Reflections From ACTS 27-28: “PAUL’S JOURNEY AND ARRIVAL AT ROME IS HISTORY, NOT MYTH”

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These two chapters give a detailed explanation of the places, people, and hardships Paul experienced at sea.  For example the destination is Italy (27:2) sailing on an Adramyttian ship along the Asian coast, and the prisoners were to be delivered to a centurion of the Augustan cohort named Julius (27:2).  This ship was accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica and Julius it is said let Paul get care (27:3).  Luke is making sure that he leaves a clear “paper trail” of historical details so that this testimony and that of Acts can be verified by many unbiased sources.

The nautical knowledge to me is fascinating, the perils at sea horrific, and the number of passengers aboard the ship (276 persons) all point to a historic event, not a mythological invention (27:37).  As the ship safely arrives in Malta and Paul ministers to the sick, he does so in the open, not behind closed doors (28:1-10).  Paul finally arrives in Rome where he explains among the Jews the reason for his chains, “the hope of Israel” (28:20) and as was his custom, he began preaching Christ from the Law and the Prophets.

The result was a familiar one to Paul; some believed, but others refused to believe.  He thus indicted them from a passage in Isaiah that prophesied Israel’s heart of stone (Is. 28:25-28) and that this message would now go to the Gentiles who will receive it.

POSTSCRIPT:  As I conclude this book of Acts, Luke’s part two, his Gospel being part one, I’m amazed and freshly challenged at the following observations:

First, the historical tenor of this work is daunting.  The names of cities, countries, and people can be mostly verified by extra-biblical sources.  Thus, Luke’s first goal in his Gospel (Lk.1:1-4), and now in Acts of putting forth a historical account of the early churches comings and goings has been accomplished.

Second, the fulfillment of prophecy in the first four chapters especially is stunning and can’t be ignored.  God is faithful to keep his promises and that is why both Jew and Gentile received the Gospel.

Third, the source of fulfilled prophecy comes from the Jews, from the Law and the Prophets.  This Gospel is not new but was part of God’s eternal plan and its verification seen in the life of Christ, the promised Messiah.

Fourth, the fulfilled word was the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon all flesh.  The Jewish nation was not the only people in God’s purview, but all the nations.  This is something the apostle Peter and others needed to understand which often eluded them and sadly eludes us also.

Fifth, the core message of the Gospel is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and repentant sinners can be rescued from Gods just wrath freely because Christ paid for their redemption.

Sixth, the message while free and liberating to those who receive it, is costly to live and to preach evidenced in the varied trials the apostles endured (E.g., stoning, imprisonment, reasoning and argumentation, persuasion, theological disputes, etc.).

Seventh, the manner in which the message was preached was through reasoning, argumentation and persuasion.  This was often, but not always, accompanied by acts of power where healings, exorcisms and raising corpses from the dead obtained accompanied by persecutions.

Eighth, the message was culturally conditioned.   When Jews were present persuasion occurred by appealing to the Law of Moses and the Prophets.  When Greeks were present, their writings and general revelation were used to get to the Gospel message.  Lesson: the Gospel message must be adapted to the audience in order to be clear and persuade.     

            Ninth, Saul’s conversion was massive.  Through it God’s purposes to reach the Gentiles and the issue of Jewish-ness brought about much conflict within the church (E.g., Jerusalem Council).  I don’t think Westerners appreciate this aspect of God’s providence nearly enough.

Tenth, and so much more can be said, but to me is how much Jesus loves his church that through the crucible of affliction the word was, is and will always be central to rescue sinners and justly punish the wicked—all to the glory of God.  Let God be true and every man a liar:

“Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! 34 For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor? 35 Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to him again? 36 For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.” (Rom.11:33-36)

May the Church today in our milieu shine the light of the glorious Gospel so that many more might come into the kingdom that alone is without end.

(SDG)              

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Reflections From ACTS 25-26: “PAUL’S DEFENSE BEFORE RULERS INCLUDES PERSONAL TESTIMONY & OBJECTIVE FULFILLED PROPHECY”

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Paul continues his witness of Christ by making a defense of the Gospel through answering and setting straight the false charges that have been raised against him.  He describes his life before conversion, the Damascus road experience and the fulfillment of the Prophets and Moses’ words in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This is instructive because he not only gives his personal testimony but also points to the objective reality of fulfilled prophecy as an apologetic.  So both his life and God’s promise fulfilled anchor his approach, not either/or.  I stress this point because some within evangelical circles argue that the only thing needed to reach people is our testimony, not some defense like a lawyer performs in a court of law.  Scripture just doesn’t support this notion nor should we.

After much of Paul’s account before Festus and Agrippa, the king says:

“In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian” (26:28)

Paul responded:

“I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” (26:29)

Hear Paul’s heart; he longs to see the lost rescued through the only available means—repentance and faith in Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  After hearing Paul’s testimony it was obvious to Festus and King Agrippa that Paul was innocent of charges hurled against him (26:30-32).

The apostle here is experiencing the joy of witnessing for Christ through false accusations as Jesus promised would occur for believers (Mt.5: 10-12).  It seems that this turn of events constantly repeated itself in the book of Acts.  The fact is that the word of the Gospel is an offense to those who are perishing; it’s a stench in their nostrils.

This word rescues sinners and often kills its messengers.  Let me repeat that; this word of the Gospel rescues sinners and often kills its messengers.  This seems to be the norm in the early church and to this day in many regions of the globe Christ’s messengers are murdered because of the word of the Lord.

What ought we to do as disciples?  Cower and disobey or follow the Master wherever He may lead us, not loving our lives even unto death?  The rhetorical here is unnerving and oh God strengthen the feeble to follow no matter what!

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 23-24: “THE RESURRECTION AND COMING JUDGMENT ARE CORE TO PAUL’S DEFENSE”

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Verbal confrontations can be quite difficult and I for one do not cherish them.  They are difficult blows to the soul and yet the gospel message brings about not only verbal sparring but also peril to our lives as Paul experienced.  He continues his defense before the council and again alludes to his innocence: “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” (23:1)

Again, his former life and past things Christ has cleansed and thus before God Paul knows he’s upright.  What amazes me is his confidence in Christ’s redemptive work where his conscience also is cleansed.  No lingering residues of “guilt” because Christ does his work of justification and sanctification perfectly.  The Devil could not bring up his past as a means to condemn Paul because he knew what it meant to be justified by faith through grace.  This is worthy of note because the truth sets us free—only if we know it!

Nevertheless, Paul’s accusers and the High Priest have him struck on the mouth (23:2) to which he strikes back with words and then realizes that in ignorance Paul misspoke (23:3-5).  Paul perceived one group in the council (1st century religious materialists—Sadducees) and the other group (1st century substance dualists—Pharisees).  The former deny the resurrection the latter affirmed it (23:6-8).  What transpired was a dangerous situation in the city that threatened Paul’s life: the resurrection of the dead (23:9-10).  The irony of the message which brings life to dead corpses—the hearers—can and often will bring death to the messenger.  Paul was all too familiar with this.  So, the Lord at Paul’s side brings word:

“Take courage, for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause in Jerusalem, so you must witness at Rome also” (23:11)

 It’s as if Paul needed this word from Christ because the mounting opposition can make one cower and plunge into ruin.  This opposition could have kept Paul from finishing the course set before him.  I can relate Lord! How I need your strength in my life Lord today because I feel beat down!

Regardless, this visitation from the Lord would certainly strengthen Paul as he heard of a plot to kill him:

“When it was day, the Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink until they had killed Paul.13 There were more than forty who formed this plot. 14 They came to the chief priests and the elders and said, “We have bound ourselves under a solemn oath to taste nothing until we have killed Paul. 15 Now therefore, you and the Council notify the commander to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case by a more thorough investigation; and we for our part are ready to slay him before he comes near the place.”   (23:12-15)

Forty people wanting one man dead must have been very frightening.  Yet, that was part of Paul’s course set before him by Christ as an ambassador of the Master.  Fortunately the plot was foiled (23:16-35) and Paul was spared because Christ assured him that he needed to testify also in Rome.  This objective could not be thwarted in God’s providential purposes.

In chapter 24 Paul makes his defense before those who described him as a: real pest; one who stirs dissension, a ringleader of The Way (24:1-6).  Paul was on trial because of the resurrection of the dead (24:21) and the rest of this chapter demonstrates his reasoning.

Paul gives the back drop of the resurrection from the Law and the Prophets as evidence for its truthfulness.  Moreover, it’s this future event that presently moves the apostle to maintain a blameless conscience before God and men (Vv.10-11).  Knowing that judgement awaits him, Paul is not careless with how he lives but purposes to walk in the light of Christ to the best of his abilities.

We finally see Paul before Felix discussing righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment to which this ruler seemed to reject (V.25).

Conclusion: the message of the resurrection implies Christ’s work of atonement, the rescue of sinners from the coming judgment.  This future event is to inform and guide how believers presently live.  For although believers are forgiven and not under wrath, our lives and future rewards nevertheless depend on how we respond to the gospel message, how live out the implications of what it means to be born-again.

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 21-22: “PAUL’S TRIALS AND DEFENSE ARE APPOINTED BY GOD”

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These two chapters show Paul traveling by boat to many places, the brothers begging him not to venture to Jerusalem for fear of the Jews and their wicked schemes for him, Agabus confirming through prophecy Paul would be in chains which was fulfilled as the apostle made his defense of the Gospel before the Jews.  As Paul recalls his conversion story the term “appointment” caught my attention.

In 22:10 the text reads: “Get up and go into Damascus and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.”  And again in 22:14 the scripture says: “…The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth.”  I’m arrested by this term because appointments are usually deliberations of time between two parties (E.g., I make an appointment with my doctor for a check-up on Monday 10am).  Now these appointments can be changed, delayed or cancelled.  But in Paul’s case, God did not deliberate with him.  Instead, God set the time, day and place where Paul would be converted for the purpose of being God’s useful chosen instrument.  Included in Paul’s calling were the marks of Christ on his body and imprisonment.  Yet, Paul’s chains could not chain the word of God he preached which unchained the captives who received the message.

May Paul’s life and message be ever more evident in our lives.

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 20: “PAUL’S PASSION AND TENDERNESS IS REVEALED IN HIS EXHORTATION TO THE EPHESIAN ELDERS”

 25980b6d3ee8407a75ce76f8a9085b80This chapter follows a tumultuous account of persecution arising from the idol of greed and the idol that is “nothing” which is exposed.  Now, he is seen ministering but with haste.  It’s as if Paul knew time was expiring in his life and those to whom he ministered.  To illustrate the point, he teaches/preaches/talked for so long on one occasion that a young man (Eutychus) fell asleep and plundered to his death three stories down while Paul was ministering in Troas (Vv.7-12).  Nevertheless, Paul raised him from the dead and greatly comforted the boys loved ones.

I must mention that Paul also greatly exhorted the Macedonian disciples and those present in the uproar (Vv.1-2).  He probably reminded them that persecution accompanies the preaching of the gospel word, yet a better reward awaits the faithful in the next life.  I say this because Jesus always reminded his disciples of the reward that awaits those who are persecuted for his name’s sake (Mt.5:10-12).  Again, the plot by the Jews against Paul must have been unnerving to the apostle but this was to fulfill Jesus’ words “He is a chosen vessel of mine to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel, for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (9:15-16).

Paul’s suffering resulted from his obedience to the word of the Lord, not in spite of it.  This grace of God in Paul humbles me because in order to walk in God’s grace it will often be accompanied by opposition—vehement—rivals will arise!

Before the Ephesian elders, Paul now enumerates his many accomplishments that are impressive.  First, Paul faithfully and humbly served Christ with tears and trials from the Jews (Vv.18-19).  His ministry was forged in the crucible of obedience.  His enemies and that of the Gospels (I.e., the religious establishment) were the primary means for said opposition.  This is instructive because often, not always, those who hinder the Gospel ministry from flourishing are not pagan non-believers but religious non-believers.

Second, Paul’s opposition and the “octagons” in which they manifested demonstrate his courage and resolve to speak the truth for his hearers profit even if it cost him dearly.  This speech was done publicly and privately to both Jews and Gentiles whose content was: “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ”.  The man Christ Jesus and the message of the Gospel were the cause of Paul’s deep pain and sufferings.  Mine tend to be because of my sin and disobedience, but sometimes they are a result of what Paul experienced (I.e., suffered because of the Gospel).

 Third, Paul knew that wherever he went, hardships would meet him because of the Gospel; that is “bonds and afflictions await me” (Vv.22-23).  To know that afflictions await you wherever you go with the message of redemption must have been a badge of honor on the one hand (E.g., martyrs receive a more honorable resurrection), but on the other hand it must have been very difficult psychologically and physically.  What would I do if placed in similar situations?  Short question, multifaceted ways of answering it, but assuredly, without God’s grace I could not do it.

Fourth, Paul’s resolve was so singularly kingdom oriented that hardships did not deter him from that goal:

“But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.”(V.24)  

 Years ago this was the text I used as a guide when I planted a Hispanic Church.  It’s now a distant memory but to this day I ask myself, “Did you stay the course and complete what Christ put before you Sergio?”  Did I stay my course; perhaps not, perhaps not.  Nevertheless, Paul’s single-mindedness kept him on track in spite of the hardships.

Fifth, Paul not only reminds them they will never see his face again, but he affirms his innocence of any blood shed:

 “Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.”   (Vv.26-27)

This is a bold statement considering Acts 7-9 where he’s clearly the cause for putting to death many believers.  Yet, part of God’s purpose is to rescue hell bent sinners and declare them just before the throne of God because of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross!  This is where God’s mercy and justice kiss and because of this amazing Gospel, Paul can declare his innocence (C.f., 1 Tim:1).  This message was not only intellectually rigorous (See all of Romans) but practically transforming.  That’s robust “religion”!

Sixth, Paul assures them that this Gospel must be protected by faithful men against false teachers that will arise from their ranks.  How?  They must guard their own lives and that of the flocks by shepherding the flock of God which God purchased with his own blood. (V.28, 29-30).  Too many believers (leaders, pastors) naively think this does not include part of what it means to shepherd God’s flock, but it’s an intricate part of love’s demonstration.

Spiritual warfare is fought through argumentation 2 Corinthians 2 and through intercession Ephesians 6.  Jesus, the apostles, and especially Paul knew this, lived it and thus saw much fruit with persecutions.  If Pastoral leadership in the 21st century is to be faithful to the Chief Shepherd, then engaging both fronts of warfare will be the focus of ministry.

Seventh, Paul reminds them of his manner of life and ministry (Vv.31-35).  I think he does this because he is one worthy to be emulated by God’s grace.  This is not boasting in his accomplishments (Read his letters) because Paul knew intellectually and experientially that anything good in him was sourced in God alone ultimately, not in human effort.  He’s boasting in the Lord.  If we were to do that today, we’d probably be called egotistical, arrogant, prideful, but not humble.  Paul is humbly telling the elders to imitate him—because it’s Christ in him doing the work they witnessed.

Eighth, Paul concludes his address with prayer.  As always, his life of word and prayer (modeled by Jesus) can’t be separated from a faithful account of Paul because these two aspects demonstrated his ultimate dependence on God.  This is followed by loud weeping and repeated kissing of Paul to the elders.  They grieved because they knew they’d never see their beloved Paul again (Vv.36-38).  This is very intimate moment and for many westerners too “touchy-feely” but let’s face it, this is genuine love being expressed—very moving.

Conclusion: Paul loved God and others, his is a testament to this fact and said love for God was birthed and continuously stoked by the gospel and prayer which worked itself out in love for others.  What of my life and yours friend?  God helps us be more like Paul in word and deed.  In our brokenness teach us to trust You, in our joy teach us to thank You, and in our calling(s) empower us to follow You wherever Lord you lead us.

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 19: “THE WORD BRINGS LIBERTY BUT WITH IT OPPOSITION: DEALING WITH THE DEMONIC” PART 2

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In this section of chapter 19 Paul performs extraordinary miracles such that his handkerchief or apron, “were carried from his body to the sick and the diseases left them [the sick] and the evil spirits went out” (vv.11-12).  As Jesus healed the sick and cast out demons, so did Paul.  Interestingly, the seven sons of Sceva tried to join in the action but what resulted is frightening:

“But also some of the Jewish exorcists, who went from place to place, attempted to name over those who had the evil spirits the name of the Lord Jesus, saying, “I adjure you by Jesus whom Paul preaches.” 14 Seven sons of one Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. 15 And the evil spirit answered and said to them, “I recognize Jesus, and I know about Paul, but who are you?” 16 And the man, in whom was the evil spirit, leaped on them and subdued all of them and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.”       (Vv.13-16)

Here’s an account of true authority recognized—by demons, and false authority trampled on by these same demons.  The following observations regarding authority are therefore in order.

First, Jesus’ authority and thus Pauls’ is recognized by the demonic host.  Many accounts in the Gospels show the fear and utter terror demons have toward the Master, they “shutter”.  Why such fear and submission?  It’s because these spirits know they are before the Ancient of Days, the Creator and the One who will ultimately finish their doom long ago promised.  They know Jesus is their judge.  And if spirits are tormented by Jesus’ mere presence, what awaits humans who are tormented by evil spirits?

Second, authority can’t be assumed, it must be imparted, a lesson these seven sons learned well.  Our society is fixated with horror movies, vampires and all things ghoulish, but behind the façade is a terrifying reality.   To dabble with evil spirits or take them lightly is foolish because they’re lethal.  Jesus gave authority to his church, to his disciples over demonic spirits to cast them out.  While demonic manifestations like the one here in Acts don’t occur daily, the New Testament is clear that they are real and have limited power.

Third, demonic spirits imply there is an immaterial real realm of reality contra the naturalism that dominates much of Western civilization where it is held that matter is all that exists.  These spirits are capable of knowing many things.  They’re not necessarily stupid but crafty and when they inhabit a persons’ body, their strength can be overwhelming to a mere man (E.g., the Gadarene Demoniac).  Consider what the news of these events produced:

“This became known to all, both Jews and Greeks, who lived in Ephesus; and fear fell upon them all and the name of the Lord Jesus was being magnified. 18 Many also of those who had believed kept coming, confessing and disclosing their practices. 19 And many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of everyone; and they counted up the price of them and found it fifty thousand pieces of silver.”   (Vv.17-19)

What Resulted?  Both Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus who practiced magic arts willingly confessed their sins and burned their books.  Why?  Perhaps because Gods’ power showed them whose ultimate and who must be served—Jesus!  Maybe it’s because the Holy Spirit through the signs demonstrated unveiled to the warlock and witches their blindness that submitting to doomed spirits is folly because Christ will eventually slay them.  Regardless of what took place in individuals—and it was glorious—all this occurred because of the word of the Lord which grew mightily and prevailed (V.20).

Rethink?  Could it be that many of our bi-polar friends and loved ones, not all, have some kind of demonic activity tormenting their lives?  Is all insanity or madness purely physical or could there be evil spirits lurking in the shadows?  From this text and others in Scripture the answer is affirmative.

As I consider Western Civilization on the one hand, we have a sector that utterly denies demonic existence and another which likes to dabble in the magic arts (E.g., Psychic Readings, Tarot Cards, Ouija Boards, etc.).  One denies demonic existence, the other embraces their influence seeing it as one means to enlightenment.  In warfare, the most powerful tactics are deception and stealth.  Sadly, both camps are deceived by demonic spirits that use these tactics effectively.

May I not deny demonic existence nor give into their influence.  May I understand more deeply their lethal abilities to deceive with stealth and may I combat them with your word, prayer and a life given to increased sanctification.

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 19: “THE WORD BRINGS LIBERTY BUT WITH IT OPPOSITION” PART 1

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As Paul’s travels ensue so do the varied ways in which God confirms the word with both liberating acts of power and great opposition to what is preached.  In Ephesus Paul explains to the disciples there that John’s baptism was one of repentance to believe in the coming one who was Jesus, but when they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus the text says:

“And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying.” (V.6)

In the beginning here there’s a place for further clarification of the fulfillment of Scripture.  Namely, the Holy Spirit has been poured out for both Jews and Gentiles to receive.  Now in this section when the men received the Holy Spirit it was evidenced by their speaking in tongues—a super natural gift of speech unknown to the speakers; and they also prophesied—a super natural utterance whose purposed is to edify those hearing.

We’re not given much more details here, yet the question remains as to whether or not tongues and prophecy always accompany those who are filled with the Holy Spirit.  Is this instance and others in Acts something we should always be expecting?  Some believers today would say yes and thus whole denominations have been spawned (E.g., Pentecostal and Charismatic persuasions) from the understanding that tongues and prophecy are to be expected as the evidence for the Spirit’s manifestation.

Nevertheless, Luke continues his emphasis on Paul’s manner of preaching and teaching which were supported by reasoning and persuading (V.8).  Paul eventually started a school in Tyrannus that lasted two years with the purpose of training the disciples in the word of the Lord.  Make no mistake about it, Paul, like Jesus, gave primacy to teaching the Scriptures and to veer off that path does not produce Disciples of Christ, but eventually yields disciples of men.

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 18: “PAUL & APOLLOS MODEL WHAT GOSPEL PROCLAMATION LOOKS LIKE”

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For quite some time Luke has been accentuating the message and methods the early church used in their preaching.  They based their message of Jesus as the Messiah on the resurrection of Christ from the dead and thus repentance for the forgiveness of sins was the only proper response to said news.

Concerning their method of preaching, their goal was to persuade the hearers through reasoning (Vv.4-5).  Paul’s concern was to continually teach God’s word (V.11).  He was convinced that the message of salvation had to be presented through teaching, preaching, reasoning, and persuading the hearer with God’s word.  Should our aim be anything less?

Consider Apollos, he was both eloquent and mighty in the Scriptures, fervent in spirit publicly refuting the Jews from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ (Vv.24-28).  Luke wants the reader to note the hard work that’s required in order to persuade people to believe.  Sometimes this occurs through acts of power where the Lord opens a door for proclamation, but more often than not, it’s through the custom of meeting where worship occurs (E.g., the Synagogue) and then the opportunity for proclamation presents itself.

LORD, help your ministers be word centered, help them follow Paul and Apollos’ example rather than a 21st century business model to gather hearers, may they emulate this apostolic model of teaching, preaching, reasoning, and persuading with the Scriptures that Jesus is the risen Christ from the dead.

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 17: “WHY DID PAUL PRAISE THE BEREANS?”

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This chapter is a key section in Scripture where we get to peer into how the apostles dealt with non-believers and how the gospel was to be preached.  I’ve written more extensively on Paul’s address to the Greeks on the Areapagus (Vv.16-34) so my attention will be on the Berean Christians (Vv.10-15).

According to Luke’s report, these Bereans were more noble-minded than the believers in Thessalonica because they weren’t bored with the Scriptures but engaged Paul’s message intensely.  They were called “noble-minded” which could mean that their use of reason was being more accurately appropriated according to God’s design.  The reason is that when the word was preached and taught:

“They received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Vv.10-11)

They had an attitude God lauded.  They heard the same message of Christ’s life, suffering and resurrection as the Thessalonians had (Vv.1-4) but what set them apart was “disposition of soul”.

The Bereans teach us several things; first, the word is above the messenger in authority—even Paul the apostle was not above being scrutinized by the Scriptures.  Too often, pastoral leadership abhors their teaching being questioned by hearers not convinced of their theological position(s).  This attitude is cause for many sinful inclinations, the first of which is pride.  We are to question and scrutinize through Scripture what is being taught from the pulpit because the gospel is so precious.  The goal should be to get the gospel right, not blindly submitting to a leader’s ego.

Second, the examination of Scripture and coming to terms takes time and work.  The sluggard in the book of proverbs is abhorred by the LORD God; believers should not emulate him when it comes to the mining of the Biblical text, but rather the one who is incessant in the pursuit of treasure.  We must have eager hearts and minds even as the Bereans demonstrate.

Third, the proof of what Paul was teaching was in the Scriptures concerning what Christ fulfilled, the pinnacle of which was the resurrection.  That is, these believers were convinced of the truth of the gospel through examining the content of what was proclaimed to them.

The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ are the core of gospel preaching.  Remove one historical aspect from it and you end up with a shell, no substance.  My prayer is that our preachers today focus on eternal truths revealed in Scripture, rather than vaporous empty platitudes which don’t bring our sons and daughters into the kingdom.

(SDG)

Reflections From ACTS 16: “PAUL’S GOSPEL MINISTRY: EXHORTATION TO HOLINESS, JAILED FOR THE NAME”

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Much has transpired in chapter 15 and now we see the continuation of gospel work.  For example, here is the first time we hear of Timothy the disciple of great character whose mother was Jewish and father was Greek (Vv.1-2).  After delivering the decrees the apostles and elders had decided from Jerusalem for the Gentile church to observe, it strengthened the churches faith and increased their number.

What’s going on here?  After the first Council of Jerusalem met, they came to understand that holiness which comes from salvation does not consist of foods and washings (all a shadow of Christ’s reality) but now that Messiah had come his sacrifice was enough for not only the Jews but also for the Gentiles.  The two decrees were: abstain from idolatry and fornication.  For a true believer these commands are not a death sentence for joy but rather a delight of new birth.

Another curious thought is the Holy Spirit forbidding Paul and his companions from ministering the word in Bythinia or Asia (Vv.6-7) perhaps because Paul was to go to minister the word to a man in Macedonia he saw in a vision (Vv.9-10).  The thought is curious because we’re commanded to go into all the world and make disciples.  So why hinder the great commission, it seems contradictory does it not?

Actually, the great commission is going forth, not being hindered, for Paul’s vision is showing him where the message of the gospel would be received.  This is exactly the case with Lydia from Thyatira whom the Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message of salvation (Vv.9-15).

Again, we see Paul and Silas imprisoned because of the word of the Lord and its power to liberate a demonized slave girl who could soothsay (Vv.16-21) and bring much profit to her owners.  Being a slave in those days was not uncommon, being demonized seemed to be.  The point is that when a person’s in bondage and God’s power rescues them, if someone’s income is adversely disturbed as a result, then persecution will follow.  Thus for now, jail would be home for the two apostles.

But bars can’t keep God from converting the called.  Thus, the jailer who had already determined to commit suicide—thinking the prisoners were gone due to the earthquake—stayed his sword by heeding Paul’s word that none had escaped.  When he asked, “What must I do to be saved” (which is a response to the preached word) the answer is, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Vv.27-34).  We’re told that this man and his house converted.

Does this account therefore guarantee that if we believe, those in our homes will follow Christ?  Experience would say no, however some believers hold that this is a promise to claim when praying for loved ones.  I’m reticent to claim this to be a general promise because Luke is reporting what happened, he’s not setting forth doctrine like “believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved” which must happen for salvation to occur.  Moreover, there are too many believers through history whose families were often at odds with them because of their conversion to Christ (E.g., Jews disowned by family who converted to Christianity).

Having said that, I think Luke is showing how the gospel can and does spread from one family member to another, after one is converted, many do follow.  This is especially true in Patriarchal cultures or in the lives of indigenous tribes.  As a point of theological dispute, Acts over and again preaches salvation in Christ alone, through repentance and trust in the risen Savior.  That’s a fact.  But how God deals with individuals as He chooses within the context of redemption is clearly different.

Again, if we want to believe God to save our loved ones, there are clearer passages that affirm generally God’s will for salvation.  The list is extensive but John 3:16-18 is a good starting point, where the necessary condition and definition of “belief” is trusting obedience in the Son of God.  Pray that God would do that in our loved one’s lives.  Another way to pray is for God to have mercy on them as He’s had on us, that He would show our loved ones the beauty of Christ, the realities of His wrath and judgment, and the blessedness of Christ’s kindness through the cross.

(SDG)