The Savior Reconciles

[Moses] supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared to them as they were quarreling and tried to reconcile them, saying, ‘Men, you are brothers. Why do you wrong each other?’ But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside…

Acts 7:25-27a

Have you ever known a person who suffered from blindness? If so, you have undoubtedly recognized that the simplest little things can become painfully complicated when a person cannot see.

Many years ago, a pastor and a deacon took a blind parishioner out to lunch. Despite her difficulties, the aged and faithful Mrs. Todd seldom spoke and never complained. When the food arrived at their table, the saintly senior wrapped her sandwich in a napkin and slowly began to eat. Church business so engrossed the men that they lost track of time and what was happening with their lunch guest. After the meal, they were both horrified to see that Mrs. Todd had eaten her whole sandwich—and napkin! Because of her disability, Mrs. Todd could not see her sandwich, but because of their depravity, sinners will not see the Savior.

Moses was misunderstood. The Sanhedrin accused Stephen of blasphemy against Moses, so in his defense-by-sermon, he cited the Law-giver. Moses’ first attempt at public ministry ended in disaster. One day, while watching his people languishing in slavery under Pharaoh’s brutal taskmasters, Moses witnessed an Egyptian mercilessly beating a Hebrew. He intervened and killed the abuser. The next day, Moses was again observing his people when two of his fellow Hebrews began to have an altercation. Moses asserted himself and attempted to reconcile the men and thought that his “brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand”. Because of their envy-driven blindness, the Hebrews couldn’t see Moses. Blinded by their power and tradition, the Sanhedrin wouldn’t see the Savior.

Moses was misjudged. God is sovereign over everything, even the angry misperceptions of unbelievers. “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? (emphasis mine)”, the miffed men asked Moses. The stinging sarcasm of Moses’ “brothers” reminds us of a similar event when Joseph’s brothers asked, “Are you indeed to rule over us?” (Genesis 37:8). In both cases, God’s salvation and the inability of observers to perceive it was at odds. Moses would, in fact, reconcile the people as a ruler and judge over all Israel, but not for another forty years. At the right time, Moses would testify that Yahweh had sent him to lead Israel out of Egypt to worship God at Sinai. Because of misperception, his own brothers couldn’t see Moses.

Moses was a mediator. A mediator is an advocate who stands between two parties in conflict bringing them together in peaceful reconciliation. Because we are sinfully separated from God, we must be forgiven and brought back into fellowship with Him. Moses reconciled the people to each other (Exodus 18:13-27) and he also reconciled the people to God (Exodus 32:7-14, 30-35). There is no salvation without reconciliation and there is no reconciliation without a mediator. Moses was a great mediator, but Christ Jesus is the greater Mediator through whom God reconciles the whole world (2 Corinthians 5:17-19). Moses came as a prince but pointed to Jesus who came as a pauper. Moses reconciled Israel by giving the Law. Jesus reconciled the elect by giving His life (Hebrews 9:15, 12:22-24). In the darkness of Golgotha, the angry mob couldn’t see the Messiah mediating hell.

Mediation is major. How important is the reconciling work of Christ our Mediator? Sometimes Christians erroneously say that because of Jesus’ death on the cross, we have direct access to God. It must be observed that our access to God is “through Christ” (Ephesians 2:18) who opened the curtain through His flesh (Hebrews 10:19-22). Jesus taught us to pray in His name emphasizing His role as our Mediator before the Father (John 14:13). Our Savior is at the King’s right hand in continual prayer for His people (Romans 8:33-34). We come boldly to the throne of grace and find help because Christ is waiting there for us (Hebrews 4:16). Because our God is “holy, holy, holy”, we thank Him that we have Christ Jesus as Mediator. By “the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” we are made to see our Mediator.

Dr. Ligon Duncan observes, “Hell is eternity in the presence of God. Heaven is eternity in the presence of God, with a Mediator.”

How do you see your eternity—mediated or unmediated?


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Priceless Share

But Peter said to him, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money. You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent, therefore, of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.”

Acts 8:20-23

Have you ever been fooled into thinking someone was a Christian because of their religious activity? If you have, it may be of some comfort to know that the Holy Spirit has never been so deceived. But evil men, like Simon of Samaria, still try.

The Holy Spirit is a revolutionary. Pentecost had overturned Simon’s position in Samaria and he wanted it back. In a vain and blasphemous attempt at a reputation recovery, Simon offered Peter silver for the Spirit’s power but received a curse instead. Simeon prophesied of Jesus in his infancy, “this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed” (Luke 2:34, emphasis mine). A little more than three decades later, the Spirit continued Christ’s post-ascension revolution. Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not stand against His Church (Matthew 16:18). In Samaria, hell’s gates were kept by Simon and both fell when the Spirit-empowered Church came to town.

The Holy Spirit is a revealer. Even though Simon had been baptized by Philip, Peter nevertheless discerned that Simon had never been born again by the Spirit. For that reason, Simon had no “part” or share in Christ’s Church. Simon’s motives were wrong because he was full of poison, not the person of the Holy Spirit. Unlike the Spirit-inspired generosity which was so common in the early days of the Church (Acts 2:42-45), Simon was inspired by his greed. Peter ordered Simon to repent of his wickedness and pray for forgiveness, but Simon refused. Like a criminal caught ‘red-handed’, Simon’s only interest was in avoiding the consequences of his crime, not repenting of his sin. The Spirit had uncovered Simon’s contempt for Christ.

The Holy Spirit is a rejecter. What if Acts 8 was presented as a Facebook conversation between Pastor Peter and Simon the parishioner? What sorts of comments would we expect to receive? One can almost imagine the oft-misquoted critiques: “’Judge not.’ ‘Pastor Peter, don’t be a Pharisee.’ ‘If Jesus was here, he’d hang out with sinners like Simon and reject you, Mr. Pharisee.’” Sometimes I worry that the Church has become so intoxicated by tolerance she has lost the ‘Gospel guts’ needed to respond to such criticisms with the Spirit of Truth and the Word of God. Simon’s story ends with him outside, impenitent, and without grace. How will your story end? Simon was full of poison. With what or whom are you full?

The Holy Spirit is a reshaper. Andrew Carnegie became a multi-billionaire as a steel manufacturer. What was the source of his success? He once wisely observed, “Take away my people but leave my factories and grass will soon grow up through the floors of my factories. But leave my people and take my factories and those people will soon build better factories.” Perhaps the Church could take a lesson from Carnegie about the Producer and His produce. The Church doesn’t produce the Spirit, the Spirit produces the Church! When the Holy Spirit applies Jesus’ work to our hearts and souls, lives are powerfully transformed for the glory of God. We are not called to reshape the priceless image of God’s Son, but to be reshaped as His priceless image!

Are you being reshaped? When you are, you’ll have a share in the Priceless.

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Priceless Subversion

Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered them money, saying, “Give me this power also, so that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 8:18-19

Reducing grace to trade strips it of holiness and fundamentally changes grace to graft. Spiritual corruption—much like political corruption—has been with us since mankind fell from grace. We have come to accept and even expect it as a part of every civilized society. But what does the holy and incorruptible God think of those who would purchase spiritual favor for selfish purposes?

A magician’s trick? Having made a fortune performing for mesmerized crowds, Simon carefully observed every nuance of Peter’s and John’s ‘magical’ ministry. The Apostles had sent them from Jerusalem to Samaria to pray so that the Samaritans who had accepted the word of God would also receive the Holy Spirit. Peter and John laid their Jesus-authorized hands-on Samaritan believers and abracadabra (note the term’s Aramaic origins), “they received the Holy Spirit”. Instead of a miracle, Simon saw magic. In place of unobtainable power, Simon beheld unimaginable profit. Like Ananias and Sapphira before him (Acts 5:1-11), Simon desired to purchase a position and a reputation in the holy Church of Jesus Christ. What was his treachery? Reducing God’s grace to graft.

A magician’s treachery. In memory of Simon the Magician of Samaria, simony was a term coined by the Church for the buying and selling of ecclesiastical offices, privileges, or spiritual gifts and graces. Simony blasphemes Holy God by seeking to put Him ‘under the thumb’ of unholy man and hold a conjurer’s control over Him. Peter responded to Simon’s offer by cursing him: “To hell with your money! And you along with it” (Acts 8:20, MSG). Following Peter’s pattern, Simony was condemned by the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451. By his offer, Simon proved that he did not have the Holy Spirit and had not been born again. His ‘faith’ was invalidated by his Satanic motivation. Perhaps the most God-offending aspect of Simon’s offer is that it attempted to eliminate his need for Christ. No one can come to the Father except through Christ Jesus (John 14:6) and His atoning work on the cross is applied to us by the Holy Spirit (John 1:32-33, 16:7-15, Titus 2:11-14, Hebrews 10:29). Money cannot replace our Mediator and no silver can purchase our salvation. Affixing a monetary value to God’s power reduces the Priceless to the priced. In the final analysis, ‘grace by graft’ is nothing less than treachery against King Jesus.

A modern trade. Although condemned by scripture and the Church, simony is still in practice. ‘Grace by graft’ is easily observable in the messages of televangelists who solicit ‘seed faith gifts’ and who promise a special ‘anointing’ or blessing. But what of the soft simony of trading God’s favor for our good behavior? Sometimes we even falsely believe in the merit of ‘theological correctness’ more than the unmerited favor of our Father. Jesus didn’t die for us to engage the Father in trade but in trust!

A magnificent trade. Our record of spiritual bankruptcy was given to Jesus just as his record of spiritual bounty was gifted to us. The Father’s great exchange—a double imputation—received by faith alone is the economy of our salvation (2 Corinthians 5:21). Anything less is ‘grace by graft’.

A masterful teacher. I once knew a beloved pastor who was often taken out to dinner by members of his congregation. Being a principled man, he never let his hosts pay for his meals. He always insisted on paying the whole check himself, especially if his host was wealthy. Why make a big deal of such a small matter? The wise shepherd was careful to keep everyone from believing they could purchase favor with God or even with His ministers.

What currency do you trade for favor with the God of grace?

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Priceless Solidarity

 Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:14-15

The Church and the world are deeply divided. What is going to take to unite them? Who can bring us all into solidarity? Sometimes the greatest divides separate us from those who live in closest proximity.

Solidarity is community. “People who have the same interests, goals, and standards” have solidarity. In his book, The Prevailing Church, Randy Pope describes the Samaritans—at the time of Jesus’ ascension—as people who were geographically near but relationally distant from the Church. Although Samaria was in central Israel, for a millennium the Jews and Samaritans held deep animosity for each other. However, they had a shared history, culture, and language. About five years after Pentecost, Jews and Samaritans also began to share the same Savior.

Solidarity is commanded. Using the imperative “Go”, Jesus ordered His Apostolic Church into “all…Samaria” (Acts 1:8). The geographically near but relationally distant would be brought into proximity through Gospel proclamation. “All” implies a thorough evangelization and describes an occupying force, not a simple march through enemy territory on the way to a higher value target. A country once divided by idolatry, politics, wars, exile, and centuries of racial hatred would be lovingly united in the Kingdom of God. Hell’s mighty gates in Samaria fell by the soft soldiery of the Savior. Who is geographically close to you but relationally distant? Who are your Samaritans?

Solidarity has a character. The word of God had been received by the Samaritans. They had even received John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance and preparation in Jesus’ name, but they had not yet received the Holy Spirit. Pentecost had yet to take place in Samaria as it had in Jerusalem. We must be very careful to distinguish here the Spirit’s role in saving the Samaritans from the historic pouring of the Spirit on the Samaritan Church. There would have been no reception of God’s word, repentance, confession of faith, nor salvation apart from the Spirit’s work. John the Baptist prophesied of Jesus, “I baptize with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:8). The Apostles prayed, but Jesus, in fulfillment of John’s promise, baptized the Samaritans with the Holy Spirit. Jesus had commanded the Apostles to receive the Spirit and to go into “all…Samaria” with the Spirit’s presence and power. When the power of hellish strife is broken, a new ethos permeates because of the distinctive and divine person ruling. Kingdom solidarity is characteristic of the Holy Spirit in the “love, joy, peace, and self-control” He produces (Galatians 5:22). The Spirit fights against our flesh and strives for solidarity. Do you?

Solidarity is a calling. Corrie Ten Boom was called to solidarity. Her Samaritans were Nazis, Gestapo officers, and concentration camp guards. While they were held captive in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, Corrie and her older sister Betsie fought against bitterness. God used Betsie to call Corrie as an agent of Christian solidarity. A few days before she died in the camp, Betsie told Corrie

“Concentration camps are now used to destroy people. After the war, there will be no use for them. We must ask God to give us one, and we will use it to build up lives.”

German friends helped Corrie rent a former concentration camp in Darmstadt, with room for about 160 refugees. Soon it was full, and they had a waiting list. Barbed wire disappeared, flowers appeared in window boxes, and cheerful paint was applied to the drab, gray buildings. Local pastors and church members helped with the building projects.

Her purpose (in carrying out Betsie’s vision) was to help people find security in Jesus Christ in the midst of the insecurity of building a new existence among the war ruins (Corrie ten Boom; Her Life, Her Faith, Carole Carlson).

An unmarried, fifty-two-year-old Dutch watchmaker, filled with the Holy Spirit and armed with a power greater than the Third Reich, killed her enemy with cross-purchased kindness. Her’s was a priceless solidarity. Is yours?

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