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The Mystery of History – Ray Stedman

Read the Scripture: Acts 4:23-31
On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. Sovereign Lord, they said, you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them.  Acts 4:23-24

After being released from custody of the Sanhedrin, the apostles did not go out to organize a revolutionary committee to overthrow them. They did not even try to arouse a popular demonstration. The clear evidence of this passage is that they had popular support. But the apostles do not rely for even one minute upon political or popular pressure. They cast themselves upon the unique resource of the church in any age, which, when it forgets it, becomes nothing more than an instrument of distortion. They cast themselves wholly upon the sovereign power of God at work in history. That is the greatest force to alter a power structure that the world has ever seen. It has been ignored by the church many times and thus Christians have frittered away their efforts in relatively useless activities which make a lot of noise but never accomplish anything.

The apostles found encouragement in two things: First, the sovereignty of God, his overruling control of human events. The very first word of their prayer recognizes this,Sovereign Lord. God holds the world in the palm of his hand, and is intimately involved in every human event. They found great consolation in that, but I find many Christians have forgotten it. These disciples openly recognized that God had even predicted the very opposition they faced. Later, they quote the second Psalm in support of it. They had clearly been doing what Christians ought to do under pressure: They had gone to the Scriptures. They had found in the second Psalm the prediction of the actual opposition they were facing.

This second thing they saw is what we might call, the mystery of history. You can see it in verse 28 where they say of the Sanhedrin, They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. In other words, the God of history uses the very opposition to accomplish his purposes! That is what they saw. God worked through the free will of man. These people opposed the plan of God. They tried to thwart God’s purposes. They tried to derail his program. But God operates in such a marvelous way that he uses even this opposition to accomplish his will. That is the story of the cross and of the resurrection of Jesus.

That principle is what these Christians reckoned upon. They recognized a principle at work in human affairs which is the most powerful force known to man, and which the church frequently ignores to its peril.

Thank you, Father, that I can trust in your sovereign power and control even over those events which do me harm.

Life Application: What are two important principles we derive from God’s Word regarding our reactions to deepening moral decay and human suffering? Are we willing to act faithfully, while acknowledging the mystery and majesty of God’s sovereignty?

We hope you were blessed by this daily devotion.

From your friends at www.RayStedman.org

Copyright © 2014 by Ray Stedman Ministries — This daily devotion is from the book Immeasurably More: a year of devotions from the writings of Ray Stedman; compiled by Mark Mitchell. It may be copied for personal non-commercial use only in its entirety free of charge. All copies must contain this copyright notice and a hyperlink to www.RayStedman.org if the copy is posted on the Internet. Please direct any questions you may have to webmaster@RayStedman.org.


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Contemplating the Omniscience of God

I recently read the following quote from Thomas Edison…

We don’t know a millionth of one percent about anything.

Conversely… He (God) knows everything. – 1 John 3:20 (ESV).

This week in our staff devotional time we read and discussed the following quotes and scriptures regarding omniscience (all-knowing) of God. I encourage you to meditate on these verses and ask yourself, “how do these truths about God affect how I live?”

A.W. Tozer wrote, “God knows instantly and effortlessly all matter and all matters, all mind and every mind, all spirit and all spirits, all being and every being, all creaturehood and all creatures, …all law and every law, all relations, all causes, all thoughts, all mysteries, all enigmas, all feeling, all desire, every unuttered secret, all thrones and dominions, all personalities, all things visible and invisible in heaven and in earth, motion, space, time, life, death, good, evil, heaven, and hell. 

Because God knows all things perfectly, He knows no thing better than any other thing, but all things equally well. He never discovers anything, He is never surprised, never amazed. He never wonders about anything nor (except when drawing men out for their own good) does He seek information or ask questions.” (A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy, NY: Harper, 1987, pp.62-63).

“He looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens.” – Job 28:24

“His understanding is infinite.” – Psalm 147:5

“The secret things belong to the Lord our God…” – Deuteronomy 29:29

“He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding. It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things; He knows what is in the darkness, and the light dwells with Him.” – Daniel 2:22

“In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” – Colossians 2:3

“To Him belong counsel and understanding.” – Job 12:13

“He knows the secrets of the heart.” – Psalm 44:21

“For I know the things that come into your mind.” – Ezekiel 11:5 (ESV)

“Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” – Matthew 6:8

“The LORD know the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath.” – Psalm 94:11

“For I know the plans that I have for you, ‘declares the LORD,’ plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” – Jeremiah 29:11

 


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Liar, Lunatic, Lord – “Who Do You Say that I Am?”

Why Jesus left us no other choice.
Lesson 50 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

He began asking His disciples, saying, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” And Simon Peter answered and said, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

– Matthew 16:13–17

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

The people of Jesus’ day had varied opinions about who He was. Not much has changed in our day. If you asked a number of people on the street who Jesus is, you’d probably get a number of different answers. Some might say, as Peter did in the verse above, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the Living God. But others would likely identify Him merely as a great teacher or a prophet, or perhaps a man who performed miracles.

The question Jesus asked Peter, “Who do you say that I am?” is the most important question a person will ever answer. Having considered the ministry and the claims of Jesus over the past several lessons, the time has come for us to deal with this question.

Some may argue otherwise, but Jesus did not leave us the option to say that He is merely a great teacher, or a prophet, or a man who performed miracles. The reason we do not have this option is summed up in an argument that was first made by C.S. Lewis,1 and later by Josh McDowell.2 This argument insists there are only three possible answers to the question “Who was Jesus?”

Jesus claimed to be God. Some deny that He really made this claim, but that is in fact the reason the religious leaders wanted Him dead. Jesus was clear about His claim and that claim leads to only one of three possibilities:

  1. Jesus sincerely believed that He was the Son of God, but He was Himself deceived, so much so that He was willing to die because of it. This would put Jesus in the category of a lunatic.
  2. Jesus knew that He was not the Son of God, but He was willing to lie about it. This would not only make Him a liar, it would make Him a very evil man because He was intentionally misleading people, many of whom would suffer and die because they believed Him.
  3. Jesus was who He claimed to be: the Son of the Living God.

 

Jesus left us no other options. We cannot call Him just a good man, because a good man would not mislead people by saying that He was something He was not. We cannot call Him just a good teacher, because a good teacher would not teach something that was untrue. And if Jesus was deceiving people, either intentionally, or because He was Himself deceived, then we cannot conclude that His power to perform miracles was from God. It would be more reasonable to assume that the power had come from Satan.

Continue reading


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The Ministry of Jesus – Teaching and Miracles

Jesus proves Himself.
Lesson 47 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

And there are also many other things which Jesus did, which if they were written in detail, I suppose that even the world itself would not contain the books which were written.

– John 21:25

The very works that I do, bear witness of Me, that the Father has sent Me.

– John 5:36

As Jesus and His disciples journeyed through the land, people gathered around Him. He was a master communicator. With wonderful stories and illustrations, Jesus taught people the ways of God, and called them to live according to those ways. Jesus had compassion for the outcast and the brokenhearted. He convicted those whose hearts were full of pride. He spoke with the authority of one sent from God, but He was not just a man of words.

Jesus expressed His compassion and proved His authority with miracles. He was reported to have calmed storms and walked on the sea. On two occasions He took just a few loaves of bread and a handful of fish, and multiplied them to feed thousands of people. Jesus gave sight to the blind, caused the lame to walk, and healed people of horrible diseases. He cast demons out of people, and He even raised people from the dead. For thirty years, Jesus had lived in obscurity. But now, He was demonstrating His power over the physical and the spiritual world, over life and death.

– The HOPE, Chapter 9

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

During the three years between His baptism and His death and resurrection, Jesus traveled throughout the land of the Hebrews ministering to the people. There were two main aspects to the public ministry of Jesus. The first of these was His teaching.

As we read about the teaching of Jesus in the Bible, it is characterized by authority (Matthew 7:29, Mark 1:22, Luke 4:32) and wisdom (Matthew 13:54, Mark 6:2). Amazed (Matthew 7:28, Mark 1:22, Luke 4:32) and astonished (Matthew 13:54, Matthew 22:33, Mark 6:2, Mark 11:18) are the words used most to describe the reactions of those who heard Jesus teach. Even among those who doubt that Jesus is the promised Deliverer, His teaching is considered remarkable. His “Sermon on the Mount” and numerous parables1 are viewed to be among the greatest wisdom literature in the world.

The second aspect of Jesus’ ministry had to do with the miracles He performed. Most of today’s lesson will be concerned with the miracles of Jesus. But before we go further, let’s define our terms. The modern word “miracle” is derived from the Latin word miraculum, which means, “a wonder” or “something wonderful.”2 In the Bible, there are four words (two Hebrew and two Greek) that are translated as the word “miracle.” In each case, these words describe an intervention by God in which the ordinary course of nature is overruled, suspended, or modified.3 The Biblical term “miracle” means something much more than its Latin root.

Note that the Biblical use of the word doesn’t simply refer to the involvement of God in the affairs of man. It refers to what C. S. Lewis calls “a divine interference with nature by a supernatural power.”4 God does innumerable things for us on a daily basis, but He doesn’t necessarily supersede the laws of nature to do them. However, if you had terminal cancer one day, and then the next day it was gone, that would be completely contrary to the laws of nature. A miracle defies natural explanation because it defies natural law. Continue reading


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Jesus as a Child – Fully Human and Fully God

The Father was pleased because of “Whose” He was.
Lesson 43 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

And the Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; and the grace of God was upon Him.

– Luke 2:40

And all who heard Him were amazed at His understanding and His answers.

– Luke 2:47

And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opening, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him; and a voice came out of the heavens: “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well–pleased.”

– Mark 1:10–11

As a boy, Jesus grew in strength and wisdom. Even the Hebrew teachers were amazed at His understanding of the things of God. And when Jesus spoke of God, He called Him Father! The grace of God was upon Jesus, and He had favor with those who knew Him.

– The HOPE, Chapter 8

And when Jesus came up from the water, the Spirit of God descended upon Him. And a voice came from Heaven saying, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.”

– The HOPE, Chapter 8

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

Not much is known about Jesus as a boy or as a young man. Thirty years passed from the time of His birth to the beginning of His public ministry, and the Bible says little about those years. As the Son of God, He was unlike other people. As the Son of Mary, He was not unlike every person that ever lived. So what was it like to grow up as God in human form? We are left with many questions.

What was it like to be the Creator of the universe, and yet depend upon the creation the same as every other child nursed as an infant? What were His first words? Was there ever a time when the children were choosing sides to play a game, and He was left out? How did He feel? When He hit those awkward years of pimples and puberty, did He feel awkward? Was there ever a young girl who thought Jesus was cute? How did He handle that? Was there ever a bully who tried to intimidate Him? How did He handle that?

Somehow, it would be easier for us to dismiss those years, to skip over them, but Jesus didn’t skip them. He experienced them, and He experienced them fully. From the verses above, there are some specific things we can know about the Son of God as He grew up and became a man.

We know that even as a boy, Jesus had a thirst for the things of His heavenly Father. The passage above from Luke 2:47 took place in the temple. Joseph and Mary had taken Jesus to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover, an event that foreshadowed the sacrifice Jesus would ultimately make to conquer sin and death. Somehow Jesus had become separated from His parents. After three days His parents finally found Him in the temple dialoging with the religious leaders of the day. The Bible says that people were “amazed at His understanding and His answers.” And when His mother scolded Him for causing His parents to worry, Jesus answered, “Did you not know that I had to be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:49).

About 18 years passed in obscurity from the incident in the temple to the baptism of Jesus cited in Mark 1:10 above. We’ll spend more time dealing with Jesus’ baptism in the next lesson, but for now pay special attention to the words of His heavenly Father as Jesus came out of the water, “Thou art My beloved Son, in Thee I am well–pleased.” Continue reading


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Creation of Adam & Eve – Part 2

Our purpose – to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.
Lesson 10 from The HOPE Study Guide

INTRODUCTION

He did not create them to be gods. But as the moon reflects the light of the sun, so Adam and Eve were created to reflect the light of God.

– The HOPE, Chapter 1

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

– Westminster Catechism, Shorter Version, Written in the 1640’s

OBSERVE & CONSIDER

In the previous lesson we considered the truth that man was created in the image of God. In this lesson we will consider God’s purpose for creating man. There are many verses in the Bible that, if studied in total, would help us understand God’s purpose for creating man. However, there is not just a verse that singularly sums up this subject, at least not in a manner that would satisfy most Bible scholars.

There is, however, a document containing a statement that attempts to sum up what the Bible says about God’s purpose for creating man. This document is known as the Westminster Catechism, and the statement to which we are referring appears above. This statement is widely accepted among Bible scholars as accurate, and it provides a point of reference as we consider what The HOPE says about God’s purpose for creating man.

Without a doubt, the brightest visible object in our world is the sun. It is so bright that gazing directly at it can cause irreparable damage to our eyes. Yet God’s brilliance is immeasurably greater than even that of the sun. In 1 John 1:5 we learn that God is pure, undiluted light. And in Exodus 33:20 we are told that His glory is so great no man can look directly at God and live! So how can people behold the glory of God if He is so intensely brilliant that no man can look directly at Him and live? Continue reading


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Creation – Part 1

The Watchmaker Theory – Evidence of a Designer.
Lesson 7 from The HOPE Study Guide

Observe & Consider

In our previous lesson we examined a few of God’s many attributes, each one referenced by one or more Bible verses. As we continue our study, we will now consider what the Bible has to say about God and His creation. But before we do, let’s look briefly at a page from history.

In 1794 British theologian and philosopher William Paley published a book entitled, A View of the Evidence of Christianity. That book was required reading at Cambridge University for more than 100 years. But in 1802, Paley published another book for which he became even more widely known. It was titled, Natural Theology: or, Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity, Collected from the Appearances of Nature. In this book Paley argued that a supernatural God could best be understood by examining evidence from the natural world. His image of the watchmaker has become one of the most famous metaphors in the philosophy of science. Although written over 200 years ago, it bears repeating here. (You may find the language a bit stilted, but hang in there!)

In crossing a field, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for any thing I knew to the contrary, it had lain there forever… But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground… I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that, for any thing I knew, the watch might have always been there. Yet why should not this answer serve for the watch as well as for the stone?… For this reason…that, when we come to inspect the watch, we perceive (what we could not discover in the stone) that its several parts are framed and put together for a purpose, e. g. that they are so formed and adjusted as to produce motion, and that motion so regulated as to point out the hour of the day [etc.]…This mechanism being observed…the inference, we think, is inevitable, that the watch must have had a maker… Continue reading