Martin Collins, focusing on Paul's third trial before a secular ruler, following the inconclusive decisions before Felix and Festus, points out that King Agrippa was of a more decisive character. He sought to implement Paul's appeal to Caesar without delay. Speaking to the King, the Apostle stated his pre-conversion experience as a Pharisee, his conversion experience on the road to Damascus, and his post conversion commitment to execute his God-ordained commission. In the process, he refuted the false charges of violating the laws of the Torah, committing heresy and blasphemy, and committing treason against Caesar, the same charges previously levelled against Jesus Christ. Agrippa, an erudite individual with a keen understanding of Jewish customs, listened intently as Paul refuted all the false charges. In the end, he claimed to be "almost persuaded' by Paul's testimony and acknowledged that Paul was innocent. He would have acquitted him if he had not appealed to Caesar. In reality, what appeared to be a series of disappointing judicial set-backs for Paul was actually the outworking of God's strategy to place the Apostle before even higher levels of secular leadership. As God's called-out ones, we must learn to follow in the footsteps of Paul, being willing to trust God when the here-and-now in our experience appears problematic, knowing that God is sovereign over all.
Martin Collins points out the potential dangers of a recent trend called "social scoring"—the rating of a person's influence by such criteria as the number of social media followers on Twitter and Facebook. The effect will be to create a 'caste system," as media platforms or government bureaucrats implement automated algorithms to determine whether one is 'trustworthy' or not—calculated by how comments, likes, or dislikes conform with politically correct dogma. When the dubious social score is paired with FICO data, a person's ability to take part in normal economic activity (buying and selling) may be jeopardized. Social scoring would hold free speech hostage as illiberal political agendas would punish citizens for "politically incorrect" behavior. Lacking God's moral compass, the world judges harshly and unfairly, posing a grave danger for God's called-out ones and those suspected of harboring old-fashioned moral standards.
Kim Myers, reflecting on Amos’s prophecy to ancient Israel in Amos 5:11, castigating the leaders for their shabby treatment to the poor and destitute in society, draws a parallel to America’s leaders today, allowing or creating situations in which the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, leading to record numbers of our citizenry succumbing to homelessness, poverty, and drug addiction. Like ancient Israel, modern Israel (including America) takes advantage of the poor, using the illegal immigration tidal wave for profit and political power. When a nation loses its morals, people feel free to take advantage of one another, especially the poor. God hates governments which take advantage of the poor, a segment of the population people find easy to take advantage of because they are trusting, helpless, and dependent. In God’s Church, we also have poor, meek, and handicapped individuals. We are mandated to love the brethren, treating them as we would a blood relative. All of us could improve our sensitivity to people’s needs, especially when we have the financial means at the Feast of Tabernacles, sharing our time, treasure, and compassion for those less fortunate than ourselves. We do not have to be wealthy to be hospitable, but we should not be stingy or cheap when we have the means to serve one another. We have a mandate from Almighty God to let brotherly love continue through our hospitality and generosity.
Martin Collins, asking us to ponder God's promise to support and save us in our trials, reminds us of the biblical examples of deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Nebuchadnezzar evidently did not like the end of Daniel's interpretation of his dream, desiring that more, or perhaps all, of the image should have been gold. Nebuchadnezzar's jealousy or the jealousy of his cohorts evidently led to the conspiracy against Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When the commands of a secular state conflicts with God's commands, we face the same dilemma as was faced by these three brave Jewish men. Even though rulers have been appointed by God, their disregard for God does not give us license to follow suit or rationalize ourselves into dangerous compromises. Like Shadrach, Meshach, Abednego, and Daniel who realized that God is sovereign, thoroughly knew the Scriptures, and were willing to die for their convictions, we must exercise our spiritual convictions rather than our preferences. Do we require other people to stand before we take a stand? Are our beliefs non-negotiable? Must we be assured of victory before we stand? Do we live what we claim to believe? Do others see that we live these beliefs consistently? Do others see our faith in action? Are we prepared to say that going against these convictions constitutes sin? God stands with His believers in their trials. Nebuchadnezzar's refusal to acknowledge God's sovereignty led to insanity, madness, and psychotic behavior. The Most High rules and has the last word; all sins will be eventually judged. America's pride will be destroyed because its leaders have arrogated to themselves that which only applies to God. This behavior makes them beast-like. When man turns away from God, God gives them up to a base, perverted, degenerate, and reprobate mind with wicked, obsessive desires, far, far worse than any natural beast. If we humble ourselves, not arrogating God's glory, He has promised to exalt us.
What does God see in Israel that so affronts Him that He has to swear "by His holiness"? Israel had every opportunity that the Gentiles did not have: His calling, His promises, His Word, His laws. He gave the Israelites these gifts to help them develop into His sons and daughters, but God sees them as diametrically opposite of Himself. Should not God expect to see some of His characteristics in His sons?
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the topic of exercising ones legal rights, examining scriptures pertaining to the subject, including taking a brother to court, submitting to civil government, paying taxes, responding to lawsuits, and dealing with corrupt court systems and unfair settlements. As Paul (through the brave intervention of his young nephew) is miraculously rescued (by half a cohort of Roman soldiers commanded by Lysias) from the mob in Jerusalem (who had taken a rash vow to murder Paul) and taken to Caesarea (where he was tried for sedition before Felix), he uses every trial as an opportunity to bear witness to Christ, preaching the Gospel. As Paul successfully confutes the spurious sedition charges, he introduces Felix to the particular (exculpatory) tenets of The Way.Felix (fearing a possible insurrection of the Jews) puts Paul in protective custody. After a private conversation, Paul unwittingly pricks the conscience of Felix, keeping himself incarcerated until the appointment of the next governor, Festus, to whom he would appeal (as a right of a Roman citizen) to Caesar.
John Ritenbaugh observes that the people to whom Amos addresses have the mistaken assumption that because they have made the covenant with God that they complacently bask in a kind of divine favoritism—God's country, God's people, God's church. God's holy and spiritual law, describing and defining His standard of holiness, His character, nature, or essence, serves as the template into which our character needs to be formed or molded. The combination of the redeeming and the law-giving aspects of God's nature determines the plumb line against which all of us are judged. Jacob's descendents, embracing false religion (after the idolatrous, syncretistic manner of Jeroboam I) have severely placed a strain upon God's patience. As members of the Israel of God, we must assiduously measure up to God's plumb line, insisting upon positive moral purity in all our thoughts and behaviors, avoiding sin by doing good—a course that will put us totally out of sync with the rest of society—a society ripe in sin and immorality, begging for harsh correction.
John Ritenbaugh observes that we need to learn how to adjust to time as God views it—a view that is vastly different from ours. In Jesus' prayer in John 17, He asks for unity in relationships, especially cooperation, reconciliation and peace within the emerging, developing family of God. We are to glorify God by carrying on the work that He has initiated by His death and the example of His life. God will save and glorify those who are doing the work (bearing our cross, enduring, and witnessing through our lives). Unlike the other accounts of Jesus' trial and crucifixion seeming to show His passivity, John shows Jesus totally in charge, purposefully and courageously moving across the Brook Kidron to meet the advancing enemy to willingly lay down His life. The entire trial of Jesus was a disgusting mockery of justice, built on false charges, false witnesses, and a number of compromised judges.
John Ritenbaugh continues to examine the details of the vine and branch analogy concluding that Jesus presents Himself as the true or genuine Vine, as contrasted to the unfaithful or degenerate vine (ancient Israel). As the church (the Israel of God) is obligated to remain organically attached to Christ (the True Vine), there is no such thing as an "independent Christian." Conversion involves a continuous reciprocal process in which God displays His love to us and we respond reciprocally to Him. Continuing in His Love by giving ourselves back to Him is our part of this mutual reciprocal process. Conforming to God's purpose will inevitably bring friction and persecution from the world and often from our own physical family. Throughout history, five false charges have been made against Christians claiming they were: (1) insurrectionists, (2) cannibals, (3) having flagrant immorality, (4) arsonists or incendiaries, and (5) dividing or separating families. God's Holy Spirit gives us understanding by piecing things together from the scripture, convicting us and allowing us to go through life's experiences through the prism of scriptural truths.
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