him (7:1),” and He was mindful His “time [was] not yet come” (7:6). Knowing His appointment with the Cross would fall on the Passover, Jesus took care not to fall prematurely into the hands of His enemies.

The Disbelief of Jesus’ Brethren (7:2-9)

The time is the fall of the year prior to Jesus’ final Passover, and verse 2 reveals “the Jews’ feast of tabernacles was at hand” (7:2). The feast of the Tabernacles was one of three feasts the Lord set aside for His people to celebrate annually (Leviticus 23:23-25; Nehemiah 8:18), and was a commemoration of Israel’s wanderings in the wilderness (7:2).

Jesus’ “brethren” (half-brothers, and the sons of Joseph and Mary) urged Him to go up to the Feast of Tabernacles(7:2-3). They challenged Him, saying, “there is no man that doeth any thing in secret, and he himself seeketh to be known openly” (7:4a). You can draw your own conclusion regarding the half-brothers’ motivation, but the apostle John later reflected, For neither did his brethren believe in him” (7:5). Jesus refused His brothers invitation, and said, “Go ye up unto this feast [Feast of the Tabernacles]: I go not up yet unto this feast; for my time is not yet full come” (7:7-8). Be assured, Jesus would obey the Commandments, but not on His brethren’s timetable. Christ’s timetable was in His Father’s hands.

An Inquiry by Jesus’ Enemies and Friends (7:8-13)

After exhorting His unbelieving brethren to go up to Jerusalem without Him, Jesus followed, “not openly, but as it were in secret” (7:10). The “Jews” (meaning the religious rulers and leaders), were awaiting Jesus’ attendance at the Feast of the Tabernacles, and not seeing Him, began to question, “Where is He?” (7:9-11).

The people, anticipating Jesus would be at the feast, fell into a contentious debate among themselves saying of Jesus, “He is a good man [loving; caring; compassionate]: others said, Nay; but he deceiveth [leads astray] the people [i.e. with His doctrine]” (7:12). There were many who believed Jesus was the Christ, but for fear of spies, they dared not speak “openly of Him for fear of the Jews” (7:13).

An Unexpected Appearance (7:14-15)

Jesus followed His brethren covertly to Jerusalem, and His enemies were unprepared when He suddenly appeared in the Temple and began to teach (7:14). The Jewish leaders had contempt for Jesus, knowing He lacked a formal rabbinic education, and were stunned by His insight and understanding of the Scriptures. They “marveled [at His teachings], saying, How knoweth this man letters [meaning an understanding of the Law and Commandments], having never learned [lacking academic credentials]?” (7:15)

A Stunning Revelation (7:16-18)

While Jesus lacked the formal training of the rabbinical schools, it surely did not mean He was ignorant or unlearned. Neither was His doctrine of His own invention. Jesus declared, “My doctrine [teaching; instruction] is not mine, but his [God the Father] that sent me” (7:16).

Closing thoughts (7:17-18) – I suggest we can derive two principles from Jesus’ response to His enemies. The first: A humble, teachable spirit is essential for knowing and understanding the Word and will of God: “17If any man will do his will [the will of God], he shall know of the doctrine [teaching; instruction], whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (7:17). Put in a different way, God gives wisdom and understanding to those who “will” to do His “will.”

A second truth is revealed in verse 18: One can judge a man’s heart and motive by whose glory he seeks: “18He that speaketh [reasons] of himself [speaks of himself] seeketh his own glory [his own fame or the favor of others]: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him [giving glory, honor and praise to God], the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him” (7:18).

False teachers are “glory-seekers.”  They are interested in self-promotion, and seek to advance themselves, even at the sacrifice of others. They seek glory for themselves, and not that of God.

Whose glory are you seeking?

* 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.

“I Am the Bread of Life” (John 6)

Scripture reading – John 6

The Gospel of John, though not named among the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), will sometimes present us with events in the life and ministry of Christ that are parallel and in harmony with the Synoptics. After all, John was one of the Twelve disciples, and his Gospel and Epistles bear record he was an eyewitness of Christ’s daily ministry.

The Gospel of John supplements the record of the Synoptics, sometimes recording parallel events, but more often presenting details that add a different dimension to Christ’s person, doctrine, and life. While the Synoptics announce “the kingdom of heaven is at hand,” John’s focus is to declare eternal life is through Christ alone (3:16-18).

John 6:1-14 chronicled Christ “Feeding the 5,000,” and adds details the Synoptics did not present (not as a contradiction, but a supplement to those Gospels). John 6:14-21 present the setting where the disciples were in a great storm on the Sea of Galilee and Jesus came to them walking on the waves of the water, and said, “It is I; be not afraid” (6:20). The balance of John 6 gave the events that followed the day after Jesus fed the 5,000, and rescued His disciples at sea (6:22).

The People Came Seeking Jesus (6:23-27)

The day after they witnessed the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, those who witnessed the miracle came to Jesus by boat (for He had crossed the waters in the night, while the people had remained on the other side, 6:22-24). Arriving in Capernaum, where they found Jesus and His disciples, the people asked, “Rabbi [meaning teacher],When camest thou hither?” (6:25)

Notice Jesus’ response to their question revealed He was aware they were not seeking Him because they believed He was the Messiah, but because they desired food to eat. Jesus declared, “Ye seek me, not because ye saw the miracles, but because ye did eat of the loaves, and were filled” (6:26). The people had an appetite for physical food, but not for the spiritual food he offered them.

As you read today’s Scripture, remember, Jesus is speaking to the people figuratively, while they interpret what He was teaching literally. The LORD reproved the people for their selfish motives, saying, 27Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed” (6:27). Thinking literally, the people asked, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” (6:28). Their interest was in what they could do, and thereby obtain food that would give them eternal life.

Right Answer, Wrong Focus (6:29-34)

Jesus’ answer moved the conversation from their wrong focus (works), to the only way a sinner might please God—Faith. Jesus declared, “This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (6:29). How did the people respond? They demanded a “show me” religion, and said, “What sign shewest thou then, that we may see, and believe thee? what dost thou work?” (6:30)

The people wanted a physical, miraculous sign before they would believe. Still desiring bread for their physical appetite, they spoke of the “bread from heaven” when their forefathers were in the wilderness (6:31). Jesus corrected their assertion, reminding them that the bread their forefathers ate in the wilderness was physical bread, but the spiritual bread they were to “eat” [accept as truth] was standing right in front of them (6:32). Christ drew a parallel using bread saying, the bread God gave was figurative of the “bread of God” which Christ identified as, “he which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world” (6:33). Still blind to the spiritual and figurative truth Jesus taught, the people answered, “give us this bread” (6:34).

“I AM the Bread of Life.” (6:35-58)

Jesus answered their insincere request, revealing plainly, He was the “bread of life” sent from the Father (6:35). He was the “bread of life” which is only obtained by faith (6:35). The people had seen His miracles, but they did not have faith (“believe not,” 6:36). Jesus then declared, like the manna that fell from heaven and fed the people in the wilderness, He “came down from heaven, not to do [His] own will, but the will of him that sent [Him] (6:38).

There were many of the Jews that rejected Jesus’ personal reference when He said, “I am the bread which came down from heaven” (6:41), and murmured, for they knew Him as “the son of Joseph,” and knew His earthly father and mother (6:42). Jesus, knowing their thoughts, rebuked their murmuring (6:43), and warned, 44No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day” (6:44).

Remembering, Jesus was speaking figuratively and not literally, He declared again, 48I am that bread of life…51I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever: and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world” (6:48, 51).

Closing thoughts (6:52-66) – Tragically, the hearts of the people were hard, and their eyes were blind. When Jesus offered them His flesh and blood (6:53-58), He was offering Himself, His Word and doctrine. Perhaps you wonder, “how do you know Jesus was speaking of His Word and doctrine? The answer is revealed in John 6:63—the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life (6:63b).

Jesus offered them eternal life, if they believed Him and accepted His Word and doctrine. Sadly, like sinners in our day, we read, “from that time many of His disciples went back, and walked no more with Him” (6:66).

Are you a sincere believer? If not, will you today, confess you are a sinner, and believe Jesus Christ died for your sins, and rose from the dead? (1 John 5:11-13)

* 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.

Hope for the Hopeless (Mark 5)

Scripture reading – Mark 5

We continue our study of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), and our focus today is Mark 5. Once again, we have the story of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee and arriving on the other side in an area identified as the Gadarenes (5:1). Matthew 8:28 recognized the same region as Gergesenes (Gadara was the name of a nearby city, while Gergesenes was the name of a lake on that side. There was also a city in that area named Gergesa). Another difference between Matthew’s and Mark’s Gospels is the prior states there were “two possessed with devils” that met Jesus (Matthew 8:28), and the latter states the LORD encountered “a man with an unclean sprit” (5:2). The difference in the two accounts is not a contradiction, but only that Mark chose to record the event of one man, not two.

Let us consider, that harmony in content is one of the great testaments to the inspiration of the Gospels. While the Holy Spirit used different human authors, and employed each man’s unique perspective and language, nevertheless the accounts harmonize as a whole (2 Timothy 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21). Together, the Synoptics give us a deeper dimension of the same events.

Today’s devotional will focus on Mark 5:1-20, and the terrible toll sin took upon one man’s life. Jesus and His disciples had crossed the Sea of Galilee by boat, and arrived on the eastern shore. There, they were met by a hopeless, tormented, demon possessed man described as having an “unclean spirit” (Mark 5:2).

The Condition of a Desperate Sinner (5:1-5)

Consider the physical appearance of the demon possessed man: The man was described as having “fetters” (ropes) and chains that hanged about his body, showing the desperate attempts family and friends had made to control him (5:3-4). His body was scarred with self-inflicted wounds for he had cut “himself with stones” (5:5).

He was a troubled man, socially isolated from his family, friends, and neighbors. He had made his abode among the caves and tombs of the hillsides in the area (5:5). Imagine the sorrow his condition had brought upon his loved ones, for he had been driven into the desert leaving behind his family to bear the sorrow and shame of his condition. His emotional condition was exhibited in his tormented screams that echoed off the hillsides “always” (5:5). “Night and day” the wild, tormented screams of his anguish were heard (5:5).

Salvation and Transformation (5:6-15)

He was “possessed with the devil, and had the legion” (a legion was a Roman name of a company of soliders that might number in the thousands, 5:9, 15).  We are not told how the man came to be possessed by demons; however, sin had overtaken every part of his affections and thoughts. The evil, unclean spirit had degraded and destroyed his life, family, and future (James 1:14-15).

In a fleeting moment of desperation, the man ran to Jesus and worshipped Him (5:6); however, the demons that ruled his soul wanted nothing to do with Jesus (5:7).  Jesus, evidencing His power and authority over evil spirits, cast the demons out of the man and permitted them to enter a herd of swine that could not abide the indwelling of such wickedness (5:10-13).

Rather than the protracted steps and methods of “reformation” that is the methodology of secular psychologists and psychiatrists, the demon-possessed man’s life was immediately changed by his spiritual encounter and faith in Jesus. His life gave evidence of his conversion and the radical transformation was undeniable (5:8, 15). The change was so transformative his family, friends, and neighbors observed him “sitting, and clothed, and in his right mind” (5:15). He was “sitting,” at peace, and no longer bound by sin or needing chains and ropes.  They found him “clothed,” no longer a violent man crying and cutting himself. He was “in his right mind,” repentant and rational (5:15), and longed to go with Jesus (5:18). God’s power not only overcame his rebellious, evil spirit, it transformed his thoughts, mind, and affections.

Closing thoughts – Tragically, and in spite of the undeniable transformation in the man’s life, the citizens of Gadara begged Jesus to “depart out of their coasts” (5:17). They would not embrace Him as LORD, nor would they welcome Him in their homes or country. Jesus, knowing the man of Gadara could go where He would not be welcome, commanded him to, “Go home to thy friends, and tell them how great things the Lord hath done for thee, and hath had compassion on thee” (5:19). The change in the demon-possessed man’s life was undeniable evidence of his salvation. Can that be said of you?

Romans 12:1-2 – “I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. 2And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will 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.

When Fears and Doubts Assail (Luke 7; Matthew 9)

Scripture reading – Matthew 9; Luke 7

This is the second of two devotionals for today, and is focused on the Gospel of Luke, chapter 7.

Luke 7

Some of Jesus’ greatest miracles are recorded in Luke 7. He healed a dying servant in response to a Roman centurion’s faith (Luke 7:1-10; note also Matthew 8:5-13). He also raised the son of a poor widow from the dead (7:11-17).

John Questioned: Was Jesus the Messiah? (7:18-23)

We are made privy to an intriguing conversation when the followers of John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ, came to Jesus. On behalf of John, his disciples asked if Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah (7:18-35).

Lest we be hard on John the Baptist, remember he had been imprisoned several months for confronting king Herod’s adultery with his brother’s wife (3:19-20). The hardships of prison, his isolation from the people, and knowing his life and ministry were nearing the end, John wanted assurance Jesus was the promised One, Israel’s Messiah.

Rather than give a rebuke to John, Jesus responded to the questions posed by John’s followers with reassurances. In ancient times, miraculous works were considered a proof text of one’s power from God. Scripture says, “in that same hour [Jesus] cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind He gave sight”, in essence showing the people He was who He said He was (7:21). Having performed miracles no man could explain apart from God, Jesus commanded John’s followers, “Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached” (7:22).

Who was John the Baptist? (7:24-34)

As John’s disciples departed, Jesus turned to the people and affirmed the ministry of His forerunner (7:24-28). He hailed John’s character saying, “Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he” (Luke 7:28).

Closing thoughts – We do not know the number of disciples who followed John the Baptist. Yet, in his most vulnerable hour we find there were “two of his disciples” (7:19) to whom he expressed his earnest longings and desires. John “sent them to Jesus saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?” (Luke 7:19b).

Application – If there was never a greater prophet than John “born of women,” and he struggled with doubts, surely, we should be prepared when the same affliction befalls us. Providential for John, there were two men in whom he could confide and express his doubts. What a comfort to see Jesus was patient when John’s disciples questioned Him, and His opinion of John the Baptist was not diminished. What a wonderful, caring, understanding, compassionate Lord we serve!

* 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.