November 13 — Luke 23; John 18-19 — Changing Hearts. Matthew’s Gospel tells us that both robbers crucified with Jesus “reviled him” (Matt. 27:44). Luke shows, however, that one had a change of heart, while the other thief cried out to Jesus in derision: “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). The changed-heart thief “rebuked him,” perhaps suddenly realizing that there was something more valuable than the physical rescue requested by his fellow thief. He was dismissing the possibility to be saved from death on a cross when he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom” (v. 42). He had received a glimpse of a kingdom not of this world (John 18:36). God continues to bring glimpses of light into the hearts of people around us today and some of those glimpses may have come from something that we said to them in the past.
November 14 — Matt. 28; Mark 16 — … and Peter. After the resurrection of Jesus, Salome and the two women named Mary went to the tomb and saw the stone rolled away. They entered the tomb and were told by the angel that Jesus had risen and that they were to go and “tell his disciples and Peter” (Mark 16:7). Peter was one of the eleven remaining disciples, so why did the angel refer to them separately as “disciples and Peter”? It seems that it was an emphasis, i.e., especially Peter. We can imagine that Peter was not only grieving over the confusing death of Jesus but he was also grieving over the fact that he had denied three times that he even knew Him. Did the other ten know what Peter had done? If not, he suffered alone with guilt. Later, in Galilee, Jesus would single out Peter to show His forgiveness and to strengthen him but at this earlier point, Peter must have felt unworthy to be part of the Eleven. Maybe some of you are struggling with a past secret sin that makes you feel isolated and unworthy. If you admit that sin to God, you are forgiven—especially you.
November 15 — Luke 24; John 20-21 — Aha! and Oh-no! Moments. Jesus’ closest followers really showed signs of vacillating after His resurrection. The women at the tomb “were perplexed” (Luke 24:4) until the angels reminded them of what Jesus had said, then “they remembered his words” (v. 9)—Aha! The eyes of the two disciples going to Emmaus “were kept from recognizing him” (v. 16) and they expressed their disappointment about Jesus’ death, drawing a rebuke from Him for their lack of faith (v. 25). It is striking that as they were at the table to eat with Him, “their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And he vanished from their sight” (v. 31). Sudden insight—Aha!—followed by Jesus vanishing—Oh-no!. Sometimes we have insight and sometimes we don’t. It reminds me of what Jesus said to Nicodemus about the Spirit: “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit” (John 3:8). Like His apostles, sometimes we vacillate between confusion, fear, and unbelief on one side; and clarity, joy, and faith, on the other.
November 16 — Acts 1-3 — Thus says the Lord … The book of Acts was written by the same author as the Gospel of Luke and the writer was Luke, the physician, who was a companion of Paul, beginning with the Second Missionary Journey (the “we” pronouns beginning in Acts 16:10). He appears to have been a later convert to Christianity, after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, so the information he wrote about in his Gospel and in the first half of Acts came from interviewing eyewitnesses. I was impressed in these first chapters of Acts by how much of the Old Testament Peter knew and quoted—a total of 13 verses. Before the choosing of a replacement for Judas, he quoted from two different Psalms; during his impromptu message on the Day of Pentecost, he quoted five verses from the prophet Joel, four verses from one Psalm, and one verse from another Psalm. Later in the Temple area after the healing of the lame man, he also quoted a verse from Deuteronomy. Peter wasn’t a theologian or a teacher—he was a fisherman. He had memorized these verses in the past and God brought them to his mind when he needed them. Are you intentionally hiding God’s Word in your heart? He will not bring to your mind that which you have not memorized. When a verse strikes you in our daily reading, jot it down and memorize it that day. God may want to use it at a critical time in the future when it is needed.
November 17 — Acts 4-6 — Response to the Miraculous. Many miraculous things were happening with the newborn church. They experienced astonishing growth (4:4; 5:14; 6:1, 7), with people being healed (4:10) and delivered from prison (5:19). There were strong and mixed reactions to these works of God. For the unbelieving Jewish leaders, the reaction was strong and negative. They were “annoyed” about the apostles’ teaching (4:2), “astonished” at their boldness (4:13), stumped by obvious healing (4:16), afraid of the people (4:21), had “jealousy” because of the apostles’ popularity (5:17), were “perplexed” about the prison deliverance (5:24) and “wondering” about future development (5:24), “afraid” of being stoned for arresting the apostles (5:26), and they were “enraged” at the mention of Jesus’ resurrection and exaltation (5:33). How was the believing church reacting to all of this? They prayed (4:24) and they “continued to speak … with boldness” (v. 31). They also showed “fear” (5:4, 11) but this fear was a dread of punishment for sinning against God. The apostles were “rejoicing” (5:41) for the privilege of being dishonored for the sake of Jesus’ name. The world around us also displays similar negative reactions to the miraculous life of Christ through the Church but we should rejoice in being dishonored like Jesus, Paul, John, and countless others who have followed.
November 18 — Acts 7-8 — Paying Attention. Three times in these chapters, it says that people “paid attention” to what others had said. The problem is that we can pay attention to both good and bad messages. In Stephen’s historical review before the Council, he recalled that the two struggling Hebrew slaves rejected Moses (“thrust him aside”) when he tried to exert leadership. They would not pay attention to him as a leader, asking, “Who made you a ruler and a judge over us?” (7:27). Later, after the Exodus from Egypt, God gave His Law through Moses for the people but they “refused to obey him, but thrust him aside…” (v. 39)—again, not paying attention to his leadership. Stephen then brought home the connection with Israel’s prior rejection of God’s ways with their recent actions in killing Jesus: “… you always resist the Holy Spirit. As your fathers did …” (v. 51). Many people in Samaria had wrongly “paid attention” (8:6, 11) to Simon the sorcerer when he performed magic and claimed to be someone great. Then, Philip came along “proclaiming to them the Christ … [and they] paid attention to what was being said” (vv. 5-6) and “received the word” (v. 14). Later, the Ethiopian eunuch paid attention to Isaiah’s prophecy and to Philip’s explanation, which led to his salvation (v. 35). When you read these chapters every day, make sure that you are paying attention to what it says so that you may correctly understand and follow its precepts.
November 19 — Acts 9-10 — Stepping Out in Faith. The stories of the unlikely meetings between Ananias and Saul and between Cornelius and Peter have some interesting similarities. Both Ananias and Cornelius were directed through a vision to go to a specific place and person. For Ananias, it was, “go to the street called Straight … the house of Judas … a man of Tarsus named Saul” (9:11); Cornelius was told to “send men to Joppa … [for] Peter … lodging with one Simon … whose house is by the sea” (10:5-6). In both stories, there was hesitation involved in carrying out the mission. Ananias was uncertain because of the reputation of Saul’s persecution of the church (9:13-14). Peter was tentative about mixing with Gentiles and had to be shown the vision of the animal-filled sheet to open that door (10:28). Even when we know exactly what God wants us to do, it is sometimes difficult to follow through. We have our hesitations, too, saying, “Yeah but, what if …” Walking by faith sometimes includes walking with a bit of fear. Faith is often risky. But God sees the victory on the other side of that fearful door that holds us back and He urges us on so we can see His wisdom, love, and power at work.