Friday, December 24, 2010

Luke 2 –The Birth of Jesus

[Of the 4 gospels Matthew and Luke tell us the most about Jesus Birth. Mark opens with the ministry of John the Baptist, and John gives us the metaphysics of the creator God becoming flesh in order to redeem mankind. Where we pick up the story in Luke follows 3 angelic visitations. The first is to Zacharias the priest and father of John the Baptist, he is visited by Gabriel to foretell the conception of his son by his elderly post menopausal, and barren wife Elizabeth, the cousin of Mary.

Next Gabriel appears to Mary to announce her even more miraculous conception of Jesus without the seed of a man. Then as Elizabeth is pregnant, she is visited by Mary and the unborn John the Baptist is filled with the Holy Spirit and leaps in his mother's womb when Mary enters the house carrying the unborn baby Jesus inside of her. Elizabeth is 6 months ahead of Mary in her pregnancy, so Mary returns to Nazareth, from her visit to Elizabeth in Jerusalem when Elizabeth is full term and Mary is 3 months pregnant. All this is in Luke 1.

Mary comes home an unwed mother 3 months pregnant and scandal erupts. She is engaged, to Joseph, and when he finds out about her shame, he is heartbroken. No doubt following wise counsel he makes arrangements to nullify the marriage contract, when he is also visited by an Angel. Matthew 1 records this visitation but does not give the angel's name but it was probably again Gabriel. The angel tells Joseph that the child is not of a man but of the Holy Spirit, that this is the redemptive work of God. Joseph decides to trust God, take Mary to be his wife, and remain celibate until after she gives birth and is purified according to the Law. So Mary and Joseph follow God's plan, despite the public embarrassment they experienced.]

Luke 2

Christ Born of Mary

 1 And it came to pass in those days that a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This census first took place while Quirinius was governing Syria. 3 So all went to be registered, everyone to his own city.

[This is one of the more problematic Bible passages for skeptics. The Bible does not say what year Jesus was born and the clues we are given make a confusing time line. Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus ruled Rome from 27 BC to 14 AD, records show Quirinius was governor of Syria from 6-9 A.D., but Herod the Great King of Judea died in 4 B.C., and most scholars put the birth of Jesus from 5-4 B.C. So how do we make this fit when Herod who talks to the Wise men in Matthew 2, was dead before Quirinius was Governor? I see two possibilities. 1) The word "first" in verse 2 is the Greek word "protos" which also means "before". So verse 2 could mean the census has held "before Quirinius was Governor of Syria. 2) The secular records do not record who was governor of Syria 4-1 B.C., so it's possible that Quirinius either served two terms as governor, or was directed by Caesar to supervise the census in place of, or to assist some other governor possibly Varus who was governor until 4 B.C. Either is possible, I think the second is more likely.]

4 Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed wife, who was with child. 6 So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. 7 And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

[A lot has been made of the "no room" theme but Bethlehem at this time was a small town of maybe 100 people. So imagine all your relatives show up at once, where will you put everyone in your house? Nazareth to Bethlehem is 90 miles; imagine ladies traveling 90 miles probably on a donkey while 9 months pregnant, then taking that last shelter available, an animal crib, maybe an open sided shed or even a partial cave; just in time to give birth. These are humble folks.]

Glory in the Highest

8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. 10 Then the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger."
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying:
       14 " Glory to God in the highest,
      And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!"
[So while the savior of the world is born in a barn, the messengers of God announce it to homeless people. Could anything better demonstrate that God is "no respecter of persons". God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6).]

15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, "Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us." 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 17 Now when they had seen Him,
they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. 18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.

[I love that the shepherds witnessed, and worshiped. What better response to the revelation that messiah is come into the world?]

Circumcision of Jesus

21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called JESUS, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.

Jesus Presented in the Temple

22 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, "Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the LORD"), 24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, "A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons."

[If you look at Matthew 2, the wealthy wise men were a little late to the party. While the shepherds find the babe in a manger, the wise men find him in a house (verse 11) probably back in Nazareth. Though the wise men came bearing gifts, you can see from the instructions in Leviticus 12 that Mary and Joseph were still poor. ]

Leviticus 12

The Ritual After Childbirth

 1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 2 "Speak to the children of Israel, saying: 'If a woman has conceived, and borne a male child, then she shall be unclean seven days; as in the days of her customary impurity she shall be unclean. 3 And on the eighth day the flesh of his foreskin shall be circumcised. 4 She shall then continue in the blood of her purification thirty-three days. She shall not touch any hallowed thing, nor come into the sanctuary until the days of her purification are fulfilled.
5 'But if she bears a female child, then she shall be unclean two weeks, as in her customary impurity, and she shall continue in the blood of her purification sixty-six days.
6 'When the days of her purification are fulfilled, whether for a son or a daughter, she shall bring to the priest a lamb of the first year as a burnt offering, and a young pigeon or a turtledove as a sin offering, to the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 7 Then he shall offer it before the LORD, and make atonement for her. And she shall be clean from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who has borne a male or a female.
8 'And if she is not able to bring a lamb, then she may bring two turtledoves or two young pigeons—one as a burnt offering and the other as a sin offering. So the priest shall make atonement for her, and she will be clean.'"

[So 40 days after the birth of Jesus, they had no gold to exchange for a lamb, so they brought the offering allowed by law for those who were poor. So if you have a Nativity Scene at home with the wise men looking down on the manger, take them out, put them off to the side, they'll catch up later.

The other thing I see from Leviticus 12 is that a woman who had a son was purified in 40 days, but a woman who had a daughter was purified in 80 days. While I was thinking on this I remembered when Bro. Al teachers about Passover he finds all these symbols of Christ in the old Law and rituals. And I wondered if maybe God put this in the Law to teach all Jewish moms that they would be redeemed, by a male child of Israel?

God reaching down to us to redeem us is the real story of Christmas. In the garden of Eden, Satan proved he could corrupt what God had made. But when Jesus came in the flesh he proved that he could redeem what sin had corrupted. From the manger to the empty tomb, God did for us what we could never do for ourselves.

But when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. (Galatians 4:4-5)

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift! (2 Corinthians 9:15)



Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jesus is Coming – Old Testament Prophecies

[Jesus is coming. Every Christian had heard this message before. Every generation since Jesus ascended including the Apostles has thought and lived as though Jesus could return at any time; in fact the Bible very much encourages even commands this philosophy. But sometimes people get discouraged thinking that it's been almost two thousand years since the resurrected Christ returned to heaven. Sometimes we look up and say "How long Lord?" this question is even prophesied in Revelation 6. This week we will look at the promise of Christ from a different perspective. Instead of thinking about our wait for Christ's return, we will look at the promise of his first coming, the Old Testament Prophecies where God promised or foretold that Messiah would come.

Time does not really permit that we could look at all the prophecies of Jesus. Some have counted over 300 prophecies from the Old Testament that Christ fulfilled. So we will look at a few today, and I'll provide a link showing more in the class notes I send out.

Speaking of a long wait, you can't get much earlier than the first human family; they were the first people to whom God revealed his plan.]

Genesis 3:15 And I will put enmity; Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, And you shall bruise His heel."

[Jesus was the seed of a woman, but not of a man due to his miraculous virgin conception. This one was only partially fulfilled by the birth of Christ, in my opinion the last part is reserved for the final defeat of Satan, also prophesied for the end of days. Though some would argue that deal was sealed with the resurrection of Christ.]

Micah 5:2 " But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, Though you are little among the thousands of Judah, Yet out of you shall come forth to Me The One to be Ruler in Israel, Whose goings forth are from of old, From everlasting."

[Of course this one was fulfilled in Luke 2 when Jesus was born in Bethlehem, but notice that Messiah had to be God incarnate, for no one else is eternal, as all things were made by him. Revelation 13 also tells us that the Lamb of God was slain before the foundation of the world.]

Isaiah 7:14 Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a Son, and shall call His name Immanuel (God with us).

[Again the virgin birth, and the proof that Messiah had to be God incarnate, and no one else. Jesus truly is "God with us".]


Isaiah 11:1-2 There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. 2 The Spirit of the LORD shall rest upon Him, The Spirit of wisdom and understanding, The Spirit of counsel and might, The Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD.

[Through Mary, Jesus was a descendent of Jesse; this passage was also quoted by Paul in Romans 15:12]

Isaiah 49:1-6 "Listen, O coastlands, to Me,
      And take heed, you peoples from afar!
      The LORD has called Me from the womb;
      From the matrix of My mother He has made mention of My name.
       2 And He has made My mouth like a sharp sword;
      In the shadow of His hand He has hidden Me,
      And made Me a polished shaft;
      In His quiver He has hidden Me."
       3 " And He said to me,
      ' You are My servant, O Israel,
      In whom I will be glorified.'
       4 Then I said, 'I have labored in vain,
      I have spent my strength for nothing and in vain;
      Yet surely my just reward is with the LORD,
      And my work with my God.'"
       5 " And now the LORD says,
      Who formed Me from the womb to be His Servant,
      To bring Jacob back to Him,
      So that Israel is gathered to Him
      (For I shall be glorious in the eyes of the LORD,
      And My God shall be My strength),
       6 Indeed He says,
      ' It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant
      To raise up the tribes of Jacob,
      And to restore the preserved ones of Israel;
      I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles,
      That You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth.'"

[Jesus is a light to the Gentiles. Anthropology tells us most families or people groups have died off or been assimilated into others. Some ask would God really preserve a remnant of one family (Abraham) as distinctive, so that he could redeem them? Yes, he would; not because they were so virtuous, but because God promised. Moreover this passage shows that just redeeming Israel was too small a task for Messiah, but that Jesus would bring salvation "to the ends of the earth". Funny how that passage sounds a lot like the Great Commission.]


Isaiah 53:1-12

1 doubted by those who saw him

3 rejected by his people

5 punished for us

7 the uncomplaining Lamb

9 buried by the rich

12 bore our sins, numbered with transgressors

Isaiah 9:1-7

1 Nevertheless the gloom will not be upon her who is distressed,
      As when at first He lightly esteemed
      The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali,
      And afterward more heavily oppressed her,
      By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan,
      In Galilee of the Gentiles.
       2 The people who walked in darkness
      Have seen a great light;
      Those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death,
      Upon them a light has shined.

[Zebulun and Naphtali were on the northern border of Galilee and were the first to be attacked each time an army came from the north. This is where Jesus began to preach after John the Baptist was jailed. Jesus quotes this passage in Mathew 4. This was one of the darkest places for the Jews, but it was where the Light of the World began to shine.]

       3 You have multiplied the nation
      And increased its joy;
      They rejoice before You
      According to the joy of harvest,
      As men rejoice when they divide the spoil.
       4 For You have broken the yoke of his burden

      And the staff of his shoulder,
      The rod of his oppressor,
      As in the day of Midian.
       5 For every warrior's sandal from the noisy battle,
      And garments rolled in blood,
      Will be used for burning and fuel of fire.


[Salvation is often explained in terms of slavery and freedom. When the Assyrians took captives they were know to literally put them in a yoke of bondage like a farm animal. This would be a physical restraint, but also a sign of public shame. So it is with sin, as every sin is eventually revealed and people are ashamed of what they have done. We saw this in Genesis when Adam and Eve tried to hide their shame from God. In Like 4 Jesus read from Isaiah 61 and affirmed that he had come to release man from the captivity of sin. Just as God broke the rod of oppression in Egypt, so the oppressors of the earth will also be destroyed in the final judgment.]

       6 For unto us a Child is born,
      Unto us a Son is given;
      And the government will be upon His shoulder.
      And His name will be called
      Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
       7 Of the increase of His government and peace
      There will be no end,
      Upon the throne of David and over His kingdom,
      To order it and establish it with judgment and justice
      From that time forward, even forever.
      The zeal of the Lord of hosts will perform this.

[I love this passage and it is often quoted this time of year. But don't just look at the beauty of the words, and miss the details of Messiah.

  1. Born as a child a descendent of David
  2. He will govern God's people in justice and peace
  3. He will be called "Wonderful", "Counselor", "Mighty God", "Everlasting Father", "Prince of Peace". Some get a little confused by Messiah as "Everlasting Father" but this simply reveals that he also is eternal, and one with the father, in other words, fully God.
  4. He will rule on the throne of David, establishing his perfect government on earth.
  5. All this is performed by the zeal of the Lord, not by the will of man. This is a work that the Lord has planned, put in motion, and will fulfill in himself.

The church has waited two thousand years for the second coming, but humanity waited thousands more for the first. Yet everything was accomplished in the fullness of time, just as God had promised. And that is exactly how the second coming will be also; God's plan, His purpose, His power, all in His time.


This Christmas we can have full confidence in the God who knows the future, and always keeps his promises. My Favorite genealogy in the Bible is Matthew 1:1 The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham. The Jews of Jesus time were always proud of saying "we are Abraham's children". But it was never the virtue of Abraham that drew God's attention to his children; it was always God's grace. You see it was Abraham was who God had promised. Abraham found grace just like Noah, just like David, just like us; because redemption was always God's plan.]

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Acts 25 – Roman Rights, Regulations, and Charges

Acts 25

Paul Appeals to Caesar

 1 Now when Festus had come to the province, after three days he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem. 2 Then the high priest and the chief men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they petitioned him, 3 asking a favor against him, that he would summon him to Jerusalem—while they lay in ambush along the road to kill him.

[As we read last week Felix left Paul in prison in Caesarea for two years without rendering judgment. Felix was replaced for using too much force against the Jews in putting down a civil conflict they had with the local Greeks. Festus wants to rebuild the working relationship between the Roman government and the Jewish leadership, so he makes a diplomatic visit to Jerusalem to meet with the Sanhedrin council, the priests and the elders. As soon as they have a chance the priests requests that Paul be brought back to Jerusalem so they could kill him.]


4 But Festus answered that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself was going there shortly. 5 "Therefore," he said, "let those who have authority among you go down with me and accuse this man, to see if there is any fault in him."

[It seems Festus is immediately suspicious of this idea to try Paul at Jerusalem. Instead he presents the same opportunity to Paul's accusers; that they can travel back to Caesarea to appear before the Judgment seat there. Remember Lysias and Felix
had both concluded Paul had committed no offense worthy of punishment under Roman law. But he was still held captive due to the corruption and fear that permeated Roman government.]

And when he had remained among them more than ten days, he went down to Caesarea. And the next day, sitting on the judgment seat, he commanded Paul to be brought. 7 When he had come, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood about and laid many serious complaints against Paul, which they could not prove, 8 while he answered for himself, "Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended in anything at all."

[This sounds like a repeat of the trial from two years ago, just accusations and hear-say with no evidence. Paul gives a shorter version of his defense, pointing out to Festus that there is no legal cause of action in this case.]

9 But Festus, wanting to do the Jews a favor, answered Paul and said, "Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and there be judged before me concerning these things?"
10 So Paul said, "I stand at Caesar's judgment seat, where I ought to be judged. To the Jews I have done no wrong, as you very well know. 11 For if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying; but if there is nothing in these things of which these men accuse me, no one can deliver me to them. I appeal to Caesar."

[Remembering the first assassination plot, he knows that a return to Jerusalem for him will be a death sentence. Just as he asserted his right of citizenship to avoid scourging, Paul does again to appeal for a change of venue in the courts of Rome. A Roman citizen who was denied justice in the provinces was allowed to move his case to Rome.]
12 Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, "You have appealed to Caesar? To Caesar you shall go!"

[So Festus is now in a tough spot; where he wanted to gain favor with the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, he had to be careful to protect the rights of Roman citizens. So Festus explains this to the members of the council, and then makes his official ruling; Paul's case would be decided in Rome.]

Paul Before Agrippa

13 And after some days King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to greet Festus.

[Porcius Festus as the new Governor would expect visits and good wishes from all the local dignitaries. His first guests of this order were Herod Agrippa 2 and his sister Bernice.

Many of the provincial governors were appointed by Caesar based on their perceived loyalty to him. It is not surprising that there are many family ties within the Roman ruling class to insure loyalty to Caesar. Drusilla the wife of Felix was the great-granddaughter of Herod the Great who tried to kill Jesus as an infant; she was also the great-niece of Herod Antipas who Killed John the Baptist; and she was the daughter of Herod Agrippa 1 who killed James the brother of John. Now we meet Herod Agrippa 2 with his consort Bernice who was also his sister, and yes this is as creepy as it sounds. Besides her incestuous relationship with her brother Herod Agrippa, she will also be the mistress of Emperor Vespasian and his son Titus. So if you remember the movie Gladiator and the Emperor Commodus who had a thing for his sister, this kind of relationship was too common in the pagan days of Roman empire. Now you get an idea of the moral depravity of the broken people who sat in judgment over the saints of God. This is what human government looks like unless our leaders are redeemed by the grace of God through faith in Jesus.]

14 When they had been there many days, Festus laid Paul's case before the king, saying: "There is a certain man left a prisoner by Felix, 15 about whom the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me , when I was in Jerusalem, asking for a judgment against him. 16 To them I answered, 'It is not the custom of the Romans to deliver any man to destruction before the accused meets the accusers face to face, and has opportunity to answer for himself concerning the charge against him.'

[Festus had a legal problem with Paul; even though Paul had appealed to Caesar to avoid being killed by assassins, Festus did not have any valid formal charges to write in his letter he would need to send to Rome with Paul.]

17 Therefore when they had come together, without any delay, the next day I sat on the judgment seat and commanded the man to be brought in. 18 When the accusers stood up, they brought no accusation against him of such things as I supposed, 19 but had some questions against him about their own religion and about a certain Jesus, who had died, whom Paul affirmed to be alive. 20 And because I was uncertain of such questions, I asked whether he was willing to go to Jerusalem and there be judged concerning these matters. 21 But when Paul appealed to be reserved for the decision of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I could send him to Caesar."

22 Then Agrippa said to Festus, "I also would like to hear the man myself."
"Tomorrow," he said, "you shall hear him."

[So Festus is hoping that Agrippa being a Jew and maybe having prior experience with followers of Jesus, could help him charge Paul with something worthy of Roman judgment. Festus knows that his brother-in-law Felix was removed for his brutal mishandling Jewish conflict, so he needs council or at least political cover to dispose of Paul's case without embarrassing himself back in Rome.]

23 So the next day, when Agrippa and Bernice had come with great pomp, and had entered the auditorium with the commanders and the prominent men of the city, at Festus' command Paul was brought in. 24 And Festus said: "King Agrippa and all the men who are here present with us, you see this man about whom the whole assembly of the Jews petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, crying out that he was not fit to live any longer. 25 But when I found that he had committed nothing deserving of death, and that he himself had appealed to Augustus, I decided to send him. 26 I have nothing certain to write to my lord concerning him. Therefore I have brought him out before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after the examination has taken place I may have something to write. 27 For it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner and not to specify the charges against him."

[What the Roman rulers lacked in ethics and moral character they made up for in ceremony. Grand auditoriums, rich clothing and flowery speech gave the appearance of dignity, and honor; but the integrity of the people behind the glitz and glamour fell short of anything an innocent man would hope for.

Caesarea was defended by 5 "cohorts" each commanded by a Tribune. Each Tribune had 6 Centurions and their troops in his charge. All this military "brass" and all the civilian authorities filled the auditorium to hear an old Pharisee tell his story. And everyone one of them will be confronted with their own sin, their own mortality, and the coming judgment of God. Agrippa thinks he is there to decide what to do with Paul, but in reality he has a divine appointment to decide what to do with Jesus. God is not impressed with man's power, authority, fine clothing, or outstanding architecture; for all these things pale in comparison to his own. This value system is different from anything the Romans have ever faced before.

In Mark 8:36 Jesus put it like this "For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?"

Even among those who saw Jesus in person, saw him perform miracles, and heard him teach, not everyone believed on Him, trusted in Him, was saved by Him. In John 6 Jesus spoke with people who followed him because he fed the multitudes.

John 6: 26 Jesus answered them and said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. 27 Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him." 28 Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?"
29 Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." 30 Therefore they said to Him, "What sign will You perform then, that we may see it and believe You? What work will You do? 31 Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" 32 Then Jesus said to them, "Most assuredly, I say to you, Moses did not give you the bread from heaven, but My Father gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world." 34 Then they said to Him, "Lord, give us this bread always." 35 And Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst. 36 But I said to you that you have seen Me and yet do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out. 38 For I have come down from heaven, not to do My own will, but the will of Him who sent Me. 39 This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day. 40 And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day."

When we witness, and some do not believe, we tend to get discouraged. But we have to understand salvation is the work of God. Even the perfect witness, Jesus himself, had some fail to believe. But still we must witness, because everyone will either meet Jesus as their savior, or they will meet him as their judge. All will receive God's mercy, or receive God's wrath. We may not be on trial for our own lives like Paul, but our testimony can be just as important to the friends and family who hear us, when we talk about Jesus.]

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Acts 24 – Felix the Judge


In a recent debate in Mexico, atheist Richard Dawkins said "why, was a silly question". In his usual dismissive style he further postulated that children usually see purpose in everything until about age 6, then they stop, but not all (looking down his nose at his theistic debate opponents).

I have already noted that atheist try to avoid any discussion of origins, clearly dissatisfied with their own answers, and the theistic implications. So is this the synthesis of the "God" debate? Just avoid origins and purpose, and atheism will somehow work? If all moral judgments are just brain chemicals, then how are anyone's moral judgments superior to another's?

The idea of values is central to our decision making as people, but without a robust philosophical basis for purpose, then any value system would be built on a foundation of sand. So the atheistic argument that "life will not stop, just because you don't believe in God", runs into the brick wall of purpose. In other words, "if life did stop, as a result of my unbelief, why would it matter?" And we also must ask the antithesis "Why would life without God matter at all?"

If we really are just stardust, a cosmological accident, if all our feelings and perceptions are just temporal chemical reactions, if the only destiny is the heat death of the universe, then how could any of it ever matter? The end result of the atheistic argument is that any satisfaction gained in life was just a delusion, a trick of nature played on our minds to get us to survive long enough to perpetuate the next generation; life can be fun while it lasts, but it really doesn't matter.

The theistic view is of course very different. That everything has the appearance of design because it was designed and created by a God with a purpose. But whether or not you believe in God, you can enjoy his stuff, and appropriate it for your purpose as you will. The only real disagreement is whether or not there will be an accounting for converting God's stuff to our purpose. The Bible answers this question in The Gospel of Mark chapter 12, where Mark recounts a story Jesus told about a man who built a vineyard. In this story we learn that the man who made vineyard is the ultimate judge of how it should be used; that His intent and His purpose is what matters. The maker is also the judge.

[This week we continue our study in Acts, focusing on Paul a man with a distinctive purpose as a witness to Jews and Gentiles. Called of God, empowered by the spirit, and tested in extraordinary ways. Some tried to worship Paul, others tried to kill him, most just wanted to hear him speak, but the unbelieving Jews wanted to shut him up.]

Acts 24

Accused of Sedition

Now after five days Ananias the high priest came down with the elders and a certain orator
Tertullus. These gave evidence to the governor against Paul.

[Some think Tertullus was a Greek, other call him a Hellenist Jew, either way he is a professional lawyer. His job is to make rumor into reality, to cause Felix to punish Paul because the Sanhedrin wants him silenced.]

And when he was called upon, Tertullus began his accusation, saying: "Seeing that through you we enjoy great peace, and prosperity is being brought to this nation by your foresight, 3 we accept
always and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness. 4 Nevertheless, not to be tedious to you any further, I beg you to hear, by your courtesy, a few words from us.

[Tertullus is laying it on thick. The governing skills of Felix are questionable. He has the position because his brother was a friend of Claudius Caesar. The Jews did not like Felix, so this flattery is just a device to get what they want. As you will see later, Felix is a corrupt judge, hearing false charges.]


5 For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. 6 He even tried to profane the temple, and we seized him, and wanted to judge him according to our law. 7 But the commander Lysias came by and with great violence took

out of our hands, 8 commanding his accusers to come to you. By examining him yourself you may ascertain all these things of which we accuse him." 9 And the Jews also assented maintaining that these things were so.

[Paul, is accused of: dissention, when it was the unbelieving Jews from Asia Minor who spread the rumors and stirred up the crowd; leading the Nazarenes (a slang name the Jews had given to Christians), though the church in Jerusalem was clearly lead by James; profaning the temple, yet is was just a rumor that Paul had brought a gentile into the inner court. If those charges were not enough they accuse Lysias of "great violence" for stopping them from first beating Paul in the streets, then trying to tear him in half when he stood before the council.]

The Defense Before Felix

Then Paul, after the governor had nodded to him to speak, answered: "Inasmuch as I know that you have been for many years a judge of this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself, 11 because you may ascertain that it is no more than twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem to worship. 12 And they neither found me in the temple disputing with anyone nor inciting the crowd, either in the synagogues or in the city. 13 Nor can they prove the things of which they now accuse me. 14 But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets. 15 I have hope in God, which they themselves also accept, that there will be a resurrection of
dead, both of
just and
unjust. 16 This
so, I myself always strive to have a conscience without offense toward God and men.
"Now after many years I came to bring alms and offerings to my nation, 18 in the midst of which some Jews from Asia found me purified in the temple, neither with a mob nor with tumult. 19
They ought to have been here before you to object if they had anything against me. 20 Or else let those who are here themselves say if they found any wrongdoing in me while I stood before the council, 21 unless

for this one statement which I cried out, standing among them, 'Concerning the resurrection of the dead I am being judged by you this day.'"

[Paul's defense is this: he had no dispute in the temple not did he incite anyone; he confesses to worshiping God according to the Way of Jesus; he came to Jerusalem to bring an offering not trouble; he was purified in the temple, far from profaning it; the Asian Jews who started the riot were not even there so anything charged by them is just hearsay with no evidence.]

Felix Procrastinates

But when Felix heard these things, having more accurate knowledge of
, he adjourned the proceedings and said, "When Lysias the commander comes down, I will make a decision on your case." 23 So he commanded the centurion to keep Paul and to let
have liberty, and told him not to forbid any of his friends to provide for or visit him.
And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. 25 Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, "Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you." 26 Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him.
But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.

[Felix was avoiding making a judgment and used the need to hear Lysias as an excuse. He already had the letter from Lysias saying none of the charges were worthy of punishment. Felix had knowledge of The Way of Jesus, probably from his Jewish wife, he became afraid when Paul spoke of "judgment to come", and he kept hoping that Paul would pay a bribe to be released. The secular histories tell us Felix was replaced by Festus, because of a civil insurrection between Jews and Gentiles where Felix was charged with using brutality to put down the insurrection. Here Felix possibly fearing the charges the Jews might press against at Rome, does them a favor, by leaving Paul in custody. Yet through Paul's writings and through his testimony he continued true to his purpose to be a witness, even while bound in Roman guardhouse. Paul was not overly concerned with the conclusions of the Roman judge; he was more interested in the final judgment of the Righteous Judge, Jesus Christ.]

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Acts 23 – Gossip, Conspiracy & Authority

Acts 23

1 Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, "Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day." 2 And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. 3 Then Paul said to him, "God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?"

4 And those who stood by said, "Do you revile God's high priest?"

5 Then Paul said, "I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people.'"(Exodus 22:28)

[As Paul faces the council he knows of their longstanding animus against Jesus, the Apostles, and all followers of the Way. The Romans wanted to question him by scourging, and here the High Priest wants to smack him whenever he doesn't like what was said. Paul's statement "God will strike you" could have been prophetic as Ananias was killed during a Jewish insurrection in 66 AD. This is pretty bold for Ananias as he is not the judge here, but the Roman commander watching all this, is.]

6 But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, "Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!"

7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. 8 For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection—and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both. 9 Then there arose a loud outcry. And the scribes of the Pharisees' party arose and protested, saying, "We find no evil in this man; but if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him, let us not fight against God." 10 Now when there arose a great dissension, the commander, fearing lest Paul might be pulled to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them, and bring him into the barracks.

[Getting smacked early on was a good sign to Paul that the council did not desire a fair hearing. So he used their own divisions against them. Sadducees are almost deist, they believe in a distant God without all the supernatural stuff, no spirits, no angels, no resurrection. Given that the resurrection of Jesus is central to the Christian faith, Paul decides to thrown that down and get the Pharisees on his side. But the division becomes so strident that the commander has to extract Paul again, to save his life.]

The Plot Against Paul

11 But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, "Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome."

12 And when it was day, some of the Jews banded together and bound themselves under an oath, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. 13 Now there were more than forty who had formed this conspiracy. 14 They came to the chief priests and elders, and said, "We have bound ourselves under a great oath that we will eat nothing until we have killed Paul. 15 Now you, therefore, together with the council, suggest to the commander that he be brought down to you tomorrow, as though you were going to make further inquiries concerning him; but we are ready to kill him before he comes near."

[More than 40 Zealot assassins conspire with the Sanhedrin to lure Paul into an ambush. They want to ask the Roman commander to continue the hearing, then murder Paul when they bring him out to be questioned.]

16 So when Paul's sister's son heard of their ambush, he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. 17 Then Paul called one of the centurions to him and said, "Take this young man to the commander, for he has something to tell him." 18 So he took him and brought him to the commander and said, "Paul the prisoner called me to him and asked me to bring this young man to you. He has something to say to you."

19 Then the commander took him by the hand, went aside, and asked privately, "What is it that you have to tell me?"

20 And he said, "The Jews have agreed to ask that you bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire more fully about him. 21 But do not yield to them, for more than forty of them lie in wait for him, men who have bound themselves by an oath that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you."

22 So the commander let the young man depart, and commanded him , "Tell no one that you have revealed these things to me."

[Some have speculated that Paul's well connected family could have disowned him, when he converted to trust Jesus, but at least Paul's nephew was still close enough to his uncle that when he heard of the conspiracy, he first warned Paul, and then the Roman commander.]

Sent to Felix

23 And he called for two centurions, saying, "Prepare two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at the third hour of the night; 24 and provide mounts to set Paul on, and bring him safely to Felix the governor."

[How do you stop over 40 assassins in a conspiracy with the Sanhedrin council? You use 470 Roman warriors and a Roman governor from nearby Caesarea. Moreover they used cover of darkness, leaving around 9 pm, when no one would be on the streets to alert the conspirators. Only after Paul was gone, was the Sanhedrin told they must go to Governor Antonius Felix who ruled Judea from 52-60 AD, and make their case to him.]

25 He wrote a letter in the following manner:

26 Claudius Lysias,

To the most excellent governor Felix:


27 This man was seized by the Jews and was about to be killed by them. Coming with the troops I rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. 28 And when I wanted to know the reason they accused him, I brought him before their council. 29 I found out that he was accused concerning questions of their law, but had nothing charged against him deserving of death or chains. 30 And when it was told me that the Jews lay in wait for the man, I sent him immediately to you, and also commanded his accusers to state before you the charges against him.


[To refer a case to a higher authority Claudius Lysias was required to provide a letter of justification explaining the reason for the referral. His 3 part reason is that Paul is a Roman, the question was really one of Jewish law, there was an immediate threat to Paul's life.]

31 Then the soldiers, as they were commanded, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. 32 The next day they left the horsemen to go on with him, and returned to the barracks. 33 When they came to Caesarea and had delivered the letter to the governor, they also presented Paul to him. 34 And when the governor had read it , he asked what province he was from. And when he understood that he was from Cilicia, 35 he said, "I will hear you when your accusers also have come." And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's Praetorium.

[Antipatris was a fortress city just a few miles from Caesarea founded by Herod the Great and named for his father Antipater. A Praetorium comes from the Latin word for "leader", it was originally the house of a military commander but could also be the house of a governor or procurator. In this case it was probably the military barracks in a building built by Herod, or dating back to his rule. Here Paul would remain in custody until Felix could hear the case with witnesses from the Sanhedrin council.]


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Acts 22 – Jewish Missionary, Gentile Mission

Acts 21    

40 So when he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying,

Acts 22

 1 "Brethren and fathers, hear my defense before you now." 2 And when they heard that he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, they kept all the more silent.

[There is some debate as to what exact language Paul was speaking as Aramaic was the common Language, and had many regional dialects including one derived from Hebrew. They are both Semitic languages, but extra-biblical sources suggest that Hebrew was not regularly spoken at this time. Some even say Paul greeted them in Hebrew to gain their full attention and then continued in Judean-Aramaic. Either way it had the intended effect, Paul had their attention. When he spoke Hebrew he was speaking to the heart of Jewish culture and tradition; proving his credentials, saying "I am one of you".]

Then he said: 3 "I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers' law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today.

[Saul born in Tarsus was raised in Jerusalem and received his religious education as a Pharisee from Gamaliel. Gamaliel you will remember from Acts 5, when Peter and the Apostles were taken before the council and they plotted to kill them, the council was restrained by the voice of reason:

Acts 5: 38 And now I say to you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; 39 but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it—lest you even be found to fight against God."]

I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, 5 as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished.

[Acts 9:  1 Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2 and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

He was known as Saul the Destroyer, he bound all who followed the Way of Jesus, even consenting to the stoning death of Stephen, as Jon reminded us last week, when Paul stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the deacons who served with Stephen. What grace to forgive that completely.]

6 "Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. 7 And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' 8 So I answered, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.'
9 "And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.

[Acts 9: 7 And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one.

On the Damascus road Jesus appeared in Glory, as Paul's companions were struck speechless with fear or even shock. Acts 9:7 says they heard a voice, where 22:9 said they did not hear the one who spoke to Paul, meaning Jesus. So what did they hear? Well they certainly heard Paul answering Jesus, and they saw the light, but as often is the case when the Lord speaks, not everyone hears, and not everyone who hears understands.]

10 So I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.' 11 And since I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of those who were with me, I came into Damascus.
12 "Then a certain Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good testimony with all the Jews who dwelt there,
13 came to me; and he stood and said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight.' And at that same hour I looked up at him. 14 Then he said, 'The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. 15
For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.'

[I love the testimony of Ananias. A good reputation with all the Jews, obedient to God in reaching out to Saul. Telling Saul who had surrendered to Jesus on the road, that he would know God's will, see God's face, and hear God's voice. And finally the prediction that Saul would be a witness to all men. Even though he had that great spiritual experience on the road, he still received his faith just like us; repent, confess, believe, then he was baptized.]

17 "Now it happened, when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I was in a trance 18 and saw Him saying to me, 'Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, for they will not receive your testimony concerning Me.' 19 So I said, 'Lord, they know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe on You. 20 And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by consenting to his death, and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.' 21 Then He said to me, 'Depart, for I will send you far from here to the Gentiles.'"

[After Saul's conversion he preached at Damascus but the unbelieving Jews plotted to kill him. The disciples smuggled Paul out of Damascus and he came to Jerusalem. It was probably at this time Saul was praying at the temple and had this vision where God tells him to leave Jerusalem. Acts 9 also tells is at this time there was another plot to kill Saul in Jerusalem, so that made it a really good time to leave. It seems the unbelieving Jews were most troubled by Saul's conversion. Many of Jesus Jewish converts were of no particular reputation, but Saul was a political insider of the Jewish elders, so their resentment meant he was always in danger of death. But before he left the temple, Jesus told him by the vision, that he would be a witness to the Gentiles, this was to be the primary focus of his ministry.]

Paul's Roman Citizenship

22 And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!" 23 Then, as they cried out and tore off their clothes and threw dust into the air,

[How quickly the mood changes; Paul by speaking their native tongue, and relating their common heritage had calmed the crowd. The Roman commander had to be pleased that Paul's public address had stopped the mob violence, "until this word". What word? Gentile; remember this riot started when the accused Paul of bringing a gentile into the inner court of the temple, and now he said in prayer, at the temple, the Lord had told him to witness to gentiles. The crowd was again riled up, yelling, probably cursing, and throwing dirt. I saw that in a civil war movie, as the Union cavalry rode through a southern town, the southern women cursed, spat, and threw handfuls of dirt; must be a universal symbol of protest.]


24 the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might know why they shouted so against him. 25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?"
26 When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, "Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman."
27 Then the commander came and said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman?"
He said, "Yes."
28 The commander answered, "With a large sum I obtained this citizenship."
And Paul said, "But I was born a citizen."
29 Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.

[Fist Paul is saved from the mob by the Roman soldiers, now he is saved from examination-by-scourging because of his Roman citizenship. This was a brutal time; Paul could have been scourged just like Jesus, because the Roman officials felt you got to the truth faster, if you whipped people while you were questioning them. But again the commander feared punishment himself for not protecting the rights of a Roman.

Paul recalled some of his other beatings in 2 Corinthians 11: 24 From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep;]

The Sanhedrin Divided

30 The next day, because he wanted to know for certain why he was accused by the Jews, he released him from his bonds, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them.

[Without the examination-by-scourging the commander decides to try a different plan. He will hold a hearing of Paul and the

Monday, November 1, 2010

Acts 21 - Paul’s Destiny of Distress

Acts 21

Warnings on the Journey to Jerusalem

 1 Now it came to pass, that when we had departed from them and set sail, running a straight course we came to Cos, the following day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 And finding a ship sailing over to Phoenicia, we went aboard and set sail. 3 When we had sighted Cyprus, we passed it on the left, sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload her cargo. 4 And finding disciples, we stayed there seven days. They told Paul through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.

[Verse 4 has generated some controversy. Some say this means that Paul was disobedient to the Holy Spirit in going to Jerusalem even after he had been warned of the danger. So I think we need to look at the full context of the Holy Spirit's guidance in Paul's journey to Jerusalem. First in Acts 19:21 Luke wrote "Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem". Next in Acts 20:22-23 Paul said "And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me." So if it were true that the disciples at Tyre were used by the Holy Spirit to turn Paul from Jerusalem, then that would contradict the message given to Paul by the Holy Spirit when he said he was "purposed in the Spirit" and "bound by the Spirit" to go to Jerusalem, regardless of the danger. One thing is clear and that is the Holy Spirit had warned everyone that Paul would face trouble in Jerusalem. The question is what is the correct response to the Holy Spirit's warning? In verse 4 it says the disciples "told Paul through the Spirit not to go", the Greek word translated "through" is "dia" meaning through or because of. So because they were warned by the Spirit that Paul was in danger, they told him not to go. I think we will see a little later in this chapter, that the message of the Holy Spirit was consistent, what was different is how individuals reacted to that information.]


5 When we had come to the end of those days, we departed and went on our way; and they all accompanied us, with wives and children, till we were out of the city. And we knelt down on the shore and prayed. 6 When we had taken our leave of one another, we boarded the ship, and they returned home.

[After 7 days all the disciples at Tyre and their families go with Paul to the edge of town, and have prayer with him, before going back, then Paul and his companions board the ship.]

7 And when we had finished our voyage from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, greeted the brethren, and stayed with them one day. 8 On the next day we who were Paul's companions departed and came to Caesarea, and entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 Now this man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.

[Philip the evangelist is the same Philip chosen as one of the 7 deacons in Acts 6, but also preached frequently, and was the witness to the Ethiopian Eunuch. Don't be surprised that his daughters had the gift of prophecy as this was predicted in Joel 2:28-29


28 " And it shall come to pass afterward
      That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh;
      Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
      Your old men shall dream dreams,
      Your young men shall see visions.
       29 And also on My menservants and on My maidservants
      I will pour out My Spirit in those days.]


10 And as we stayed many days, a certain prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 When he had come to us, he took Paul's belt, bound his own hands and feet, and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man who owns this belt, and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'"
12 Now when we heard these things, both we and those from that place pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, "What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."
14 So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, "The will of the Lord be done."

[Here you see what I was saying earlier about hearing the same warning from the Holy Spirit, but reacting differently. Agabus says Paul will be bound by the Jews and delivered to the Gentiles, all Paul's companions say "don't go" but Paul says "I am ready to be bound or even to die for the Lord Jesus". This echoes what he said in Acts 20:24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.]

Paul Urged to Make Peace

15 And after those days we packed and went up to Jerusalem. 16 Also some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us and brought with them a certain Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to lodge.
17 And when we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 When he had greeted them, he told in detail those things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. 20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law; 21 but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.

[Paul meeting with pastor James and the elders at Jerusalem, shares the wonderful results of the ministry in Asia Minor, and how many disciples had been made among the Gentiles. Though there is one gospel, one Spirit, and one faith, in practice a congregation of Gentiles would have many differences from a predominantly Jewish congregation, still keeping the traditions of the Law. Paul has faithfully followed the Jerusalem decree for Gentile believers, but the rumor in Jerusalem is that in mixed congregations, Paul instructs the Jews not to follow the Law, and this has some upset.]

22 What then? The assembly must certainly meet, for they will hear that you have come. 23 Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have taken a vow. 24 Take them and be purified with them, and pay their expenses so that they may shave their heads, and that all may know that those things of which they were informed concerning you are nothing, but that you yourself also walk orderly and keep the law. 25
But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality."

[So James has crafted a careful compromise, affirming the Jerusalem decree for the Gentile converts, but affirming the Jewish traditions for converts among Abraham's children. And to illustrate this he asks Paul to participate in the purification of four men ending their Nazarite vow, and pay their expenses for the traditional offering, showing that he himself is still an observant Jew. This is not just a PR stunt or some form of hypocrisy, as Paul himself had ended a similar vow in Acts 18:18. What they were showing in Jerusalem is the way Paul really was.]

Arrested in the Temple

26 Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.
27 Now when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews from Asia, seeing him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd and laid hands on him, 28 crying out, "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against the people, the law, and this place; and furthermore he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place." 29 (For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)
30 And all the city was disturbed; and the people ran together, seized Paul, and dragged him out of the temple; and immediately the doors were shut.

[Remember the unbelieving Jews in Jerusalem were always hostile to the Apostles. These rumors of Paul abandoning the Jewish traditions give them an opportunity to strike against The Way of Jesus. Paul had been seen with a Gentile earlier in the day, so when they find him in the inner court yard where Gentiles are not allowed they start screaming that Paul has abandoned the Law and was defiling the Temple. Of course this wasn't true, but it doesn't stop them from taking Paul.]


31 Now as they were seeking to kill him, news came to the commander of the garrison that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them. And when they saw the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the commander came near and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and he asked who he was and what he had done. 34 And some among the multitude cried one thing and some another.
So when he could not ascertain the truth because of the tumult, he commanded him to be taken into the barracks. 35 When he reached the stairs, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the mob. 36 For the multitude of the people followed after, crying out, "Away with him!"


[The mob scene that started in the temple courtyard, spilled out into the streets. News of the riot quickly reaches the commander of the Roman garrison, charged with keeping the peace in the city. You will recall during this time in history there had been several uprisings among the Jews against Roman occupation and rule, so Rome kept the peace with the vigilance of soldiers. They respond with hundreds of armed Roman soldiers who quickly gain control of the mob beating Paul. Remember there was not real cause for this riot; it was started by a rumor. So when the commander tries to find the cause of the disturbance, he can't get a straight answer, because the whole thing was contrived. The commander decides to take Paul into protective custody until the matter can be properly investigated.]

Addressing the Jerusalem Mob

37 Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, "May I speak to you?"
He replied, "Can you speak Greek? 38 Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?"
39 But Paul said, "I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people."

[Rumors were not unique to the Jews, not were Jews the only ones who objected to Roman rule. The Roman commander has mistaken Paul for an Egyptian rebel who has recently lead another insurrection; so he is surprised to find that Paul can speak Greek. You will recall from his sermon on Mars Hill that Paul is well educated, and familiar will Greek history, philosophy, and theology. He speaks Hebrew, Greek, and the common Aramaic tongue. Paul's request to the commander is to be allowed to address the crowd, and make his defense to the Jews, while still under Roman protection. We will look at what Paul had to say next week.]

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Acts 20 – Paul’s Farewell Tour

Acts 20

Journeys in Greece

 1 After the uproar had ceased, Paul called the disciples to himself, embraced them, and departed to go to Macedonia. 2 Now when he had gone over that region and encouraged them with many words, he came to Greece 3 and stayed three months. And when the Jews plotted against him as he was about to sail to Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.

[You can see Paul was not just a traveling evangelist, but was committed to making disciples. He had spent about 3 years at Ephesus, and the gospel had so changed that city that the economics of idol making had changed. Imagine if we were so successful sharing Jesus and teaching the converted that sin was no longer profitable (drug dealers, pimps, prostitutes all without customers). Leaving Ephesus he goes back up to Macedonia to encourage all the churches, working his way back around to Greece. When he was preparing to sail for Syria he became aware of a plot to kill him. It was common for Jewish pilgrims to sail from the ports around Corinth, and would have been easy to find Paul in such small groups, so instead he passes back through Macedonia by land.]


4 And Sopater of Berea accompanied him to Asia—also Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. 5 These men, going ahead, waited for us at Troas. 6 But we sailed away from Philippi after the Days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days joined them at Troas, where we stayed seven days.

[Notice the disciples from all these different churches traveling and meeting with Paul. Paul is teaching and training these young men for ministry as he travels. This sort of internship reminds me of how Jesus taught his disciples as he completed his earthly ministry. Notice again in verses 5 and 6 the pronouns change indicating the return of Luke to Paul's traveling group.]

Ministering at Troas

7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. 9 And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, "Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him." 11 Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. 12 And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.

[Now any preacher can look at verse 7 as a license to preach as long as they like. Another way to look at it is that long preaching can kill. Either way Eutychus is forever famous for falling asleep in church. Before the days of children's church, when I was a young boy, my mom encouraged me to sleep during church so I would be quiet and still. Here we had a crowded house with a lot of body heat. We also had many oil lamps used for light, but also adding to the heat, and fumes in the house. With that as the scene, and Paul preaching until midnight, it easy to see how a boy nodding off in a window seat, could be a dangerous situation. But he was healed and fully restored, and the people were again encouraged by the power of God.]

From Troas to Miletus

13 Then we went ahead to the ship and sailed to Assos, there intending to take Paul on board; for so he had given orders, intending himself to go on foot. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. 15 We sailed from there, and the next day came opposite Chios. The following day we arrived at Samos and stayed at Trogyllium. The next day we came to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.

[Troas is the port of the far north west corner of Asia Minor along the Aegean Sea. The "we" again shows Luke is in the boat. They sail south toward Miletus which is the nearest port city from Ephesus. They sail past islands like Chios the birthplace of Homer, and Samos the birthplace of Pythagoras, so you can see this area is the intellectual hub of the once mighty Greek empire. Paul knows if he goes back to Ephesus he would not make it to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost.]

The Ephesian Elders Exhorted

17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: "You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; 20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. 24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

[Instead of going to Ephesus he calls the elders of the church to come to him. Paul has been warned by the Holy Spirit that chains and tribulations are in his future. He feels this could be his last time to see these elders in person. In his message he gives them the keys to ministry in Ephesus:

  • Be a living example of the grace of God to the people "in what manner I lived"
  • Teach the Word (the easy and the hard) without hesitation "I kept back nothing"
  • Be a constant advocate of repentance and faith, not just for salvation but for life

For Paul God was not a way to get what he wanted. God was the goal, the ministry was the method. Nothing in this world had the same attraction to him as the pleasure of his Savior and faithful service toward God.]

25 "And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.
27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. 29 For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves. 31 Therefore watch, and remember that for three years I did not cease to warn everyone night and day with tears.

[Back in Acts 18 when Paul was at Corinth He shook out his clothes and said "Your blood be upon you own heads" a reference to Ezekiel 33 and the watchman. If the watchmen warns and the people to not listen, the watchman is innocent. Here Paul again says he is innocent because for 3 years he was in Ephesus warning day and night of the judgment of God, calling men to repent. Now he hands this responsibility to the elders of Ephesus telling them to watch for two things. 1) He said wolves (external threats) would come into the church to attack the flock, the redeemed. 2) He said that even among them, the elders, the leaders of the Church; false teachers (internal threats) would emerge and draw away disciples for themselves. I always look suspiciously at any ministry where the people seem to be disciples of one charismatic leader rather than disciples of God. We had a full lesson on false teachers back in August when we studied 2 Peter 2. Peter said of false teachers that "many will follow their destructive ways". We can never relax as a church, because when we do the wolves will come, false teachers will come, and do great damage before they are brought down.

Knowing that the Ephesians church is one of the churches of Revelation 2&3 I wondered what it would say about how well they kept Paul's warning.

Revelation 2: 2 "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; 3 and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name's sake and have not become weary. 4
Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent and do the first works, or else I will come to you quickly and remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.

The Spirit says that the Ephesian church had identified the wolves (those who are evil) and false teachers (those who say they are apostles and are not) and driven them from the church. They had works, patience, and perseverance. But they had lost their love. In Matthew 22 Jesus had said the greatest commandments were to Love God, and love your neighbor. In Ephesians 1 Paul told this same church he heard of their "love for all the saints". So How can a church known for love, need to be rebuked by the Spirit of God for losing their love? Well I think the answer is in Revelation 2:5 "repent and do the first works". Last week in Acts 19:18 we saw this church got started when people "who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds"; their "first works" were faith and repentance. When we forget that repentance and faith are a constant part of life in the Way of Jesus, we risk losing our love, for God and the Saints. In 1 Corinthians 13 Paul writes a whole chapter explaining that all the works and all the spiritual gifts are nothing without love. And yet without a constant life of repentance and faith toward God, we will lose our love for a Holy God and his people.]

32 "So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. 34 Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul's neck and kissed him, 38 sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.

[Paul entrusted this work to God, and to the word of grace, reminding them to be charitable and covet nothing.]

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Acts 19 – Spirit and Reason

Acts 19

Paul at Ephesus

 1 And it happened, while Apollos was at Corinth, that Paul, having passed through the upper regions, came to Ephesus. And finding some disciples 2 he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?"
So they said to him, "We have not so much as heard whether there is a Holy Spirit."
3 And he said to them, "Into what then were you baptized?"
So they said, "Into John's baptism."
4 Then Paul said, "John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus."

[Paul's expectation in finding disciples is that anyone who believed that Messiah had come would be born of the spirit, would be saved, but these disciples of John were "almost saved". They know about Jesus but did not know that salvation, spiritual rebirth, was available to them right now. In John 3:5 Jesus said "Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God".]

When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
6 And when Paul had laid hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. 7 Now the men were about twelve in all.

[The Holy Spirit is intrinsically tied to salvation. If I could destroy one idea as a teacher, it would be the idea that salvation is just an intellectual decision, "I agree that Jesus is the Christ".]

1 John 5:7-8 For there are three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost: and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness in earth, the Spirit, and the water, and the blood: and these three agree in one.

[three in Heaven: Father, Word, Spirit; Three on earth: Spirit, water, blood; what do heaven and earth have in common? The Spirit and nothing else, it is the spirit of God that reconciles mortal man, to the eternal God by the blood of Jesus. The Spirit renews or regenerates, the blood atones, and the water confirms what the Spirit and the blood have done in the believer (burry the man of sin, and resurrect the spiritual man). Salvation is more of a spiritual transformation than an intellectual decision. You cannot separate the water, from the spirit and the blood, and expect to get the same result, but people and churches still do this every day, and it has never worked. The world is filled with baptized, unredeemed lost souls, who were never born again.

In Acts 2:38 Peter preached "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" Romans 8:9 says again that those who belong to Christ have his Spirit.]

8 And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God. 9 But when some were hardened and did not believe, but spoke evil of the Way before the multitude, he departed from them and withdrew the disciples, reasoning daily in the school of Tyrannus. 10 And this continued for two years, so that all who dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.

[Paul again did all he could in the synagogue before withdrawing the disciples and relocating to a private school run by Tyrannus. One Greek manuscript had a marginal note that added "from the 5th hour to the 10th hour" or from 11 am to 4 pm. Paul kept this schedule for two years and "all who dwelt in Asia" this whole region of Western Turkey then called "Asia" heard the gospel of Christ. Anyone who wanted to question Paul or hear more about Jesus knew where to find him. What an amazing opportunity. This region sometimes called Asia Minor spawned the 7 churches of Revelation 2 & 3.]

Miracles Glorify Christ

11 Now God worked unusual miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons were brought from his body to the sick, and the diseases left them and the evil spirits went out of them.

[Even in terms of miracles these were unusual, where the apostle did not even have touch the sick person, but if the sick person touched some cloth that has been on Paul's body they could be healed. As always the purpose of miracles was to glorify God and confirm his work. But sometimes people desire God's power without his sovereignty or Lordship.]


13 Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists took it upon themselves to call the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, "We exorcise you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches." 14 Also there were seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, who did so.
15 And the evil spirit answered and said, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?"
16 Then the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, overpowered them, and prevailed against them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded.

[These exorcists desired the power of the Holy Spirit to cast out evil spirits, but were unaware that the Holy Spirit came with redemption through Jesus. They thought they could just use the name of the Lord Jesus like a magic spell, but it didn't work. This was a form of idolatry that God would not honor. They fraudulently used the name of a Lord they did not know, and there public embarrassment became well known.]


17 This became known both to all Jews and Greeks dwelling in Ephesus; and fear fell on them all, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified. 18
And many who had believed came confessing and telling their deeds. 19 Also, many of those who had practiced magic brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all. And they counted up the value of them, and it totaled fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.

[Incredible how God can take the misuse of Jesus' name by the sons of Sceva , and turn it magnify the name of the Lord Jesus. Now this burning of magic books was not required nor was it discouraged as these books were instrument of demonic influence in the lives of men. This book burning was a spontaneous act of repentance from men desiring to leave their sins behind. The Way of Jesus overthrew idolatry.]

The Riot at Ephesus

21 When these things were accomplished, Paul purposed in the Spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." 22 So he sent into Macedonia two of those who ministered to him, Timothy and Erastus, but he himself stayed in Asia for a time.

[In Romans 15 Paul tells of bringing a financial gift from the churches of Asia and Macedonia, to the church at Jerusalem. This was a time of great need for the poor saints in Jerusalem and the fellowship of the Spirit gave Paul and others the desire to help. He also wanted to Go to Rome and take the gospel to the heart of the Roman world, but he continued the work in the churches of Asia Minor.]

23 And about that time there arose a great commotion about the Way. 24 For a certain man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Diana, brought no small profit to the craftsmen. 25 He called them together with the workers of similar occupation, and said: "Men, you know that we have our prosperity by this trade. 26 Moreover you see and hear that not only at Ephesus, but throughout almost all Asia, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying that they are not gods which are made with hands. 27 So not only is this trade of ours in danger of falling into disrepute, but also the temple of the great goddess Diana may be despised and her magnificence destroyed, whom all Asia and the world worship."
28 Now when they heard this, they were full of wrath and cried out, saying, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" 29 So the whole city was filled with confusion, and rushed into the theater with one accord, having seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians, Paul's travel companions. 30 And when Paul wanted to go in to the people, the disciples would not allow him. 31 Then some of the officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent to him pleading that he would not venture into the theater. 32 Some therefore cried one thing and some another, for the assembly was confused, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 And they drew Alexander out of the multitude, the Jews putting him forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, and wanted to make his defense to the people. 34 But when they found out that he was a Jew, all with one voice cried out for about two hours, "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!"

[Once again people, who profit from idolatry and false worship, use local pride and anti-Semitic zeal to persecute those who follow Jesus. In Greek mythology Artemis (or Diana) was the goddess of the hunt. Her temple at Ephesus is one of the seven ancient wonders of the world. These silver smiths were afraid of losing their market. They made little Diana statues, and miniature shrines of the temple of Diana. If everyone turned from the polytheism of the Greek gods, to the mono-theistic God of creation, the God of the Jews, Paul's unseen God; the market for false idols would quickly dry up. They fought back with a confused, agitated, shouting mob on the verge of riot.]
35 And when the city clerk had quieted the crowd, he said: "Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple guardian of the great goddess Diana, and of the image which fell down from Zeus? 36 Therefore, since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rashly. 37 For you have brought these men here who are neither robbers of temples nor blasphemers of your goddess. 38 Therefore, if Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a case against anyone, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you have any other inquiry to make, it shall be determined in the lawful assembly. 40 For we are in danger of being called in question for today's uproar, there being no reason which we may give to account for this disorderly gathering." 41 And when he had said these things, he dismissed the assembly.

[While the silver smiths feared the loss of income, the city officials feared a loss of freedom. If the Romans saw this riot as an insurrection, there would be a brutal occupation by the Roman army. All the local judges and regional governors would likely be replaced by friends and family of Claudius Caesar to guarantee their loyalty to Rome. Like Gallio in chapter 18 we see the God use the calm manner and well spoken reason of the city clerk to persuade the mob to turn away and go home.]