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Acts 7: Stephen is martyred

February 24, 2010 Leave a comment

I actually read this passage on Monday and am, sadly, just now blogging about it. Getting off my duff, I plan to return to daily blogging about Bible reading. Later today or, most likely, tomorrow, I’ll blog about the next chapter of Daniel.

Acts 7 is a fascinating chapter, in that it’s the first Biblical recording–post crucifixion, resurrection and ascension of Jesus–of a martyr.

That martyr’s name, of course, was Stephen.

In his sermon, Stephen preached a sermon summarizing the Old Testament from Abraham, to Moses, down the line and eventually ending in the New Testament with Jesus. He concentrated heavily on Moses, particularly his early life and when he was receiving the laws from God on Mt. Sinai.

Bluntness was a normal practice in the early church’s preaching, and Stephen was no different. He referred to the authorities in the temple in verse 51 as “stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears.” Notice he did not say they were physically uncircumcised. All obedient male Jews then were. He was telling them they were crude and stubborn in their ability to listen and hear what was being preached, and if they were truly open and receptive, they would’ve seen that Jesus’ life was a fulfillment of Scripture. Instead, the authorities and their ancestors chose to persecute, torture and even kill the messengers who called for obedience unto God.

And then Stephen looked up to the sky and described seeing Jesus at the right hand of God. A death sentence. They took him outside the city and stoned him.

Like Jesus at His crucifixion, Stephen showed compassion to those who stoned him. In his final words in verse 60, he asked God not to lay this sin at their charge.

We also see in verse 58 that Saul held the outergarments of those who went to kill Stephen. Saul had yet to become a Christian and transform into Paul, but I have to wonder what went through his mind at this time. Perhaps seeds were being planted and watered as he saw this Christian die for their faith.

Richard Zowie, a Christian for 28 years, operates several blogs. Post a comment or e-mail richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

My plans for Lent

February 17, 2010 Leave a comment

No, I’m not Catholic and I didn’t throw beads at topless women during Mardi Gras, but I look at Lent as a time of spiritual growth. So, for Lent, with the exception of a belated birthday dinner at a nearby Chinese restaurant, I will be giving up second helpings. I may also blog about it so that readers can track my progress.

Yes, meanwhile I still will blog about Daniel and Acts as part of my Bible reading.

Acts 6: Verbal and Lifestyle Evangelism

February 15, 2010 Leave a comment

I read Acts 6 today immediately after Daniel 7.

This chapter is short but fairly compact and addresses a very important issue in Christianity.

There had apparently been complaints among the Grecians that the Apostles spent all their time preaching the Gospel and none to tending to the needs of widows–something that was considered the responsibility of ministers in those days (and still should be). The Apostles apparently felt there wasn’t enough time to do both, so they recruited new people to help “serve tables” so that they could continue to spread the Gospel.

Perhaps a sense of balance was in order, but that’s easy to say nearly 2,000 years later.

Among the apostles selected to go out and preach was Stephen, and as we’ll soon find out in Chapter 7, Stephen no doubt had a very tough time purchasing a life insurance policy. He went out, preached the Gospel, healed the sick, spoke of Jesus and–not surprisingly–made enemies.

False witnesses came forward, taking Stephen out of context, and as we’ll soon see, trouble will brew and overflow very quickly.

Richard Zowie’s a Christian blogger. Post comments here or send comments to richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Daniel 7: the visions begin

February 15, 2010 Leave a comment

I read this passage of Scripture this afternoon after finishing work at the gas station and after going with my wife and two youngest sons to a park where the boys could sled down a hill (an activity I passed on this time). It was around 30 outside, but for some reason I felt very cold. Took a long, very hot shower when I got home and settled down to read the Word.

It’s been a long time–too long, in fact–since I last visited Daniel 7.

I must admit I struggled with this passage. Not that I disagreed with it (I didn’t), but because I’m not an eschatologist, some references will take some research to grasp.

We notice that this passage chronologically took place earlier than Daniel 6, when Babylonian second-in-command Belshazzar was terrified as he saw hands spelling out his doom on the wall. We presume that Daniel, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, felt it was best to keep the prophetic visions grouped together later in the book.

Daniel also apparently felt it was better to keep these visions to himself, writing them down for later generations to read. What he saw, no doubt, troubled him. I suspect he saw visions of events happening in the distant future, and he, like John would in Revelation, described the best he could things he had limited understanding of. Imagine William Shakespeare describing someone talking on a cell phone or updating their Twitter account.

In this vision, he (Daniel, not Bill Shakespeare) saw four beasts arising from the sea. They looked very creepy and surreal: a lion with birdlike wings that looked plucked, a bear with three ribs in its teeth, a leopard with four heads and wings like a bird, and a terrible-looking creature with iron teeth. Daniel also reported seeing a little horn that many believe is a reference to the antichrist. He also reported seeing the “Son of God”.

Reading the passage, I think it’s possible Daniel saw visions of the the antichrist’s rise to power, the Great Tribulation, the battle of Armageddon, Glorious Appearing and the Millennial Reign of Jesus. I could be wrong; further study, reading and maturing in the faith will tell for sure.

All I know for sure is that the dream troubled Daniel greatly. It makes you think: while Jesus will win at the end, the earth has yet to see what God is really like when He’s really angry.

Richard Zowie has been a Christian since 1981 and a blogger since 2007. He regrets not having discovered blogging sooner. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Daniel 6: Lions, dens and Daniel, oh my!

February 11, 2010 1 comment

Yes, I must admit, that’s probably the most cheesiest, recycled title imaginable, borrowed from Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. (A special “thank you” goes out to the late Judy Garland, also affectionately known as Liza Minnelli’s Mom).

I read this passage last night, right before I went to bed around 10 p.m. to get ready for my 4:45 a.m. wake up to go to work at the gas station. As I read, I noticed some new things. Reading from my Zondervan King James Study Bible, I consulted with some of the footnotes. I know some Christians detest Bibles with extensive footnotes, but it really helps in learning the background of the passage. Otherwise, you’re almost helpless to understand the historical and cultural backgrounds of the ancient Biblical cultures. What you read will either go straight over our head or will become misunderstood and misapplied.

At the beginning of Daniel 6, King Darius the Persian has set up his new kingdom. He has 120 princes and three presidents to whom the princes are all accountable. Who’s the head president?

Daniel.

So, after being given the consolation of third-highest ruler in Babylon shortly before Belshazzar’s death, Daniel actually receives a promotion. Good help is so hard to find, and I’m sure that Darius was very familiar with Daniel and his wisdom. Perhaps Belshazzar, when asked if he had any final words before being executed, said, “Daniel…is a smart…guy…should’ve…listened to him sooner…put…him…in charge…(gurgle! gasp!)”

While Daniel was the head president and accountable to Darius, the decision to promote Daniel was obviously a very sore one for the other presidents and many of the princes. “Why should this filthy foreigner–a JEW!–be put in charge of us?” They no doubt reasoned among themselves. “Didn’t Nebuchadnezzar unceremoniously wrench these slaves out of their homeland? And now one of them’s ruling over us again?”

So, they try to find dirt on Daniel. They called on all their spies, private investigators, everybody, to see what Daniel did that was embarrassing enough to be relieved of his position in the kingdom. Mind you, this had nothing to do with the good of the kingdom. It was about power.

What did these gentlemen find? Absolutely nothing. Daniel was squeaky clean. No crazy secret sex life, no love children, no strange habits, no embarrassing personal problems.

Not unless you count his praying towards Jerusalem thrice daily.

So, these men approach Darius with the usual apple-polishing “O king, live forever” rhetoric and trick him into signing a law stating for the next 30 days all petitions must be directed to the king: anyone who asks a petition of God or man shall be thrown into a lion’s den.

Everyone agrees this is a great idea, Your Majesty!, the men tell the king. This is an outright lie, of course: Daniel knew nothing about it and certainly would not have given it his support. In those days, lying to the king was pretty much grounds to have your head permanently separated from your body.

When the men then make accusations against Daniel’s violating this law, the king realizes he’s been had, but it’s too late. the laws of the Medes-Persians were ironclad and could not be revoked.

As Daniel is put into the lions’ den, Darius in verse 16 tells the sage prophet that perhaps God will save him from this injustice.

Nice kitties!

The whole night, Darius doesn’t sleep, eat or have any entertainment. He is worried, thinking that a wonderful man and a great advisor may die because of a stupid law that he no doubt signed after the princes and presidents tickled his ears and tricked him. Morning can’t come quickly enough.

And when it does, Darius rushes to the den and calls down to Daniel asking if his God was able to save him.

It must’ve been a gargantuan relief to Darius to hear Daniel answer back in verses 21-22:

“…O king, live for ever.

“My God hath sent his angel, and hath shut the lions’ mouths, that they have not hurt me: forasmuch as before him innocency was found in me; and also before thee, O king, have I done no hurt.”

Furthermore, when Daniel came out of the den, the king saw he had no marks of physical activity of any kind. This reminds me of how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were pulled from the fire a few chapters earlier and were found to have no burns or singes.

Darius, we read in verses 25-27, made a new law decreeing that Daniel’s God was to be revered and respected throughout the kingdom. His is a kingdom that is eternal with infinite power, and he delivered Daniel from the lions.

What about the men who tricked Darius into signing that bad law? Verse 24 tells us that they, their wives and children were thrown into the lions’ den. The lions were no doubt hungry and had a big breakfast.

This may seem like a bitter pill to swallow for modern readers: how could God let women and children be eaten by lions?

There are a few things to consider. First, a lot of distasteful activities occur in the Bible. This doesn’t mean that God condones it, it’s just reporting on things that happened in the ancient world. Their cultures, their perceptions on the world and their ideas of justice no doubt differ much from ours. I also understand that executing a man and his family was a Persian custom at the time, presumably to prevent the man’s wife or kids from plotting revenge down the road. This is right there with other gross practices, such as David collecting 200 foreskins of the Philistines (to prove to the circumcised King Saul that David [who was also circumcised] had killed 200 enemy soldiers).

Second, it’s entirely possible that these men’s wives and children were just as wicked and ungodly as they were. After all, they’d tried to murder an innocent man. Perhaps their wives and kids encouraged it. We don’t know for certain, except that Darius possibly wanted to give the others in his kingdom incentive to leave Daniel alone.

Richard Zowie is an active blogger. Post comments here or e-mail richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Acts 5:17-42: Obeying God versus obeying man

February 10, 2010 Leave a comment

This is a good chapter to read when you feel depressed as a Christian and think the world is being unfair. Things were very rough for the first-century church as they were often beaten and persecuted and even tortured for their faith. Perhaps the day will come when this becomes standard operating procedure for us in America. Meanwhile, fellow American Christians, be thankful you live in a free country.

For some people, God is a humorless person not unlike those unsmiling portraits you see of Johann Sebastian Bach

 

(Seen here suffering from musician’s block)

or of Andrew Johnson

(After having been told that his predecessor, Abraham Lincoln, and not him would be featured in the future $5 bill)

But, honestly, God has quite the sense of humor. After all, in this segment of Acts chapter five the officials imprison the Apostles for preaching and go to the jail the next day and see–GASP!–they’re gone! An angel, we learn, bailed out the Apostles but apparently forgot to file the proper exit paperwork so that the officials knew about it. And what’s even funnier is where the officials discover the Apostles: back in the Temple, preaching.

To me, the humor in this chapter’s right up there with Balaam’s donkey speaking to him and Balaam in Numbers 22 being so angry he doesn’t seem too startled by that. (For me, a donkey speaking in King James English is very hysterical).

“Guys,” the authorities said, “We told you specifically NOT to preach about Jesus and to quit telling people that we killed an innocent man. This doth get very oldeth. Don’t y’alleth agree?”

Then, in verse 29, Peter and the other Apostles respond with what’s become a rallying cry for many Christians through the centuries: “We ought to obey God rather than men.”

There are laws that must be obeyed, so long as they don’t conflict with Scripture. Being told not to preach clearly conflicts with the Great Commission.

Finally, in verse 34 we read of how the authorities convened and heeded the advice of a well-respected “doctor of the law” named Gamaliel, a Pharisee. Gee cautions the authorities to be careful, citing examples of Theudas and Judas and how they were killed for their radical teachings, and how their followers were dispersed.

Gamaliel advises in verse 38 for the Apostles to be left alone. “If their preaching is of man, it will eventually fade away,” he said. “But if it’s from God, you’re wasting your time trying to crush it, and you’d be fighting against God.”

With that, the officials beat the disciples and told them in no uncertain terms: DO NOT PREACH ABOUT JESUS!

The Apostles left, thankful to suffer persecution for Jesus, but also continuing in the Temple and in every house they were in to preach of Jesus.

Gamaliel’s advice reminds me of the fruitless attempts by the Romans and, in the past 100 years, the many attempts by communist governments to crush the Christian church. Those attempts have failed, because the Christian church is of God.

Richard Zowie finds it hard to believe that in October 2011 he’ll have been a Christian for 30 years. He has three other WordPress blogs and has been a writer since 2000. Post comments here or e-mail him at richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.

Daniel 5: Belshazzar, the wall, handwriting

February 9, 2010 Leave a comment

I actually read this passage of Scripture on Sunday, but Mondays tend to be hectic at work with little time to get other things done. Reading this chapter makes me think of how contradictory our culture has become. The Bible is often very taboo among many, but yet we often hear the phrase “handwriting on the wall.” Well, that phrase comes from the fifth chapter of Daniel.

Daniel 5 introduces us to Belshazzar (whose Babylonian name means “Bel, protect the king”) as the “son” of Nebuchadnezzar. Many skeptics, no doubt, will jump on this and say “Ah HA! I knew it! This is a contradiction! Belshazzar was actually the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar!”

That’s probably true about Bel being Nebie’s grandson, but we also notice how in the New Testament Jesus (and others) often referred to Himself as the “Son of David”. The term “son” in Biblical literature can also mean descendant. It would be like me saying I’m the “son” of Paul Zowie (my grandfather), the son of Sebastian Zahnweh (my great-grandfather and Paul’s father) or the “son” of George Goade (my maternal grandfather).

My understanding is that Belshazzar was actually a viceroy and was the actual son of Nabonius (who was the biological son of Nebuchadnezzar). But since King Nabonius was in Tema, Arabia, Belshazzar in his absence acted as king over Babylon.

And, yes, Belshazzar loved to party. His parties were no doubt debaucheries that would’ve made Caligula jealous. As I read the passage, I got this distinct impression that whereas Nebuchadnezzar was a man who tried to never let his guard down, Belshazzar seemed to love to party too much.

Belshazzar then ordered the golden vessels brought from God’s Temple in Israel to be used in a toast to various gods. As he drank, he saw large fingers writing a strange language on the wall. From his knees shaking together, we gather he was terrified.

“Yikes!” he probably said in Chaldean. “I must’ve really angered one of the gods!”

Some, no doubt, will dismiss this as a product of alcohol impairment, but the passage is clear that others saw it also, including servers who were most likely not inebriated.

As usual, none of the intellectuals could interpret it despite Bel’s offer of being the third in command of the kingdom.

Finally, the queen (whom I think was either Nebuchadnezzar’s wife, or daughter), then stepped forward and told Bel about the seasoned old prophet who could understand the ways of the “gods”. Nebuchadnezzar had been dead for 23 years, and it’s amazing of how soon people forgot about what had happened to him and how he acknowledged the true God during his trip to Humble Haven. Despite the reputation Daniel had, once again he’s not called upon until everyone else fails miserably.

Bel then promises Daniel that he’ll give him fancy clothes, fancy bling and the title of third highest ruler in the kingdom if he interprets the writing on the wall. Ever the modest one, Daniel tells the king to keep his gifts–presumably because Dan knows those honors and titles will soon be worthless. Daniel then reminds Bel of what Nebuchadnezzar had gone through and how soon Bel’d forgotten about that. Not only had he hardened his heart, he’d also desecrated the sacred drinking vessels.

With that: Daniel tells Bel the writing means “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin”.

 

While the words were probably in Hebrew, some believe the top-to-bottom script is what confused Belshazzar’s “scholars”.

Mene refers to the Babylonian kingdom being numbered and finished; Tekel refers to Belshazzar having been weighed in the balances and having been found wanting; Peres (a different form of Upharsin) meaning that Bel’s kingdom would be divided amongst the Medes and Persians.

Daniel is bestowed with a scarlet robe, a gold chain around his neck and is made third ruler, and Belshazzar dies later that night when the invasion begins. Whether Belshazzar believed Daniel and repented or whether he chose to succomb to the inevitable is anyone’s guess.

Richard Zowie has been a Christian since 1981 and counts the handwriting on the wall as one Biblical even he would’ve loved to have witnessed firsthand. Post comments or e-mail richardstwoshekels@gmail.com.