Key verse: 1 Samuel 7:12
Big idea: God reigns in the past and the future.
One of my favorite hymns is Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing. One of the verses comes from our text today:
Here I raise my Ebenezer
Hither by thy help, I've come
And I hope by thy good pleasure
Safely to arrive at home
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wand'ring from the fold of God
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood
When Samuel was judging the Israelites and they were able to drive back the Philistines, Samuel set up a stone and named it Ebenezer, "help stone." He explained that it was because God had helped them this far. "This far," like in English, has two possible meanings: it can mean up to this point in time, or up to this border in space. In this case, maybe both!
Over and over again in the Old Testament, the Israelites set up stone monuments to commemorate God's deliverance. It was because they knew how forgetful human beings can be, and how quickly yesterday's blessings are crowded out by tomorrow's fears. These monuments reminded them that God had been with them in the past, and that He would still be with them in the future. It is the same way with us. God had brought us this far! In time, He has carried us to this point in your life. In "space," He has taught you and me so many things and helped us to grow past so many old habits and hurts. Is he going to stop now? No, beloved, when we look at our Ebenezer, we remember that God has brought us this far and will take us home. The God who sought you with His own blood when you were His enemy is not going to abandon you now that you are His child.
Discussion idea: Where is your "Ebenezer"? What has God helped you through in the past that can reassure you of His help in the present and future?
Prayer focus: Worship God for His faithfulness and repent of your forgetfulness.
Key Verse: Acts 24:21
Big Idea: The Church of Jesus is built on the resurrection.
Paul had been providentially protected and smuggled in the night to the palace of Herod to await his accusers. Ananias, the high priest who ruled from AD 48-59, came with a lawyer to make his case against Paul to Antonius Felix, the procurator of Judea. Ananias didn't need to follow Paul through this trial, but the same temper that he had displayed at the Sanhedrin (Acts 23:3) brought him to Caesarea with a heart full of hate. The charges were a desecration of the Temple and inciting the people.
Paul quickly showed that both were ridiculous. He had been purified in the Temple, and if he had started a riot, there would be witnesses. No, Paul told Felix, he was on trial for one thing only: the resurrection of the dead. Over and over again, the book of Acts hammers home this theme. If death is the end, for Jesus and us, then the life of Christ means nothing. But if He rose from the dead, and we will too to give an account of our lives to God, the life of Christ means everything. In Acts, we have seen the ongoing works of Jesus through His body. By this point, the churches have overcome social, racial, and cultural barriers to form coherent bodies.
If God is not assembling us by a common set of interests or a common background, what is the secret? Paul would boldly testify that it is the resurrection of Jesus that breaks down all old barriers and brings us together. Our unity is centered not on a style of music, a type of outreach, or an earthly political allegiance. The historical fact that Jesus died and rose again is the center of the Christian faith, and without it, there is nothing. Calvary is the hill worth dying on because all of our hope is in our Savior who gave His life and took it up on the third day.
For two years, Paul would wait in prison without resolution, but he continued to preach the same message to guards, to Felix, and to anyone else who would listen. Felix was looking for a bribe, Ananias was looking to take a problem off his hands, but Paul only cared about one thing: Jesus died for me and rose again. That is the foundation of my life individually, of your life, and of our life corporately. We are bought with a price.
Discussion Idea: Does it matter that Christianity is based on a historical event, instead of a statement or a vision? Can you have something like Christianity without the resurrection of Jesus?
Prayer Focus: Pray for boldness, like Paul had, to preach Christ crucified at all times, and to not let our deepest fellowships be built on anything else.