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Acts: For the Cause of Christ #27

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #27

Title: Ephesus

Acts 19:1-41

Review of 18

Last time we saw Paul’s time in Corinth. How the Lord encouraged and protected him for 18 months of ministry. We saw how God uses different people in different ways for the ministry. We were reminded that God is faithful and trustworthy, He will do what He says He will do.

Paul in Ephesus – vv 1-10

Luke returns our focus back on Paul and we find him in Ephesus. We see that he traveled overland again came to Ephesus from the east. He arrived sometime after Apollos had left and was in Corinth. Paul has now arrived in Ephesus, has probably met up with Priscilla and Aquila again, and he begins his ministry in Ephesus which last more than two years.

The City

Ephesus was the major city in Asia during Roman times. It was the Roman capital for the province, a major commercial center, and port, and boasted a quarter of a million populace. That population put them just behind Rome. Ephesus was a free Greek city so they had their own senate/assembly for self-rule, though the city held the home the Roman governor for the province.

Ephesus held a large Jewish community, partly because they were given privileges from a partisan of Julius Caesar which was later confirmed by Augustus. No wonder Paul made this city his headquarters for his third journey, and why Luke comments in verse 10 “that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks heard the word of the Lord”.

12 Disciples of John the Baptist

Apparently somewhat early in his time there, Paul comes across 12 disciples of John the Baptist. These twelve seem to be a distinct group of Jews that was unknown to Apollos or Priscilla and Aquila. They are evidently introduced to him as disciples, but something, maybe the Holy Spirit, causes Paul to ask if they had received the Holy Spirit. In his interaction with them, Paul must have noticed that their understanding of the basic Christian tenants was deficient in some way. They respond no. It is generally thought that an implied ‘given’ should be read with the text. Meaning that these disciples of John hadn’t heard that the Holy Spirit had been given, as in John 7:39 where we read, “…Those who believed in Jesus were going to receive the Spirit, for the Spirit had not yet been given…” The word given there is implied and added in many versions.

Paul then asks how they were baptized, and the answer with John’s baptism. The baptism of repentance in preparation of the coming Messiah. He explained that Jesus had come, completed his mission, returned to the Father and had sent the promised Holy Spirit. This meant the baptism these twelve undertook was no longer adequate. We’re not told, but I am assuming that Paul then baptized these disciples in Christian baptism and after laying his hands on them, they received the Holy Spirit in a way similar to the pentecost experience. These disciples may have helped form the core of the Ephesian church, may have continued on as missionaries, may have been included in the group of elders that meet with Paul in Miletus in Acts 20.

Synagogue and Lecture Hall

Paul, again, starts with the Jewish synagogue. For three months, Paul was debating and reasoning with Jews about the kingdom of God, that is the death and exalting of Jesus. It took three months before the many of the Jews became hardened and wouldn’t believe. They began slandering the Way, the name for the church, to slander the Way is to slander the gospel and the Savior. Paul could no longer teach in the synagogue in Ephesus. 

Paul moves his public teaching to a lecture hall. It is unclear who Tyrannus was, as there hasn’t been any building found in the Ephesian ruins with this name attached to it. It is possible that Tyrannus was a philosopher or lecturer that used that hall regularly or the building’s owner who rented it to Paul. There is a tradition in the Western and Byzantine texts that Paul used the building from “the fifth hour until the tenth hour”, from 11 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon. There may be some truth to this as it was common in the region that that time would be used for a meal and rest, similar to the siesta culture. This means Paul could have done his leatherworking during the early part of the day like many businesses and then devoted those five hours to his teaching. This teaching arrangement continued for two years. 

During these two years, it appears that Epaphras had “evangelized the cities of the Lycus valley Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis-cities which Paul evidently did not visit in person…Perhaps all seven of the churches of Asia addressed in the Revelation of John were also founded about this time” (Bruce, F.F., NICNT: The Book of the Acts, © 1988, p366). The whole province was greatly evangelized during this time.

Ephesus and the Occult – vv 11-20

Since Ephesus was a major city it was like many of the other cities with its many idols and false religions, but Luke also tells us that the spiritual battle here was on several levels.

Paul

God used Paul in many ways proclaim the gospel and Christ. In Ephesus, God uses Paul to do many miracles and healings. Paul was even able to send sweat-rags and aprons to those possessed or in need of healing. This seems to parallel Peter healing those who fall under his shadow in chapter 5. The word handkerchief or facecloth here, what is meant is a sweat-rag that may have been worn on the head or wiped the sweat from one’s face. This and the apron were used by tradesman in their work, like Paul in his leatherworking. Whether these items belonged to Paul or were brought from the sick and possessed is unknown, but the power that healed was not in the items but in the name of Jesus.

Imitators

Ancient practitioners held Jewish magicians in high respect as it was believed they had especially effective spells to use. “Ephesus was the hot place o ministry for a number of itinerant Jewish exorcists. This may correspond to the fact that this city had a reputation for being a center for magical and occult practices. These men apparently developed special ability in effectively dealing with evil spirits” (Arnold, Clinton E., Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Acts, © 2002, p193). So popular was Paul and the name of Jesus, that Jewish itinerant exorcists began using Jesus’ name in their formulas and incantations. 

In this instance the Luke records, the sons of Sceva attempt to employ the name of Jesus. We do not know anything about Sceva other than what is mentioned here. He may have been the head of a priestly family or used the term chief priest or high priest as an advertising ploy to add prestige to his exorcism business. His seven sons attempted to exorcise a demon by saying, “by the Jesus that Paul preaches”. The names of Jesus and his apostle were known to this spirit, but these seven men were nothing to this spirit. The man possessed using abnormal strength attacked these men, beat them, injured them and tore their clothes. These men were fortunate to get away with their lives, having learned not to misuse the name of Jesus.

Burning books

The incident with Sceva’s sons spread throughout the whole city, “and filled those who heard it with awe; this name, invoked by Paul and his colleagues with such beneficial effects, was plainly not to be trifled with” (Bruce, p369).

The power of the gospel is greater than those playing with magic. Many of the practitioners converted to Christianity and openly confessed what they did and what their spells were. In the magical theory, the power of the spell was wrapped in its secrecy, by openly revealing what the spell was and how it was used, these new disciples were making these spells worthless. Many of them also gathered their “magic books” the scrolls and papyri that held their spells and held a bonfire. “The special connection of Ephesus with magic is reflected in the term ‘Ephesian letters’ for magical scrolls” (Bruce, p369). They added up the value of the scrolls that were being burned based on the local market, and it came to 50,000 silver coins or drachmae. That is roughly the combined year’s wage of 150 people. The burning of the books was a sign of casting off, of disowning their old way of life. 

Artemis of the Ephesians – vv 21-41

Paul was encouraged and decided that to go back through Macedonia and Achaia before returning to Jerusalem (it is suggested that this trip was to collect the love offering for the churches in Judea as mentioned in 1 Cor 16), he also resolved to go to Rome. Perhaps he was encouraged to see the great victories Christ was having over the idol worship and practice of the occult in Ephesus and thought Rome needed a good dose of Christianity as well, but there was still a big issue in the city of Ephesus, and her name was Artemis.

Artemis

Artemis of the Ephesians was one of the most well-known cults in the ancient Mediterranean world. This goddess is not the Greek goddess of the hunt with the same name, as the Greek goddess was a chaste maiden, and the Ephesian Artemis was similar to the mother goddess of ancient Asia Minor. Artemis was the main deity of the city of Ephesus. “As a mother goddess, Artemis possessed fertility and reproductive power that caused the earth to blossom with life of all kinds. She was the goddess of childbirth and a nourishing mother to all. Animals and wildlife were also a part o her domain and under her control” (Arnold, p198). The temple for Artemis was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The cult was woven into the daily life and culture of Ephesus. The Ephesians were very protective and proud of their patron goddess.

Silversmiths

The silversmiths and some other craftsmen made a large profit in creating and selling small shrines of Artemis. These were more than just small statuettes but depicted the goddess sitting on her throne in the temple. The problem they were having was because of the spread of Christianity in Ephesus and the surrounding area, their profit was falling, and the demand for these idols was falling. 

Verse 26 gives us an insight into the mass success the gospel was having in the city. We also see that many were turning to Christianity directly from idol worship. This is a major change in lifestyle for these new converts and it was affecting the economy of the city, or at least the wallets of some of the craftsmen.  Demetrius a silversmith had gathered many craftsmen together and began persuading them that they shouldn’t let the Lady of Ephesus be slandered or their businesses fail.

Riot

Fueled by Demetrius’ words, the crowded began a riot. The enthusiasm for Artemis spread from the craftsmen to many of the citizens. Once the rest of the citizens were added to the craftsmen the theater was the natural place to go with such a large crowd. The theater in Ephesus could hold 24,000 people. We don’t know how many people were involved in this riot, but it was probably in the thousands, as Luke commented that the city was in confusion, or the whole city was in an uproar.

On their way to the theater, the crowd was able to get a hold of Gaius and Aristarchus, two of Paul’s companions, and dragged them along. Even though the crowd hadn’t grabbed Paul, when he knew what was going on Paul wanted to go the theater and try to make a defense and reason with the mob. However, some of the disciples kept him from going and even some of the influential and ruling members of the city that were friendly toward Paul sent messages to him to stay away.

So many people were there in the riot that everybody was shouting something different and many didn’t even know why they were there. But a group of the Jews were and to make sure they could distance themselves from Paul, who was a Jew and Jews were knows to not worship Artemis, sent Alexander to make their case. We don’t know who this Alexander is, we have no more direct information about him. When he got up to make his defense the people weren’t going to listen. They recognized him as a Jew, which meant he didn’t worship Artemis, he may have seemed too eager to make a defense or some of th crowd may have thought he was the cause fo the issue. Before he could speak, the crowd began a two-hour chant of “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

After two hours the city clerk quiets the mob down to speak. Now the city clerk was the head or executive officer of the civic city council. He was essentially the city mayor. But he was also the liaison between the Roman provincial government, which resided in Ephesus, and the city council. He would be held responsible by the Romans for this riotous assembly, and the city may receive severe penalties because of it. He tells them that there is no reason to worry or act like this. The Lady of Ephesus is known all over, and everyone knows the statue was sent from heaven. The men grabbed and dragged along weren’t guilty of any crime, they didn’t steal anything from the temple, they did nothing sacrilegious against Artemis. The clek reminds them if there were any real charge to be made, the courts were ready to hear it, or find some other legal way to get the issue taken care. He reminds them that they are endangering the city of Roman consequences for an illegal assembly that is disturbing city. After the crowd and listened to the clerk, he dismissed them, possibly in the same way he would have for a legal assembly, and they went home.

Conclusion:

Today we were reminded of the power of the Holy Spirit. Later in Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, he reminds them that the Spirit is the seal and guarantee of their salvation. The Holy Spirit is how God marks each Christian as His possession. (The greatness of salvation Eph 2:1-3:13)

We also how that there needs to be a sharp distinction between the new life a Christian leads and their old sinful life. What do you or I need to get out of our lives that is sinful?  (The Old and New Life Eph 4:17-5:21)

We were also reminded that mob rule and anarchy are unbiblical. As citizens, we need to obey our governments and laws. And within the church, we need to have unity and not division. (Unity Eph 4:1-16)

We were reminded that as Christians we have entered into a spiritual war against Satan and his fellow fallen angels. We need to renounce all forms of spiritism, occultism, and remember that demons didn’t go away when the ancient world went away. (Christian Warfare Eph 6:10-20)

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #26

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #26

Title: Paul’s Encouragement – 2nd Journey Pt3 – Acts 18:1-28

Review of 17:1-34

In chapter 17 we looked at how Paul focused his gospel presentation on the Christ’s resurrection. It was the focus in Thessalonica where he used the OT to show the Jews that Christ had to suffer, die, and be raised to life, though they chose not to listen. He repeated the presentation in Berea where the Jews trusted the Scripture and many took Paul’s message as from God, though trouble was coming when Thessalonian Jews came to Berea. Even in Athens, a center for paganism and philosophy, Paul focused on God raising Christ from the dead. 

In our passage today, we follow Paul to another major city in Greece. A city where he spent the majority of this journey preaching and teaching.

Paul in Corinth – vv 1-11

Temple of Apollo – biblepicturegallery.com

Corinth

Paul headed to Corinth after his address in Athens. Corinth was the Capital of the Province of Achaia (Greece). It was a major city as it connected the Grecian mainland and the Peloponnese. It formed a triangle with the port cities of Lechaeum in the north and Cenchrea in the south. You may recognize the city name of Cenchrea as the place Phoebe is mentioned to serve in the church there in Romans 16. These cities connected the Aegean Sea with the Adriatic Sea, the Province of Asia with Italy. Corinth was a strategic place for Paul to spread the gospel as merchants, sailors and soldier all passed through as they went from one port to another.

Priscilla and Aquila

After arriving in Corinth. Paul quickly met and befriended Aquila a Jew from Pontus and his wife Priscilla. They had recently come from Italy and Claudius had issued a decree expelling all Jews from the city of Rome. We know that this occurred in the year AD 49. This couple is mentioned at least three times in Paul’s writings, 1 Cor 16, Rom 16, and then 2 Tim 4. It is possible that these two were already Christians when Paul met them here in Corinth as there is no mention of their conversion or baptism in our passage. 

Paul met them, befriended them and they gave him a place to stay as they had the same trade, tentmakers. The word here actually refers to more than just tentmaking, but working with leather. Paul’s home region of Cilicia was known for its working with goat skin. 

Synagogue Ministry

Since Corinth was so big and had so many travellers going through it Paul was sure to go to Synagogue every Sabbath and reason with the Jews and Greek proselytes. Then after a some time Silas and Timothy arrive from Macedonia. Since we do not have recorded in Acts what Silas and Timothy were doing in Macedonia, some speculate based on comments in the epistles of Paul. Homer Kent Jr believes, “(1) Silas and Timothy had been left behind in Berea with instruction to meet Paul at Athens (17:14-15). (2) They did meet Paul as planned (17:16; 1 Thess 3:1). (3) From Athens Timothy was sent to Tessalonica to encourage the church (1 Thess 3:1-2). Silas also must have gone to someplace in Macedonia, perhaps Philippi (18:5). (4)Both men rejoined Paul at Corinth, bringing a report from Thessalonica (1 Thess 3:6) and a gift (2 Cor 11:8-9, Phil 4:15). It was at this time that Paul wrote First Thessalonians, and shortly after he probably wrote Second Thessalonians from Corinth also” (Kent Jr, Homer A. Jerusalem to Rome, © 1972 p142). After Silas and Timothy joined Paul in Corinth, Paul doubles his efforts. Some translations read he was compelled in the spirit, while others say he devoted or occupied himself with preaching to the Jews. Either way Paul focused on presenting Jesus Christ as the Messiah to Jews. 

His work had some pay off. Some believed. The leader of the synagogue and his house believed the Lord, this man was Crispus who Paul mentions in 1 Cor 1:14 as being baptized by Paul. But many of the Jews were again abusive, belligerent, and blasphemous. Paul had had enough with the Jews in Corinth. Look at verse 6 [read 6]. Paul had told them that he had done what he was supposed to, he proclaim Jesus Christ and the gospel to the Jews, but they resisted so he turned again to the Gentiles, and we see in verse 8 that many of the city’s people turned to the Lord. Verse 6 says Paul shook out his clothes. He shook the dust of the synagogue from his cloak, he as leaving and didn’t even want the synagogue dust to come with him. This is similar to what he and Barnabas did when they were kicked out of Pisidian Antioch, and the first thing I thought of as a cultural equivalent today is brushing the dust off your shoulder.

Paul may have been worried or concerned now. Things are following the pattern of his first journey again. Go to the Jews, get some converts, Jews get upset, Jews cause an issue, Paul gets beaten or arrested, or both, and/or kicked out of town. But in verses 9-10 the Lord encourages Paul. These verses echo OT passages in Isaiah 41:10 “Do not fear, for I am with you; do not be afraid, for I am your God. I will strengthen you; I will help you; I will hold on to you with my righteous right hand.” and Jeremiah 1:8 “Do not be afraid of anyone, for I will be with you to rescue you. This is the Lord ’s declaration.” This vision from the Lord must have greatly encouraged Paul. And the pattern broke here in Corinth. Paul was able to stay for about 18 months. He, Silas, Timothy, and probably Priscilla and Aquila were able to help establish, teach, train, and disciple the new Christians in the city. The Lord still encourages His workers today, through the completed revelation of the Scripture. The Lord through the Holy Spirit and the reading of Scripture, the fellowship of believers encourages His followers during difficult times.

I came across a quote just yesterday that was shared by a fellow pastor, and I felt worked well with this passage:

“You feel like quitting, like giving up. You can’t understand why the road doesn’t get easier, why God doesn’t remove the stones and straighten the path. If God did that, you might never get to the top, because the bumps are what you can climb on.” – Warren Wiersbe

Possible Problem vv 12-14

Gallio the Proconsul

Sometime after Paul had received the vision of encouragement from the Lord, the Jews united against him and brought him to the judgement seat of the proconsul of the Province of Achaia. Gallio is thought to have begun his consulship in the middle of AD 51, from this we can assume that this incident happened near the end of Paul’s time in Corinth. Previous judgements, like in Thessalonica, had their limitations and boundaries. But if the provincial governor ruled against Paul, this would affect the whole of Greece, and other governors would have a precedent to follow. This could have hindered the growth of the church or increased the persecutions the church faced in the first century.  The claim was that Paul was acting contrary to the law, whether that “meant Jewish law or Romans law is not clear” (Kent, p143). We may not need to distinguish between the two laws, because Judaism had the freedom to be practiced and make converts, so Paul’s accusers were saying he was going against Judaism and therefore outside Roman law.

Paul was about to make a defense, but he didn’t get the chance. Gallio wasn’t going to listen to the Jews. He tells them that this is nothing he needs judge since they are not charging Paul with any real serious crime. Gallio seemed to know that the Jews are out to get Paul for religious reasons, turns the table on them. He considered Christianity as a branch of Judaism, so this was nothing but an internal matter for the Jews, sound familiar? Maybe sound like Pilate and the chief priests? 

Gallio dismissed the cases and forces the Jewish leaders out of the tribunal area. The Jews may not have wanted to let this go, they may have been creating a disturbance leading Gallio to forcibly remove them. Sosthenes the new Synagogue leader, was beaten. We don’t know if this was an intentional order from Gallio or something else. The pattern was broken. The Lord told Paul he would be protected in Corinth, and Paul was. The Lord turned the tables and spared Paul the beating while allowing a Jewish leader to be beaten in a similar manner that Paul had experienced on previous occasions.

Paul Heads Home

Paul and the team stay in Corinth for awhile longer, but then Paul left to return to Antioch in Syria. We are told that Priscilla and Aquila go with him, but there is no mention of Timothy or Silas. We can only speculate on Timothy and Silas, they may have been sent back to Thessalonica with one or both of Paul’s letters. They may be returning with Paul, but Luke doesn’t mention it for some reason. We don’t know, but Priscilla and Aquila do go. They head down to the southern port of Cenchrea. There Paul shaves his head because of a vow. Some think this is reference to a Nazirite vow, but the hair is not cut until the Nazirite vow had been completed, not before. I think this is something similar to the Nazirite vow, a vow Paul had made out of thankfulness to the protection that was promised in verse 10. Paul may have been in a bit of a rush as to get to Jerusalem to complete his vow and make his offering of thanks to the Lord.

They stop for a short time, maybe a day, in Ephesus on the other side of the Aegean Sea. Paul, had to go to synagogue here. He knew he wouldn’t be able to spend long, but he needed to bring the gospel to the Jews in Ephesus. Remember this may have been his intended place of ministry when he left Galatia about two years previous. He goes and debates or reasons with the Jews. They become intrigued and ask him stay but he has to decline. Now translations add a phrase in verse 21, “by all means it is necessary to keep the coming festival in Jerusalem” before we read that Paul promises to return if God wills. It is possible that this festival was Passover, and he wanted to complete his vow before keeping the Passover that year. Priscilla and Aquila are left in Ephesus, we don’t know if that was their plan or if Paul wanted to leave them so they might be able to start a church or if there was a small number of converts the couple may have stayed to help establish them. Either way they remain there in Ephesus, and we’ll see them again in just a moment. 

Paul continues and lands in Caesarea, the dominant port on the Mediterranean for Judea. Paul heads to Jerusalem to greet the church and complete his vow. After some time in Jerusalem he heads back to Antioch. There he reports on the ministry as he had been gone for roughly two years. Luke is summarizing to put Paul on pause, but after a time in Antioch Paul again heads through southern Galatia to visit and strengthen those churches before continuing into Asia and heading towards Ephesus. 

Apollos Comes to Water vv 24-28

Apollos

Luke briefly returns to Ephesus to introduce a new minister of the gospel. Luke tells us of Apollos. A Jew from Alexandria on the coast of Egypt. He was knowledgeable in the Scriptures and was eloquent in his discussions and preaching. He was in Ephesus preaching of the Messiah, there was just one problem. He only knew of John’s preaching of the coming Messiah and the call to repentance. Somehow he never heard the truth about Jesus.

More Accurate

Apollos went to the synagogue and spoke boldly what he knew. It is safe to count Apollos with the OT saints, he hoped for the Messiah and had not rejected him and had believed what John had preached, but Aquila and Priscilla took him aside and filled in the gaps. He apparently accepts the truth and is welcomed into the church at Ephesus. After some time he wants to go to Greece and continue to evangelize. The church in Ephesus sends with him a letter of introduction for the churches in Greece.

Apollos to Water in Corinth

Apollos arrives in Greece, and we see in 19:1 he goes to Corinth. He is of great help to the churches in Greece, and we know he had a fruitful ministry in Corinth as well. Not only was he evangelizing, but he was doing the work of an apologist was well as he publicly defended the faith and the messiahship of Jesus to the Jews. Paul had planted in Corinth, Apollos came to water and help nurture.

Conclusion:

Today we saw how the Lord gave encouragement to Paul. The Lord promised to protect Paul in Corinth, Paul may also have been encouraged to meet Priscilla and Aquila there which started their friendship. Today, we may not receive a vision from the Lord, but we have the ministry of Holy Spirit and the complete Word of God to lean on.

We were reminded that the Lord is faithful and trustworthy. Paul was promised that no one would harm him in Corinth so he could do the work of the ministry there. Paul was protected against another Jewish plot to do him harm and tried to slow the gospel. But the Lord used an unbelieving Roman governor to discipline the Jews in Corinth and protect Paul.

We saw how the Lord uses different people in ministry. Paul began the work in Corinth and just got things started in Ephesus, he planted. Priscilla and Aquila were probably used to help teach and deepen the understanding of those in the churches, and they certainly helped Apollos. Apollos continues the work in Corinth or as Paul himself wrote in 1 Corinthians, “Apollos watered”. Apollos defended the faith against the unbelieving Jews in Corinth and continued to help minister in the church. 

Every Christian is important to the work of the ministry, to the Cause of Christ. What are you doing? 

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #25

for-the-cause-of-christ-a-series-in-the-book-of-actsActs: For the Cause of Christ #25

Title: Paul in Athens

Acts 17:1-34

Last time we looked at Paul’s time in Philippi. How Paul was used to start another church. How he and Silas kept their faith in the midst of injustice and physical abuse. How the gospel is presented freely to all people. We continue to follow Paul’s journey after leaving Philippi. Paul makes it to two big cities as he continues to spread the gospel in Greece.

Thessalonica – vv 1-9

Mixed Results 1-4

Paul, Silas, and Timothy arrive in Thessalonica after apparently stopping for the evening at Amphipolis and Apollonia. These were on the Egnatian Way from Philippi. Once in Thessalonica, Paul and the team stated as always within the Jewish community at the local synagogue. Paul discussed the gospel with them from three consecutive Sabbaths, so they were in Thessalonica for at least three weeks. Paul was using the OT prophets alongside the events of Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection. Paul’s pattern continues to repeat. We are told that some Jews believed the gospel message as well as God-fearing Greeks. Among these believers were leading women, Macedonian women had a reputation for independence in society and business.

Jealous Jews 5-9

Keeping with the pattern from Paul’s time in southern Galatia, the unbelieving Jews became of jealous. Whether this was because they lost a number of proselytes or because they lost financial support with some leading women converting to Christianity, we don’t know for sure. These Jews, went to the marketplace and found wicked men for hire to create a mob to riot. The went to the house of Jason, who was housing Paul and the others, and may have been one the Jews that converted from Paul’s teaching in the synagogue.

The mob could not find the missionaries, so they dragged Jason and few other Christians before the town officials. Since Thessalonica isn’t a Roman Colony, we see a different group of leadership. These magistrates are generally called politarchs, this term is used for the local magistrates in Macedonia. The mob charged the missionaries with treason, basically, and since Jason was housing them, he was a complicit as well. Theses charges were similar to those that were brought up in Philippi. The magistrates didn’t seem overly concerned, probably because there was no real evidence to these claims, however Jason paid a bond. This would have guaranteed that his guests wouldn’t cause trouble and probably required them to leave town.

Paul’s Letters:

Because of the persecution he faced, Paul was unable to really establish the new Thessalonian church in doctrine. In a few months time from this point in our journey, Paul will be in Corinth where he spends about 18 months. During this time in Corinth (~51-52 AD) Paul writes both 1 and 2 Thessalonians to encourage the church, explain doctrines more thoroughly, and correct a few errors the church had. 

001-paul-athens

Berea – vv 10-15

Searched the Scriptures

Paul, Silas and Timothy were taken out of the city under the cover of night and headed to Berea. Again, Paul stays true to form and heads to the local synagogue. However, here in Berea we get a breath of fresh air for minute, as these Jews break the pattern and hear Paul out while checking the Scriptures to see if they can verify what Paul has told them. This is something we all need to do, double check things against Scripture. I don’t wonder if these Bereans would be surprised if they knew how many Christian churches and groups have named themselves after them because of their careful study of Scripture? We can only assume Paul was reasoning with them the same way as he was in Thessalonica by showing that the Messiah had to suffer, die and be raised back to life through the OT Prophets. And again, many believed, both men and women, Jew and Greek. 

Thessalonian Jews

We don’t know how long it was before the Jews of Thessalonica heard that Paul and the others were in Berea, but in another reminder of southern Galatia, a group of Jews from Thessalonica came to Berea to stir up trouble. Paul seems to be the main target, but Paul quickly escorted out of town be some the new believers. There are some variations in the manuscripts as whether they took Paul by sea or by land, either way they escorted Paul to Athens. Paul had them take a message back to Silas and Timothy to join him in Greece as quickly as they could.

Athens – vv 16-34

Culture

Paul has entered Athens. The cradle of Greek mythology, philosophy, and culture. This city’s cultural influence would be equivalent to London, Pairs, or New York today. Athens was steeped in idolatry. Everywhere he would have turned there would be another temple or carving or statue dedicated to the false gods of Greek and Roman Mythology. In its past glory days, this city was called home by Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, and Zeno. This city was used to different ways of thinking and worshipping. Though Paul would have been somewhat accustomed to idolatry, there was something of how saturated Athens was that caused him to be distressed.

Synagogue and Marketplace

In the middle of this idolatrous city, Paul was able to find a Jewish synagogue. Not only were there Jews worshipping but there were Greek proselytes worshipping the true God. Paul spent his days reasoning in the synagogue as well as trying to interact with other people in the marketplace. Luke doesn’t tells us how the Jews or proselytes responded to Paul’s teaching, or if there were any converts from his “street evangelism”.

What we do see, is that on one specific day Paul is addressing a group of Stoic and Epicurean philosophers.

Stoics – The Stoics claimed Zeno from Cyprus as their founder and took their name from specific colonnade in the marketplace where Zeno had taught. “Their system aimed at living consistently with nature, and in practice they laid great emphasis on the primacy of the rational faculty in humanity, and on individual self-sufficiency…they were essentially pantheistic, god being regarded as the world-soul….Stoicism at it sbest was marked by great moral earnestness and a high sense of duty. It commended suicide as a honorable means of escape from a life that could no longer be sustained with dignity” (Bruce, F. F. NICNT: The Book of the Acts, © 1988 p330).

Epicureans – This school founded by Epicurus and “based its ethical theory on the atomic physics of Democritus and presented pleasure as being the chief end in life, the pleasure most worth enjoying being a life of tranquillity, free from from pain, disturbing passions, and superstitious fears (including in particular the fear of death). It did not deny the existence of gods, but maintained they they took no interest in the life of men and women” (Bruce, p330-331).

On this particular day, some that were listening to Paul were unimpressed by him calling him, “an ignorant show-off”, a more literal translation would read “seed-picker”. The word does refer to birds eating seeds and scraps, but the idea here is someone who doesn’t align with a specific school of thought. Others though he was teaching about some strange or foreign gods. It is thought that they may have misunderstood and personified the resurrection along with Jesus.

Areopagus 19-21

They brought Paul to the Areopagus. Some translations have “Mars’ Hill”, that is a translation of the Latin name for the “Hill of Ares”. Either way it is a hill dedicated to the god of war in Greek/Roman Mythology. The Areopagus lent its name to a court, sometimes the court met on the hill itself and sometimes it met in the Royal Colonnade in the marketplace, where it met to hear Paul, we don’t know for sure. The court was mainly used at this time to preside over religious and moral matters. Paul was not taken as a criminal, or to see if they should give him license to be a public lecturer/teacher. He was merely asked there to further expound his teaching so they could better understand it. Verse 21 reads, “Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.” So if Athens is culturally like New York is thought of today, then Paul being able to present on the Areopagus is like playing on Broadway.

So what does Paul do with this opportunity? What any good preacher does, he preaches the gospel (v22).

Paul begins by telling them that as he walked through town he noticed that they were very religious. He had even seen an altar inscribed “to an unknown god”. He uses this as a place to start. Now I doubt that when that altar was placed, there was any idea of a particular god they were trying to appease, but Paul used this to begin to discuss the one, true God.

He continues by telling them “that God is the creator, the sovereign of heaven and earth, the sustainer and director of all things ans is the Omnipresent One” (Kent, Homer A. Jr.; Jerusalem to Rome, © 1972 p140). He tells them that all of humanity came from one man, Adam, and then explained “that God has determined the seasons which make life possible, and has appointed the habitable zones of the earth in which [people] may live” (Kent, p140). Verse 28, actually contains two different quotes from Greek poets, the first part of the verse is attributed to Epimenides from Crete and the last section, generally put in quotes is from Aratus from Cilicia. Now both of these poems names Zeus as the supreme being in Greek philosophy and religion, Paul is not equating the trude God and Zeus, he is merely using these poems to make a point and to make a connection with his audience as these poems have contexts that can point to some recognition of the true nature of God. (doctrines of God and man)

Paul continues by telling them that God has set a time for divine judgement and that there is a need of repentance before that judgement comes. [read 30-31] God has determined Who will be the judge and has set the time.  This discussion of end-times judgement was new to the Greek thinker, at least the biblical revelation of the end-times. Paul assures his listeners that God’s man has been revealed as there is solid proof about this man. We know this is Jesus, and that proof is the that God has raised Jesus from the dead. (doctrines of end-times and christology).

Mixed Results 32-34

There is a difference of opinions over whether Paul concluded his message or if he was cut off as they ridiculed him for the idea of the resurrection. Some think he concluded the message, because this was an introduction to Christianity, and the first thing to learn was to turn from idols. Others think he was unable to finished the message where he would have expanded the information to contain the elements of the gospel. We don’t know for sure.

Some did ridicule him for the notion of the resurrection, while others wanted to hear more. We are told that some followed Paul and believed. Luke tells us the name of two people, Dionysius a member of the Areopagus court and a woman named Damaris.

No mention of a church being planted, no mention of baptisms. Some think that the poor reception to the gospel is why Paul left for Corinth and that he changed is approach in Corinth “to ‘know nothing’ there ‘except Jesus Christ and him crucified’” (Bruce, p344).

Conclusion:

In Thessalonica we saw how Paul started in the synagogues and reasoned, discussed, or lecturered from the Scripture and showed the Jews that Jesus Christ was meant to come and suffer and die. Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection fulfilled OT prophecy. 

In Berea we have an excellent model to follow. Examine Scripture for yourself when you are listening to teachers. Don’t just accept anybody’s explanation. That includes me or any man that is standing behind this pulpit proclaiming the Word. That includes your favorite radio/TV preacher, that includes your favorite writing preacher, or printed bible studies.

In Athens, we saw that Paul spoke in ways his audience could understand and relate to him, but he didn’t use “church language” or “christianese”. He used language and words his audience could understand. He related commonly known poems in way to point to the true God. We should be careful doing this so we don’t marginalize the true christianity or place the gospel on the same ground as a false religion. We also see that we need to be aware of the openings to share the gospel that the Lord provides. 

Most importantly, we saw that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is central to the gospel. Whether for those who have a knowledge of Scripture and need instruction or those who have never read the Bible or heard of the God of heaven, Christ’s resurrection is the centerpiece for the gospel.

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #24

for-the-cause-of-christ-a-series-in-the-book-of-actsActs: For the Cause of Christ #24

Title: Paul’s Second Journey – Pt 2 – Paul’s Philippian Adventure

Acts 16:11-40

Review of 15:36-16:12

Last time we saw as Paul started his second journey. He and Barnabas decided to not serve together on this trip as Barnabas was determined to take John Mark along. Paul chose Silas and headed back to Southern Galatia. He and Silas added Timothy to the team at Lystra before continuing on. As they sought to continue on the Lord kept them from going in to the Provinces of Asia and Bithynia. Then when they reached the city of Troas, the Lord sent Paul a vision directing them to go into Macedonia, the northern region of Greece. This would also bring the gospel into Europe.

44_ac_16_07_rg
https://missionbibleclass.org/new-testament/part2/acts-epistle-selections/lydia-becomes-a-christian/

Philippi – vv 11-15

 

The City

As we see here in the opening portion of our passage. Philippi was a Roman colony. This plays a big role in the coming events of this passage, so we should have an understanding on what a Roman colony was.

Philippi was named a Roman Colony by Caesar Augustus around 42 BC. Colonies were usually created as a place for Roman veterans to have homes as well as creating a military presence. The residents to these cities were given Roman citizenship and the rights that entitled them too. The city had an autonomous government, freedom for taxation and tribute and legal-ownership rights like those who lived in Italy. Being a colony was the highest status a city in a province could receive. Philippi was helping in the Romanization of Macedonia, so the city would have seemed like a “little Rome”. Other colonies mentioned in Acts are Pisidian Antioch, Lystra, Troas, Corinth, and Ptolemais.

Philippi was a wealthy city as it was on the famous Egnatian Way, and the nearby hills held deposits of copper, silver and gold, as well as having a fertile plain for crops. Though this city was not the capital of Macedonia, which was Thessalonica, nor was Philippi the capital of the district, that was Amphipolis, Philippi was a leading, major city in Macedonia. It also held various pagan religions including the emperor worship. Though it seems there was no Jewish Synagogue at this time. If there was a Jewish population, it must have been very small. At the time a minimum of 10 Jewish men was required to have a synagogue.

Lydia

Since there was no synagogue there Paul adjust his tactic. On the Sabbath day they went outside the city gates to find a place where the small Jewish community or at least God-fearing gentiles would meet to pray. Paul and the others find a group of women meeting for prayer. Paul takes the opportunity to talk them and share the gospel. Lydia was one of the ladies there listening. She was God-fearing gentile from the city of Thyatira. “The Lord opened her heart” to the gospel during Paul’s gospel presentation. We have another example here of baptism coming after salvation as Lydia and her household were all baptized there in the river where they were meeting.

Lydia may have been a wealthy business woman. She is noted as a dealer of purple cloth. Purple dyed cloth was fairly expensive as the dye either came from a shellfish or the roots of a madder plant. For Lydia to have house large enough to house Paul and his team, she must have been fairly successful. Her household could refer to any children still living with her assuming she was married and possibly widowed, but that is unknown, or her household could include any servants in her business and home. Lydia’s household becomes the first recorded converts of Paul’s second journey and in Macedonia.

The Trouble with Demons – vv 16-24

Regular Prayer Meetings

Either Paul and the others established regular prayer meetings with this small band of disciples or they were still using the Jewish tradition of prayers at certain times. We know that Paul the others were in Philippi for several days, verse 12, and on their way to the place of prayer they were being followed by slave girl possessed by a demon that was shouting out unwelcomed testimony about Paul.

This slave girl was possessed by demon giving her the ability to serve as a fortune-teller. Her masters used her to make large profit for themselves. Remember, Philippi held several pagan idols, including the Greek god Apollo. Luke actually uses the term that refers to soothsayers and fortune-tellers that goes back to the myth of Apollo and the Oracle of Delphi. So for a slave girl telling the future would not be anything strange in this city.

Paul’s Annoyance

After many days of this poor girl following Paul the others around acting like an unwanted herald, Paul had had enough. He turned and addressing the demon, he commanded it leave the girl using the authority of Jesus’ name. The exorcism happened immediately.

What was the girl saying? What was the annoyance? The phrase can be taken in an ironic sense as a demon is proclaiming truth about God, though because she represents many false gods, the testimony proves confusing. It is also possible that since what the demon is saying doesn’t directly refer to Yahweh, it could be understood that the God Paul is serving and preaching about was the highest of many gods. This would be confusing as many of the polytheistic religions represented in Philippi all had such phrases for certain gods. Also the phrase of offering salvation may have been heard as “a” way of salvation versus “the” way of salvation. Paul’s use of Jesus’ name in the exorcism primary shows that it is not Paul’s own authority by which he can expel demons, but only through the authority of Jesus. It also ties the God Paul proclaims is tied to the name of Jesus.

PaulandDemon_Girl_1179-61
http://bibleencyclopedia.com/pictures/Acts_16_Paul_and_demon_possessed_girl.htm

When the slave girl’s masters realized they lost significant income, they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them to the chief magistrates, these are possibly the two men who ruled the colony called praetors.

Illegal Activities

Paul and Silas were accused of trying to proselytize as Jews and disturbing the city, or disturbing the peace. Most religions were allowed and tolerated by Roman law, while proselytizing wasn’t illegal it was discouraged; and religions that became destructive to the city was not allowed. Judaism was generally looked down upon because it was monotheistic and did not worship the emperor. These accussors are stretching the truth a bit as they slander Paul and Silas about disturbing the peace and proselytizing an illegal or unpopular religion. The idea of Roman is important here as Artemis is in Ephesus in chapter 19.

By claiming they are disturbing the city, the accussors are forcing the issue into the realm of the magistrates. It seems as if the crowd had been whipped into a mob as they begin to attack, probably verbally, Paul and Silas as well. The magistrates then take them have them beaten. This punishment was called adminitio, where we get admonition. It emphasized the warning element of the punishment. This particular beating was called fustigatio where the clothes were stripped off and then beaten in public. This was more liking a caning designed to discourage Paul from preaching any further. After the beating, they taken to prison and the jailer was ordered to watch them carefully. Paul and Silas were put into the inner prison, a  more secure area, then their legs were placed in stocks.

Midnight Miracle vv 25-40

Praising God

As Paul and Silas sit in jail, they probably can’t sleep from the pain of the beating and the discomfort of the stocks, they pray and sing to God. They know the other prisoners are listening, this makes them stand out. Praising God even though they were just beaten and imprisoned, Paul and Silas displayed their faith.

While they were praising the Lord, an earthquake came and shook the prison so violently that the chains came away from the walls and the doors swung open. This caused concern for the jailer when he awoke. He was about kill himself, why? There is thought that he assumed the prisoners would have escaped, which could have led to his execution as punishment, while this was certainly done at times, there is also the fact of the ancient values of shame and honor. It is also possible that he was acting out of superstitious fear. Concerned over who was in the prison and why the gods acted this way. Maybe he knew the punishment was unjust and was fearing the gods reaction.

Luke has condensed a lot of what was happening in these verses, somehow Paul knew what the jailer was about to do, and called out to him to keep him from harming himself.

The jailer seems to be aware of some sort of divine activity to what has been happening. He falls to his knees trembling before Paul and Silas, not worship them, but probably in fear and shock that none of the prisoners had escaped. He leads Paul and Silas out and asks how he must be saved. It appears that he knew why Paul and Silas were imprisoned and has linked the earthquake to the God they proclaimed.

Paul immediately shared that the jailer needed to trust Jesus. People try to take verse 31 out of context and think this verse doesn’t show the need for individual faith. However, if we correctly read verse 32 with verse 31 we see that Paul and Silas were explaining the gospel. The jailer took Paul and Silas home, where everyone in his house heard the gospel and believed. Next the jailer tends to their wounds, then the whole household receives believers baptism. The jailer provides a meal Paul and Silas. Again we see the element of joy of new believers over their salvation.

In the morning the magistrates decide to have Paul and Silas released. The term “police” is the same root as the word used earlier for the beating Paul and Silas received, so the men sent were possibly the ones who carried out the beating. These men carried bundles of rods and functioned as constables or police.

When the jailer informs Paul and Silas the magistrates are letting them go and telling them to leave town, Paul decides now to make it known that he and Silas are Roman citizens. It is greatly debated over why Paul did not make this claim before they beaten, possibly they made a strategic decision so there would be no confusion of their religious and cultural loyalties lay.

The secretive nature in the way the magistrates had tried to get Paul and Silas to leave would have left the idea that Paul was a troublemaker and would have left the new Christians open to persecution. The magistrates had acted illegally. Roman citizens were always supposed to receive a fair trial and were not to be whipped as Paul and Silas had been. Paul and Silas were publicly shamed by the beating, and since they were Roman citizens they deserved an apology in the very least. For the Magistrates to come publicly to appease Paul and Silas and to escort them from the jail would publicly resolve the issue that Paul and the Christians were not troublemakers seeking to disturb the peace. The magistrates could have faced serious punishments and at the very least may never have been removed from their position. The magistrates come, apologize and ask that Paul and his team leave Philippi. And after going to Lydia’s house, speaking encouragement to them Paul and team leave Philippi.

Conclusion:

Today we saw how God had led Paul and the others to Philippi. We saw that God used Paul to found another church. We see how God’s gospel is not limited by race or gender. Paul proclaims the gospel to everyone. Luke has tendency to show accounts in pairs of men and women: Simeon and Anna (Luke 2), a raised boy and girl (Luke 7 & 8), the Holy Spirit descending on all (Acts 2), miracles for Aeneas and Dorcas (Acts 9), then here with Lydia and the Jailer. Though Paul and Silas face injustice and beating to please the crowd, they do not lose faith. They praise God in the midst of their trial. They know this is part of doing anything for the Cause of Christ.

But we also see the seeds being planted for Paul’s letter to the Philippian Church:

  • In Philippians Paul reminds the disciples their citizenship is in heaven and that being citizens of Roman, which was a big deal, is secondary.
  • Paul will remind them to humbly serve God. Paul was called a slave of God by the demon possessed girl, and then calls himself that in the opening verse to the Philippians, he also reminds them that Christ’s humility is to be regarded as the standard.
  • Paul tells them to keep their priority on the future reward they will receive from God, and not trust in their flesh or own strength. Paul could have used his Roman citizenship earlier than he did, but would he have been trusting God to care for him or trusting in things of this world?
  • In Philippians Paul discusses contentment and joy in all circumstances, good and bad. We saw how Paul and Silas sang hymns to and prayed to God while they spent a sleepless, painful night in prison. They were content with whatever God had planned for them.

Are these things true of us?

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #23

for-the-cause-of-christ-a-series-in-the-book-of-actsActs: For the Cause of Christ #23

Title: Paul’s Second Journey – Pt 1 – Let’s Go!

Acts 15:36-16:12

Review of 15:1-35

Last time we saw how some were trying to distort the Gospel of God’s grace by adding requirements of the law to salvation. We saw how the church in Antioch sought help for clarification from the Jerusalem church, how the issue was debated, and how it was decided that the law is not required for salvation. We saw the the news of God’s work of saving more gentiles in different areas was received with joy and praise. Now after sometime Paul seeks to go on another journey.

 

 

Planning – 15:36-41

 

Sometime after the Jerusalem council and the return to Antioch Paul and Barnabas begin planning a return trip to churches they had established in southern Galatia, and possibly visiting the churches in Cyprus as well. Barnabas seems to be on board, except he wants to bring John Mark along, again. Paul strongly disagrees on this point as he is unwilling to bring someone who has proved unreliable.

There is speculation from everywhere about the disagreement and ultimate division of these co-workers. Scripture doesn’t lay blame on either of these men, so I don’t seek to do so. I do think that a part of what was going on was that Barnabas was John Mark’s cousin (Col 4:10) and Barnabas’ name means “son of encouragement”. Barnabas may have been trying to help John Mark and was trying to encourage him to better serve in ministry.

 

 

There seems to be only one solution. Paul and Barnabas would not work together on this trip. Barnabas and John Mark leave for Cyprus, Barnabas’ home island. This may be to work with John Mark in a less intense mission field.

Paul feels he must get a new co-worker for this journey. He selects Silas, who either returned to Antioch or was sent for by Paul. Paul and Silas are sent out after being commended by the church. Why there was no note about this commending for Barnabas and Mark we don’t know. It may be that since Silas was from the Jerusalem church Antioch wanted to show their support so Paul and Silas represent two churches working together.

 

 

Though this disagreement was so sharp that they men could not work side by side, God used them in two different ministries, each advancing the gospel. Sometimes, that is what has to happen. Scripture shows that there appears to have been reconciliation between Paul and Mark (Col 4:10; Phile 24; 2 Tim 4:11) and with Barnabas (Col 4:10; 1 Cor 9:6).

 

 

Opening Journey – 16:1-5

 

Paul and Silas set out by travelling over land through the region of Cilicia heading west towards southern Galatia, strengthening any church they come to on the way. They come to the cities of Derbe and then Lystra. In Lystra they meet up with Timothy. Timothy is disciple with a good reputation in the churches in Lystra and Iconium. Paul wishes to take Timothy along with him. But there’s a problem.

 

 

Timothy is the son of a believing Jewish woman, Eunice (2 Tim 1:5) and Greek father. The wording and nuance of the language leads some to think that Timothy’s father had died before this point, how long ago is anyone’s guess. What’s the problem with Timothy? He wasn’t circumcised. Before Paul took Timothy along on the journey, he had Timothy circumcised. People criticize Paul for this decision after chapter fifteen’s discussion. However, the issue isn’t Timothy’s salvation, but Timothy’s not becoming an issue as the team ministers to unbelieving Jews. Paul is seeking to avoid another issue of disregarding Jewish customs and heritage. Judaism would view Timothy as an apostate Jew, being from a mixed heritage and not being circumcised. Paul, having Timothy circumcised, is showing that he seeks to reach out to Jews and show the link of the new faith to Jewish heritage, as well as giving Timothy credibility among the Jews the team will be evangelizing. So Paul is not acting contrary to the decision of the Jerusalem Council.

On a separate note. We should note, though not mentioned here, that Timothy’s mother Eunice seems to show a willingness to let her son go into the ministry. Our churches need be teaching parents that the ministry isn’t a bad vocation or calling. Our churches need pastors with no one to take the position. Our mission fields need missionaries with no one to go. Too many Christian parents downplay ministry. Too many Christian parents aren’t willing for their children to go into ministry. Whether it is a concern or fear for material wealth, “full-time ministry doesn’t pay” or concern for safety in foreign fields. Christian parents should be getting their children into the work of the ministry early and need to learn to trust God. Christian parents need to worship God and not the idol of their children.

 

 

Paul and team continue on. As they go through these cities they are reporting on the decision concerning Gentile salvation from Jerusalem. Possibly carrying a copy of the letter with them to read to each church. As they visited these churches they strengthened the churches and saw that these churches were active, vibrant and continuing to grow. Things seem to be going well, seem to be going to plan.

 

 

Where to Go Now – 16:6-12

 

Though we are not told, I think it is safe to assume that Paul and the others made to Pisidian Antioch and ministered there as well. Here they have finished the preliminary portion of their journey to visit the churches in southern Galatia. Now they must decide where they are heading to next. It appears they wanted to head southwest. Why? Verse 6 tells us that the Holy Spirit had forbid them from ministering in the Province of Asia. From Pisidian Antioch they could have taken the road that leads to Colossae, Laodicea, then to the capital of Asia, Ephesus. These are large cities. Paul is probably thinking that these fields are ready for harvest. But somehow, we are not told the specifics, the Holy Spirit prevented them from going in that direction. Paul will get to Ephesus another day, Colossae and Laodicea will be evangelized later. Plan A is tabled.

 

 

Plan B, seems to have started out okay. Verse 7 starts with them having headed north towards Bithynia. Why go this way? In the dual-province of Bithynia and Pontus they could go to other major cities such as Nicomedia (the Roman capital in Bithynia), Nicaea, and the city Byzantium (later called Constantinople). At this point they are probably in one of two cities that border Mysia and Bithynia. However we are told the the Spirit stops them again and does not allow them to head north. Scripture does not tell us if Paul ever makes it north, but we know that Peter writes his first letter to disciples that are spread out in the northern portion of Asia Minor including Bithynia and Pontus. Plan B is tabled.

 

 

Was there a Plan C? I don’t know. The group may have discussed their travel plans to determine where they should head. I wonder if they were getting discouraged or confused about this journey. Where to go to next. They make it the city of Troas. Troas is a major seaport for the northwest of Asia Minor on the west coast as it had a man made harbor. It is located about 10 miles south of the ancient city of Troy. Troas was made a Roman Colony by Augustus. They can go no further west unless they enter Greece. Greece is what the Lord wants for them. Paul is given a vision or a dream one night. In that dream, a man from Macedonia is pleading with Paul saying, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” Macedonia is the northern portion of Greece.

 

 

The next morning Paul discussed this vision with Silas, Timothy, and Luke. Verse 10 is the first of the “we” passages. The writing changes from third person to first person from here until verse 17. There is debate over when Luke joined the team. Some think he was in Antioch since the beginning, others think he was an itinerant doctor that went back and forth between Troas and Philippi and joined Paul here in Troas. We don’t know for sure. What’s important at this point is that the team discussed Paul’s vision and decided that the Lord was intending them to go to Macedonia and evangelize there. The set sail from Troas and stop at the island on Samothrace for the night and then set sail for the port of Neapolis. It is assumed they had favorable winds for this two day journey, as in 20:5-6 we see it took five days for a return trip. Neapolis was the major port for Macedonia and served Philippi which was about 9 miles further inland. Philippi and Neapolis were connected on the famous Roman highway, the Egnatian Way which connected the Adriatic in the west to the city Byzantium in the east. Paul and the others were heading to Philippi. Philippi, we are told was a Roman Colony and an important city in the Macedonian province. They stayed in Philippi for several days.

Conclusion:

“[There is a story] of an old Scottish woman who went from home to home across the countryside selling thread, buttons, and shoestrings. When she came to an unmarked crossroad, she would toss a stick into the air and go in the direction the stick pointed when it landed. One day, however, she was seen tossing the stick up several times. ‘Why do you toss the stick more than once?’ someone asked. ‘Because,’ replied the woman, ‘it keeps pointing to the left, and I want to take the road on the right.’ She then dutifully kept throwing the stick into the air until it pointed the way she wanted to go!” Today in the Word, May, 1989. (http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/w/will_of_God.htm 3/29/19)

What if Paul did as that Scottish woman in the story did? What if Paul went the way he wanted to go or planned to go instead of heeding to the will of the Lord? This section shows that we as Christians must be sensitive to the Lord’s leading. We must be in prayer constantly as well as in the Scriptures on a regular basis. We must also have a willing and humble spirit before the Lord. If we know that the Lord wants us to do something, we need to do that.  Sometimes it may even seem strange or disappointing. Paul and Barnabas took different paths in the beginning of our passage. I’m not going to say who was right or wrong, but we should note that God used that division to further the gospel in with two ministries instead of one. It seemed like Paul had plans to get to large and important cities where the gospel could spread, but God took to another direction. Paul gets to major cities in Greece instead of Asia Minor, and will later in this journey be able to proclaim the gospel in Athens.

What plans do you have that God seems to be blocking? What plans does God have for you? What plans does God have for us here in this church?

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #22

for-the-cause-of-christ-a-series-in-the-book-of-actsActs: For the Cause of Christ #22

Title: Gentile Salvation

Acts 15:1-35

Review of 14:1-28

Last week we saw as Paul and Barnabas finished their journey into Asia Minor going into new territories with the Gospel. They faced renewed opposition, they we mistaken for gods, Paul was attacked and stoned, they returned to the churched to establish leadership. Then returned home to Antioch in Syria to report on what God had done through them. We saw how churches should be discipling their members to continue the work of the gospel in on going cycle, and that doping the work of the gospel can have dangerous consequences. This week we see how the Jerusalem church handles disagreement and division over Gentile salvation.

There’s a story “of a father who was in his study reading, and he heard a commotion outside the window. It was his daughter who was playing with her friends. And it got louder and it got louder and more heated and more argumentative, until finally he could restrain himself no longer. And he pushed the window open and said, ‘Stop it. Honey what’s wrong?’ And after the reprimand sh responded quickly, ‘But, Daddy, we were just playing church’” (Swindoll, Charles R., The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, © 1998, p95).

 

 

The Problem – vv 1-5

 

Some time after Paul and Barnabas had returned from Asia Minor, some men came to Antioch from Judea teaching the church that true salvation also meant following the Mosaic law, or at the very least following the covenant with circumcision. Why did these Judaizers come to Antioch? What was there concern or motivation? We can only assume as we are not told why. It is thought that some the Jewish Christians were concerned that a greater number of Genitles were being converted and being added to the church with no background of Judaism, and that this imbalance would bring the church down to a weakened moral state. How could this be kept from happening? Easy, the Gentiles must be circumcised and follow the Mosaic Law. It is thought that some of these Jewish converts thought the church was the righteous remnant of Judaism, and if Paul and Barnabas weren’t going to insist on the following of the Law in Antioch or the new church plants, these Judaizers would correct it for them.

 

 

No wonder Paul and Barnabas, our “Dynamic Duo” of the last two chapters, donned their capes and leapt into action against these Judaizers. Paul and Barnabas argued and debated these men until the church decided to send our Duo and others to confer with the Jerusalem church, James, the Apostles and the other elders. On the way to Jerusalem Paul and Barnabas passed through the regions of Phoenicia and Samaria and told of their journey which caused great joy to the churches they visited.

 

 

When Paul and Barnabas arrived in Jerusalem they gave their report of their journey through Asia Minor again. However this time, a faction of Pharisees that had believed spoke out saying these new Gentile Christians needed to follow the Law. One of my college professors, referred to the Pharisees as “the Sabbath Police” when we studied the book of Matthew. The Pharisee sect was more strict with the adherence of the Law, so this is no surprise that these believers were a part of the Pharisees.

 

We need to remember that we all have a little Pharisee in our blood. Any of us can become to strict on how certain things should be done, ought to be done, or have always been done. Doing certain things a certain way isn’t wrong, it becomes wrong if we give no room to adapt or attach to much significance to certain rituals or procedures or processes. We all need to be careful not to fall into this trap.

 

 

The Discussion – vv 6-21

 

Peter vv 7-11

After the Apostles and Elders of the church meet, there was still a great deal of debate that took place. When nothing was seemed to be settled, Peter took the floor. He began by reminding them that God had used him to go to the first Gentile converts, and reminded them that God gave those Gentiles the Holy Spirit in manner that was similar to Pentecost in chapter 2, as well as in Samaria in chapter 8. He tells them that God is not making a distinction between the Jews that had believed and the Gentiles that had believed, everyone had showed the same faith in the same Lord, and God cleansed or purified the hearts of those who believed.

 

 

 

Peter then asked those on the other side of the debate why they would burden their fellow disciples and brothers in the faith, not to mention testing God, by making the Gentile believers follow the Law that history has shown that the children of Israel couldn’t even follow. He then reminds them that not only do the Genitles believe that they have been saved by the grace of Jesus, but so do these Jewish believers.

 

 

Paul and Barnabas v12

It appears that there was some silence after Peter’s comments, during this time Barnabas and Paul stood and again recounted what had happened on their journey. It appears as though they seemed to emphasize the miraculous moments of their journey to help Peter’s point of the God doing the work. Paul and Barnabas preached grace, not law. “If you will review the record of the first missionary journey (Acts 13-14), you will see the emphasis is on what God did in response to men’s faith. See 13:8, 12, 39, 41, 48; 14:1, 22, 23, 27. Note also the emphasis on grace (13:43; 14:3, 26). God opened for the Gentiles ‘the door of faith,’ not ‘the door of the Law’” (Wiersbe, Warren W., Be Daring, © 1988, p 26). Peter had reminded those listening of God’s work in the past, Paul and Barnabas discussed what was presently happening, and then James was the last to speak and looked to the future.

 

 

James vv 13-21

James, the apparent leader of the Jerusalem Church, then took the floor to address the council. He refers back to Peter’s comments of how God has used Peter for the first official inclusion of Genitles into the Church, he then quotes from Amos 9:11-12 to show that the OT Scripture agrees with the inclusion of Gentiles. The problem comes with how we interpret James use of Amos 9. The immediate context of that passage “speaks judgement upon Israel and the whole house of Jacob (Amos 9:7,8), but holds out the promise that ‘in that day’  God will raise up the fallen royal house of David and will restore his realm” (Kent Jr, Homer A., Jerusalem to Rome, © 1972, p 126). So we have this passage that is clearly referring to the future of Israel and the future physical kingdom of Christ that is being used to back up the inclusion of Gentiles into the Church, how should we understand that? Well there are a few different opinions, but the one I agree with, the one that does the most justice to both the OT and NT is “that gentile salvation without circumcision meets with no contradiction in the OT. the promises to Israel will yet be be literally fulfilled, but will occur ‘in that day’ [Christ returning in His glory]” (Kent, p126).  Since we know that Christ’s return is still yet to come we notice James’ use of the phrase “after these things” to show how the prophecy works with God’s current activity. “James als inserted the words, ‘I will return’ to make it clear that fulfillment of Israel’s blessings must await Christ’s return” (Kent, p126).

 

 

 

After quoting from Amos, James gives his opinion that they shouldn’t give any difficulties to Gentile Christians about having to follow the Law.  He does suggest that they issue some general conduct guidelines for the Gentile Christians to follow. It appears the guidelines were given since there are followers of Judaism all over the known world and the Gentile Christians should avoid offending them unnecessarily, so that there can be a witness to the unbelieving Jews. Christianity is still tied closely to Judaism at this time.

 

 

 

Letter – vv 22-29

 

James suggestion won the day and seemed to calm tension. The church then decided on two men to accompany Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with the letter containing the decision of the Jerusalem Council. We do not know anything else of the Judas, but we are introduced to Silas here, and it is my understanding that this the same Silas that will travel with Paul in the near future and is referenced in a number of Paul’s letters.

 

 

The Letter itself starts by stating the the men who had gone to Antioch teaching the requirements of the Law had not been given authorization from the church to do so, but that they were now sending Paul and Barnabas back along with Judas and Silas who will each give the same news to the Antioch church.

 

 

 

They note that the decision reached was not only the church’s but also by the Holy Spirit. Even though the Spirit wasn’t mentioned earlier, we see here how the Spirit usually works. Miraculous events don’t need to take place for the Spirit to be present. Christians that are filled by the Spirit can detect His presence when there is harmony that prevails as people respond to the Spirit’s will.

 

 

 

The guidelines are then listed. The Gentiles should keep themselves from food offered to idols (Paul expands on this in 1 Corinthians 8), sexual immorality, meat from animals that have been strangled, and eating blood. The elements of the decision relating to food, do go back to OT commands. I think this should be understood as a matter of conscience and go the principle in 1 Corinthians 8. It is thought that issue of sexual immorality goes back to the rules of marriage in Leviticus 18, but in many of the gentile cultures sexual immorality was prevalent especially under the guise of religion so a reminder about avoiding this issue was not unwarranted.

 

 

 

In 16:4-5 we see Paul and Silas tell the churches he is revisiting about this decision, it is possible he took a copy of the letter, or the original, along with him.

 

 

Outcome – vv 30-35

 

With the letter written, the men chosen, there was nothing else to do, but to send it. When Paul and the others arrived in Antioch they got the entire congregation together for the public reading of the letter. This letter was received with great rejoicing. The status of Gentile converts was viewed as true salvation, by the “mother church” in Jerusalem.

 

 

Judas and Silas also encouraged the Antioch congregation through adding their gifts of prophecy and teaching along with those in Antioch. After some time, we don’t know how much, Silas and Judas went back to Jerusalem with peace from the Antioch church for themselves and the church of Jerusalem. After they had gone Paul and Barnabas again resumed their ministries of teaching and preaching the Word of Lord with their fellow leaders in the church.

 

 

You might be wondering if I skipped verse 34, yes I did. Verse 34 is only found in a few manuscripts, and not found in the manuscripts generally thought to be the most reliable, so many translations omit it, or place it in brackets or will note that it is not likely original to the text. Now you might be thinking, if you read ahead, that this would create a problem with verse 40. Not really. If we assume that there is some time between verse 33 and verse 40, then Paul could have sent for Silas to come to Antioch to join him on his next journey.

 

Conclusion:

We saw that we need to be careful not to attach too much importance to certain things, certains ways things are done. We need to be careful not to get caught in the trap of the Pharisees.

We also need to remember that if, and when, disagreements enter the church we need to seek the Lord’s guidance, treat each other with love and respect, and remember the things that we should fight for (doctrines, the gospel, etc.) are more important than the color of the wall or carpet or who has what ministry now. Churches need to find ways to promote unity within their memberships. Speaking of unity…

“Picture a couple of comic strip characters. One sitting alone, watching television. In storms the other, demanding that he change the channel to show the one she wants to watch, threatening him with her fat little fist in his face. Rather meekly he asks her what makes her think she can walk in and take over. She blurts out: ‘These five fingers!’ which she tightens into a fist. It works. Without a word the little guy responds by asking which channel she prefers. Naturally, she gets to watch any channel she wants. Slowly, he slips out of the room, feeling like a wimp. He looks at his own five fingers and askes, ‘Why can’t you guys get organized like that?’” (Swindoll, Charles R., The Tale of the Tardy Oxcart, © 1998, p 599).   I think most of you know those characters as “Lucy” and her brother “Linus”.

Most importantly we see that salvation is grace by faith. Ephesians 2:8-9 we could all probably quote those verses from memory. We cannot add to the gospel works or rules, and we cannot take away from the gospel. Doing either of those will pervert the gospel into something it is not.

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #21

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #21

Title: Paul’s First Missionary Journey Pt 2for-the-cause-of-christ-a-series-in-the-book-of-acts

Acts 14:1-28

Review of 13:1-52

Last week we saw how Paul, Barnabas and John Mark set out from Antioch is Syria. We saw that the local church and the Lord’s leading work hand in hand to send out workers in the field for the gospel. We saw as they passed through Cyprus and encountered a false teacher that God will and does judge those who oppose the gospel and the church. We saw that opposition will come, but that our responsibility is to be faithful to Christ and proclaim the gospel and let the Lord handle the outcome, whatever that may be.

This week we conclude Paul’s first journey as he and Barnabas go as far as Derbe and then retrace their steps home.

 

 

Iconium – vv 1-7 

Paul and Barnabas had left Antioch of Pisidia and headed to Iconium about eighty miles away. Here, we see that they continued their procedure of going to the Synagogue to reach the Jewish population first. Again, there message was heard with great results as many Jews and God-fearing Greeks accepted the Christ as savior. I say God-fearing Greeks here, because it appears that Luke is making a distinction in this section between the Greeks that are attending synagogue and the Gentile population of the city that we will see in verse 2.

 

 

Like we saw in Antioch las time, the unbelieving Jews began stirring up trouble for Paul and Barnabas. They did everything they could to get Paul and Barnabas kicked out, they began to prejudice the Gentile population and leaders against the missionaries and the new Christian converts. However, it seems that this was somewhat of a slow process. In verse 3, we are told the Paul and Barnabas “stayed there a long time”. We don’t know how long that time was, but they continued to speak boldly for the Lord. And the Lord used them as they “testified to the message of His grace” by allowing the to do signs and wonders. Here again we see that in the Apostolic time of the new revelation of salvation by grace through faith, God uses His witnesses to be able to do miraculous events through His power, to help validate the new message from the Lord. Here the gospel message is referred to as “the message of his grace” as God’s grace is the subject matter of the message.

 

 

 

After some time, things began to go sideways. The town became divided as some took the side of the Jews and others with Paul and Barnabas. Now here and in verse 14 Paul and Barnabas are referred to as apostles. Generally we do not think of Barnabas as an Apostle like Paul or Peter and the Twelve, but the word has a broader meaning of messenger, so Luke may be referring to Paul and Barnabas being commissioned messengers from the church in Antioch of Syria, or since Paul is an Apostle commissioned by Jesus Himself, Luke is referring to Barnabas “as a member of the apostolic party (with Paul’s Apostleship in a sense lending its authority to Barnabas)” (Kent, Homer A. Jr, Jerusalem to Rome, © 1972, p 115). The trouble climaxes here in verse 5 when a mob of unbelieving Jews, including the Jewish leadership, and Gentiles was formed to mistreat and stone them. One source suggests that execution may not have been the plan, but just harass Paul and Barnabas and to pelt them with stones. Having heard of the plot before hand, Paul and Barnabas decided it was better to leave town. The left Iconium and headed to Lycaonian countryside as well as the towns of Lystra and Derbe. Luke mentions that they went to the Lycaonian region, Paul and Barnabas had crossed a political boundary when they fled from Iconium, the idea is that they had reached safety by crossing into a new region, far enough from those seeking to do them harm in Iconium.  Lystra was about twenty miles south of Iconium, where Paul and Barnabas continued to preach the gospel.

 

For Paul and Barnabas they again faced opposition to their mission, the Lord’s mission of spreading the gospel. Though they fled from the city, quite possibly for their lives, I don’t think they were necessarily discouraged. They knew they had left Iconium in the hands of the Lord as He led the new church plant there. They had succeeded presenting the Gospel both to the Jews, Jewish proselytes and Gentile worshippers of God. They left the rest of the city to the new church and the Lord. They went to new ground. The Lord let them face some opposition in Antioch and Iconium so they could go to new ground have a new opportunity to preach the gospel.

 

 

Is Lord opening new ground to you? Is He opening a door you maybe haven’t considered? Just because we face difficulties, it doesn’t mean that the Lord has forgotten us. Maybe, the Lord has something different in mind. We just need to be faithful to the Lord, and continue in obedience to Him.

 

 

Lystra – vv 8-20a

 

Lystra was established as a Roman colony in 25 BC as was Pisidian Antioch by Augustus to help keep peace in that region of the empire. Antioch and Lystra were connected by a military road that did not pass through Iconium. So Paul and Barnabas went to Iconium first, probably because it was a little closer to Antioch than Lystra and, I think, because there was a least one synagogue there.

 

 

 

There is no reference to a Synagogue in Lystra, so it appears that this was all new ground for the missionaries. Most of the people in Lystra, and Derbe as well, had no understanding of the God of Israel, they weren’t looking for a promised Messiah, they had their pagan gods and pagan worship. Though Paul and Barnabas lived in Antioch in Syria where there was lots of paganism and its related worship, Lystra and Derbe were remote and basically the frontier of Roman Empire in the First Century. Think of it in terms of a modern city like Lima, Peru that is only few hundred miles from jungle tribes with little or no modern way of life. So with no synagogue or evidence of a Jewish community, it appears that Paul and Barnabas started doing what today we call “street evangelism”.

 

 

While Paul and Barnabas were preaching and teaching there in Lystra, a man who had been born crippled and unable to walk was sitting nearby listening to Paul and had demonstrated faith to Paul somehow, that the Lord allowed Paul to heal this man. Luke isn’t very clear as to whether this man displayed faith in Jesus for salvation or if he merely trusted that Paul was able to help him somehow. Like Peter healing the beggar at the temple gate in Jerusalem in chapter 3, this man was lame from birth and the healing could have only been done in a miraculous way.

 

 

 

The healing of the man was obvious to everyone around. It is likely this was all happening the marketplace where lots of people are around. I’m sure that Paul was using that spiritual gift the way it was supposed to be used, which is ultimately for God’s glory, but also as a way to validate that Paul’s message of the true God of the universe had power behind its truth, but I don’t think Paul had in mind what happened next.

 

 

What’s happening here? I think everyone knew that a miracle had taken place. No one doubted that, but the people of Lystra took Paul and Barnabas as gods of the Greek Pantheon in human form, Barnabas as Zeus and Paul as Hermes. Why? “The Roman poet Ovid (43 BC – AD 17) records the ancient myth concerning a visit of Zeus and Hermes to the neighboring region of Phrygia, disguised as mortals. All turned them away except one [elderly] couple…on the Lycaonian border. Later a flood came in judgement and drowned all except this couple” (Kent, p117). Apparently the people of Lystra didn’t want a repeat of this myth, so the started preparing sacrifices and honors for their visiting “gods”. Luke records that they were using their native language of Lycaonian, as Paul was probably speaking to them in Greek, so Paul and Barnabas didn’t understand what was happening until it was nearly too late.

When Paul and Barnabas realized what was happening they acted very quickly. It is thought that the priest of Zeus and the crowd had brought the bulls to the door where the missionaries were staying, and that was when Paul and Barnabas realized what was about to happen. They ran into the crowd ripping the tunics, ripping their shirts. Why would they do that? It is a Jewish response of horror to blasphemy. This was done by the High Priest at Jesus’ trial when He answered truthfully to being the Messiah (Mk 14:60-64).

 

 

 

Then Paul and Barnabas, after getting the attention of the crowd, began explaining that they were just flesh and blood humans as their listeners were, and were sent as messengers by the One True God. The summary Luke gives here is one of two examples we have in Acts of reaching out to a purely pagan culture.  They started by telling the crowds that they were simply messengers calling the people of Lystra from their worthless dead idols to the true, living, creator God. Since there is no OT foundation on which to build, the missionaries started by going to what they had around them, the natural revelation of God’s creation. They tell the crowd that God had created everything, and though He let every nation “go their own way”, God had left them a witness of Himself, nature. Specifically the missionaries talk about God giving everybody rain, changing seasons, and harvests of food. Today we refer to this as an element of God’s common grace. God gives things sunshine, crops, changing seasons to everybody whether they worship Him or not. This is a similar discussion that Paul talks about in more detail in Romans 1:18-25. After this explanation, Paul and Barnabas were able to just stop the sacrifices from being made in their honor.

 

 

We are not given any amount of time between verses 18 and 19 so we don’t know how long after the near miss of the sacrifices that trouble coming to Lystra for Paul and Barnabas. Evidently there were some converts to Christianity during their time Lystra as we see in verse 20, and it is thought that Timothy and his family may have been from Lystra and may have come to Christ during this trip. So there is some fruit in this mission field, but now we have unbelieving Jews that have followed Paul and Barnabas to from Pisidian Antioch to Iconium, gathered more unbelieving Jews from Iconium and have now entered Lystra. Somehow they won over crowds against the missionaries.

 

 

 

Again we see how fickle public opinion can be. One moment Paul was a god to be worshipped, now he was criminal to executed. This the stoning Paul refers to in 2 Corinthians 11:25. It has been said that “a mob [is] ‘a society of bodies voluntarily bereaving themselves of reason’” (Weirsbe, Warren W., Be Daring, © 1988, p 18). This small band of disciples were in a critical moment, their leader is thought to be dead, they are outnumbered by those had attacked Paul, however this group of believers didn’t leave Paul’s side when he was left for dead. Verse 20 tells us that they gathered around him, they may have been praying. We aren’t told for certain if Paul was dead and that God raised to back life or if the Lord had protected Paul somehow to keep him from dying. Either way Paul stands up, goes back into the town for the night.

 

Sometimes opposition to the Gospel is just used to open a new door. Sometimes, it literally follows you. That is what happened here. Opposing Jews followed Paul from Pisidian Antioch to gather reinforcements from Iconium to go into pagan, gentile Lystra to whip up a crowd to try to eliminate Paul. As Christians we are to preach and teach the gospel. Most times, I think, physical abuse doesn’t happen. Especially here in the US where Christians have had a very easy time for a long time, but sometimes, for the Cause of  Christ, for the cause of the gospel, physical abuse cannot be avoided. We have brothers and sisters in Christ around the world facing horrific persecution, for simply believing on Christ and trying to live out their faith. But in here in the US, we’re afraid to lose our job, to be laughed at, or to simply be brushed aside.

 

 

From Derbe to Home v20b-28

 

The next morning Paul and Barnabas left for Derbe around sixty miles away from Lystra to the southeast. Luke tells us nothing of the time Paul and Barnabas spend in Derbe. We can only assume that it was somewhat peaceful as it was fruitful. Many disciples were made in Derbe, one of note is Gaius who is later mentioned as travelling companion of Paul in chapter 20.

 

 

 

After Derbe, instead of travelling the shorter route home to Antioch in Syria by land through Tarsus, the missionaries decided to return the way they came more or less. They went back to Lystra, Iconium and Pisidian Antioch to encourage the new disciples and to help establish leadership in the local churches in those towns. It is thought that there may have been some turnover in civil governments in those cities making it relatively more safe for them to return, even if that wasn’t the case we must recognize the courage of these men to return to the cities were they had faced various degrees of opposition, violence and injustice.

Here in verse 23 we see that Paul and Barnabas are appointing elders, other translations say “ordain” instead of appoint. The verb used originally meant essentially vote by raised hands. I’m not going to hold this verse as key to congregational government. There is an argument there, as the verb is used in 2 Corinthians 8:19 where the idea of congregational selection is in focus, as well as the the fact the congregational selection was already established as an apostolic practice as we saw in chapter 6 with the selection of the Seven. This verse isn’t as clear, but I think Warren Wiersbe says it best when stated, “[i]t is possible that Paul chose the men and the congregation voted its approval, or that the people selected them by vote and Paul ordained them” (Wiersbe, p 19). Though he doesn’t come down on a specific side, I agree that either of those options is probably what Luke meant. It appears the selection of these pastors, was done with prayer and fasting, and then Paul and Barnabas committed these men and the churches to Lord before continuing their journey home.

 

 

After leaving Pisidian Antioch they travelled through Pisidia again and into the region of Pamphylia and came to the city of Perga. Here is where they started their journey into Asia Minor, and where John Mark had left to return home. We are told they preached in Perga, this was not mentioned earlier in chapter 3 and we can only assume if they did or not in that earlier visit. After stopping in Perga, they headed to the port city of Attalia which was the primary port for Pamphylia.  After leaving Attalia they bypassed Cyprus and sailed directly back for Antioch of Syria. Luke doesn’t tell us here if they return to the port of Seleucia, but I think they did.

 

 

There was probably great excitement when Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch. They had returned to their “sending church” to report about everything God had done for them. Imagine the excitement when they described they dangers faced, how God provided, how He directed, and of course how He had used them to open wider the door of faith and salvation to the Gentiles. The missionaries probably returned to their normal ministries there in Antioch as they stayed there for awhile.

 

 

 

Most of these cities and towns of this first journey have been in a couple of different regions, but they all belonged to the larger province of Galatia. These cities were in the southern part of Galatia, the name you recognize as one of Paul’s letters. There are two theories for the dating of Galatians. One is the “northern theory” and the other is the “southern theory”. If the northern view is correct, then Galatians was written to other churches and was written somewhere between AD 52/53-56 around the time he wrote Romans. If the southern view is correct, then the churches that Paul and Barnabas help plant and establish on this first journey were the recipients of the book of Galatians, and the date for Galatians would be AD 48 or 49, before the Jerusalem Council which is generally dated at AD 49. Why say all that now, because if the southern view is correct, then here between chapters 14 and 15 of Acts is when Paul is writing Galatians, making it one of the earliest books of the NT.

 

Just like Barnabas had done in Antioch by getting Paul, the missionaries knew that they need to make sure these new church had mature, established leadership that was committed to Lord and the work of the Gospel. We know churches need to be organized, organizations need leadership, and churches are organisms as well as organization. Not only should the leadership be committed to Lord and the Gospel, but the members of the church should be as well. Leadership of churches is supposed to train members for the work of the Gospel so they can do their part of the Great Commission and go and help make disciples, so the leadership finds new members in the church to train. As Paul and Barnabas did so should current missionaries or other church members sent out for a short time report back on their mission and experiences. The church invests time, prayer, and usually some funds so it is as much the mission of that local church as it is the worker

Conclusion:

For Paul and Barnabas they again faced opposition to their mission, the Lord’s mission of spreading the gospel. They left the rest of the city to the new church and the Lord. They went to new ground. The Lord let them face some opposition in Antioch and Iconium so they could go to new ground have a new opportunity to preach the gospel. Is Lord opening new ground to you? Is He opening a door you maybe haven’t considered? Just because we face difficulties, it doesn’t mean that the Lord has forgotten us. Maybe, the Lord has something different in mind. We just need to be faithful to the Lord, and continue in obedience to Him.

Sometimes opposition to the Gospel is just used to open a new door. Sometimes, it literally follows you. Opposing Jews followed Paul from Pisidian Antioch to gather reinforcements from Iconium to go into pagan, gentile Lystra to whip up a crowd to try to eliminate Paul. As Christians we are to preach and teach the gospel. Most times, I think, physical abuse doesn’t happen here in the US where Christians have had a very easy time for a long time, but sometimes, for the Cause of  Christ, physical abuse cannot be avoided. We have brothers and sisters in Christ around the world facing horrific persecution, for simply believing on Christ and trying to live out their faith. But in here in the US, we’re afraid to lose our job, to be laughed at, or to simply be brushed aside.

Churches need to be training their members to go out and the work of the gospel. This should be an ongoing cycle. Churches that are so focused on their inward needs or preferences are in danger of being ineffectual as well as heading down a slippery slope to the death of the church. How are our churches doing?

What are we doing for the Cause of Christ? What are you doing for the Cause of Christ?

 

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #20

for-the-cause-of-christ-a-series-in-the-book-of-actsActs: For the Cause of Christ #20

Title: Paul’s First Journey – Pt 1

Acts 13:1-52

Introduction

Last week we saw how God was still actively aiding and protecting the church in Jerusalem as Herod Agrippa began persecuting the church by arrest James the brother of John and Peter. Though James was executed, God divinely helped Peter escape the same fate. We also saw how God judged Herod Agrippa for accepting worship as if he were a god and quite possibly for executing James and harassing Peter. We saw that the church, fervently praying on Peter’s behalf had their prayer answered, and that the church continued to grow and the word of God flourished. Luke then turns the attention back to Barnabas and Saul who have completed their mission of delivering a relief fund from Antioch, and returned to Antioch with John Mark. This week, we start Paul’s first missionary journey from Antioch in chapter 13.

 

1. Antioch and Cyprus vv 1-12

 

Antioch

Luke focuses back on the church of Antioch in Syria as we begin this chapter. Luke gives us a brief view of some of the leadership in Antioch. Barnabas and Saul we know are gifted teachers. These other men we know little to nothing about. Simeon (or Simon) called Niger we only know that both his Hebrew and Latin, not Greek, names are given. The name Niger means black, leading many to think he had a dark complexion and was possibly from the northern coast of Africa, but that is not for certain. Next we are told Lucius from Cyrene, also had a Latin name and because he was from Cyrene we do know he was from the northern coast of Africa, but nothing else is known. Then we meet Manaen, we don’t know anything else about him except that he was a close friend of Herod Antipas. It is suggested, that Manaen grew up with Antipas in the court of Herod the Great, much like Agrippa had grown up in Rome with Caligula. These men were prophets and teachers in the church in Antioch. It can be assumed that these three men could have been involved in the original planting of this church.

 

 

 

We are told that “as they were worshipping the Lord and fasting”, whether this refers to a worship service of the church or these men were having a time of fasting for something like a “men’s bible study”, I’m not too sure. But, during this time of fasting, the Holy Spirit made it clear that Barnabas and Saul were to be set apart or separated from the rest of the church for the work He had for them. In chapter 9 we saw how the Lord Jesus had chosen Saul to take the gospel to the gentile world, now Barnabas was being included as well. They finished their fast, prayed about this commission and then the leaders laid hands on the newly appointed missionaries. It is important to remember that the Holy Spirit, working through the local church, calls and equips people for service. It is the local church, not a denomination, or mission agency that sends missionaries. Barnabas and Saul took John Mark with them, as we see a few verses later, went to the nearby port at Seleucia and set sail for the island of Cyprus.

 

 

Cyprus

The party arrived in Salamis, a port city on the far eastern coast of the the island. This city had a Jewish settlement that was large enough to more than one synagogue. Here is Salamis, the team establishes their pattern for the journey, enter the cities, find the Jewish section if the Jews do not listen go to the Gentiles. However we were told in chapter 11:19 that disciples that fled Jerusalem from the persecution after Stephen had come to Cyprus, so it is possible that there may have been a small group of believers already established.

 

 

 

Barnabas, Saul, and John Mark travelled across the whole island, we can assume they preached at any town or city they came to along the way, until they reached the capital city of Cyprus, Paphos. Here the Roman proconsul was a man named Sergius Paulus. Though we are told the proconsul was an intelligent man, he had as part of his advisors a Jewish false prophet (or teacher) and sorcerer named Bar-Jesus or son of Jesus (Joshua). Later Luke calls him Elymas which means sorcerer. Sergius Paulus wants to hear what Barnabas and Saul have to say, he must have been somewhat interested in theology to summon these men. Elymas tries to counter their argument and sway the proconsul away from the gospel.

 

 

 

We are given for the first time Saul’s Roman name or Paul, and for the rest of Acts he is referred to as Paul. Paul recognizes Elymas for what he is, a son of the devil and certainly not a child of God. Through the Lord’s power Paul works a miracle against Elymas blinding him for an undetermined time. This miracle is enough to cause Sergius Paulus to believe. There is disagreement as to whether this belief was for salvation, I tend to think that Luke is saying the this Roman Proconsul, as Gentile as you can get, believed the gospel that Paul and Barnabas had presented it. Paphos held a blinded Jew and a believing Gentile.

 

We see that missionaries are raised up and sent out by the Lord and the local church. It is the local church’s job, by way of its leadership (Pastors, teachers, etc.) to “[equip] the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).

 

 

We see with Elymas that the Lord will and does judge those who oppose the Gospel and the church. Elymas was a Jew, he should have known better. The more light we are given, the more accountable to God we are for that light, of course Elymas may have been Jewish by birth and hadn’t been a practicing Jew for a long time. Our job is to share the gospel and be true disciples of Jesus, God will judge those who oppose the church, who oppose Him.

 

 

2. Antioch in Pisidia vv 13-52

 

Paul’s Sermon vv 13-41

After the encounter in Paphos, Paul and the others set sail to north from Cyprus to Asia Minor and came to Perga in the region of Pamphylia. Luke doesn’t give us any details here, other than for some reason John Mark decides to leave Paul and Barnabas and return to Jerusalem. There are many suggestions given as to why John Mark left, one is that the wild area of Pisidia was known for robbers and John Mark did not want to continue north from Perga. However, the truth is we do not know for sure.

 

 

 

 

Paul and Barnabas did continue north to Pisidian Antioch about 100 miles north of Perga. They went to a synagogue on Sabbath and listened to the reading of the Law and the Prophets. It was customary for visiting Rabbis to be invited to offer a message based on the readings from the service, Paul may have been identified as a former student of the famed Gamaliel and was asked to speak.

 

 

 

 

Paul’s first recorded sermon in Acts follows, he is addressing Jews as well as God-fearing Gentiles. His sermon is similar to Stephen’s as it follows Jewish history, and similar to Peter’s at Pentecost in the interpretation of certain OT passages. He starts with the Egyptian captivity and exodus, the wilderness wanderings and then the conquering of the land. He mentions the judges, and Samuel, Saul and David. Here, Paul ties God’s promised Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, to David’s descendants, God fulfilled the promise. He confirms that John the Baptist was the forerunner preparing the way for the Messiah before he continues.

 

 

 

Paul now gets to the meat of the gospel. He shows how the Jewish Leadership fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah, they refused to recognize in Jesus. Verses 30-37 Paul spends more time on as he deals with the resurrection of Jesus as the best proof that Jesus was/is the Messiah. He interprets Psalm 2:7 as referring to Christ’s resurrection. Then he cites Isaiah 55 showing that if Jesus had remained dead and buried, He couldn’t be the Messiah, then Paul quotes Psalm 16 showing that promise was about the Messiah and not David himself. [read 36-7] David died, and was buried. His body saw decay, as did his ancestors, but Jesus was raised not to see decay, and not to face it again.

 

 

 

Paul closes his message with a call of repentance and faith. He tells his audience that they can only find forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus Christ, and that justification before God’s throne is found in Jesus, not in Moses. We hear similar statements from Paul in Romans and Galatians. In Romans 3:19-20 Paul writes, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it speaks to those who are subject to the law, so that every mouth may be shut and the whole world may become subject to God’s judgment. For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law.” Then in Galatians 2:16 he says, “and yet because we know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we ourselves have believed in Christ Jesus. This was so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified”, and Galatians 3:11 reads, “Now it is clear that no one is justified before God by the law, because the righteous will live by faith.”

 

 

 

 

Paul closes in verses 40 and 41 with a warning from prophets. This is a reference back to Habakkuk 1:5. In that instance God was telling Israel that He would punish them by using the evil Chaldean empire, Paul using the same verse warns those listening not miss out of God’s forgiveness through the Jewish Messiah of Jesus Christ.

 

 

Aftermath vv 42-52

 

 

 

Paul’s words were heard with great interest and many coming to faith in Christ. Paul and Barnabas were invited to return the following week to speak again, and many began following Paul and Barnabas whom they were encouraging. Things seem to be going well.

 

 

 

The following Sabbath, news of the missionaries and their message had spread and nearly the whole town had come. Not only God-fearers and proselytes to Judaism, but unbelieving Gentiles came as well. This caused the unrepentant Jews to become jealous and angry. Whether this jealousy was more envy that they had not reached so many people or that they wanted to protect their traditions and teachings and the promises of God for the Gentiles, I’m not sure. Their reaction however was to insult and contradict Paul’s teaching, thereby blaspheming against the Word of the God.

 

 

 

 

Paul and Barnabas knew what their mission was. They knew what the Lord wanted them to do. So they told the Jewish community that the message of the gospel had to go to the Jews first, but since they deemed themselves better than the Word of God, Paul and Barnabas announced they would continue to go to the Gentiles. To back up their decision, they quoted from Isaiah 49:6, “‘he says, “It is not enough for you to be my servant raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the protected ones of Israel. I will also make you a light for the nations, to be my salvation to the ends of the earth.”’”

 

 

 

 

When the Gentiles heard that the missionaries would be declaring salvation to them, they were overjoyed. Many believed and the gospel continued to spread from Pisidian Antioch as well. There are many arguments and debates over the doctrine of election, but it is unavoidable as Scripture is clear that God chooses whom He will. Here in verse 48 we see another example of God’s election. This is also an example of human responsibility working with God’s sovereignty.

 

 

 

The Jews wanted Paul and Barnabas out of their town. They spoke with some prominent God-fearing women and leading men in the city. It is possible that these men are the husbands of these God-fearing women. This created opposition to Paul and Barnabas and caused to have the missionaries thrown out of town.

 

 

 

 

Paul and Barnabas did what they could in Antioch of Pisidia, but now what they could do was shake the dust of their sandals as a testimony against the unbelievers, you might remember that Jesus told the twelve to do the same in Luke 9:5 when He sent them out proclaiming the Kingdom of God. The missionaries then moved on to the city of Iconium about eighty miles away leaving new disciples filled with the Holy Spirit and joy in Antioch.

 

We can’t control what happens. Paul and Barnabas were welcomed into the Jewish synagogue, and experienced positive results with and crowds hungering for more. But the gospel will meet opposition. Our responsibility is to proclaim the gospel, we can’t make someone accept Christianity. That is between the Lord and the individual. Human responsibility and divine sovereignty go hand in hand. We can’t explain it perfectly. We can’t explain God’s election for salvation perfectly either, and if you hear someone say they completely understand the doctrine of election they are probably very arrogant and have deluded themselves into thinking that they are so smart and so wise. Only the Godhead fully understands the doctrine of election.

Conclusion:

We see that missionaries are raised up and sent out by the Lord and the local church. It is the local church’s job to “[equip] the saints for the work of ministry, to build up the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12). This should be a continuing cycle for the local church to develop leaders and workers, send them out and start developing new leaders and workers.

We see with Elymas that the Lord will and does judge those who oppose the Gospel and the church. The more light we are given, the more accountable to God we are for that light. Our job is to share the gospel and be true disciples of Jesus, God will judge those who oppose the church, who oppose Him.

We can’t control what happens. Paul and Barnabas were welcomed into the Jewish synagogue, and experienced positive results with and crowds hungering for more. But the gospel will meet opposition. Our responsibility is to proclaim the gospel, we can’t make someone accept Christianity. That is between the Lord and the individual. Human responsibility and divine sovereignty go hand in hand.

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #19

for-the-cause-of-christ-a-series-in-the-book-of-actsActs: For the Cause of Christ #19

Title: Peter and Herod

Acts 12:1-25

Review of 11:1-30

Last time we saw how the church in Jerusalem was surprised and concerned about Peter going to the Gentiles, and how, after Peter’s explanation, they realized that God had been at work as was opening the door to the Gentiles as well. We then saw how the disciples that were scattered because of the previous persecution had made their way to Antioch and planted a new local church there. The Lord had allowed a few members to evangelize to Gentiles in the city and had blessed this work. Barnabas was sent to check on them. Barnabas then gets Saul from Tarsus to help in the teaching ministry of this new church. After some prophet of God arrive from Jerusalem, the church in Antioch are warned about a famine that will affect Jerusalem, so the church cares for their fellow believers by taking a special offering to be taken to Judea by Barnabas and Saul.

This week we see a new form of persecution from the King Herod Agrippa I and how the church responds.

1. James and Peter – vv 1-5

King Herod began a new round of persecution against members of the church. No, this is not the same King Herod who hunted for baby Jesus and killed thousands of infant boys in Bethlehem, that was Herod the Great. No, this is not the King Herod who beheaded John the Baptist or questioned Jesus before His crucifixion, that was Herod Antipas. This is Herod Agrippa I, nephew of Herod Antipas, and grandson of Herod the Great. Agrippa was raised in Rome after his father was executed in 7 BC. Agrippa befriended members of the Imperial Household while in Rome. Notably, he befriended two future emperors while he was in Rome, Gaius and Claudius, Gaius’ uncle. If you don’t recognize the name Gaius as a Roman Emperor, you may recognize the nickname he is most commonly known as, Caligula. Claudius we briefly mentioned last time, he is the current Emperor in the narrative of Acts. Agrippa’s friendship with these men allowed him to gain power and land. Gaius gave him two tetrarchies in southern Syria along with the title of “king”. Then Agrippa’s kingdom grew when Galilee was added, this was the tetrarchy of his uncle Antipas until Gaius banished him. Claudius began his rule after Gaius was assassinated in AD 41, he gave Agrippa the area of Judea as well, which until this time had been governed by Roman prefects. Agrippa was more popular with the Jewish populace than many of the others of the Herodian family, so he strove to win and keep their favor.

It is suggested that until this time, the Apostles had a degree of protection as the only members of the church the Jewish community were really persecuting was the Greek Speaking Jewish converts. Now it seems that Agrippa is singling out the Apostles, who may have lost favor with the Jewish people, but James the half-brother of Jesus, and others that may have been more intentional in keeping Jewish rites seem to be left alone.  The first taken and killed is James, the brother of John the son of Zebedee. We are told here that he was killed by the sword, and this pleased the Jews. James was the first Apostle to be martyred, and the only one recorded in Scripture. Here we see the fulfillment of not only his and John’s promise to Jesus, but Jesus’ promise to them. In Mark 10, and the parallel in Matthew 20, the brothers, by their mother, ask to sit on either hand of Jesus in the Kingdom, places of honor. Jesus asked them if they were able to drink the cup He did or be baptized with the same baptism He would be baptized with, in 10:39 is the response, “‘We are able,’ they told him. Jesus said to them, ‘You will drink the cup I drink, and you will be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with.’” Jesus didn’t say or imply that the brothers would have the same experience, it is probable that John was the last of the Apostles to die.

After seeing that James’ death pleased the Jewish people and leaders, Agrippa arrested Peter during the week long Feast of Unleavened Bread. This Jewish feast immediately follows the Passover Celebration, and many times as here, the two are grouped together under the name Passover. Since Agrippa was smart enough not to pollute the festival week, he did not execute Peter right away, but decided to wait. Why Peter and James? What about the rest of the Twelve? We don’t know, Peter maybe because he was the one who started reaching out to the gentiles, maybe James and Peter were the only ones in Jerusalem at the time. Scripture is silent here. Peter was kept in prison during this time. It is suggested that he may have been held in the Antonia fortress near the temple, where Paul would later be held in chapter 21. Peter having been held twice already, and having been freed once already, Agrippa was not taking any chances and placed 4 squads of 4 men to guard Peter. Two where chained to either of his hands, and two probably guarded cell door. During this time the church used its best weapon, the church prayed fervently for Peter.

So far we’ve seen that public opinion is fickle. Whatever the cause the Apostles fall from public opinion was, we need to know that we shouldn’t be surprised when the unsaved culture around us behave fickle, as one moment they like what we say or do, but then they call us intolerant. At the same time we see here that even in the first century, politicians were swayed by public opinion, this why we the Church need to pray for the leaders raised up, we need to pray for God to raise up godly leaders so we can, as Paul put it in 1 Timothy 2, “…lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.” Though James was executed, and Peter was arrested again, the church used the best and only weapon at its disposal, prayer. How quick are we to turn to God in prayer? We can’t turn to God in prayer just when we are experiencing trials, though sometimes God uses those times to bring us to our knees before Him, but we need to have a constant life of prayer in good times and the bad. I need that reminder as much as anyone else, it is human nature not to pray. But prayer is part of the Christian’s relationship and devotion to God, it is part of being a disciple of Jesus.

We are also reminded that Jesus keeps His promises, He is faithful and will do what He has said. Though James was martyred, this was a fulfillment of Jesus’ words to him. James died for being a Christian, a disciple of Jesus Christ, he gave his life for the Cause of Christ, as Stephen and others had done before him. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not about our safety or comfort. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is about imitating Christ’s humility, love, and sharing the gospel. Whatever the cost.

2. Peter Freed – vv 6-19

As the festival week drew to an end, Agrippa prepared for a public trial and probable execution of Peter. We see here how the guards were stationed around Peter. We are told that Peter is sleeping, so soundly that the angel had to strike Peter’s side to wake him up. I don’t know about you, but I might find it hard to sleep the night before my trial and possible execution. Peter I think was calmed by the Spirit, through his own prayers and the prayers of the church over the last week. He trusted in God to care for him no matter what. I think he was willing to die for the Cause of Christ, just as James had done a few days previous.

The Lord sends an angel to Peter. It is suggested whether this visitor was a divine messenger from God, or just a sympathetic human whom the Lord used to release Peter. From what I see in the passage and the other rescue from prison in chapter 5, I believe that God sent an angel. There are too many supernatural events in this section to make me think this was a human freeing Peter.

I wonder if Charles Wesley had this passage in mind when he wrote the 4th stanza of And Can It Be: “I woke; the dungeon flamed with light. My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed thee.”

Light fills the cell, after waking and removing the chains from Peter, the angel gives him a few simple commands. Get dressed, tie your sandals, put your cloak on, follow me. Peter was probably stripped down to the most basic tunic, so the angel told him to get ready for being outside. Put your belt on, tie your shoes, grab your coat. Peter obeys and they leave the cell. Peter probably in a state of half asleep, doesn’t quite realize what is happening is real. He thinks he is seeing a vision or is dreaming. Then as they get closer to the main gate of the prison, the gate opens for them on its own. After leading Peter down a street further away from the prison the angel vanishes and Peter left alone outside.

Once Peter realized what had happened and where he was, he went to a nearby house church. Since the Jerusalem church was so large they had no single location, so they met in homes of local Christians. So it is possible that Peter knew Mary’s home was nearby just because he knew his way around Jerusalem, or he went to Mary’s home because it was the home he may have been attended more regularly as we see that Rhoda recognized Peter’s voice, or both options are possible. We don’t know for sure why Peter went to the home of Mary and John Mark, but he did. Why did you go there before fleeing into hiding? Peter knew the church was praying for him, and he wanted to let them know he was safe and the Lord had rescued him. When Peter got the house, he knocked on the outer gate, Mary’s family must have been fairly wealthy to have a home large enough to have an outer gate and a servant in the house. Rhoda, the servant girl, came to answer it and hearing Peter’s voice, she becomes overjoyed and leaves him at the gate to tell the group that was meeting there to pray for Peter, that he was standing at the gate.

Rhoda announces that Peter is at the gate, and many reject her statement as one of madness. “You’re out of your mind”, “You’re crazy”. Be she is insistent, and some took her serious by saying it is his angel. “‘It is his angel’ (vs.15) may reflect a Jewish opinion that each person has a guardian angel who can assume the person’s own bodily shape and voice. Perhaps they [thought] that he had already been executed, and that his ‘ghost’ had appeared (Kent, Homer A. Jr., Jerusalem To Rome, © 1972, p 102).” However Luke used the word angelos, meaning angel or messenger, not phantasma meaning ghost. There’s a little humor in this. Peter on the run and probably concerned the alarm is going to sound any moment is stuck outside as those inside are trying to sort out what happened. Rhoda, either convinced them to come, or the thought that Peter’s angel was there may have brought someone or a few of them to come to the gate. Once he was inside Peter quieted them down to quickly explain what had happened. He told them to let “James and the brothers” know what had happened, then Peter fled. We don’t know where he went from here and we don’t see Peter in Acts again until he has returned to Jerusalem in Acts 15. Peter was, of course referring to James the half brother of Jesus. James seems to have become the leader for the Jerusalem church, and the “brothers” may refer to the rest of the Jerusalem church, or other elders that probably have included the Apostles and James. I tend to think it is the church at large. Peter knows he was being prayed for, he wants to let everyone know he is safe for the moment, but getting out town.

The next morning was not a good one for Agrippa or the soldiers guarding Peter. A search was carried out to find Peter. The guards were interrogated, then put to death for allowing Peter to escape, Agrippa may have thought it was inside job freeing Peter. These weren’t Roman soldiers, but Roman law stated that a guard who let a prisoner escape was responsible to face whatever punishment the prisoner would have faced. Scripture doesn’t specify, but I think this was not all 4 squads, but that single squad that was on duty when Peter was rescued. After this loss of face with the people of Jerusalem, Agrippa went to Caesarea for a time.

Proverbs 15:29 tells us that the Lord, “…hears the prayer of the righteous.” The church in Jerusalem was praying for Peter, probably for the Lord to have him released. The prayers of the church aligned with the will of God, and God sent an angel to free Peter from almost guaranteed martyrdom. Why God allowed James to be martyred and Peter spared, we don’t know. That is something only in the mind of God. He will do what He wills. But remember, that is His right as the Creator of the universe and of the human race, and who are we to question God?  

3. The Death of Herod Agrippa – vv 20-25

We change scenes now. There may have been some time between Peter’s release and this section, but we don’t know how much. We do know that, since Agrippa is a historical character, he died in 44 AD in Caesarea. History record he was in Caesarea for games that were in the honor of Emperor Claudius. While in Caesarea, Luke gives us this information. It is possible that the famine that was prophesied in chapter 11 is affecting the region now, because Agrippa’s territory supplied food to Tyre and Sidon and he had stopped sending the food to those cities because of however they had upset him.

The cities seek to reconcile with Agrippa to have this embargo against them lifted. Somehow they won over Blastus. My translation reads that Blastus, “was in charge of the king’s bedroom”. Other translations call him a “chamberlain”. A chamberlain was something like a chief of staff and sometimes entailed being chief of the guard as well. The idea is that Blastus is close to the king, and was able to get a reconciliation between Phoenicia and Agrippa’s territory. After this peace was brokered, Agrippa gives a public speech. Neither Luke or the Jewish historian Josephus tells us what Agrippa said in his speech, but there is agreement that after the speech the crowd responded and compared Agrippa to a god.

Luke tells us that God had an angel strike down Agrippa for accepting the glory and not directing it to the God of Heaven. In Josephus’ parallel account we are told that Agrippa had not reacted or rebuked the crowd for their comparing him to a god, so Agrippa suffered from a painful stomach condition that lasted for five days, before he died. Luke’s phrase “he was eaten by worms” or “consumed by worms”, essentially means Agrippa had a severe disease and suffered a painful death. We don’t know what he disease he died from, but it seems that Luke’s placing the event here is that Agrippa was also judged for persecuting the church.

We then receive a brief update on the church and Barnabas and Saul. Even after suffering the loss of a prominent Apostle in James, and the uncertain times for the church, the Word of God still flourishes and more people are coming Jesus Christ. The church continues to expands.

We don’t know if Barnabas and Saul have been in Jerusalem or Judea during these events or not. Or if Luke decided not to discuss what they were doing until they had completed their mission of bringing the relief funds to James and the other elders. But we see that they pick up John Mark, whom we surmise is the same Mark that is mentioned in Colossians 4 as Barnabas’ cousin, and return to Antioch.

We see in this section that God is still active as the church continues to expand. God judged Agrippa for allowing himself to be declared equal to God and for persecuting God’s appointed messengers. This section serves as a warning to rulers not to take their power to seriously. God calls rulers to serve the people and not bask in their own glory. We see that even in times of uncertainty the church is in fervent prayer, displaying a kind of faithfulness that lends itself to the expansion of the Gospel. Are we this faithful? Are you this faithful?

Conclusion:

So far we’ve seen that public opinion is fickle. We need to know that we shouldn’t be surprised when the unsaved culture around us behave fickle, as one moment they like what we say or do, but then they call us intolerant. Even in the first century, politicians were swayed by public opinion, this why we the Church need to pray for the leaders raised up, we need to pray for God to raise up godly leaders. How quick are we to turn to God in prayer? But prayer is part of the Christian’s relationship and devotion to God, it is part of being a disciple of Jesus.

We are also reminded that Jesus keeps His promises, He is faithful and will do what He has said. Though James was martyred, this was a fulfillment of Jesus’ words to him. James died for being a disciple of Jesus Christ, he gave his life for the Cause of Christ. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is not about our safety or comfort. Being a disciple of Jesus Christ is about imitating Christ’s humility, love, and sharing the gospel. Why God allowed James to be martyred and Peter spared, we don’t know. That is something only in the mind of God. He will do what He wills.

We see a warning to rulers not to take their power to seriously. God calls rulers to serve the people and not bask in their own glory.

 

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #18

Acts: For the Cause of Christ #18

Title: Changes in the Church

Acts 11:1-30

Last time we looked at Peter’s ministry as he traveled from town to town. We saw his faithfulness to the pocket churches in the region near Jerusalem, such as Lydda and Joppa. We looked at the miracles the Lord did through Peter to bring more people to a saving knowledge of Jesus. Then we looked at how the Lord used Peter to bring the gospel to the Gentiles by preparing both Peter and Cornelius for the encounter. This week as we continue in Acts, we see the reception of this new in Jerusalem and then the expansion of the gospel for the Gentiles as Barnabas and Saul return to the narrative.

1. Peter’s Explanation – vv 1-18

We don’t know how long Peter stayed with Cornelius, at the end of chapter 10 we are told he was asked to stay a few days, but we don’t know what that looked like. However long Peter stayed in Caesarea to help ground the new converts, word of Peter staying with Gentiles, and baptizing them had gotten back to Jerusalem and caused some concern within the church.

So when Peter returns, members of the church, that seem to be more traditional [let the word hang a second] or zealous for continuing to follow the Law wanted answers. How could Peter, a Jew and a leader of the Apostles, have socialized or baptized Gentiles? At least the Samaritans had some Jewish heritage so their conversion seemed somewhat natural. At the same time we get a glance into how the church in Jerusalem functioned, as those with questions did not hesitate to go to Peter to understand what he had done, and Peter, in turn, did not issue an authoritarian edict that he could do what he wanted simply because he was an Apostle.

Peter recounts what happened beginning with his vision in Joppa. Peter is making it clear that what happened wasn’t his idea, but God’s leading from start to finish. God sent Peter a vision, God sent and angel to Cornelius, and the Holy Spirit came upon the Gentiles in Cornelius’ home just as He had done at Pentecost for the Jewish believers. Those questioning Peter could see that God had willed this to happen. They become silent, possibly in awe thinking of how everything they knew was now changing, then they glorified God realizing that God had given salvation to the Gentiles as well.

Later the Apostle Paul will write how Jews and Gentiles are each part of the unified church, the body of Christ (Eph 2:11-3:12), but right now in Acts 11, this “mystery”, as Paul put it, hadn’t been fully revealed yet. The church was concerned, some may say rightly so, after all “they’ve never done it that way before”. Peter had showed them that God was the one working the Gentiles into the church, Peter was just the servant God used to bring the Gentiles in.

Sometimes change is needed. Sometimes change is good. This was a change for the church, that no one in Jerusalem seemed to be expecting, but it is what the Lord had brought about. Are there things in your life that needed changing? We all need to ask ourselves are there things the Lord wants us to change in our daily walk with Him? Is there something in our church that needs to change? As I was thinking about this, the old joke about changing a light bulb came to mind, so I did some looking for it online and found several variations. One web page is here. My point is, if we are certain the Lord is leading us to make a change, and I’m not talking about light bulbs, then we had better make the change. Change can be difficult and painful. Our sister church in Rochester is changing the way somethings are being done, and their pastor admits it is kinda painful as they make these changes like his best friend he had in the church has left and won’t talk to him any longer; but their leadership feels these things need to change. We need to look at our lives, our church, and prayer that God directs us in a way that is clear.

2. The Church in Antioch – vv 19-30

Antioch vv19-21

Let’s take a minute to talk about Antioch. Luke is often very specific about cities and towns where the action is, and I think it is important for us to understand what the city was like and why the gospel’s impact was so profound. First you need to know that there are two cities named Antioch mention in Acts. The one we are looking at today is Antioch in Syria. This is no small town in the middle of nowhere of the Roman Empire. This city was considered the third largest in the Empire, after Alexandria in Egypt and Rome itself. Antioch was a commercial city as it was tied to a fertile plain and the river that ran through the city led to a port on the Mediterranean about fifteen miles away. Antioch was a cultural mixing pot as well as its population was filled with Greeks, Syrians, Phoenicians, Jews, Arabs, Persians, Egyptians, and Indians. The city of Daphne which held temples for Artemis, Apollo, and Astarte and their immoral cultic worship was only five miles from Antioch, “and so the area was known for its moral laxity (Bock, Darrell L., BECNT:Acts © 2007, p 413)”. Other pagan temples known to be in Antioch were those to Zeus, Apollo, Poseidon, Adonis, and Tyche. The Jewish community was rather large and was really the only segment of the population with the monotheistic worship of the true God.

This was the culture that many believers entered when they fled Jerusalem because of the persecution in 8:1. These disciples had fled north, made it to the Phoenician area (Tyre and Sidon were the major cities), as well as the island of Cyprus and the metropolis of Antioch. These disciples were doing what they saw and did in Jerusalem, they started giving the gospel message to the Jewish community. Luke then tells us that some men, we do not have their names, change tactics and start reaching out to the Greeks (or Gentiles) in Antioch as well, and as we mentioned earlier, there was no shortage of Gentiles in the city. This was blessed by the Lord as Luke uses a the phrase, “The Lord’s hand was with them”. God’s hand represents God’s power, this phrase is found in the OT, such as Ex 9:3, 1 Sam 5:6; 6:9; 1 Chr 28:19 and others. The Lord enabled these disciples to preach and for their listeners to turn and believe. Verse 21, is the only verse to use both turn and believe to show a response in faith.

Barnabas vv22-26

News of the Gentiles coming to Christ in Antioch had reached Jerusalem. As the church had done with the Samaritans by sending Peter and John, they sent a delegate to investigate and confirm the reports. This time the church sent Barnabas. The news of Antioch probably came after Peter’s trip to Caesarea and his explanation. Barnabas was a Jew from Cyprus originally, and could encourage the new believers and the growing church. Verse 24 gives us a reminder of his character of being a good man and full of the Holy Spirit and faith, this is probably part of the reason he was sent to Antioch. We see that he finds that God’s grace had been working on the Gentiles, so living true to his name again, he encouraged the church to remain true to the Lord. Remember this area is as bad as Corinth with its immoral behaviors and religions, so Barnabas’ encouragement was probably needed. The church in Antioch was still growing.

It is possible that Barnabas saw that the church needed more leadership to help ground it in the faith and doctrine. Barnabas goes to Tarsus to get Saul and bring him back to Antioch. As far as the time frame in history, it is thought this is between 42 and 43 AD. If Acts opens roughly in 30 AD, then Luke as covered 12-13 years between chapter 1 and the church in Antioch being established. We are told here in verse 26 that Barnabas and Saul teach large numbers for a full year. Then Luke drops a piece of trivia into the account here, the term Christian was first used to describe the disciples here in Antioch.

Famine Relief vv 27-30

The church in Antioch remains connected to the “mother church” in Jerusalem. From Jerusalem prophets came to Antioch. We are not told if they came under the influence of the Spirit, on their own, or sent by the Jerusalem Church. This is the first mention of NT prophets in Acts. Paul letters will discuss the gift of prophecy later on, but it seems to be similar to the gift of tongues as it was under the inspiration of God, except it appears that the gift uses the speaker’s known language. It also seems that the NT prophet had a two fold job of forth-telling as well as the occasional fore-telling as we see here. One of the prophets that came to Antioch was Agabus. This man will make another appearance to give Paul a personal prophecy in Acts 21:10. Right now Agabus is predicting, under the inspiration of the Spirit that a severe famine would go throughout the known Roman World. Luke remarks that this famine happened under the rule Emperor Claudius who rule from AD 41-54. History tells us that Claudius’ reign was plagued with successive droughts and bad harvests. Rome, Greece, Egypt and Judea all suffered as a result.

How the church in Antioch understood how the the famine would affect the Judean region is not known. We do, however, know that Judea suffered from a famine between AD 44-48. The Antioch Church decided to to organize some sort of relief fund for their follow Christians in Jerusalem. There is no record of an organized community of goods in Antioch as in the early days in Jerusalem, but we are told that each member decided to give an amount that they could. This seems to be similar to the instructions Paul gives the Corinthian church for a later relief fund for Jerusalem in 1 Cor 16:1-4. Once the fund was ready to be sent, the church selected Barnabas and Saul to carry the funds to Jerusalem. At Jerusalem, the funds were given to the elders of the church. We are starting to see the less of the Apostles leadership in Judean churches and more of elders and leaders that seem to be selected from their members; it is also possible that the Apostles are inferred as part of these Elders, but we don’t know for sure. It is possible the Apostles are spending less time in Jerusalem by this time, going on itinerant travels as we saw Peter do in chapter 9. This is the first mention of Christian Elders in Acts, it is thought that since the dispersion from the persecution that the Elders are taking more responsibilities as the seven chosen in 6:5 are no longer in Jerusalem, so some sort of reorganization took place.  

In this section we saw how God used people to start another church in another city. For Acts, this is the furthering of the Gospel of Jesus Christ out to the world. The Gentiles have been grafted into God’s plan as the church expands beyond Judaism. God led people to establish a church in a major commercial hub and cosmopolitan center in the crossroads where east meets west. We saw how the right people are needed in churches to ensure that the doctrine is taught and to establish a strong faithful church, no matter where the church is planted. Barnabas knew he needed help, so he went for Saul who could teach in this new church. God sent prophets to the church to assist in the new church’s establishment.

We also saw how, though separated by distance, the church in Antioch knew they needed to assist the churches in Judea suffering from the prophesied famine. They showed their compassion and their love for their brothers and sisters in Christ.

Conclusion:

So how are we doing? The church had to change and it may have been difficult, we will see that the changes will be difficult further in Acts. If changes happen how will we react? If the Lord is preparing us for changes are we are ready?

Changes come in different ways. Sometimes it is a matter of having the right people in the right place. Sometimes it is growing the church to get the right people. How are we doing? Compassion for other church members, other Christians is part of being a disciple of Jesus. Jesus said in John 13:34-35, “I give you a new command: Love one another. Just as I have loved you, you are also to love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” Even in the midst of change, Christlike love is to be a part of our life and walk. Are we known by our love for one another?