Pastor Keith's devotional goes through the books of the Bible a chapter at a time. Each day he shares thoughts and insights from a pastor’s perspective that are intended to be encouraging, challenging, and life changing. Here’s how Pastor Keith's daily devotional works best:
Really, it’s as simple as that. Okay, here we go…
Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. (v.1)
If you were a widow in the first century, your life would have been especially hard. Since opportunities to support yourself were slim to none, and since there were no senior centers, government programs, or local food banks to rely on, the odds were such that you would live out your life in destitution and despair. Well, except if you were a believer in the church…who happened to meet the qualifications to receive assistance (1 Tim 5:3-16). If that was the case, then you could receive a daily distribution of food. Well, except if you were Greek; in that case, it’s quite possible you could have been [unintentionally] overlooked; which is exactly what took place in the church at Jerusalem.
“Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.”(v.3)
It seems the reason those widows were being overlooked was because the twelve Apostles had been trying to do everything from preaching the Word of God to passing out food (v.2). Though they were great at multi-tasking, the reality is that they couldn’t do all things well; basically, they were overwhelmed with way too many responsibilities and things were starting to slip through the cracks. To solve that problem, they asked the church to choose seven men who could do just one task, serve tables for the widows. By the way, in case you didn’t know, these men were the proto-deacons of the church; in time, they would become known as deacons (1 Tim 3 8-13).
“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” (v.4)
The Apostles understood that their main focus (and gifting) was to preach the Word of God and be devoted to prayer. It was easy for them to give up their food distribution duties; after all, that work was really taking time away from their main duties anyways. How about you? What would you say your main focus (and gifting) is for serving Jesus through your local church? Is anything getting in the way of you fulfilling God’s role for you in the church (like you’re trying to do way too much)? I encourage you today to find your God-carved out role in your local church and make sure nothing gets in the way of you doing it…really well. If everyone did that, then the church would increase and greatly multiply, just like what happened in the early church.
And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith. (v.7)
In case you're wondering, I didn't write any devotionals on Friday or Saturday; I think I've been a bit numb due to the recent school shootings.
Many churches celebrate communion on the first Sunday of the month. I don’t know how or when that scripturally unsupportable tradition started; it’s just a fact. Anyway, just before we receive the communion elements, we’re supposed to examine ourselves so we don’t take the bread and juice (or wine) in an unworthy manner - something that could cause us to fall under God’s judgment and become sick, ill, or even die (1 Cor 11:28-32). Hmm, I wonder how people in church would react if an unworthy communion recipient dropped dead right after receiving communion; I’m guessing fear would be the order of the day (v.11).
But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? (v.3)
You have to assume Ananias and his wife Sapphira had seen Barnabas sell some of his property and give the proceeds to the church...and end up looking like a hero (Acts 4:36-37). So for some ridiculous reason (okay, we all know it was pride), they too decided to sell a piece of their property and give it to the church. The only problem was that they lied to the apostles as to the correct sale price. In reality, they had lied to the Holy Spirit by bringing an offering in an unworthy manner. It’s quite amazing they thought they could get away with something like that, but then again, if we care to admit it, we’re all guilty (at least on occasion), of doing unworthy things before God that we’re convinced he’ll overlook; but of course he never does.
When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. (v.5)
As the story goes, not only did Ananias drop dead for lying to the Holy Spirit, three hours later, his wife breathed her last as well. But hold on, all they had done was lie about a sales receipt; was that really such a big deal? Apparently, the answer is and was yes; it is a big deal to go before the Most Holy Almighty God in a devious, flippant and/or unworthy manner. Oh my, when you think how often we carelessly disregard the commandment to be holy as God is holy (1 Pt 1:15-16), it’s amazing that any of us are still alive. I encourage you today to examine yourself, not just once a month (just before taking communion), but every day; remember, it’s a terrifying thing to fall into the hand of the living God (Heb 10:31).
Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting! (Psa 139:23-24)
So you find yourself being sitting in the pastor’s study. Now, usually, that’s a good thing; but today it’s totally not. You’ve been called in to defend yourself for something you did earlier in the afternoon. One by one the leading pastors and elders of the town grill you, over and over again, as to what exactly transpired; after all, the whole town is talking about it - you've caused quite a commotion. You do your best to explain that it really wasn’t you that did it, but they have a hard time believing you; even though they don’t understand it all, they’re convinced you’re the responsible party. Oh, the charge against you? You’re accused of healing a crippled man – and stuff like that’s not supposed to happen in this town.
If we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. (vs. 9-10)
To their credit, Peter and John were doing their best to answer all the questions they were being peppered with by the higher-up Jewish leaders of the day. The problem was that those leaders didn’t want to believe their ears. They didn’t want to believe, they couldn’t believe, that Peter and John had healed a lame man in the name and power of Jesus - a man they knew was dead. Hadn’t they crucified that troublemaker Jesus more than a month ago? There was no way anyone could be healed in his name. Nope, it just wasn’t factual, logical, or scientific. There had to be some other explanation; in the mean time, they told Peter and John to stop all their made-up funny business about Jesus.
“And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness, while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” (vs.29-30)
Really, you have to love the bold faith of the apostles. They had just been arrested, taken into custody, interrogated, threatened, and released. So what’s the first thing they did when they got home? They called their friends together for a prayer meeting and, contrary to what they had been told to do by the Jewish leaders, asked God to help them speak about Jesus with greater boldness while God performed healings, signs, and wonders among them. Wow they were crazy pumped up about Jesus or what? Today, as Christianity is getting battered in the media, pushed to the side in our towns and cities, and slowing becoming politically incorrect, I wonder, are you still asking God for boldness to share the good news about Jesus…and that God would do great and mighty works among us?
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)
Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour.
It really wasn’t out of the ordinary; two guys were walking to an afternoon prayer meeting. On the way up the steps, a lame beggar asked them for some money. Really, that’s sort of like one of us driving to a prayer meeting at our church, and when we hit a traffic light, a homeless guy with a very noticeable limp shuffles over to our car and asks us for a handout. Stuff like that happens everyday; again, nothing unusual to speak of. Oh, but then again, it would be crazy unusual if when that homeless guy approached your car, instead of giving him some money, you reached out, touched his leg, and healed him. Yep, things like that don’t happen every day, do they?
But Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!” (v.6)
You have to think when the lame beggar saw Peter and John coming close, he had the hope of getting a few stray coins so he could buy some food for dinner. After all, that’s probably what most people handed him, their loose change. But Peter and John were not most people; for one thing, they didn’t have any money, and for another, they had something way more valuable than gold or silver; they had the ability to heal the man (by faith and in Jesus’ name). Wow, think about that the next time a homeless person asks you for some money. Could it be that you have something more valuable than a couple of dollars? Could it be that you have the good news that can change that person’s life on the spot and for all eternity?
And he took him by the right hand and raised him up, and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. (v.7)
How many people do know that are waiting for someone to come by, take their right hand, and raise them up…out of their many troubles? I’m guessing that we all know people like that, people who have been dealt a hard hand and are having great difficulty navigating through life. They may have resigned themselves to thinking they just need a quick fix of money, drugs, or good luck to keep them going, but the reality is they need Jesus to deliver them and make them strong. As you go about your days, I encourage you to be on the lookout for those less fortunate than you that God has put in your path, to not only help out in practical ways, but to share the life-transforming power of the gospel of Jesus Christ – the power that will bring them from wallowing in despair to jumping for joy.
And leaping up, he stood and began to walk, and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. (v.8)
And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance. (v.4)
If you remember, just before Jesus had ascended into heaven, he had told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4). As it turned out, they waited ten days, and then all of a sudden, right in the middle of one of their prayer meetings, they heard the sound of a mighty rushing wind fill the room and tongues of fire appeared and rested upon each of them. Just as the prophet Joel had prophesied (Joel 2:28-29), they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak about the mighty works of God (v.11). Wow, one more reason to never miss a prayer meeting!
But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words."
Since everyone was hearing them speak in his or her own language, this event (called Pentecost) caused quite a stir. At some point, Peter stood up and preached a short sermon to the fast gathering crowd. Not only did he explain from the Scriptures the reason why they were speaking in tongues, but he also took full advantage of the situation and began to preach the good news about Jesus Christ. Oh, I like that; Peter saw an opportunity to declare the gospel and he took it. How about you? When you see an opportunity to share about Jesus, do you stand up like Peter…or do you shy away, hoping the topic will change?
Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v.37)
As Peter was preaching, it’s clear that the power of the Holy Spirit was present (Acts 1:8). How do we know? That’s easy; it’s because his message touched and convicted people’s hearts (Jn 16:8). By the way, did you notice that he didn’t even have to wait to give an invitation for them to accept Jesus; the people were so moved by the Holy Spirit they were pleading with him to tell them what they needed to do to be saved. Ah, that’s the power of the Holy Spirit at work for sure! Of course, he told them exactly what they needed to do, the very thing everyone needs to do to find forgiveness of their sins: repent, believe, and be baptized (v.38). Okay, let’s just make sure on this one; have you found the forgiveness of your sins by repenting of your sins, calling on the name of Jesus, and being baptized?
For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” (vs.39-40)
What do soldiers on the battlefield, employees at work, players on a team, and students in a classroom all need? If you guessed that they needed to know what they’re supposed to be doing, then you’re correct. Really, if we don’t know exactly what our mission, task, role, or assignment is, then it’s a total long shot that we would naturally do what our commanding officers, bosses, coaches, and/or teachers were demanding of us. It’s sort of like Christians; if Jesus didn’t specifically tell us what we’re all supposed to be doing (and how we're supposed to be doing it), we’d never figure it out. Oh, hold on; you do know what you’re supposed to be doing, right?
So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. (vs.6-7)
It’s kind of crazy, but it seems the disciples didn’t really have a clue Jesus was about to ascend into heaven. Let’s give them a break; Jesus had been among them for about forty days or so (v.3), so why would it even enter their minds that this would be his last day on the earth? Figuring that he was here to stay, they asked him if he was going to restore the kingdom of Israel – which basically meant that he would have to lead the charge to kick out the occupying Roman army from their land. In a clever and slightly mysterious way, he didn’t say he wasn’t going to do that; but this would not be that day. And then he totally turned the tables on them. Instead of revealing what he was going to do, he told them what they were supposed to be doing AND how they would be able to accomplish that task…while he was away with his Father in heaven.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (v.8)
With the Great Commission still ringing in their ears, Jesus told his disciples how they were going to make it all happen. Maybe to their surprise, he revealed that they wouldn’t be able to do it all on their own; they would need the power of the Holy Spirit. Which is interesting; it’s one thing to tell others about Jesus (“be my witnesses”), but without the power of the Spirit, our words would be ineffectual. I encourage you today, no matter where you find yourself, be it West Kingston, Philadelphia, Atlanta, or literally the ends of the earth, to make sure you’re relying on the power of the Holy Spirit as you seek to make disciples for Jesus Christ. Oh, in case you missed it along the way, it doesn’t matter if you’re a soldier, employee, player, or student (or anything else for that matter), that’s what you’re supposed to be doing – participating as God would lead you, in the making of disciples for Jesus Christ.
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:19-20)
When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” (v.15)
Do you realize that Jesus could have ascended to heaven and left Peter in utter despair over having denied knowing him (Jesus) three times? If that had happened, Peter’s self-esteem would have been shot for the rest of his life; he would have felt like a worthless failure, the bottom of the barrel of the disciples, and to make matters even worse, he would have had to live with the misery of never having been forgiven; sadly, he would have never had a second chance to redeem himself. I’m guessing that Jesus knew all that; that’s why he called Peter over for a private conversation after a morning men’s breakfast.
He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” (v.16)
In the grace and mercy of God (and over a breakfast of fish and bread), Peter was given the opportunity to unravel and make amends for his three denials of Jesus. Just guessing here, but really, don’t you think that when Jesus asked Peter if he loved him or not, that Peter’s heart jumped, knowing that this was the chance to redeem himself and express his true love for him? How about you? Have you come to a place where you’re out of fellowship with God because you’ve either in some way denied him or failed [miserably] in following his commandments? If so, realize that it’s never to late for you to initiate a conversation with Jesus to find forgiveness, inner peace, and a restored relationship.
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep." (v.17)
Jesus actually gave Peter an easy way out of the pit of misery in which he was wallowing. Did you see it? That’s right, he not only allowed him the opportunity to affirm that he loved him (three times), but to prove his heartfelt love for him; all he had to do was shepherd (feed and tend) the flock of God. The bottom line is that it’s easy for anyone to say that they love God, however, the proof in the pudding for him to know that you really love him is whether or not you’re willing to follow his will, obey his Word, and walk in his Spirit. I encourage you today to make sure your love for God is being worked out by the practical expression of your love to your fellow sheep – your Christian brothers and sisters.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments." (Jn 14:15)
Both of them were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. (v.4)
If you woke up early on the Sunday morning Jesus was resurrected, you would have seen a lot of people running around before you even had your first cup of coffee. First, there was Mary Magdalene, who had run back from the empty tomb as fast as she could to tell the news to Peter and John. Oh no, the reality is that she had brought them fake news; she had made the presumption that someone had taken the body of Jesus and buried it somewhere else (v.2). What other viable explanation was there? As you would have expected, that fake news caused Peter and John to fly out the door and start running towards the gravesite. Okay, so then there was a race between two fishermen; that must have been fun to watch.
And stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. (vs.5-6a)
Okay, John was a faster runner than Simon (good to know for a Bible Trivia contest), but that ability didn’t do him much good, because of the two, Simon was the bolder disciple. When John arrived at the tomb, he stooped to look in, but for some reason, didn’t go in to check it out. On the hand, when Simon [finally] got to the tomb, it seems he didn’t hesitate a bit; he boldly went where no man had gone before – not even Captain Kirk; he went right into the empty grave from which Jesus had risen from the dead.
Then the other disciple, who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed. (v.8)
You have to wonder if when Peter and John were running towards the tomb that morning, whether or not the many times that Jesus had told them he would rise from the dead after three days was all of a sudden swirling in their heads. Now, if that had become a reality, well, that was a game-changer. If he had risen from the dead, then he really was who he said he was, the very Son of God. On the other hand, if the fake news was true, that the body of Jesus had been stolen, well then, the last three years of their lives had been a waste and they had nothing for which to forward. As it turns out, Jesus had risen from the grave, and John, deep inside his heart, knew it; he believed. How about you? Have you come to the place in your journey of faith that you believe Jesus rose from the grave?
Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (vs.28-29)
There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. (v.18)
Less than a week before, Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem on a donkey to the cheers and praises of the crowd. Just about everyone had joyfully waved palm branches and shouted that he was the Son of David, the King of Israel. But this day was just the opposite. Instead of riding a donkey, he was forced to carry a heavy cross; instead of the crowd cheering him, the Jewish leaders ridiculed him and asked Pilate to kill him; instead of the crowd waving palm branches, Roman soldiers struck him with their hands and flogged him; instead of proclaiming he was their king, they claimed Caesar and only Caesar as their king. In the end, they found him guilty, sentenced him to death, and crucified him.
But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. (v.34)
So without the benefit of trained medical examiners, how did the Jews determine when someone was dead? Well, one option was to look at them; if they weren’t moving or breathing, that was a pretty good indicator. So when the soldiers who were going around breaking legs to check to see if the two criminals were really dead, they didn’t break any bones of Jesus. Why? He just looked dead. One other option, just to make sure, was to stick a spear into someone’s side (or heart); if they weren’t dead before that, then they would surely be after. That’s probably why one soldier pierced Jesus in the side; perhaps to his surprise, blood and water came out – something that the disciple John took as clear evidence that Jesus was without a doubt, dead.
He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. (v.35)
Why was it so important that Jesus had died? That’s easy; if Jesus hadn’t of died, then he would never had been resurrected – and therefore our faith would be in vain…and we would still be in our sins…and we would be a people most to be pitied (1 Cor 15:17). For the Apostle John (and the rest of early church), the truth of the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus was the key to the gospel message. So why don’t we talk more about his death, burial, and resurrection today? (For some reason, it seems to be reserved only for sermons on Good Friday and Easter.) I encourage you today to take some time to reflect on the crucial importance of the death of Jesus; after all, for John, it was a major factor in people believing in Jesus.
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Col 2:13-14)
The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man's disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” (v.17)
After having a fantastic holiday meal with all your friends in the special event room of a nice restaurant, you decide to walk over to the outdoor prayer service of a nearby church. That seems like a good idea, , right? What could possibly go wrong? Let’s see, while you’re at the prayer meeting, you’re confronted by an angry mob carrying lanterns, torches and weapons (like out of a B-grade horror movie); to your surprise, they arrest you. Before you know it, you're dragged off to some official looking house to be interrogated. After getting slapped in the face (for no good reason), you’re then escorted to the governor’s house to defend yourself from a death sentence. As if that wasn’t all bad enough, along the way, you have to endure hearing your closest friend deny that he even know you…three different times.
Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” (v.25)
If you remember, Peter had told Jesus that he would never fall away; in fact, in dramatic fashion, he had passionately declared that given the choice, he would die with Jesus before he ever denied him (Mt 26:33-35). Well, that sure sounded good; the trouble was that Jesus saw right though to Peter’s heart – and it wasn’t pretty. Jesus knew that when push came to shove, rather that risking his life, Peter would cave and not only deny him, but do it three times. Which is of course, exactly what happened on the night Jesus was arrested. Makes you think doesn’t it? When persecution comes our way, are we going to stand up for Jesus…or deny that we ever knew him?
One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed. (vs.26-27)
Oh, the sound of that rooster crowing must have been like a dagger in Peter’s heart and soul. It’s said that when he heard the crowing (and realized what he had done and how far he had fallen), he broke down, went out, and wept bitterly (Mt 26:75; Mk 14:72; Lk 22:62). Without a doubt, he was in sorry shape – you know, just like us when we discover we’ve failed to stand up for Jesus; we kick ourselves and feel like failures. But you know we’re not, right? [Spoiler Alert: Though we may at times deny Jesus, in his grace, mercy, and love, he’s more than willing to forgive and restore us back into fellowship with him (Jn 21:15-19).] I encourage you today to remain firm in your faith, not just being content to endure the hardships, tribulations, and persecutions that [will] come your way (Mt 10:21-22), but to be bold enough in your faith to acknowledge Jesus before men during those trying times.
So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven. (Mt 10:32-33)