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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Purifying Power

And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.”

Acts 8:27-29

Have you ever seen the perverted purified? When the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Prince William Sound, Alaska on March 24, 1989, the ship spilled eleven million gallons of crude oil into the delicate ecosystem. Contaminated sea otters, birds, and other creatures were featured on the nightly news as a sad reminder of creation’s fragility. Years later, I remember seeing an advertisement boasting the ‘gentle power’ of Dawn dishwashing soap to decontaminate ducklings in Alaska following the environmental disaster of 1989.

By what power is the perverted purified? By whose power are the defiled made disciples of Jesus Christ?

He elects the excluded. Previously, the Holy Spirit sent Philip to a city (Acts 8:5), to a country, to a people, but in this account, he was sent to a single person. The Ethiopian was likely chosen—or sold by his parents as a child—to enter public service. To set a seal of trust on him for a special office around royal women, he was emasculated (Daniel 1:3-4). In the eyes of first century Judaism, the Ethiopian eunuch was perverted in body and soul and therefore to be excluded from worship in Jerusalem’s Temple (Deuteronomy 23:1). However, those who were once excluded because of indelible externals will be washed clean by irrevocable internals and included by the Holy Spirit of God.

He embraces the excluded. Worship and Bible study are evidence of the Holy Spirit’s regenerating presence in the Ethiopian eunuch. He went up to Jerusalem to worship and as he returned home, he read aloud from Isaiah while riding in his chariot. The Spirit directed Philip the Evangelist to intervene, but not at the Temple. Philip was commanded to “go over and join” the Ethiopian’s chariot. God broke down a wall of separation between Jews (Philip) and Gentiles (Ethiopians), but He also embraced the excluded (eunuchs) because of Jesus’ sacrifice.

In the Parable of the Banquet (Luke 14:13-14), Jesus said: “But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you (emphasis mine).” In Christ, God chooses the foreign, rejected, crippled, and perverted and applies the purifying power of His Spirit.

If you were God, how would you choose your friends?

When I was in the second grade, a classmate invited me to his birthday party. The problem was, I didn’t want to go. “If I go to his party, I’ll have to buy him a present and I don’t like him enough for that. Besides, the kids at school don’t really like him”, were the bratty rationalizations offered to my father. But dad, recognizing a teachable moment, said “Son, you don’t choose friends because they already have lots of friends or because of what they can give you. Be a friend to someone who has no friends. Give gifts to those who can give you nothing in return. Be the only friend someone has.” In a brief but unforgettable instant, he taught me about God’s grace in Jesus, the “friend of sinners”.

Aren’t you glad the Omnipotent God targets impotent men?

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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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