Week of Feb. 16

Same Word, Different Calling, and New Application

Read: Leviticus 26-27; Acts 23

“The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.’”
Acts 23:11, ESV


“The buck stops here” means that the “responsibility for something cannot or should not be passed to someone else” (Oxford Dictionaries). Many believe that the “buck stopped” with the first eyewitnesses of Christ’s earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension. Therefore, the Acts 1:8 mantle to be witnesses fell upon their shoulders, so when they passed off the scene, the mandate ceased with them. Hold on! Don’t click off the devotional because you think that I will be arm twisting you to take up an evangelistic ministry! (I’m chuckling). Let’s consider an important changing of the tide that occurs in Acts 23 and how it applies directly to our lives today.

A Biblical Lens

Paul has been placed on the “witness stand” in chapter 23. I intend for this to have a double meaning as we shall soon see. The Jews, not the Romans, would be the ones who understood the legal ramifications of the situation (cf. 22:30). The Jews have been after Paul for “three missionary journeys,” so to speak, and now they finally have him in the place where they wanted him, but all of it screams that this is the precise spot where “God placed him” (I’m smiling). That’s just great! Paul had been navigating a treacherous Gospel river all this time for this moment? Well, sort of! I know. However, do not go and cancel the Youth Summer Mission Trip just yet. Seriously, how do I know that God actually does this sort of thing to His servants?

The tide shifts in Acts 23:11 when God “stands” next to Paul and uses the word “testify” (i.e. “witness”; See Acts 1:8). Oh. My. Soul. The word comes from a root that means “to bear in mind” and “to remember” and “to be careful.” Its basic usage was in the legal sphere where it denotes “one who can and does speak from personal experience about actions in which he took part and which happened to him, or about persons and relations known to him” (μάρτυς, in Theo Dict., 476). In the New Testament, it carries the meanings of giving witness “to ascertainable facts and also in that of witness to truths,” and “the making known and confession of conviction” (Theo Dict, 489). “You shall be my witnesses was first given to the Apostles by God, then it is given again by Him in this passage! So, what’s the big deal?

Paul was to bear witness for Christ and his saving work by expounding its significance and calling others to faith in him. Paul is not a factual witness in the same sense as the older apostles because he cannot guarantee the story of Christ from first-hand knowledge. He is, however, a witness to truth who seeks to spread the Christian faith by confession. The result is that, when the term μάρτυς is applied to Paul, the second aspect begins to predominate over the first, whereas the reverse is true when the term is used of the older apostles. The “buck,” it appears, rests in our hands! Read on.

A Moral Pathway

The phrase, “the buck stops here” was popularized by American President Harry S. Truman. The words were written on a sign that rested on his desk in the White House. It had been seen by a friend of the President while making a stop at the Federal Reformatory in El Reno, Oklahoma. He asked for a copy to be made for the President and gave it to him as a gift. The words derive from the slang expression “pass the buck” which means to pass the responsibility on to someone else.

The latter expression originated from the card game of poker. A “marker” or “counter,” often in the frontier days, was a buckhorn knife handle. It was used to indicate the person whose turn it was to deal the cards. If a player did not want to deal, he would pass the responsibility by “passing the buck,” as the counter came to be called, to the next player.

In Truman’s farewell speech in January 1953, he stated, “The President—whoever he is—has to decide. He can’t pass the buck to anybody. . .” (Truman Library). “Whoever he is” signaled that the person who followed Truman would take up the responsibility. The underlying moral principle is clear: There is a duty to lead the nation and this requires decisions and actions for that which is good and right. The “buck” for Gospel witnesses lies before each serious Christ-follower. The point is not to pass it off. That which is good and right in Christ’s eyes must be declared.

For Your Journaling

1. Look back over your daily calendar for the previous month. How many “interruptions” were actually God’s intended as opportunities for you, His witness? Ask God to open your eyes to the opportunities to speak a word about Christ in your daily encounters.

2. It’s church decision time. The “buck,” so to speak, lies on the table before your faith community. Examine prayerfully your equipping ministry. Are you actually preparing Christ-followers to follow after Christ?” (Acts 1:8; 23:11). Pray to hear clearly God’s call to testify where He sends you, then act upon that call.

May all your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock