Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Introduction to the Epistles

If you are following the Bible Book Club reading schedule, we will be soaking deeply in the Pauline epistles during the more sunny days from May 1 - August 16. So break out water or sweet tea and read "Paul by the pool" or some great outdoor venue! We will read the general epistles written by other authors at the end of the summer and early fall from August 17 - October 3. 

Overview of the Two Kinds of Epistles

Pauline Epistles


Paul wrote his 13 letters beginning with Romans and ending with Philemon. The first nine letters were written to seven churches that Paul had either founded or took a personal interest in while on his missionary journeys. Here is a map of the location of these churches:


The Travel Areas of the Acts of the Apostles; also where Paul Sent his Letters
(city names in "stamped envelopes", the one province "unstamped")
Used by Permission: 
 http://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/JBPhillips.htm

Following this, two letters (one in two parts), often referred to as the Pastoral Epistles, were written to encourage two pastors, Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete; and one letter was written to appeal to a coworker, Philemon, to forgive his wayward servant. 

General Epistles


We are not sure who wrote the letter to the Hebrews, but the remaining epistles are titled after their authors: James, Peter, John, and Jude.



While we often read things semi-chronologically in the Bible Book Club, I did not want to break up the fast-paced narrative of Acts.  Chronologies vary but here is a proposed timeline for where the epistles fit in the events in Acts and beyond:


I have been studying the epistles deeply since 1978 when I did my first inductive Bible Study in 3 John (because I thought I should start with a short book). I have never stopped learning new things from them every time I study. Enjoy!

Put Acts back on the New Testament Shelf

BibleBookcase

You are done with the New Testament history books and through 60% of the New Testament. Now, we will start in on the Epistles of Paul with Romans being a VERY important book!

Acts 28 - The Roman Road

LINK: Acts 28


Paul's Journey under Arrest from Palestine to Rome c AD58-61 
http://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/JBPhillips.htm
BACKGROUND

They were on the island of Malta (15) for three months. It had excellent harbors. How appropriate that Malta means "refuge"! 


When Paul did not swell up and die from the viper bite, they thought he was a god. God had promised Paul safety (27:23-25), and this is one more demonstration of God watching over Paul. This reminds me of the story in Acts 14:6-18 when Paul healed the lame man of Lystra, and the Lycaonians thought he was Hermes (Mercury) and wanted to worship him. Paul was not a god but a humble servant who gathered firewood to make a fire (28:3) and healed the sick (28:6-9).


You can follow their trip from Malta to Rome on the map. Their ship bore the image of Castor and Pollux. These were the twin sons of Zeus and were worshiped as the protectors of men of the sea.



File:Via appia.jpg
The Appian Way
Kleuske at nl.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) 
or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)], 
from Wikimedia Commons
While Julius, the guards, and prisoners took the famous Appian Way ("the queen of the long roads" is its common name) up from Puteoli to Rome, Roman believers came down to greet Paul at the Forum of Appius (43 miles south of Rome) and Three Inns (35 miles south). How were there believers in Rome? Many Jews from Rome visited Jerusalem for the different feasts. We know that there were Romans at the Feast of Pentecost (2:10) who came to believe. They obviously brought the message back to Rome and a church was established. 

As usual, Paul talked to the Jews first, but he called for them to come to him since he was under arrest and could not follow his usual pattern of going to the synagogue. He assured them that he had done nothing to damage the Jews or their customs and that the Roman authorities found him innocent, but that he had to appeal to Rome since the Jews in Jerusalem continued to accuse him (28:19; 25:11).  His main reason for coming to them was to tell them of the "hope of Israel" (23:6; 24:15; 26:6-7). This meant that he told them that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah! He was destined to go to Rome to preach this truth, even if it meant he would go there in chains! Paul is a rock star!


The Jews in Rome had not gotten a bad report about Paul and only wanted to hear about this "sect" out of Judaism that believed that Jesus was the promised Messiah. They were open to hearing what Paul had to say so he spoke from morning until evening explaining the Scriptures and revealing Christ through the Law and the Prophets. Again, Paul used the Old Testament because that is all they had, but it is still a good idea to use the Old Testament when sharing the gospel today. When he declared the "Kingdom of God" he was also including the reign and rule of Christ. That was probably difficult for them to grasp. 


Some "began to be convinced" (the Greek verb here is in the imperfect tense meaning that they were not fully convinced) and some "would not believe" (28:24). Paul quoted from Isaiah 6:9-10 just as Jesus had in Matthew 13:3-15; Mark 4:12; and Luke 8:10 and John had quoted in John 12:39-40. The Jews listened, but did they really hear? They saw, did they really perceive? Their hearts were hard so how could the Lord heal them? With this, he announced he was turning to the Gentiles. Acts is a bridge book to the epistle of Romans because it explains how the gospel moved from the Jews to the Gentiles and from Jerusalem to Rome. 


Paul had a busy and productive two years in Rome under house arrest. He preached the Kingdom of God and taught about Jesus to all who would hear. One person who responded to Paul's message was Philemon's runaway slave, Onesimus (Philemon 10-21). Also, his Roman guards listened to his message and some believed (Philippians 1:12-14; 4:22). Also, he wrote the "Prison Epistles": Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon


The people that were with him during this time were Timothy (Philippians 1:1; 2:19; Colossians 1:1), John Mark, Luke, Aristarchus, Epaphras, Justus, and Demas (Colossians 4:10-14; Philemon 24). In addition, Epaproditus brought him a gift from the Philippian church (Philippians 2:25-30; 4:18) and Tychicus delivered Paul's letters to the Ephesians (6:21), Colossians, and Philemon (Colossians 4:7-9). 


We do not know the outcome of Paul's trial from the book of Acts, but many commentators believe he was released and resumed his ministry, traveling as far as Spain (Romans 15:24, 28). He also wrote letters to Timothy and Titus (A.D. 63-66/67). He was arrested again in about A.D. 67, chained in a prison (2 Timothy 1:16; 2:9) and forsaken by the believers in Rome (2 Timothy 4:16-17) and Demas (2 Timothy 4:10-11). We do not know for sure, but tradition says he was beheaded in Rome in A.D. 67/68. 



"Well done, good and faithful servant." 
(Matthew 25:23)



REFLECTION

It was a long journey for Paul to Rome. What an example of a life poured out for the sake of bringing the gospel to the unreached of the earth. 


My husband and I have been trying to get to our "Rome" for many years. The door has not opened yet and circumstances lately make us scratch our heads and wonder what God is up to right now, but this encouraged me today:

Paul wanted to preach the gospel in Rome, and he eventually got there -- in chains, through shipwreck, and after many trials. Although he may have wished for an easier passage, he knew that God had blessed him greatly in allowing him to meet the believers in Rome and preach the message to both Jews and Gentiles in that great city. In all things, God worked for Paul's good (Romans 8:28). You can trust him to do the same for you. God may not make you comfortable or secure, but he will provide the opportunity to do his work. 
(Life Application Bible, p.2020)
Praying God makes a way for all of us to accomplish His work through us, even if that means suffering. I am thankful for Paul's example of perseverance!

APPLICATION 

Are you persevering in the work that God has for you? 

Are you willing to suffer in the process?

PRAYER

Lord, give us perseverance and the ability to see the goal even though circumstances fog us from seeing it. We pray that You would strengthen us for the task that You have for us to do. In Jesus' name and for Your glory! Amen. 

Monday, April 29, 2013

Acts 27 - Sea Journey to Rome

LINK: Acts 27


Paul's Journey under Arrest from Palestine to Rome c AD58-61
from: 
https://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/CN250ACTSPaultoRome.htm
BACKGROUND

Luke (the author of Acts) joined Paul and Aristarchus for a voyage to Rome. Paul and other prisoners were under the charge of Julius, who was a hardened Roman centurion. He gave Paul some freedom (27:3) and even spared his life (27:43). This detailed story tells how Paul bore witness of Jesus even in a storm!


Adramayttium was a port on the northeast coast of the Aegean Sea. You can follow the map to see the direction of the journey. They switched ships at Myra (7) and eventually made it to Fair Havens on the Island of Crete (10). 


The fast that is mentioned in 27:9 is the Day of Atonement which occurs sometime between September 14th and October 14th. Sailing was doubtful in September and made impossible by November. Instead of wintering in Lasea or Fair Havens, as Paul cautioned, the pilot and owner set sail and were caught in a Nor'easter that contained hurricane-like wind. They almost hit the sandbars of Syrtis off the coast of Libya (13) and threw much of the cargo and tackle overboard, but they gave up all hope of being saved (27:20). 


Paul gave them hope and proved a great leader during this time. He warned the soldiers and centurion that if the sailors abandoned ship all would be lost. Consequently, they cut off the lifeboats. Now they could only rely on Paul's God! He also encouraged the 276 passengers to eat assuring them that they would not perish. Eventually, they ran the ship aground off the shore of the Island of Malta (15). The soldiers wanted to kill the prisoners so they would not be killed for letting any get away, but the centurion wanted to spare Paul's life (27:43). Consequently, all the prisoners were saved as Paul predicted (27:22). Also, Paul was preserved for ministry in Rome.


REFLECTION/APPLICATION

If you did not have the opportunity to read yesterday's article, go back and read it and pray about your part in being a witness of Jesus. Could you make a public testimony of what He has done in your life? Practice that today. 


PRAYER


Lord, help us to bear witness of Jesus and give hope to others in the storms of our life. Amen. 

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Acts 26 - Paul's Public Witness Before Herod Agrippa II

LINK: Acts 26 
File:Herod Agrippa II.jpg
By Published by Guillaume Rouille (1518?-1589)
 ("Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum") [Public domain],
 via Wikimedia Commons

BACKGROUND 

Herod Agrippa II was the last of the Herod dynasty that ruled in parts of Palestine from 37 B.C. to A.D. 100. 


Here are some of his illustrious ancestors:

Great-grandfather: Herod the Great, king of Judea, 37-4 B.C. The magi approached him when looking for Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12). Then, he slaughtered the innocent babies of Bethlehem and its vicinity (Matthew 2:13-18)

Great uncle: Herod Antipas reigned 4 B.C.-A.D. 39. He had a part in the executions of John the Baptist (Matthew 14:1-12) and crucifixion of Jesus 
(Luke 23:6-12)

Father: Herod Agrippa I reigned A.D. 41-44. He had James, son of Zebedee executed (Acts 12:2) and Peter put in prison (Acts 12:1-23). He also allowed the people to praise him as a god, but this led to being struck down by an angel (Acts 12:23). This account lines up with the historian, Josephus (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agrippa_I)


Herod Agrippa II was no better than his ancestors. He was a practicing Jew. He was a descendant of the Edomites, and they had converted to Judaism ("Herod I". Encyclopaedia Judaica, ISBN 965-07-0665-8), but he also lived with his sister, Bernice! Incest violated Jewish Law (Leviticus 18:1-18; 20:11-21). 


Acts 26 is Paul's final and finest defense after previous ones before the riotous crowd (22:1-21), chief priests and Sanhedrin (23:1-8), Felix (24:10-21), and Festus (25:6-11). Jesus has said that the apostles would be His witnesses in all Judea, and this meant public testimony. Paul had a rapt audience as there were military officers and prominent leaders of Jerusalem when Paul made his case before Agrippa. This fulfilled the Lord's promise that Paul would bear witness before "Gentiles and kings" (Acts 9:15). At the conclusion of Paul's defense, everyone who heard would know how to be saved!

Here is the outline of Paul's defense:

1) Complimenting of Agrippa II (26:2-3) - Agrippa II did know the Jewish customs and was a practicing Jew. According to Josephus, he was president of the temple and its treasures, and the appointment of the high priest. (Antiquities, 20.1.3). He did not walk as an obedience Jew as his incestuous relationship with his sister proves!

2) Paul's history of devoted Judaism (26:4-8) - He was a devout Pharisee (Philippians 3:5) and son of a Pharisee (Acts 23:6). He mentioned God raising the dead (26:8). The Greeks, Romans, and Sadducees would not have believed in the Resurrection (Acts 17:31-32; 23:8), but this is crucial to his witness because if Jesus had not been resurrected, there would be no Gospel for Paul to preach (see 1 Corinthians 15). 

3) His opposition to Christianity (26:9-11) - Paul had great promise as a rabbi and was a great persecutor of the church (Galatians 1:13-14). Only divine intervention could stop him!

4) His conversion and commission (26:12-18) - All Paul's righteousness and zeal were nothing (Philippians 3:1-11) when he met Christ on the road to Damascus. He recounts to his captive audience the encounter you have already read about in Acts 9. Paul had been resisting Christ and persecuting the church by "kicking against the goads."  This was a Jewish idiom that referred to the animal's futile resistance to being prodded by a sharp stick (oxgoad). Jesus was telling Paul that he was only hurting himself by persecuting the church.  
Paul was commissioned to go to the Jews and then the Gentiles and open their blind eyes, lead them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God, and into forgiveness of sin and sanctification through faith in Jesus Christ. This commission closely mirrors the work of the Messiah from Isaiah 35:5; 42:7, 16; 61:1. He wanted the Gentiles in his audience to know that they had an equal share in God's inheritance (Romans 8:17; Colossians 1:12). They were part of the covenant promise made to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Ephesians 2:19; 1 Peter 1:3,4). This was part of the reason why the Jews were so upset with him. Gentiles equal? No way! 
5) His ministry (26:19-23) - Paul responded to the heavenly vision with obedience, in spite of the persecution he faced along the way.  All the apostles preached repentance and turning to God (2:38; 3:19; 5:31; 8:22; 11:18; 13:24; 17:30; 19:4; 20:21). He asserted that his message was just a fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecy (26:22; 24:14; 28:23) of the death and resurrection of Jesus. In that day, there was no New Testament, so they used the Old Testament to lead others to Christ and nurture them in the faith (Something, I contend, we should all do!). He summarizes the gospel in 23:23, and that can all be backed up by Old Testament Scripture:
  • Christ would suffer and die for our sins (Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Corinthians 15:3)
  • Christ would rise from the dead (Psalm 16:8-11;1 Corinthians 15:4,20) 
  • Christ would proclaim light to his people and the Gentiles (Isaiah 49:6; Acts 13:47)
6) His debate with Festus and Agrippa (26:24-29) - The above proclamation caused Festus to say Paul was out of his mind. Remember that Paul's proclamation of the Gentiles being part of God's plan also caused a strong reaction in the temple (Acts 22:21-22). But Paul just stated the facts known to all. 
Paul responded with concern for the souls of King Agrippa and all who heard his testimony despite Agrippa's sarcastic remark in 26:28. This caused the hearing to end, and Agrippa and Festus to conclude that Paul was innocent, but since he had appealed to Caesar, he would go to Rome. 

REFLECTION 


I have been doing grading for the local Perspectives on the World Christian Movement class. Here is a summary from this week's reading that talks about Acts 26:

Staying in Jerusalem was the surest and most public way to encounter the pressure of political and religious powers. Standing the test by their clear testimony is exactly what Jesus meant by the word "witness." The idea of "witnessing" in our day usually means attempting to communicate the gospel to others. But the use of this term was much different in biblical days. To "witness" was to offer prolonged public testimony. The court setting was not a way to get a public venue to preach "sermons." The trials were not really about conveying gospel information. Instead, the ordeal of public trials established the value of following Christ and thus confirmed the validity of the Christ-following movement to the common people. 
(Perspective on the World Christian Movement: Study Guide, Fourth Edition, by Steven C. Hawthorne, p. 50)
Here is a longer excerpt that expands upon the summary above. Read it if you have time: 
Boldness in Costly Public Witness 
Were they faithful to the mandate Christ had given them? As Luke records it, they were to take a public stand as witnesses (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8). To act as a "witness" in Luke's way of speaking had very little to do with personal one-on-one communication of the gospel to friends and family. Only in recent times has the term "witness" been equated with general gospel communication. Reading Luke's use of the term "witness" reveals that almost every time someone acts as a witness, they did so in a public setting. 
Why was a public declaration in courts or in the streets so important? God wanted something more significant than a widespread awareness of Christ's resurrection. God was establishing an unshakable church. A witness not only asserted the facts of Jesus, they also established the profound value of following Jesus by their readiness to suffer. 
The ordeal of public trial served to distinguish the movement of Christ followers, placing the entire church in public view. Ordinary men and women went on public display, along with their Christ-like character. Even their enemies recognized them "as having been with Jesus" (Acts 4:13). Their lives became an expression of the highest ideals of their people (5:13). The function of witnessing could not be reduced to a brief communicative action -- it was a process. Their obedience as witnesses transpired over weeks or months or longer.  
Witnessing has to do with the paradox of shame and glory. After one courtroom appearance, Peter and his fellow witnesses rejoiced that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name (5:41). Jesus relays word to Paul by Ananias that Paul was a chosen instrument "to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel." It sounds like a regal duty, but the cost is severe -- a testimony comprised of suffering. The very next phrase the Lord gives Paul is this: "for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name's sake" (9:15-16). Their shame brought Christ's glory.  
The Lessons for Obedience Today 
Witnessing is not so much personal sharing of the gospel as it is the public establishing of the Church. It will take more than slick communication to plant churches where there are none. The drama of Acts may be a portrait of the way any new church is planted. There may be exceptions but for the most part, the record shows that thriving movements for Jesus must emerge into the public view. 
Secret movements grow weak and often disappear entirely. Movements that endure bear Christ's name boldly and at the same time display much that is recognized as the finest ideals of their people. How does this happen. It is by men and women (usually ordinary local people rather than missionaries), who are falsely accused and are brought into a setting of open testimony. At that moment, the value of following Christ is established.  
(Excerpt from "Acts of Obedience" by Steven C. Hawthorne from Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, Fourth Edition, edited by Ralph D. Winter and Steven C. Hawthorne, p. 139)
APPLICATION

Pray that God will be glorified as Chinese believers give public testimony in the face of persecution.

smith_hearing_050312.JPG
May 3, 2012: Rep. Chris Smith, left, and ChinaAid President Bob Fu, right, listen as
 Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng addresses a Capitol Hill committee over the phone
http://www.foxnews.com/world/2013/02/21/christians-house-churches-in-china-see-erious-escalation-persecution-report/.
See the article "China's Christians see mounting persecution in country's effort to disband churches, report finds" HERE

References to witnesses or witnessing in the book of Acts are all in the public arena. Here is a list of references for future study:

1:8, 22; 2:32; 3:15; 4:33; 5:32; 10:39-40,43; 13:31; 14:3; 15:8; 16:2; 20:26; 22:15,18,20; 23:11; 26:16,22


PRAYER


Lord, what does it mean for us to make public declaration of You before a lost world?  Prepare us to be brave to suffer for Your name and strengthen the hearts and minds of believers around the world who suffer as they make public declaration of You in countries, like China, that are closed to the Good News. Open doors for Your Word to go forth with power and conviction, and may the leaders not be like Agrippa and Festus who closed their hearts to You.  We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen. 

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Acts 25 - Paul Before Festus and Agrippa II

LINK: Acts 25


BACKGROUND


Porcius Festus was the Roman procurator in Judea from A.D. 58-62. The Jews had no case, but they sought to have Paul brought from Caesarea to Jerusalem so that they could ambush him. Again, allegations were made, and Paul denied them and appealed to Caesar (Nero, A.D. 54-68). Being a citizen of Rome, he was in his right to demand this. Consequently, Festus had no alternative but to transfer his case to Rome, but he brought him to Agrippa II in order to help him understand how to charge Paul.


Agrippa II was the son of Herod Agrippa I (12:1) and great-grandson of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1, the Herod who was visited by the Magi and had all the baby boys slaughtered). Agrippa II was about 30 years old and ruled the territory northeast of Palestine. He had an incestuous relationship with his sister, Bernice.


APPLICATION

Could you make a defense to account for the hope that is within you? Your testimony is a good place to start because no one can deny the truth of your experience with the living God (Revelation 12:11). 


Share your story with someone. If it is too scary to share it with a person who does not follow Jesus, do it with a person who does. 


Try making it "taper to ten" minutes because you do not know how much time people have, and there will be more time for expanding upon it as you get to know the person and share more of your life in Christ with them. 



PRAYER


Lord, help us to always to be ready to make a defense for the hope that is within us (1 Peter 3:15). Amen. 

Friday, April 26, 2013

Acts 24 - Paul Before Felix

LINK: Acts 24


BACKGROUND


Felix was the Roman governor of Judea from A.D. 52-58. This was the same position held by Pontius Pilate from A.D. 26-36. Pilate presided over the trial of Jesus. Felix was married to the sister of the Jewish Herod Agrippa II (25:13-26:32), Drusilla.  He was a former slave who had won his freedom and gained favor with the imperial court. As the governor, he was to run the army, keep the peace, and collect taxes. He often used force with violence and was given to corruption. The Roman historian, Tacitus, said, "He exercised royal power with the mind of a slave."  

Tertullus was a hired attorney ("orator") by the Jewish leaders for the accusation of Paul to Felix. He made three accusations. Paul was a:
  • Pest  and troublemaker who stirred up riots throughout the world 
  • Ringleader of the Nazarene sect (Jesus was from Nazareth) 
  • Desecrator of the temple
None of these accusations were true, and Paul refuted them one by one and even shared the gospel and "righteousness, self-control, and the judgement to come" with Felix. This convicted Felix since he had to break up another marriage in order to marry his third wife, Drusilla. He was a man who lacked all these qualities and really needed Jesus!

APPLICATION


How do you bear up under false accusations? 


Memorize Acts 24:16. If we do our best to maintain a blameless conscience before God and men, we will have nothing to worry about when we are falsely accused. 


PRAYER


Lord, may we conduct ourselves in a way that we always have a blameless conscience both before You and before men. In Jesus' name, Amen. 

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Acts 23 - Paul before Sanhedrin and March to Caesarea

LINK: Acts 23


BACKGROUND


The narrative today is pretty easy to follow so there will be just a few background tidbits.


The High Priest Ananias


According to the historian Josephus, Ananias was described as "insolent, hot-tempered, profane, and greedy." He illegally commanded that Paul be struck. In Jewish law a man was innocent until proven guilty.


The Pharisees versus the Sadducees


Paul divided his enemies by stating his "hope in the resurrection of the dead" (23:6). The Pharisees believed in a bodily resurrection while the Sadducees did not because they only adhered to Genesis through Deuteronomy, and this part of Scripture contained no teaching on the resurrection. Paul was a Pharisee. So, the Pharisees defended him. 


Paul's Innocence


In the letter of Claudius Lysias to Governor Felix, he admits that Paul was not guilty of anything worthy of death or imprisonment (23:29). This is true throughout the book of Acts with Gallio (18:14-15), the city heads of Ephesus (19:40), Pharisees (23:9), Festus (25:25), and Herod Agrippa II (26:31-32).


Geographical Places


Jerusalem, Antipatris, CaesareaThe terrain between Jerusalem and Antipatris (23:31) near Joppa would have been perfect for an ambush. The forced march was about 35 miles.  It was 27 more miles to Caesarea (23:33), and the terrain was not as dangerous. 

PRAYER

Thank You for the bold example of Paul. Give us that kind of boldness and give us Your words and wisdom when under attack. Amen. 
Another geographical place mentioned was Paul's home province of Cilicia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Anatolia_Ancient_Regions_base.svg
http://www.travellinkturkey.com/cilicia.html

We will talk about Felix tomorrow.

Keep reading!!!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Acts 22 - Paul Stirs Up the People in Jerusalem

LINK: Acts 22

BACKGROUND


Paul probably used Aramaic, the common language of Palestinian Jews, not only to communicate to them in their heart language but also to show them he was a devout Jew and respected the Jewish laws and customs.  The fact that he spoke Aramaic was probably very impressive since he was a Jew from Tarsus (in modern day, south central Turkey).


His defense involved telling the crowd of his credentials as a devoted Jew who was a student of the most honored rabbi of the first century, Gamaliel (5:34). He acknowledged that, had he not met Jesus, he would be zealous to kill him too! With this, he established common ground with them and gained their ear. 


Paul simply shared the testimony of his encounter with Jesus, and how he came to change his views because of this (Acts 7:58-8:1 and Acts 9). The people were attentive until he mentioned the "G" word: Gentiles. Some commentators believe that the Jews were mad because they did not want to let the Gentiles into their exclusive "club". Other commentators believe that what really infuriated the mob was not that Paul preached to the Gentiles because religious authorities had always preached to Gentiles and made them proselytes (Matthew 23:15), but that Paul was alluding that Gentiles were in equal standing before God by being partakers of God's covenant promise without following the Law of Moses (Ephesians 2:11-22; 3:2-6; Galatians 3:28)! This was unheard of!


Throwing off cloaks and flinging dust were signs of intense anger in Jewish culture. If not for the help of the Roman officer, Paul would have been killed like Stephen.  


The commander wanted to interrogate Paul by flogging him which involved using a short whip embedded with sharp pieces of metal or bone and attached to a wooden handle (The same instrument was used on Jesus).  By law, the commander could not flog or put a Roman citizen in chains until proven guilty. Good thing Paul spoke up!


Since the commander could not speak Aramaic, he had no idea why Paul was causing a riot, he called together the chief priest and Sanhedrin and had Paul stand before them the next day. We will wait until tomorrow to find out how that went! 


There is no REFLECTION or APPLICATION today.


PRAYER


Lord, I pray we never think we are an "exclusive" club that "bad" people cannot belong to. I pray we are always welcoming and inviting to all who want to know about Jesus remembering how You welcomed us into Your Kingdom of Grace! Amen. 

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Acts 21 - Return to Jersualem


LINK: Acts 21

http://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/JBPhillips.htm
BACKGROUND 

Acts 21:1-3 covers location numbers 14-19 on the map above. The believers in Tyre (19) tried to persuade Paul not to go to Jerusalem, but he was following God's will and was "bound by the Spirit" to go there (Acts 20:22; 21:14).

After leaving Tyre, he traveled 20 miles by ship to Ptolemais (20). Then he traveled 40 miles (probably by sea) to Caesarea (21). Here we are reintroduced to Philip the evangelist from Acts 6:5; 8 who had apparently settled in Caesarea (Acts 8:40). His four virgin daughters all had the gift of prophecy. This shows that these gifts are not limited to just men (1 Corinthians 11:5)!

Agabus, from fifteen years prior in Acts 11:27-30, illustrated his prophecy with a belt saying Paul would be bound and delivered over to the Romans. From our Old Testament reading of the prophets we know that it was common for prophets to prophecy using physical illustrations (Ahijah in 1 Kings 11:29-31; Isaiah 20:2-4; Jeremiah 13:1-7, Ezekiel 4). Again, the believers (including Luke) try to persuade Paul not to go, but he is resolute. In addition, he probably wanted to complete his mission of giving the offering to the needy believers of Jerusalem.

Paul went 65 miles from Caesarea to Jerusalem (22). Paul's first order of business there was to go to the leaders of the church at Jerusalem and tell them about all God had done among the Gentiles like he had done in Acts 14:27. The leaders praised God! He probably gave them the offering too. 

Remember from our reading in Acts 15 how the council had settled the whole issue of circumcision of Gentiles? Well, the issue reared its ugly head again beginning in 21:20. False rumors had spread that Paul had gone beyond that decision and forbid Jews from circumcising their children! Even though it was not true, Paul went the second mile to avoid offending the believing Jews by submitting to Jewish customs and even paying for the expenses for the purification ceremony (Numbers 6:9-20) of four men who had taken the Nazirite vow (Numbers 6:13-17). During this process, the Council at Jerusalem reiterated what they had concluded in Acts 15:20, 29.
The Bible Knowledge Commentary (NT), p. 416.

For the sixth time, a crowd was incited because of unbelieving Jews who made false accusations (14:19; 16:19-22; 17:5-8, 13; 19:25-34). This time they accused Paul of bringing Greeks beyond the Court of the Gentiles and into the Holy Place (see the map of the temple area). In fact, the barrier separating these two places had an inscription that warned Gentiles of death if they went beyond it. Though, spiritually, Jesus broke down that barrier (Ephesians 2:14), Paul would not have taken Greeks into the Holy Place of the temple. 

Roman troops would have been stationed in the Fortress of Antonia, the commander, Claudius Lysias (23:26) took some of these troops to rescue Paul from being killed by the rioters. After this Paul was arrested. The commander probably thought Paul was the Egyptian insurrectionist mentioned by the historian Josephus. This man came to the Mount of Olives in A.D. 54 and claimed to be a prophet. He promised that the walls of Jerusalem would collapse when he commanded it. The man escaped leaving many of his followers killed by the Roman soldiers. Quickly, Lysias learned Paul was not this man but a Jew and granted him permission to speak to the crowd.

Stay tuned for part 2 tomorrow! 

REFLECTION 

There is much debate about whether Paul should have submitted to ceremonial Jewish customs just to appease the Jewish believers who were skeptical about him. I love what the Life Application Bible has to say about this:
Paul submitted himself to this Jewish custom to keep peace in the Jerusalem church. Although Paul was a man of strong convictions, he was willing to compromise on nonessential points, becoming all things to all people so that he might save some (2 Corinthians 9:19-23). Often a church is split over disagreements about minor issues or traditions. Like Paul, we should remain firm on Christian essentials but flexible on non-essentials. Of course, no one should violate his or her true convictions, but sometimes we need to exercise the gift of mutual submission for the sake of the gospel. (Acts 21:23, 24; p. 2006)
Paul knew the rituals did not make men clean before a righteous God because Jesus already did that on the cross, once for all; but it was a non-essential issue and did not hinder Paul's walk with God but helped to promote unity. The Life Application Bible goes on to make two more points:
1) Paul rejected the idea that the Old Testament laws bring salvation to those who keep them. Our salvation is freely given by God's gracious act. We receive salvation through faith. The laws are of no value for salvation except to show us our sin.  

2) Paul accepted the view that the Old Testament laws prepare us for and teach us about the coming of Jesus Christ. Christ fulfilled the law and released us from its burden of guilt. But the law still teaches us many valuable principles and gives us guidelines for grateful living. Paul was not observing the laws in order to be saved. He was simply keeping the laws as custom to avoid offending those he wished to reach with the gospel (see Romans 3:21-31; 7:4-6; 13:9, 10) For more on the law, see Galatians 3:23-29; 4:21-31. (Acts 21: 23, 24, p.2006)
When I share Christ with people, I go to the Old Testament law because, in it, we understand why Jesus had to die. So, in this way, those laws help us to have a proper understanding of our faith. They are a bridge to understanding the power of Jesus', once for all sacrifice. 

APPLICATION 

I am passionate about people understanding the Old Testament so that they can fully grasp the New! How about you?

One way to help you understand it is by celebrating the Old Testament feasts because they all point us to Jesus. 

An excellent book for understanding this is called Celebrate the Feasts by Martha Zimmerman. From the back cover:
The great religious feasts as described in the Old Testament and Jewish tradition are full of spiritual truth presented in the New Testament. When those festivals are reenacted in the Christian home, children have a living picture of Bible principles. They learn far better by experiencing than by only hearing.
It is not just for children though! :) I did not learn about all of this until I was a young adult. So there is still time for you! Go and celebrate the feasts! 

Isn't it interesting that this Acts 21 occurred during Pentecost?

Here is a nice little summary about this Feast:


Martha Zimmerman's book has many more ideas, recipes, and details, and I heartily encourage you to get it, especially since there are so many used copies at amazon.com! 

PRAYER

Help us to firmly grasp what it means to become all things to all people so that many would come to know you! Amen. 

Monday, April 22, 2013

Acts 20 - Paul in Macedonia and Greece

LINK: Acts 20


Paul's Third Missionary Journey, returning to Asia Minor and Greece c AD53-58
from: 
http://www.ccel.org/bible/phillips/JBPhillips.htm
BACKGROUND

After the riot in Ephesus, Paul headed toward Macedonia (5). Titus was supposed to come to Troas (9) and give a report about the problems in Corinth, but he did not show up (2 Corinthians 2:12-13). But they met in Macedonia where Titus was able to give a good report about the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 7:5-7). 


After Macedonia, Paul and company spent three months in Corinth, Achaia (6, Greece). There he wrote the Epistle to the Romans.


While visiting the various churches, Paul wanted to encourage and strengthen the saints so that they would stand firm in the Lord and be a testimony to those who did not know Him. He was also making a collection to deliver to the believers in need in Jerusalem (Romans 15:25-27; 1 Corinthians 16:1-9; 2 Corinthians 8-9). All the men mentioned who accompanied Paul on this journey (Acts 20:4) came from the different churches he had planted in Asia and carried an offering from their respective churches (2 Corinthians 8:1-21).


Paul did not sail from Corinth because of a plot to kill him (12:3). So, he returned through Macedonia, and you can follow the numbers of the map to locate all the cities he visited. It is interesting to note that the "us" and "we" in 20:5, 6 indicate that Luke, the author of Acts, joined the group. He was probably in Philippi and joined Paul for the last section of his journey. 


In Troas, they worshiped on the "Lord's Day" on the first day of the week (Sunday) and not on the Jewish Sabbath day (Saturday). This was the day Jesus rose from the dead (Revelation 1:10) so the early church practiced this. They followed the pattern of Acts 2:42 where they . . .  


1) Broke bread - This refers to the "Lord's Supper" where they remembered the bread as Jesus' body and the wine as His blood.  
2) Listened to the Apostle Paul's teaching. 
3) Had fellowship - This included a "love feast."  
4) Prayer is not mentioned, but I am sure they did!

Oh it also included a miraculous rising of Eutychus ("Lucky") from the dead after he fell asleep and out the window! 

Again, you can follow the numbers of the map to trace Paul's journey. He skipped Ephesus because he was racing to get back to Jerusalem by Pentecost which is 50 days after Passover. But he did call the elders of the Ephesian church to nearby Miletus (14) to bid them a final farewell and review the history of his ministry among them. It is so poignant and worth reading again and again. The "savage wolves" he warns them about in 20:29 were false teachers who would teach false doctrine. They are repeatedly referred to in the New Testament (1 Timothy 1:6-7; 19-20; 4:1-7; 2 Timothy 1:15; 2:17-18; 3:1-9; Revelation 2:1-7). Paul also tells them that the Holy Spirit had warned him that prison and hardship awaited him. 


Yet, he kept on going. 


REFLECTION/APPLICATION


I wrote a whole reflection, but it was a bit whiny. So, I deleted it. The contrast between the sacrifices made by Paul who considered his "life worth nothing" and selfish believers who take, take, take and never think about giving of themselves astounds me. I will not go into detail, but I want to be like Paul rather than a selfish believer. Pray for my attitude right now. It is not very good. 


How about you? Are you willing to "endure hardship like a good soldier (2 Timothy 2:3) to see the gospel of God's grace proclaimed throughout the whole world? Pray for a selflessness like Paul's. 


2014 Update: I have no remembrance of this (written in 2013). I have turned a corner in my attitude toward selfish believers! I am taking everyone as they are these days, and I like that. I will say that my husband and I are investing in a group of dynamic believers who are so other-centered it astounds me! 

PRAYER


Lord, give us a heart that gives, gives, and gives some more. Amen. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Acts 19 - In Ephesus

LINK: Acts 19


BACKGROUND


Paul followed through on his promise to return to the people in Ephesus. Ephesus was a leading business center and hub for sea and land transportation. It was up there with Antioch, Syria and Alexandria, Egypt as one of the great cities of the Mediterranean. 

Paul followed his usual pattern: proclamation to the Jews, rejection by the Jews, proclamation to the Gentiles, miracles, believers increasing, and persecution. He lectured in the hall of Tyrannus. Lecture halls at schools were used in the morning to teach philosophy, but they were empty during the hot part of the day (11 am to 4 pm). Many people did not work during this part of the day and would probably come to hear Paul preach. Paul stayed in Ephesus a little over two years. He wrote his first letter to the Corinthians here to counter several problems in the Corinthian church. 


Remember that John's baptism was just a baptism of repentance. The disciples in Ephesus did not understand the significance of His death and resurrection or the work of the Holy Spirit. They had turned from their sin but had not yet turned to Christ. Paul helped them to understand everything more fully. 


APPLICATION 

What is your "I will" statement today? Here are further question to help you develop an "I will" statement that will help you walk in obedience to what you have learned from the Scriptures today:


How does this change how I live?
How does it change how I see God?
How does it change how I treat others?
What will I do to change? 

Another key part of helping you apply what you are learning is by telling others what you learned. Who will you tell what you learned?

PRAYER


Lord, thank You for Your Word and the wonderful story of the early church in Acts. Help us to be as zealous as Paul in our proclamation of Jesus as the Christ. In His name we pray, Amen. 

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Acts 18 - Message in Demonstration of the Spirit's Power

LINK: Acts 18






BACKGROUND

Although Athens and Corinth were only 50 miles apart, they were worlds apart in terms of atmosphere. While Athens (17) was a center of culture and education, Corinth (18) was a center of commerce and immorality! It was the home to the temple of Aphrodite, goddess of love and fertility, who promoted licentious living in the name of religion!


Paul's companions were Aquila and his wife, Priscilla, who were ousted from Rome due to the constant riots of the Jews at the instigation of "Chrestus"(possibly Christ, from Life of Claudius by Suetonius). He lived with them because they were tentmakers. 


Paul's pattern was similar here as in other cities: he preached in the synagogue, the Jews resisted, he turned to the Gentiles, both Jews and Gentiles believed, and then persecution followed (implied because God told him not to be afraid in the vision). It is different this time because Paul settled there and taught for eighteen months, the second longest stay of all of his missionary journeys! Eventually, Paul returned to Syrian Antioch (23) via Ephesus (20), promising the people there that he would come back if it was God's will. 


It is believed that Paul’s two letters to the Thessalonians were written in A.D. 52-53 and events between verses 22 and 23


Paul's Third Missionary Journey (18:23-21:16) - A.D. 53-57





The map above shows the route of Paul's third journey. In Ephesus, Priscilla and Aquila heard Apollos preaching an incomplete gospel message and brought him aside to explain the message beyond John's message of repentance and on to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He is mentioned again in 1 Corinthians 1:12; 3:4-6, 22; 4:6; 16:12; Titus 3:13). 


REFLECTION


Paul wrote two letters to the Corinthians after he visited there. 1 Corinthians 2:1-5 reflects his attitude going into it:


And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
I always go back to these verses when I go into situations where I want to talk about Jesus. I do not need to have all the right answers. I just need to "know and go": I need to know nothing except Jesus, His words, ways, and wounds. This means I need to immerse myself in His life and do what He says to do. Then I need to go and rely on the Holy Spirit to lead and guide me!  I think we make proclaiming Christ so much more complicated than it needs to be.

May we all have this kind of reliance upon the Spirit!


APPLICATION

This may seem really intimidating, but ask God to show you where He would have you proclaim Christ today. Rely on His Spirit to lead and to guide. Do not worry about having it all together just immerse yourself in Jesus before you go! Seek to know Him above all else. 

And He may have you go to a very unexpected place. Just listen to my story:

Back in 2006, I was at a transition point in ministry. I was pretty burned out and bruised up from a particularly difficult ministry assignment. In my low state, I asked God to reveal His next step for me. As I was listening, He said, "Go and get a manicure and pedicure."   
"What? A manicure and pedicure! God, I am too cheap to do that. I am committed to a simple lifestyle. What are you thinking? That is hardly suffering for You? Are you sure about this?"  
He said, "Yes! Go!" 
So, I reluctantly obeyed and made an appointment at the Hair, Body, and Sole Salon two minutes from my house. There was an opening with Sherry within a couple of hours. I speculated that maybe God just wanted me to be pampered, rest, and relax after the hectic and drama-filled 18 months of ministry I had just come through.  
As I was driving there I felt God give me a nudge, and I asked Him, "Are you sending me there so I can share with someone today?" 
He said, "YES!" 
"Oh!!!!!!! I get it!  I'm ready, Lord!" 
I settled into the cozy atmosphere of the manicure/pedicure room at the salon. It was a dimly lit room with comfy cushions and music playing softly in the background as I sipped a beverage and ate fruit. (Hardly what I would call suffering for Jesus!) It was just Sherry and me alone in the room, separated from the bustle and bright lights of the outer room of the salon with hairdryers blasting and a cacophony of chit-chat from about a dozen stylists.  
Sherry and I hit it off immediately as she pampered my feet in rose water. Our conversation eventually led to the subject of her son who was in a load of trouble. I asked her, "What is your son's name? I want to pray for him." 
She burst into a smile and started talking excitedly. "Oh you pray? Do you also read the Bible? Do you know it very well? I have been reading the Bible every night for the last few months, and I am on the book of Job (she pronounced it like the place you have employment) or is it Job (pronounced like the man in the Bible)? I don't really understand it. I have some questions." 
I sat there, utterly amazed. She had been reading it all on her own?She had even made it through Leviticus!  Oh my! She was a true seeker. I replied and tried to remain calm, "Yes, I do know the Bible. I am sort of a Bible teacher." 
She proceeded to ask me a load of questions. The nice thing about a manicure AND a pedicure is that you are together for about 2 1/2 hours, and we were never interrupted while in that room exclusively devoted to manicures and pedicures.  As a result, we got into a very deep discussion. I was able to give her an overview of the Scriptures starting from Genesis. Even though she had not gotten to the Gospel and the full revelation of Jesus, I used the Passover lamb in Exodus and the sacrifices in Leviticus to point her to Him!
By this time we had transitioned to a manicure, and I could not write anything down during or afterward, but I booked another appointment and subsequent appointments until she came to Christ about five months later!  I would say it was worth the cost! 
God is very faithful to lead us, just as He led Paul; and we can rely on Him to give us the words that demonstrate His power to a lost and dying world!  We just need to listen and obey!

Here is a picture of Sherry:


 


PRAYER


Lord, we are all ears. Lead us today. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.