“Chosen Instrument” ( Acts 9: 1: HCSB ) by Carley Evans

Would you pick Saul from among the Pharisees to be one of your very best friends? Would you pick him to represent you to people who don’t know you; who may not even want to know you? I doubt I would, given a choice. I’d probably pick someone who actually likes me to represent me to people who don’t know me, or who, if they did know me, probably wouldn’t like me.

But Jesus does pick Saul. Even as “Saul is still breathing threats and murder against the disciples,” Jesus appears as a flash of light from heaven; this light is so intense, Saul falls to the ground. He hears Jesus ask, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4)

Saul wants to know who is speaking from the light. The voice says, “I Am Jesus, the One you are persecuting.” Then He tells Saul to go into the city. “And you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:5-6) Saul obeys. Despite being blinded, he allows his men to lead him to Damascus. He remains blind and does not eat or drink for three days.

The Lord prepares for Saul’s coming; He appears in a vision to Ananias, telling him to travel to the street called “Straight” to the house of Judas where he will find a man from Tarsus who is called Saul. Ananias protests briefly as he’s heard “how much harm [Saul] has done to [God’s] saints in Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:13)

The Lord proclaims, “Go! For this man is My chosen instrument to take My Name to Gentiles, kings, and the Israelites. I will show him how much he must suffer for My Name!” (Acts 9:15-16)

The Lord is not punishing Saul for the persecutions, threats, murders performed as a Pharisee. Rather, He is confirming that in serving the Lord, Saul will suffer.

Ananias explains this to Saul. He tells him that he is to regain his sight and “be filled with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 9:17) Immediately Saul’s sight returns. “Then he gets up and is baptized.” (Acts 9:18)

Saul knows there’s no reason to delay. “Immediately he begins proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues: ‘He is the Son of God.'” (Acts 9:20) In no time at all, the Jews are conspiring to kill him.

Yet when Saul goes to Jerusalem and “tries to associate with the disciples, they are afraid of him, since they do not believe he is a disciple.” (Acts 9:26)

Likely the disciples in Jerusalem are bewildered that Jesus has given this Pharisee such authority to preach the gospel. Does this man, who has done such evil deeds against Christians, really have the Holy Spirit? How is that possible? Why would God choose him?

Again, a case of judging by appearances — something with which most of us are familiar. On the other hand, Jesus knows everything about Saul. He knows things about Saul no one else can possibly know. And, Jesus calls Saul “My chosen instrument.”

“Filled With Fear” ( Hebrews 10: 29, Darby ) by Carley Evans

“Of how much worse punishment, think ye, shall he be judged worthy who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and esteemed the blood of the covenant, whereby he has been sanctified, common, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?”

What is insulting to the Spirit of grace? How do I fail to show esteem to the blood of the covenant? How do I trod the Son of God under my feet? How do I call my salvation, my sanctification ‘common?’

Likely numerous answers to those questions exist — which is rather odd considering we each have the same Holy Spirit dwelling within. I know some believe it is our sins which insult the Spirit of grace, trod the Lord God under our feet, and call common our great salvation. I think it’s adding to the gospel.

Jesus calls the Pharisees and scribes a “brood of vipers” — persons who make it impossible for people to follow God by loading heavy burdens upon them. Paul complains of the legalistic Jewish Christians who demand from others — circumcision, refraining from certain foods, and celebrating certain days — to follow Jesus.

The disciples are bewildered when Jesus tells the rich young man who obeys all the rules and regulations, but refuses to give his all and follow after the Lord, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” They ask Jesus, “Then who can be saved?” And Jesus, as always, gives them the perfect and only answer, “With men, this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”

“Experts In Law Reject God’s Purpose” ( Luke 7: 30, NIV ) by Carley Evans

Reads like a headline, doesn’t it? “Hear ye, hear ye: Experts in the Law Reject the Purposes of God.” Luke writes this rejection of God’s purpose for these religious experts is due to the fact they are not baptized by John. Rather, “they are like children sitting in the marketplace and calling out to each other.” (Luke 7:32) The experts in the law complain that no one responds to their “flute” or to their “dirge” — people neither dance to their joyous tune nor do they cry at their morose funeral march.

The experts in the law complain that John the Baptist “has a demon” even though he “comes neither eating bread nor drinking wine.” (Luke 7:33) They complain even more when Jesus, “the Son of Man comes eating and drinking.” They call Jesus “a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” (Luke 7:34) Only the way of the old covenant works for them. They follow only Moses, missing completely that Moses always points to Jesus, the Messiah.

And how Jesus longs to gather these religious leaders to Himself, but they reject His purposes for them because they reject the means to the end they so desire. They refuse baptism by John.

“Dropping The First Stone” ( John 8: 7, KJV ) by Carley Evans

Jesus says to the woman — rightfully accused by men — of adultery, “Neither do I condemn you.” Jesus is not saying she is not guilty of her crime, just that she is not going to die for it. We get this wrong so often in our daily walk with ourselves and with others. We think somehow persons who sin, including ourselves, need punishment. Let’s lock them away; let’s keep them from practicing their sins; let’s keep them out of our government, our schools, our churches, our neighborhoods, our families. Or, if it is ourselves we blame, we decide we must wallow in our guilt, practice asceticism or even self-flagellation.

So often we stand at the edge of the crowd looking on at other people who we’ve judged as sinful, and we ready ourselves to cast the first stone.

And, if we listen at all to the Lord, we hear Jesus’ soft voice saying, “Let he that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” And, if we understand the Lord, we feel that stone drop from our hand.

Jesus says to the woman and to us, “Go, and sin no more.”

“Which Way To Good?” ( Jeremiah 6: 16, HCSB ) by Carley Evans

The Lord God says, “Stand by the roadways and look. Ask about the ancient paths: Which is the way to good? Then take it and find rest for yourselves. But they protest, ‘We won’t!’ I appoint watchmen over you and say, ‘Listen for the sound of the ram’s horn.’ But they protest, ‘We won’t listen!’ ” (Jeremiah 6:16-17)

John the Baptist, in a camel-hair garment and leather belt around his waist, comes to the Wilderness of Judea and says, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near!” John, who eats locusts and honey, is the “voice of one crying out in the wilderness: Prepare the way for the Lord; make His paths straight!” (Matthew 3:2-3) People listen, flocking to him to confess their sins and be baptized in the Jordan River.

Among these people are Sadducees and Pharisees. John calls out to them, “Brood of vipers!” The religious leaders of his day; and John calls them ‘vipers.’ He asks them, “Who warns you to flee the coming wrath?” essentially agreeing they own the knowledge needed to escape destruction. He goes on, however, to accuse them of not acting on that knowledge. “Therefore,” John says, “produce fruit consistent with repentance.” John warns them with the ram’s horn not to presume that because Abraham is their father, they are safe. God is able to make His children “from these stones!” declares John. The Baptist is almost saying, these stones are better children of God than you are! (Matthew 3:7-10) 

John baptizes with water, but tells of “the One who is coming after me.” (Matthew 3:11) John knows Jesus is more powerful and will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire. The Holy Spirit will seal the repentant; and “the chaff He will burn up with fire that never goes out.” (Matthew 3:12) 

Which is the way to good? Jesus says, “I Am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6)

“No One Will Say” ( Luke 17: 20-21, HCSB ) by Carley Evans

The Pharisees ask Jesus when the kingdom of God is going to appear. Jesus tells them, “The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable.”

“The kingdom of God is not coming with something observable” — really?

So many people today talk about Jesus’ return, of His appearing in the clouds, of the disappearance of presumably millions of Christians in an instant flash. Sounds observable to me! Sounds like people are going to say, “‘Look here!’ or ‘there!'”

But Jesus says, “You see, the kingdom of God is among you.”

The Pharisees do not see, but think they do. Therefore, they remain blind. The disciples listen. Jesus tells them they are going to “long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but won’t see it.” (Luke 17:22) He warns them not “to follow or run after” false messiahs just because people get excited and say, “Look here!” (Luke 17:23) Rather, the kingdom of God is within them, and within us.

Jesus says, “The man in the field must not turn back.” (Luke 17:31)

“Not The Smallest Letter” ( Matthew 5: 18, HCSB ) by Carley Evans

Jesus tells us not to assume He comes to destroy the Law; rather He comes to fulfill the Law. He warns that unless we are more righteous than the scribes and Pharisees, we “will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) It is not enough to refrain from murder; we must refrain from being angry or insulting. It is not enough that we refrain from adultery; we must refrain from lust. It is not enough that we keep our oaths; we must not make oaths at all. It is not enough to love our neighbor; we must also love our enemy. It is not enough to be righteous; we must not be righteous “in front of people, to be seen by them.” (Matthew 6:1) It is not enough to pray; we must not pray in public “to be seen by people” or “babble like the idolators, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words.” (Matthew 6:5,7) It is not enough to fast; we must “put oil on [our] heads, and wash [our] faces.” (Matthew 6:17)

“Whoever breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches people to do so will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)

Looking in the mirror, I see the least in the kingdom of heaven for I break the least of these commands more times than I can count. I find no room in my heart for self-righteousness. The only righteousness I have belongs to another — my righteousness rests solely on the finished work of Jesus Christ, who fulfills the Law and the Prophets.

“Because They Suffer” ( Luke 13: 2, ESV ) by Carley Evans

Jesus warns that those who suffer are not worse sinners than others. He uses the example of eighteen who are killed when the tower in Siloam falls on them. He says these are not “worse offenders than all the others who live in Jerusalem.” (Luke 13:4) Then Jesus twice tells us that “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3,5)

Sin is sin, says Jesus. We all alike are sheep gone astray, and unless we repent and rely upon the sacrifice of Jesus, we die in our sin.

A woman is caught in adultery, and the Pharisees bring her to Jesus for judgment. The Pharisees challenge the Lord to follow the Law of Moses, which calls for the woman to be stoned to death. They rhetorically ask,”So what do You say?” (John 8:5) Jesus writes in the dirt. When He stands, He says to the Pharisees, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” (John 8:7) He writes in the dirt again. One by one, the Pharisees walk away, “beginning with the older ones” until Jesus and the woman are alone. (John 8:9) Jesus stands up, looks at the woman and asks her where her accusers have gone. He wants to know if anyone is left to accuse her. And she says, “No one, Lord.” (John 8:11)

Jesus tells her, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:11)

Repent, or perish; sin is sin; all alike are gone astray. And, Jesus says, “Neither do I condemn you.” I can hear Him say, “Why would I condemn you? I came here to earth to save you, not to judge you. My blood covers your sin. You suffer, but not any more than anyone else. Come; turn and follow Me.”

“And They Waited To Accuse Him” ( Mark 3: 2, ESV ) by Carley Evans

Jesus is in the synagogue on the Sabbath; a man with a withered hand is also there. The Pharisees watch Jesus to see if He will heal the man unlawfully on the Sabbath. Jesus “grieves at their hardness of heart” and is angry that these religious leaders do not recognize that it is “lawful on the Sabbath to do good” rather than to do or allow harm. (Mark 3:5,4) And of course Jesus restores the man’s withered hand. The Pharisees immediately plot “how to destroy [Jesus]” “with the Herodians.” (Mark 3:6)

Jesus sees Matthew “sitting at the tax booth” and calls to him to follow. “And he rises and follows [Jesus].” (Matthew 9:9) Later, Jesus joins Matthew, other tax collectors, and sinners at a house; He reclines at the table amidst sinners. The Pharisees accuse, asking Jesus’ disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Matthew 9:11) Jesus hears. He tells them that those who are well have no need of a doctor while those who are sick need healing. Then Jesus says, “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.'” (Matthew 9:13)

“Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, ‘Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts” as do the Pharisees. “They always go astray in their heart; they do not know My ways. As I swear in My wrath, ‘They shall not enter My rest.'” (Hebrews 3:7-8,10-11)