Archive for the ‘Acts’ Category

Jesus Makes A Way

Posted: March 24, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 18:1-17, “Jesus Makes A Way”

An old song by Don Moen says, “God will make a way, where there seems to be no way. He works in ways we cannot see, He will make a way for me.” We sing it & we say it, but do we believe it? Do we really believe that God will make a way? There are times that life is simply hard. Not necessarily hard physically (though physical suffering is always difficult!), but hard emotionally. There are seasons that life is tough. Business goes down, and bosses struggle with their employees – or, the employee is doing his/her job, but the boss never lets up. Or we get blindsided by personal conflicts and there’s nothing we can do except trudge through it. Those times are tough – they’re discouraging, and there’s no other way to describe it. In those times…does God still make a way? Do we really believe in those times that God is working out His plan, or has the phrase become a trite cliché without meaning?

God does make a way. The Bible tells us that God is sovereign over all things, and that He is in control. Don’t misunderstand: the Bible never once promises that life will be easy…but it does promise that God is sovereign. Just ask Joseph. Life certainly wasn’t easy for him! Hated by his 10 older brothers and sold into slavery, Joseph went from bad to slightly better to terrible when he went from slave, to being the chief slave of his master, to being falsely accused by his master’s wife, thrown into prison, and forgotten. Yet God was still in control. God’s plan was to raise Joseph from that place of suffering to being 2nd in command of all Egypt & being the instrument through whom God would save the family of Israel. Joseph had every reason to be discouraged, but he had faith in the Sovereign God. God always has a plan at work – even in our seasons of discouragement. We can trust that Jesus makes a way.

Paul experienced this firsthand. He had his own difficulties and seasons which would have been discouraging to anyone. We see it in Acts 17-18. At the time, Paul was in Greece (Achaia). He had begun his 2nd missionary journey among the churches in Galatia, revisiting the places he and Barnabas had originally gone, but the Holy Spirit clearly led he, Silas, and Timothy to Macedonia, where they soon met Luke. Though there was no doubt God’s will was for the team to be in Macedonia, they experienced difficulties from the outset. In nearly every city, the story was the same. There was ministry among the Jews until expulsion from the synagogue, and then ministry among the Gentiles until the Jews got upset enough to instigate persecution in some way. From Philippi to Thessalonica to Berea, the pattern was virtually identical. To be sure, many people (both Jews and Gentiles) were saved along the way – but there was no denying that things were tough.

So tough, in fact, that Paul had to go to Athens by himself. Silas and Timothy remained behind in Berea for a bit to disciple the new Christians in the city, but Paul needed to get out of town for his own safety. So to Greece, he went. As might be expected, Paul soon began sharing the gospel in Athens, and he was called before an official council (the Aeropagus) who would determine whether they would extend permission to Paul to teach the doctrines of Jesus in the city. Although he gave a textbook presentation of the gospel to the Athenian Gentiles, the mention of the resurrection of Jesus was a stumbling block to them. They interrupted him, mocked him, and brushed him off. It wasn’t everyone (there were at least a handful of people who believed), but it was enough to deny the apostle permission to preach. The bottom line was that the Athenians were less than receptive to the message, which was surely a bit discouraging to Paul.

So on one hand, he had openness in some cities to preach, but he’d have to leave in a hurry when persecution arose. On the other hand, in Athens he didn’t face physical persecution, but he didn’t have permission to preach & thus, no reason to stay. Put it together, and it would start to make one wonder: was there anywhere he could preach and teach longer than a few days and weeks? Was there any place he’d have freedom simply to do what Jesus called him to do?

These sorts of difficulties can lead to discouragement. It was faced by the apostle Paul, and it’s faced by us, too. How many times have we tried to do the right thing, only to face problems? How many times have we tried to do something for the Lord, only to run into obstacles? We want to get going, but it feels like we’re trudging through quicksand. It’s enough to make us want to give up and go back to sitting on the sidelines.

Don’t give up! Paul didn’t. He kept going, and he received quite a gift from Jesus while in Corinth: simple freedom and protection. What happened? Paul served Christ, Paul heard from Christ, and Paul trusted Christ…and Jesus made a way.

Serve Christ – Hear Christ – Trust Christ. Why? Because Jesus will make a way!

Acts 18:1–17

  • Paul’s faithfulness in ministry (1-8). Serving Christ.

1 After these things Paul departed from Athens and went to Corinth.

  1. Remember that Paul had been alone while in Athens. Although he was accompanied by some brothers from Berea, they returned to their hometown where Silas and Timothy had remained behind. Everything Paul experienced in Athens was by himself, and now he had to continue alone. Denied permission to preach the gospel in Athens, Paul had little choice other than to leave, so he went to the next major city: Corinth, roughly 50 miles west. Like Philippi, it was a Roman colony, thus what happened within was as if it happened within the city of Rome itself. Corinth was highly influential among the cities of Achaia (Greece), as well as highly corrupt, being home to much idolatry. A famous temple of Aphrodite was there, home to a thousand consecrated prostitutes. “The very name to Corinthianize meant immorality,” (Robertson). Even so, a large number of Jews lived in the city, and it was a logical place for Paul to go when requiring a new place to preach until Silas and Timothy could arrive.

2 And he found a certain Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla (because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to depart from Rome); and he came to them. 3 So, because he was of the same trade, he stayed with them and worked; for by occupation they were tentmakers.

  1. Although people often think of Nero being the Roman Caesar at the time of Paul, Nero did not ascend to the throne until October 13, 54AD. Prior to Nero was Claudius, who reigned from January 24, 41AD until his death on October 13, 54AD (it’s unclear if he was poisoned or died of natural causes). Claudius opposed any proselytizing outside of the Roman state religion, and the Jew had special attention paid to them. In 41AD, Claudius prohibited the Jews from gathering together, and by 49AD had expelled the Jews from Rome. (Apologetics Study Bible) The Roman historian Suetonius lists the reason: “Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome,” (Life of Claudius 25.4, http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/Suetonius/12Caesars/Claudius*.html). Apparently the Jews in Rome followed the examples of Jews elsewhere regarding Christians among them, and began causing trouble of some sort. The emperor Claudius dealt with it by expelling them all from the city.
    1. As a historical note, this provides extra-biblical evidence of the impact of Jesus upon the world outside of Israel. Although some of the so-called “new atheists” try to downplay Jesus’ historical presence or even claim He never existed, the record is clear. Even the Romans acknowledge a man known by the title of “Christ,” who stirred up large passions among the Jewish population, barely 20+ years after Jesus’ crucifixion in Judea (under the emperor Tiberius ~ Tacitus, Annals 44.28).
    2. The clear historical facts are that Jesus did exist during the days of the Roman empire, that He was crucified exactly when the Bible says He was, and that people at the time did believe that He is the Messiah/Christ because of His resurrection from the dead. This was not a legend that developed over the centuries – it was not some imaginative story pushed upon impressionable ignorant people; it was/is the historical truth. What the Bible records about Jesus is factually true. What you decide to do with those facts is up to you.
  2. Among the Jews forced to leave Rome by the edict of Claudius were Aquila and Priscilla. This husband and wife team become very influential within the church, and are mentioned in three of Paul’s letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, 2 Timothy). Interestingly, Priscilla (sometimes known as Prisca, 2 Tim 4:19) is often listed as the first of the two – something highly unusual at the time for a woman. Some theorize that Priscilla had a higher, more noble class of birth than Aquila – others suggest that although both were active in ministry, perhaps Priscilla had a larger role. At this point, Luke describes them only as Jews, with no mention of conversion to Christianity. However in verse 18, the two remain with Paul when he leaves Corinth for Syria, which indicates their commitment to Christ. Although some scholars believe that they were already Christian believers when they met Paul, there’s no doubt that they came to faith at some point along the way.
  3. By way of occupation, both Paul and Aquila were “tentmakers,” and this seems to have been how they all met – perhaps among the trade guild in Corinth. This the only use of the word in the NT, and its precise meaning is debated. Potentially, it refers to a leather worker, which certainly could relate to the construction of tents (a necessary business in an age where tents were common among nomadic peoples!). The exact trade isn’t as important as is the fact of a Paul had to work for a living. Rarely was he financially supported by the church, as were other ministers and apostles (1 Cor 9:3-14, 1 Tim 5:17-18). That’s not to say that Paul was never supported by others (Phil 4:14-16, Acts 18:5), but his usual situation was to work with his own hands and avoid any accusation of a conflict of interest.
    1. Many pastors today are “tentmakers,” or bi-vocational. Is it a biblical requirement? No – again, Paul himself teaches the need for congregations to support their pastors (1 Tim 5:17-18). Sometimes it’s a preference – sometimes it’s a logistical necessity. What is biblically required is for pastors to be free of greed and pure monetary motivation. Men (and women) who get into the ministry for the money are misguided at best, and dangerous at worst.

4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and persuaded both Jews and Greeks.

  1. From the outset, we see the normal pattern of ministry. Paul served Jesus as he always served Jesus: going first to the Jews in the local synagogue, telling whomever would listen of the Messiah. As Acts repeatedly demonstrates, the Jesus we worship is the fulfillment of promises God made to the Jews. Jesus is first presented as the King of Israel & Son of David, before He is shown as being King of kings over all the world. So Paul “reasoned” with the Jews about their King. He patiently opened the Scriptures with them (week after week: “every Sabbath,” implying more than one), showing them prophecy after prophecy fulfilled in the life & ministry of Jesus, pointing them to their need for salvation from the wages of their sin (death). This had been done in numerous cities before, and Paul continued it in Corinth.
    1. Why? Because people in Corinth needed to be saved! Just like people in Athens, in Berea, in Thessalonica, in Philippi – just like people in Tyler, in Whitehouse, in Bullard, and (sure enough!) in Athens. The need for Jesus is the same everywhere, regardless of the city. Does the method of sharing Jesus change from place to place? Yes, if needed. We speak differently to a group of 6th graders than we do adults – we have a different conversation with people in the Bible belt than we do with people on the East Coast. But the basic message remains the same. People are still lost, having greatly sinned against their Creator God, and earning the wage of death. And Jesus is still a great Savior, having died as our substitute on the cross, rising from death, and offering the gift of gracious life. That message (no matter to whom it’s preached) never changes – and the people to whom it’s preached have the same need to hear it. So we preach it. Again and again, as often as it takes with as many opportunities as we have.
  2. And there was fruit! He “persuaded both Jews and Greeks.” God-fearing Greeks were in the synagogue, along with the Jews. They all heard the gospel preached by Paul, were persuaded from the Scriptures, and came to faith. Praise God! 
  3. Some might look at this and say, “Okay, we’ve got it. Paul preached in the synagogue among the Jews & Greeks. Enough, already.” Is the same thing repeated from city to city? Is it a bit redundant to read? Perhaps…but don’t miss the point. The point is faithfulness. What Paul did in one place, he did in every place as he had the opportunity. He didn’t serve Jesus in the beginning only to fade away later on; Paul was faithful every step of the way. You see it sometimes in races: people take off running as fast as they can, only to realize that the distance is further than they expected & they slow down dramatically or drop off entirely. You see it other times with Bible studies: people start off enthusiastically and by the dozens, but by the end only a handful of people remain. When it comes to our service to Christ, there are only two things required of us: (1) availability, (2) faithfulness. Yes, we need power, but the Spirit provides power. Yes, we need doctrine, but God teaches us by His word. Yes, we need grace, and Jesus gives it in abundance. But what God leaves to our own freewill are our availability and our faithfulness. Are we available to be used by Christ? Are we available to keep being used by Christ? That’s what God seeks from us. Many people start & sputter out; few keep going. It was told to King Asa that the eyes of the Lord roam to see those people whose hearts are loyal to Him (2 Chr 16:9)…to seek out the ones who remain faithful to God. Even Paul wrote of the importance of consistent faithfulness, knowing that there was a race to be run and won: 2 Timothy 4:7–8, “(7) I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. (8) Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.” How long did Paul run his race? From the moment he got saved until the moment he died. Every step along the way, he was faithful to serve Jesus with the opportunity he’d been given.
    1. Are you being faithful? Am I? How do we use the opportunities we have to serve Christ? Do we make ourselves available to Jesus & keep ourselves available to Jesus? We can’t do anything about the past, but we can certainly do something about the present & the future! Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be faithful…so let us purpose to be!

5 When Silas and Timothy had come from Macedonia, Paul was compelled by the Spirit, and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Christ.

  1. Finally, Silas & Timothy arrived, rejoining their friend and co-worker in the ministry. Can you imagine the relief of Paul & his joy? He remained active, even when alone – but there was only so much he could do by himself. Now he was running on all cylinders again and the evangelistic ministry ramped up to full speed.
  2. Question: How was Paul “compelled by the Spirit” to preach, if he was already preaching the gospel in the synagogue? This is one area that a difference in the Greek manuscripts makes a bit of difference (τῷ λόγῳ vs. τῷ πνεύματι). Other translations refer to Paul being absorbed or compelled by “the word,” (ESV, NASB) or “in preaching,” (HCSB, NIV) rather than “the Spirit,” (NKJV, KJV). This makes far more sense in the context. Once Silas and Timothy arrived on the scene, Paul no longer had to work as a tentmaker to provide daily food & shelter (or at least, he didn’t have to work as much). At this point, he could devote himself more fully to the preaching of the gospel message (the word of the Holy Spirit concerning Jesus) that “Jesus is the Christ,” i.e, the Messiah, the Son of David, Son of God, Savior of the world. The message could be boldly proclaimed, as Paul had all the time in the world to reason with the Jews and rabbis in the synagogue.

6 But when they opposed him and blasphemed, he shook his garments and said to them, “Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he departed from there and entered the house of a certain man named Justus, one who worshiped God, whose house was next door to the synagogue.

  1. Paul had done his best. He had told them the good news of Jesus, and warned them of the bad news that came with rejecting Jesus. The good news is that each and every one of them could be saved, if they only turned away from their sins & trusted Jesus alone as their God, King, and Savior. The bad news is that if they rejected Jesus, they remained in their sins & thus remained lost. As a fellow Jew, Paul longed for his countrymen to turn to Jesus as the Messiah, and he passionately warned them against rejection. What they did with his warning was up to them; for his own part, Paul had been a faithful watchman. The role of the watchman was to stand on the city wall and warn people of coming danger. They’d look out to the horizon, and if they saw anything approaching, they could sound trumpet as an alarm, giving the people time to gather their defenses. If the watchman sounded the trumpet, but people did nothing, their blood was on their own head – but if the watchman failed in his duties, then the watchman was himself responsible for the death of the people. Spiritually speaking, the prophets of God were considered watchmen, with God telling Ezekiel: Ezekiel 33:7–9, “(7) “So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me. (8) When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!’ and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. (9) Nevertheless if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.”
    1. Thankfully, Ezekiel was faithful in his duties – as was Paul. What about us? We are not all prophets & evangelists in our spiritual giftings – but we all have been given a word from the Lord to our people & been commissioned by Jesus Himself to speak it. Be faithful to speak – be faithful to serve! Sound the alarm when needed, telling people of the danger they face. What they do with it is up to them, but we dare not be silent to warn.
  2. Along the normal pattern of ministry, once opposition from the Jews increased, Paul was forced to leave the synagogue to go preach directly to the Gentiles. And he did…he just didn’t go very far. There was an opening next door, and he took it. 

8 Then Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his household. And many of the Corinthians, hearing, believed and were baptized.

  1. How amazing is that? Only when the gospel moved next door did the “ruler of the synagogue” come to faith in Christ. It may have seemed like the opportunity for Crispus closed when Paul left for the Gentiles, but it was exactly what was needed for his salvation. Such is the marvelous plan of God! 
  2. And Crispus wasn’t the only one to come to faith. “Many…believed and were baptized.” Things were off to a great start, and it seemed to only be getting better. Of course, it seems that’s often when the bottom drops out! As good as the days were, Paul seems to have been quite nervous, wondering when things were going to go haywire. Luke doesn’t mention it, but Paul himself does in his 1st letter to the Corinthians: 1 Corinthians 2:1–3, “(1) And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. (2) For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. (3) I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling.” When Paul first arrived in Corinth, there wasn’t any record of miraculous healings, demon exorcisms, or anything else. There wasn’t a recorded debate with the philosophers or toe-to-toe matches with the local Jewish scholars. It was just faithful service to Jesus, being in the trenches, doing what God called him to do. And it worked. As nervous as Paul may have been, the people heard the message of Christ, and responded in faith to the power of God in the gospel.
    1. Patient ministry leads to fruit. It may take time & it may seem as if you don’t have anything in yourself to give. But if you are faithful with what God has entrusted to you, at some point there will be a result. 
  • Jesus’ promise of protection (9-11). Hearing Christ.

9 Now the Lord spoke to Paul in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to hurt you; for I have many people in this city.”

  1. Why did Jesus speak to Paul in a vision? Think back through Paul’s missionary experiences. What normally happened at this point in the pattern? Paul would enter a city, preach in the synagogue among the Jews & God-fearing Gentiles – some would come to faith in Christ; others wouldn’t. He’d leave the synagogue & preach among the Gentiles – some would come to faith in Christ; others wouldn’t. And then what? Then the unbelieving Jews in the city would get upset, start a riot or find some other way to physically persecute Paul. No doubt Paul was getting a bit nervous at this point. He recognized the normal pattern & saw the writing on the wall. Granted, things had been different in Athens, but Athens was just different overall. There, he didn’t have the same opportunities as he did in Corinth. Yet Corinth was looking much like Berea, Thessalonica, Philippi, Lystra, Derbe, etc. Persecution was just around the corner, and it would be easy to start to get nervous, discouraged, or fearful, or all of it put together!
  2. That’s when Jesus spoke to Paul in this comforting vision. As with so many other people in the past, God told him to fear not: “Do not be afraid.” Just as God was with Joshua and with Elijah, and with Jeremiah, so Jesus was with Paul. Don’t miss that! For as much as Jesus promised regarding the people (His people) in the city & the protection that would come as a result, that wasn’t the best part. The best part was that Jesus was with Paul in the city. “I am with you.” This is emphasized in the Greek. If it were John writing & not Luke, it would be the normal construction for the several “I AM” statements of the gospel of John. Luke doesn’t necessarily use the words in the same way, but the general idea remains true. Jesus, God the Son, God in the flesh – Jesus Himself was with Paul, and that was the greatest comfort of all!
    1. Jesus is with us! Day or night, we are not alone. Our Savior is with us, and He never forsakes us. He promised to be with us, even to the end of the age (Mt 28:20). God the Holy Spirit literally dwells within every born-again Christian, we having become His temple on earth (1 Cor 3:16). There is no place we can go that God will not be, and there is nothing that we endure what we endure alone. Our Jesus dwells with us and He is with us.
    2. Christian: Do you believe this? Do you really believe it? One of the reasons we often get so discouraged is because we think we’re alone. We face all our difficulties & trials, and we shut down because that’s all we can see. But we are never alone! Our God knows us, loves us, and is with us. He is right there in the midst of it with us, and He will guide us through by His grace.
  3. How will God do it? God has a way because God is in control. He is sovereign. This was the point Jesus made to Paul by telling him of all the people Jesus had in the city. Paul obviously knew of the people who had gotten saved, but Jesus was telling Paul of people Paul had no clue about. There were all kinds of people in the city who would be used in the plans of God, because God is sovereign over all people at all times – not just the few who serve Him in faith and truth. Think of it: God used pagan nations to accomplish His purposes with the people of Israel, taking them into Babylonian captivity & also removing them from captivity & restoring them to the land. If God could use pagan kings for His purposes, then surely God can use anyone else in His plan. For that matter, if God can use us, what stops Him from using anyone else? Nothing! God is sovereign.
    1. Question: What is the only way that this promise of Jesus would bring comfort to Paul? How does the factual truth of God’s sovereignty comfort someone who is discouraged? Only if Paul heard Jesus and believed Him. It’s one thing to be told facts about Jesus’ power & authority; it’s another thing to hear it with our hearts and believe. We have to do more than merely memorize the promises of Christ; we need to truly hear them & have faith. 

11 And he continued there a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

  1. 18 months! Although it’s difficult to know precisely how much time Paul spent in some of the other cities, the fact that Luke highlights this the way he does indicates that this was far and away the most time Paul had spent anywhere abroad. 18 months gave Paul time not only to preach evangelistically to help bring people to faith in Christ; it also gave Paul time to preach and teach discipleship to help the new Christians grow in their faith in Christ. He had the chance not only to preach the gospel, but to teach “the word of God among them.
  2. Can you imagine what it would be like to have the apostle Paul as your pastor & discipleship leader? What an amazing opportunity! Even so, it’s interesting that out of all of Paul’s letters in the New Testament, his sternest are reserved for Corinth. There is correction given to other churches (particularly the Galatian churches), but no discipline is as severe as what is seen in 1-2 Corinthians. For all the spiritual pedigree the Corinthians had being discipled by Paul, it was no guarantee against their own error.

Put it together so far: For a year and a half, Paul remained in Corinth, having a truly active ministry, being comforted after hearing the promise of Christ Jesus. Yet at some point, that promise would have to be tested. If Jesus said “no one will attack you to hurt you,” then surely there would have to at least be the appearance of danger at some point. After all, it’s easy to rejoice in God’s promises when things are easy. It’s when God’s promises are put to the test that our faith is truly seen. It’s during those times that we have to make the conscious decision to trust Christ, and Paul was about to face one of those times himself.

  • Gallio’s usefulness by God (12-17). Trusting Christ.

12 When Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him to the judgment seat, 13 saying, “This fellow persuades men to worship God contrary to the law.”

  1. The current proconsul of Achaia, Gallio, had quite the pedigree and reputation. He was the son of the rhetorician Seneca and brother of Seneca the philosopher (NET), and was well-liked by the establishment of Rome. The fact that Luke notes him as the proconsul seated in Corinth helps date this event with quite a bit of precision, as he was only there from 51-52AD. When the Jews brought Paul to Gallio, it was likely the late summer to early fall of 51.
  2. The charge was quite serious. Because Claudius did not approve of proselytizing, combined with the fact that Corinth was a Roman colony where only approved religions were allowed meant that the Jews accused Paul of preaching a new, unapproved religion with the specific purpose of persuading people to believe. And on one hand, the charges were correct. Paul did preach something new, even in the ears of the Jews, for he told them of the Messiah crucified and risen from the dead. And without question, Paul preached to others hoping to persuade them from false idolatrous beliefs to real faith in the real God. This moment could have easily have meant imprisonment again (just like in Philippi), with the exception that it would not be only done by order of the local officials, but by the command of the man in charge of the entire region of Achaia. This would drastically change Paul’s future, and threaten the bulk of his ministry.

14 And when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, …

  1. Don’t miss this part! Paul was prepared to defend himself, but he didn’t have to. Jesus had promised him protection, and Jesus delivered in a big way! Before Paul could say a word, the Roman proconsul himself spoke. God used Gallio at just the right time in just the right way. God, in His sovereignty, had a plan to continue to use Paul on the mission field and God had no problem using a pagan proconsul to get His work done. All Paul needed to do was rest in the protection and promises of Christ!
  2. Do you trust God to work? So often we think we need to come to our own defenses and get into fighting position. All too rarely we remember that God is our stronghold and our defense! That’s not to say we’re never to be proactive and that we’re to do absolutely nothing. After all, sometimes that’s what God desires of us. But no matter what it is we think we should do, the first thing we need to do is remember the promises and word of God. What has God told us in His word? What are the promises of Jesus? What does the Spirit say in the Scripture? Look to that first, then act accordingly. Paul was prepared to speak, but he already had a promise that Jesus would protect him. We may not have individual visions and promises from the Lord, but we have every promise contained in the Bible. Hold to that! When attacked by the devil with lies that you haven’t been forgiven, remember the promises of Christ that you have been cleansed of all unrighteousness (1 Jn 1:9). When doubting your decisions and what to do, remember how God promised abundant wisdom to all who ask (Jas 1:5). When faced with lies and opposition from other people, remember how (like David) God is your rock, your fortress, your deliverer, your strength, your shield, and the horn of your salvation (Ps 18:1-2). Before you take any action, first stand on God’s word & trust what He says!

… “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or wicked crimes, O Jews, there would be reason why I should bear with you. 15 But if it is a question of words and names and your own law, look to it yourselves; for I do not want to be a judge of such matters.” 16 And he drove them from the judgment seat.

  1. From Gallio’s perspective, this wasn’t a new religion at all. This was Jews arguing among Jews about Jewish law; not Roman law. Rome did not permit new religions, but Gallio didn’t see Christianity as a new religion. It was a continuation of Judaism, which was already allowed. Scholars have suggested that one of the reasons Luke included this account was to establish legal precedent. If the esteemed proconsul of Achaia (the Gallio well-respected by all of Rome) did not view Paul’s gospel preaching as being illegal or a threat to Rome, why would anyone else?
  2. What about the question of proselytizing? New religion or not, there’s no question Paul tried to win people to Christ. Gallio’s silence on the matter speaks volumes. He simply didn’t see it as a problem. Whether he disagreed with Claudius’ view on the matter, or if the Lord intervened and blinded his eyes on it, is unknown. What is known is the result: God got involved, and Jesus’ word proved true!

17 Then all the Greeks took Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him before the judgment seat. But Gallio took no notice of these things.

  1. With the Jews cast away from the judgment seat of Gallio, the Greek mob picked up where the others left off. The Greeks of Corinth, ready for some kind of judgment, took out their frustrations on the Jews themselves and “Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue” bore the brunt of it. Perhaps a replacement for the newly-converted Crispus, Sosthenes was taken and beaten by the crowd. “Gallio took no notice” – not because he didn’t care about mobs or injustice, but because it was a matter for the local authorities of Corinth. Gallio was the proconsul of all Achaia; he wasn’t the appointed mayor of the city.
  2. Interestingly, this is not the only mention of a Sosthenes in the New Testament. 1 Corinthians 1:1, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother,” Who is listed as a potential co-author (or at least transcriber) of the letter along with the apostle Paul? None other than Sosthenes, a fellow brother in the Lord. Granted, it is theoretically possible that the Corinthian church was aware of another man named Sosthenes, but it seems unlikely. Just like Crispus before him, the new leader of the synagogue Sosthenes (the one beaten for his failure in having Paul beaten) also came to faith in Christ. Trust Christ to do miracles! Anyone can come to faith and be saved!

Conclusion:

For weeks and months leading up to Corinth, Paul had experienced difficulties. Yes, he had successful ministry elsewhere, but things were hard. Trials wear on anyone, and even the apostle Paul was no exception. No doubt he was weary, likely discouraged, and it looked like things were going to start all over again. For Paul, the difficulties hadn’t stopped him from serving Jesus (as it might us!), but they were still things he needed to endure.

Jesus knew the fear & trembling in Paul’s heart (just as Jesus knows the thoughts of our own hearts), and He gave Him a word of comfort. Jesus would be with Paul in this city (just as He was with Paul everywhere else…just a bit more tangibly this time), and Jesus would make a way. Paul served Christ, Paul heard from Christ, and Paul trusted Christ…and just as He promised, Jesus made a way.

Christian: Maybe you’re discouraged today, facing your own trials and difficulties. Be careful not to let those things sideline you from what it is God has called you to do. You have those difficulties, but you do not face them alone. Our Lord is with you, just as He was with Paul. Keep serving Him faithfully, relying upon the Holy Spirit for strength. Keep hearing Him, listening to His promises in faith as you read His word. And then trust God to work exactly as He has promised to work. He is sovereign over all things, and He will make a way…just wait and see.

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Acts 17:24-34, “Agnostic Athens, part 2: God Made Known”

Question: How do you tell someone of Jesus, who has never heard of Jesus? How do you teach the truths of the Bible with people who are unfamiliar with the Bible? On one hand, this seems like something we would never encounter. After all, we live in East Texas. If there is any place that can be considered the Bible Belt, this is it! There isn’t a person on the street who’s never heard the name Jesus, and we’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t at least know something about Him or what the Bible says about Jesus being the Son of God who died on the cross.

That said, people know far less than what we might think. No longer do we live in a Christian society; we live in a post-Christian culture. The ideas once widely accepted by our parents & grand-parents are now largely rejected by the masses, to the point that few people truly understand what it is they are rejecting. They don’t know much of what the Bible says about Jesus – all they know is that they don’t believe it.

Our East Texas culture has far more in common with the people of ancient Athens than what we might think! If we want to share the good news of Jesus with the people around us, then we need to find a way to speak to them in terms they understand, and bring them to the truths of Scripture…even if they don’t realize at the time that they’re listening to the truths of Scripture. We need to do with them, exactly what Paul did in Athens: declare to them the God they never knew.

Remember that Paul wasn’t necessarily in Athens by choice. He was there after a series of persecution in Macedonia forced him to leave the area until Silas and Timothy could rejoin him. Things had been difficult for Paul elsewhere in terms of physical persecution (beatings & imprisonment in Philippi, and riots in Thessalonica & Berea) – in Athens the difficulty wasn’t physical, but mental & emotional. Paul was mocked by the Athenian philosophers for preaching something as “outlandish” as the resurrection. (Never mind the fact that Athens was completely overrun by idolatry, with literally thousands of idols scattered throughout the city!) In addition to the mockery, others implied that Paul might be guilty of criminal charges in his proclamation of so-called “foreign gods.” He was thus taken to the council responsible for deciding which doctrines and philosophies would be allowed to be taught in the open marketplace: the Aeropagus / Mars Hill. They gave Paul an open invitation to share his message with them, and he took it & ran with it! Beginning with engaging terms, Paul noted their spiritual awareness & their honest recognition that there were some things they did not know. They were agnostic on certain things about God (who isn’t a “foreign” God at all!), and Paul declared to them that he would tell them the truth. He would make known to them the God they previously did not know. More than that, Paul would give them proof. At that point, they choice would be theirs as to what to do with it.

In all of this, Paul set forth an example that has been followed by Christian missionaries and evangelists throughout history, showing how the gospel can be explained to groups of people unfamiliar with Him. Although some have criticized Paul’s message as being ineffective, the Biblical record is far different. Granted, there were not 3000 people saved in Athens, as there were in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost – but that isn’t a far comparison. [Apples & oranges!] Peter preached to a bunch of people actively expecting the Messiah of God only 50 days after Jesus’ crucifixion and very visible & well-known resurrection. Those were people ripe for the picking! Paul preached to a group of people almost totally unfamiliar with the Old Testament, yet even out of this group, there were still people saved. Why is that? Because the gospel is the power of God unto salvation…no matter what your background might be!

How did Paul do it? In a nutshell, he addressed three main points that crosses over to every culture in the world: Knowing God, hearing God, and responding to God. It makes us ask the questions:

  • Do you know God?
  • Do you hear God?
  • Will you respond to God?

When faced with proof that makes known the God you never knew, what will you (or anyone else) do? How should we respond? The Bible calls us to repent & to believe. The good news? Jesus makes it possible for us to do exactly that!

Acts 17:24–34

  • Sermon: God, the Sovereign Creator (24-28). Knowing God.

24 “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands.

  1. Remember the immediate context: Paul was standing among the council of the Aeropagus, which was likely in full view of the famed Parthenon (the great temple built for the Greek goddess Athena, the patron of Athens) on top of the hill known as the Acropolis. The Acropolis had monuments for Athena, but also for many other Greek gods and goddesses, and statues of these various gods & goddesses were scattered throughout the city. Among all of the idols and altars seen by Paul, one was dedicated “to the Unknown God” (vs. 23), or “to the God of our agnosticism/ignorance.” Out of everything the Athenians claimed to know & to pass on to the rest of the world in their intellect, they admitted there were still some things of which they were ignorant. This God, was the God Paul said he was preaching in the marketplace & declaring to the council. This was the bridge Paul used to move from ignorance to the truth, so now all that was left was to declare the truth.
  2. Who is God? First, He is the omnipotent Creator. As general (and perhaps obvious) as this might sound to us, it was very specific and unusual to the ears of the Greek listeners. In Greek mythology, there wasn’t just one God; there were many. Even in their (incorrect) understanding of creation, there were at least three gods & goddesses, and it was from their procreation that the other gods and goddesses sprang. Yet the Bible declares all of that to be false. There is only one God, and that God created every single thing in all the universe. From every subatomic particle to every far-flung galaxy, God created it all. As the apostle John wrote about Jesus in His role as God the Son (the Logos, the Word), “nothing was made that was made,” (Jn 1:3). The Bible makes this clear from the very 1st page: Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Foundational to a correct understanding of God is that He is the creator – and not only is He the creator of some things; He is the creator of all Why is this so important? Because not only is it the truth (something sadly & easily forgotten!), but it establishes God’s authority. It is because God made all things that He rules all things: “He is Lord of heaven and earth.” We owe God our allegiance and worship because He brought us into existence. God did not come from afar and impose Himself upon us; He brought us out of nothingness and gave us life. We are to worship Him because He is inherently worthy of our worship – not being a god of our imagination, but the true God who gave us our lives and everything we see.
    1. It ought to be no wonder why the Biblical idea of God-driven creation comes under such attack! If mankind can eliminate the idea of a Creator, then it eliminates the idea of accountability and owed allegiance. If mankind can do away with a Creator, then mankind can simply worship itself. (Which is exactly what many people do!)
    2. As much as this is the lie men and women try to sell to themselves, the world around us testifies to something very “The heavens declare the glory of God,” (Ps 19:1) – all we need to do is look around and see evidence of intelligence and planned creation. If we look at a car being driven down the road, we neither believe the car is driving itself, nor that a tornado threw a bunch of random parts together. Its design is obvious and logical. How much more the human body? Or the ecosystem of our planet, the laws of physics, etc.? It takes far more faith to deny God than to come to obvious conclusion that He created the world.
  3. Second, He is the omnipresent God. This again, was something different & unique to the ears of the Athenians. They worshipped gods that dwelt “in temples made with hands,” requiring a physical location for their home and their worship, being limited to certain lands on the earth. This was the common thought among many nations outside of Greece, including the Gentile neighbors of Israel. Their gods were regional deities, having power only in the areas where they were worshipped. Not the God of the Bible, the God of all creation. This God required no temple for worship, and was not limited by any national border.
    1. Objection: “What about the temple in Jerusalem? How was that any different than the temples in Athens?” Simple: the Jerusalem temple was an offer of grace to Israel; it was not an essential requirement for the worship of God. Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc., all worshipped God in truth long before the temple was ever given. Even Moses and Israel worshipped God in truth before God gave them the instructions for the tabernacle. The purpose of the tabernacle (and by extension, the later temple) was God’s offer of grace to His people, promising to dwell among His people in a special way. It was a gift to the people; not from the people to God. Even Solomon, after building the first temple, acknowledged that God was not contained by the temple, because all the heavens cannot contain Him (1 Kg 8:27). Jesus affirmed the same thing to the Samaritan woman at the well, saying that it didn’t matter where someone worshipped God, as long he/she worshipped “the Father in spirit and truth.” (Jn 4:23)
  4. The overall picture painted by Paul is that of a God far larger than anything the Athenians had ever known. The true God is a God truly worthy of worship, and Paul went on to describe this God further…

25 Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things.

  1. Third, He is the self-sufficient Sustainer. Again, how different than the gods of Athens! Those gods and goddesses required the interaction of their people, becoming petty & jealous when they didn’t get what they wanted. They needed statues built of them, in order for people to be able to worship them. Not so with the true God of the Universe! He is not “worshiped with men’s hands,” needing no statues or idols or temples. For all the sacrifices required of the nation of Israel, not a single one was needed in order for God to eat. He needs no food, no water, no ambrosia, no nectar, no place to lay His head, no bathroom, no sexual consort…none of the things needed by the gods of the Greeks or any other culture. God is self-sufficient – fully capable of sustaining each and every one of His desires. We cannot even say God fulfills His own needs, for He has “need” of nothing! Humans require oxygen; God does not. Humans require food & water; God does not. The false gods of Athens were more like people than deities; the true God lacks absolutely nothing. In fact, not only does God not need anything from mankind; God provides everything to mankind! “He gives to all life, breath, and all things.
  2. The key idea here: we are dependent; God is independent. To put it simpler terms: God doesn’t need us, but we need Him…desperately! We need His mercies just to wake up in the morning. If God did not actively will us to exist each and every day, we wouldn’t – we would cease to be. Paul said it this way to the Colossians, regarding Jesus in these same terms: Colossians 1:16–17, “(16) For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. (17) And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist.” Again, Jesus (as God) is Creator of all things, and He is also sustainer of all things. “In Him all things consist.” If Jesus did not will that the atoms of our bodies stay together, they wouldn’t. We are dependent upon Him for each and every day of our lives – how much more the many provisions He gives us for food, clothing, etc.!
  3. Just take those first three facts about God & put them together: God is the omnipotent Creator, the omnipresent God, and the self-sufficient Sustainer. If those three things were the only things we knew about God, it ought to be enough to drive us to our knees in worship! The God who can do all things, who exists over all places, and who sustains all life as we know it – that is a God to be feared. That is a God whom we must acknowledge, and to whom we must bow. That is a God we cannot afford to ignore. (We do so at our own peril!)
  4. Paul gives one more fact about this God…

26 And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings,

  1. Fourth, He is the Lord of humanity. Again, God is not limited to any national boundary. Although God declared Israel to be His own special people (just as He does the church!), all people were made by God, and all people are to know Him, worship Him, and obey Him.
  2. Paul demonstrates this in several ways. What has God done with humanity?
    1. He made us of one race. We (all men and women) have been “made from one blood,” one man – the original man & woman: Adam and Eve. Every single human in all history from every nationality has a common origin. It is not found in Lucy the ape (or any so-called “missing link”); it is found in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. From one, came “every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth.” We have a common ancestry & common humanity.
      1. What does this tell us about racism? It tells us that it is downright wicked & evil. Those who treat other people differently based on skin color, sex, or national background do so in defiance of the plain teaching of Scripture. The Bible teaches there is one race: human. Christians need to stop seeing each other in terms of race & start seeing each other as brothers and sisters made in the image of God…period.
    2. He put us when He wanted us. God “has determined [our] preappointed times.” You and I are not accidents of history! God knew exactly the men and women He wanted in 33AD and 2019AD, and He caused us to be born at exactly the right times. He knows what empires and nations will exist, when they will rise, and when they will fall. Paul, speaking to the Athenians, was speaking to a group whose heyday had come & gone. Sure, Greek culture was still used all over the Mediterranean world, but it was the Romans who ruled. But even the Romans would not rule forever. Nor did the British empire – nor will the American one. 
    3. He put us where He wanted us. Not only do we exist as individuals by the will and grace of God, we exist as nations by the will of God. The earth is His, and He distributes it as He sees fit. This is why God could (and did!) give the land of Canaan to Israel as its inheritance forever. God is the One who establishes the borders of the nations, and He knows every individual who inhabits them.
  3. Bottom line: God is sovereign over all peoples at all times. He is the God of Israel, but He is not only the God of Israel; He is God over all the earth. He knows us by name, and is sovereign over every detail of our lives. Again, combined with the fact that He is all-powerful, ever-present, and all-sustaining, it underscores the point that He is the God all people should worship. That’s the point Paul drives home…

27 so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; 28 for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also His offspring.’

  1. What is God’s desire for humanity? That we seek Him and find Him. The God who created this universe, Who is everywhere in this universe, Who sustains this universe, and Who is sovereign over every person & every nation – the one Who knows every person on the planet wants every person on the planet to know Him. We are the special creations of God, above every animal, bird, fish, and tree. Even beyond the angels, humans are different and special in the eyes of God. Men and women are made in the image of God, and our God wants us to know Him. He wants us to seek Him out, even when it is like groping in the dark to find what you’re looking for.
  2. Is it possible to know God? “He is not far from each one of us.” Remember that all of creation testifies of God, as the heavens declare His glory. Paul, when writing of mankind’s addiction to idolatry, put it this way to the Romans: Romans 1:19–20, “(19) because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. (20) For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse,” Although we should look into the night sky and be amazed at God’s vastness, wisdom, power, and glory, we tend to worship things we think we understand. That’s why rebellious Israel wanted to worship God in the image of a golden calf – it’s why Athens was filled with 30,000 idols – it’s why people today imagine God in their own image rather than fearing God as He has revealed Himself in the Bible. Yet we are “without excuse.” Not only is it clear that Creation has a Creator, it is clear that this Creator is far greater than anything we can imagine. This alone ought to cause men and women to grope around, seeking the truth, even with the limited knowledge we might have. All people have come from God (being “His offspring”) and all people are sustained by God (we have “our being” in Him), so all people should seek God, know God, and worship God.
  3. That said, we can only know God when we go to God in the way that He has chosen. God is not far from us, but that doesn’t mean that God is easily found through any method of man’s own choosing. Not once in all of Paul’s sermon does he imply that “all roads lead to heaven,” or that all religions are just different perspectives of the same truth. [blind men and the elephant] On the contrary: although the general revelation of creation points us in the direction of God, we still need special revelation to lead us to the truth of God. General revelation tells us of God’s greatness, but it doesn’t tell us how to be saved. We need the special grace of God for that! (That’s the point Paul goes on to make!)
  4. Note how easily Paul was able to quote Greek poets and philosophies back to the Greek council. No doubt, Paul felt far more comfortable discussing Scripture than philosophy, but he at least knew enough of it to build a bridge to the gospel in the culture where he was. (He didn’t affirm the poets as inspired Scripture; he simply knew enough of it to reference points of agreement with the Scripture.) Do you want to reach East Texas for Jesus? You’d better know a little bit about East Texas to talk to people about Jesus! This is true anywhere you go. If you’re talking to businesspeople, it’s helpful to know a bit about business – if you’re talking to sports fans, it helps to know a bit about the teams. It’s no different than a missionary to India learning a bit of Indian culture, or someone going to Russia learning a bit of Russian. If you’re going to be a missionary among people, then you need to know something about the people to whom you’re speaking. Guess what? We’re all missionaries! We are missionaries in this culture, right here in East Texas. Granted, we talk to different people, having different circles of influences (some are hunters, some are athletes, some are parents, etc.) – whatever group you find yourself in, find a way to build a bridge from that group to the gospel of grace. It’s not that you need to spend all of your time becoming an expert, but if you want to speak of Jesus, you need to find some way to build a bridge over to Jesus. Paul did, and his bridge showed a narrowing focus down to the gospel…
  • Sermon: God, the Righteous Judge (29-31). Hearing God.

29 Therefore, since we are the offspring of God, we ought not to think that the Divine Nature is like gold or silver or stone, something shaped by art and man’s devising.

  1. Notice the shift: “therefore…” Because of what we know of God, it ought to change the way we act toward God. Again, this is like what Paul wrote in Romans 1. Through the general revelation and testimony of Creation all around us, we know just enough about God to grope for Him in the dark. We seek Him with what we do know, and what we know is quite a bit. What we do know ought to be enough to keep us from idolatry. After all, if we are the “offspring of God,” and we are not made of “gold or silver or stone,” why would we think God is made of gold or silver or stone? The Athenians did – the Philistines did (with their statue of Dagon and others) – every nation in the world that engages in idol-worship does the same. If there is a statue built with people worshipping the statue, then their god inhabits that statue.
    1. And it isn’t only with statues! The most common form of idolatry in America is self-worship. People say, “My god wouldn’t do ___; the god I believe would do ____.” They pick all of their favorite characteristics and mix them together to create a god of their own making. What do they get? A god made in their own image, rather than men & women made in the image of God. And a god made in the image of man is far too small – it is “something shaped by art and man’s devising.” It’s just as idolatrous as the most idol-filled areas of Hindu India or the streets of ancient Athens.
  2. God is unlike these things! God is far bigger than anything we can imagine, being infinite in all His attributes. How can a stoneworker carve an idol that encapsulates infinite power, wisdom, might, presence, and glory? By definition, it’s impossible – infinity can not be captured. We are finite (limited); God is not. God is unlimited, and there is no excuse for our rampant idolatry.

30 Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, 31 because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained. …

  1. Remember that Paul began his message by declaring to them “the Unknown God,” or the God of which they were ignorant. To this point in the lives of the Athenians, they had groped about in the dark not knowing the truth. God was not hidden from them, but they did not find Him in truth, choosing instead to worship things of their imaginations. Even so, they were ignorant – they did not know the truth. Nor did any other nation on the earth. The only nation which had knowledge of God beyond general revelation was Israel. Israel had been entrusted with the Scriptures – Israel had a millennia-long covenant history with God – Israel had the promises of Messiah and witnessed the life & ministry of Jesus. That was a privilege granted to the nation of Israel, not the rest of the world. The rest of the world remained in the dark & ignorant, lost in their sin.
  2. This was the reason “God overlooked” those days. It was not that God ignored their sin or thought to be less than sinful. Idolatry is always rebellion, no matter where it is found. Even so, God had not yet judged the world. God allowed the nations to live as the nations lived. He allowed people to wake up every morning and continue their lives. He granted new mercies to all peoples, simply by allowing a new sunrise every day, sending His rain on the just & the unjust. There was grace and mercy every single day that God allowed the universe to exist without judgment…but judgment was still coming! To this point, God had granted a temporary reprieve, but it wouldn’t last forever. Every single person would still have to face their judgment.
  3. What did they need to do in response? Repent! Repentance wasn’t just for the nation of Israel; repentance is for everyone. God “now commands all men everywhere to repent.” All people in every corner of the world need to turn away from their idolatry, their lusts, their covetousness, their pride, and every other sin – we need to forsake them and turn to the Living Creator God pleading for His mercies and grace. Remember that God is the Lord of all humanity, so His command goes out to all humanity. All people everywhere are to repent and turn to God in truth – to fall on the mercies of the Judge who is “the Man whom [God] ordained.
    1. BTW – How did God ordain this Man to perform the promised judgment? The Man was “anointed” for the task from before the foundation of the world. In fact, that’s the meaning behind the word Messiah/Christ: “Anointed One.” One who is “anointed” is someone who has been appointed, or set-apart, for a specific task/role. Prophets were anointed – kings were anointed – but the ultimate anointed one is the Messiah. Jesus was always God’s plan for the world.
  4. As 21st century Americans living where we live, it can be difficult for us to grasp the enormity of what Paul had said so far. After all, most of us have been familiar with at least some form of this message all our lives. Try to put yourselves in the shoes of a 1st century Athenian. All your life, you’ve lived in the cultural center of the world – and you knew it. You may not have travelled anywhere else in the world, but you knew that the rest of the world looked to Athens for knowledge, art, and general guidance, and you took great pride in that. You had great confidence in the gods you worshipped, knowing by heart the myths that had been passed to you through the centuries, being continually impressed by the many temples you saw every day as you looked up at the hilltops throughout the city. And now, here comes this Jewish preacher from some backwater nation (one which your ancestors ruled when Greece was the predominant empire in the world!) telling you not only that everything you thought you knew about God was wrong, but you were actually in danger of judgment for sins you committed against the God you never knew (but should have known). Why on earth should you believe this guy? He was just one preacher out of dozens of philosophers that could have been picked off the streets of Athens, and you debated the ideas of philosophers for fun. Why should you take the message of this Paul with any seriousness? Why should you repent towards this newly-declared Unknown God? Because God provided proof…

… He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead.”

  1. Who is the Man ordained by God as the Righteous Judge? How can all people in every nation know that the message preached by Paul is true? Because this Man (the Anointed Messiah) is risen from the dead! Out of all the billions of people in the history of the world who have died, only one has been forever raised out of the grave by the power of God. Jesus has been set apart from all. None of the Greek philosophers came back from death – for them, death was the end. Not even the greatest of Greek kings came back from the dead. Alexander the Great may have conquered the known world nearly 400 years before Paul preached, but Alexander was still dead (and he died at a relatively young age, at that!). No matter what culture, no matter how influential a person may have been – people who died stayed dead. Prophets, priests, kings…everyone. Even among the Hebrews, where there are Scriptural accounts of men being risen to life (like Lazarus), all of them eventually died again. All except one. One was raised from death, and remains alive to this day: Jesus! The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate proof that He is the ordained Messiah of God – the One sent by God not only to provide the sacrifice for all the world to be saved from the wrath of God, but also the One to administer the judgment of God upon those who do not repent.
  2. Don’t miss the context of this. Paul declared there are two things that must be known about the Ordained Messiah. (1) He is the One who is the judge, (2) the proof that He is the judge is the resurrection.
    1. Jesus is the Judge! We often think of Jesus as the Savior, and He is. Praise God that He is! If Jesus did not give Himself for our sins by dying in our place on the cross, then none of us would have any hope. We would have to answer for our own idolatries, lusts, and many other acts of rebellion against God. Jesus willingly gave Himself for us, so that we might be saved – all to the glory of God. (Praise God!) But we cannot forget that Jesus is also the Judge. As the Messiah, Jesus is the promised Son of David who will rule over all the earth, conquering it on the day of His physical return & ruling over it from a restored throne in Jerusalem. As Incarnate God, He is the One to whom every man and woman will come, and give an account of the things they have done in their lives. When people see God sitting on His great white throne at the end of the age (Rev 20:11), who is it they will see? They will see Jesus, the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15). Jesus is the Judge, the one to whom all people will answer.
    2. The resurrection is the proof. How is it possible for God to highlight one Man throughout all history? What is the one thing God could do that would make one Man stand out from all the rest? Raise Him from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is the definitive proof that He is the Messiah. As Paul wrote to the Romans, the resurrection of Jesus is the declaration that Jesus is the Son of God (Rom 1:4). As Paul wrote to the Corinthians, the resurrection of Jesus is the reason for our faith (1 Cor 15:12-18). The resurrection of Jesus is so important to His identity that even Jesus declared it to be the ultimate sign of who He is. Matthew 12:39–40, “(39) But He answered and said to them, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. (40) For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” Just as Jonah came out of the fish, so would Jesus come out of the grave. If this had failed to happen, Jesus would have been a false prophet & rightly ignored (no matter what other miracles He performed). But Jesus did come out of the grave, being forever risen from the dead. This is something that cannot be said of either Moses (as a true prophet of God) or Mohammed (as a false prophet). Only Jesus is risen, thus only Jesus is the Messiah. We have been given proof; now we must believe!
  • Response of the people (32-34). Responding to God.

32 And when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked, while others said, “We will hear you again on this matter.” 33 So Paul departed from among them.

  1. Response #1: Mockery. When faced with the ultimate proof of God concerning Jesus, some chose to laugh it off. The idea of God raising a Man from the dead was ludicrous to them. When someone died, they died – they went to the afterlife, where everyone else went, and that was the end of that. Why believe in something so impossible as resurrection? It was absurd!
    1. Granted, the ancient Athenians had their own myths explaining it, but it isn’t much different than what many Americans believe today. They laugh off the idea of the judgment of God and the resurrection of Jesus. They say it’s all a bunch of wishful thinking by Christians, with the Bible having no more truth than a book of Greek mythology. That may be commonly believed, but it does not change the facts. Jesus is risen from the dead – something that isn’t only a statement of faith, but a statement of history. Twelve apostles knew Jesus was risen from the dead, which was the reason they were willing to die for Him. A Roman cohort of soldiers knew that Jesus was risen from the dead, which was the only reason they were allowed to live after failing to keep the tomb sealed. Three thousand men in Jerusalem knew that Jesus was risen from the dead, because any one of them could have produced a literal body of evidence showing the opposite if it were not true. Jesus is That’s not something to mock; it’s something to believe!
  2. Response #2: Procrastination. If some on the council mocked Paul, others brushed him off. They thought they could put it all aside & deal with it some other time. The men of the Aeropagus debated ideas all day long, treating all of it as intellectual. So why not treat this message the same way? They could talk around the ideas of the Messiah without actually engaging with Him as a real Person, Judge, and God.
    1. Again, modern Americans do the same thing! Many men & women show up in churches willing to talk about the idea of Jesus without actually engaging with Jesus in faith. They like the concept of religion and ritual, as long as they can set it to the side when they’re done with it. But that isn’t what the resurrection tells us. The resurrection proves that Jesus is alive, that He is God, and that we must deal with Him in truth as He is. It means that He is the One in control; not us – and we cannot afford to push Him off. 

34 However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

  1. Response #3: Faith. Praise God that “some men joined [Paul] and believed!” For all the scholars and preachers today that claim that Paul was somehow unsuccessful in Athens because no church was yet founded and so few people were saved, there were “some” who didn’t think Paul a failure at all. No doubt they were extremely grateful for Paul’s unexpected arrival & message! Sure, Paul did not win over the whole of the council & thus did not gain permission to preach the gospel in the Athenian marketplace, but Paul was faithful with the opportunity he was given & he preached the truth. Because he did, some were saved. Two were mentioned, but more than two were present. And even if it was only one, the angels would have still rejoiced!
  2. Of interest are the two names included among those who believed: “Dionysius the Areopagite [and] a woman named Damaris.” Among the council on Mars Hill hearing Paul’s sermon that day, there was at least one of the men present who believed. Some of them ridiculed Paul, but not all! Likewise, out of those who believed, one was a woman of such prominence in Athens that people knew her by name. The gospel preached by Paul wasn’t only for the so-called “ignorant” masses. People of all social classes heard the message and believed.
    1. Some criticize Christianity today, saying that the gospel is only for the uneducated – that anyone with real intellect can see right through the emptiness of the message. Not true! The gospel is for all people, everywhere! It’s for children as well as PhD’s – it’s for rich & for poor – it’s for black, white, brown, and every shade of skin color. Anyone can hear the good news of Jesus, believe, and be saved!

Conclusion:

When put before the Athenian council – a people who knew next to nothing about the true God, Paul clearly proclaimed the truth. He told them about the God they claimed to worship, but never knew. He told them of God as the Sovereign Creator (whom they needed to know), of God as the Righteous Judge (whom they needed to hear), and the proof they could know it was true (and how they could respond).

Ask yourself the same questions:

  • Do you know God? Do you know Him as He is: the All-powerful Almighty Creator God, Lord of heaven & earth – do you know Him as far above His creation, rather than an object of it?
  • Do you hear God? Do you hear His testimony about Himself, His righteousness, His judgment, and His beloved Anointed Son?
  • How will you respond to God? God has mercifully given you time and opportunities to respond to Him in truth – He has lovingly and graciously reached out to you with the provision of Jesus, proving Him through the resurrection. Will you mock, procrastinate, or believe?

The God of the world calls all the world to repentance, providing the all the proof we need through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. So repent, and believe in the Resurrected Lord Jesus!

If you do believe, then do like Paul: take the opportunity to tell others! Reaffirm your trust in the true God, ever-falling on the grace of Jesus, and tell others how they can do the same. Look around at the world in which we live. Our culture, no less than ancient Athens, is completely given over to idolatry and desperately lost. People need to know the truth in order to be saved, and we are the ones to tell them. Will everyone believe? No. Some will mock – some will push it off, ignoring it. But there are a few who will believe. Why allow the hard-hearted response of some stop you from sharing the gospel with others? Even if only one person listens and believes, isn’t he/she worth all the effort?

Acts 17:16-23, “Agnostic Athens, part 1: Seize the Day!”

Go for it! Those are the words we often cheer to others when watching them in action. Maybe it’s your favorite athlete (either professional, or familial) perfectly lined up for a shot. Maybe it’s your friend sprinting towards the finish line. Maybe it’s some encouragement to your colleague to nail his/her presentation or sales pitch. In those times, people don’t need to hang back. Hesitation doesn’t accomplish anything; action does. Sometimes, you just have to go for it! Or, to use the Latin phrase popularized in the old Robin Williams’ movie Dead Poet’s Society: Carpe Diem – Seize the day! Take the opportunity you’ve been given, and run with it!

How true this is when it comes to faith! Sometimes, we just need to go for it. Think of the instance of Jonathan & his armor-bearer… 1 Samuel 14:6–7, “(6) Then Jonathan said to the young man who bore his armor, “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised; it may be that the LORD will work for us. For nothing restrains the LORD from saving by many or by few.” (7) So his armorbearer said to him, “Do all that is in your heart. Go then; here I am with you, according to your heart.”” Taking a chance on the opportunity presented to them, Jonathan trusted the Lord God, and he & his armor-bearer defeated a Philistine garrison (two Hebrews vs. 20 Philistines!). We sometimes call these things “leaps of faith,” and they don’t always have to involve live-or-death situations. For some of us, it can be a leap of faith simply to share the gospel.

In a sense, it’s a bit ironic, in that telling others of Jesus ought to be the easiest, most natural thing in the world for a Christian. After all, we don’t typically hesitate sharing good news with our friends and family. We tell them when we get new jobs, when we purchase a new car or home, when we’re expecting a new baby, etc. When it comes to good things, typically, we share it loud & proud & immediately. It doesn’t even have to be big…we’ll even Instagram a good looking dinner! When it comes to sharing news of good things, normally we’ll shout it from the rooftops.

But when it comes to the best news? That’s when we often hesitate. That’s when we develop uncharacteristic shyness & we get quiet about the very best thing that ever happened to us: Jesus. Please understand I’m not pointing fingers – it happens to me, just as much as to anyone else! If I get into an extended conversation with someone, it can be difficult to shift the topic to the gospel. It’s often easier to think about the various ways a conversation could have gone, rather than being able to navigate it in real-time. And that’s common to a lot of Christians.

Why is that? It isn’t a lack of knowledge. If we know how we were saved, then we can tell someone else how they can be saved. It isn’t a lack of command. Jesus has given us the Great Commission to make disciples of every nation. Nor is it a lack of opportunity, although we might not recognize the opportunities right in front of us (something we’ll see in our text). More often than not, it’s a lack of will, resulting in a lack of obedience. We fear personal rejection, which causes us to remain silent.

The problem is that silence isn’t an option. People all around us are lost and doomed for hell, unless they receive Jesus as Lord with the grace He offers. We have the news these people need to be saved. For us to remain silent out of fear of personal rejection is the height of selfishness. It’s the fear of not stretching out your hand to a drowning person for fear of getting wet. (Again, I’m not pointing fingers! But we need to call these things as they are.)

What might be encouraging for many Christians is to know that even the greatest evangelists in history faced personal rejection: one of the best examples being Paul. Not only did he often face physical persecution, but he also faced outright mockery – and this mockery was on full display in the city of Athens. The message Paul gave to the Athenian philosophers has served as a model to missionaries all over the world, but we need to remember that it was not a message that saw much immediate fruit. On the contrary, Paul was mocked both before his sermon and after it. But…it didn’t stop him from preaching it. Paul took every opportunity to proclaim the gospel, and so should we.

Remember what brought Paul to this point: Ever since arriving in Macedonia at the leading of the Holy Spirit, Paul had a difficult time. Through there was active evangelism and conversions in every major city, there was also persecution. Paul & Silas suffered beatings and imprisonment in Philippi, and riots in both Thessalonica and Berea (both of which were provoked by unbelieving Jews). Paul had to escape both of those cities, and was now left by himself in Athens, Greece. Silas & Timothy had been able to stay behind in Berea – no doubt using the time to strengthen the infant church as much as possible before needing to rejoin Paul. Paul had sent for them, and they’d restart the missionary journey again, but it would take some time. Meanwhile, Paul was in Athens with some rare downtime. He hadn’t gone there for the purpose of ministry, but Paul being Paul, ministry wasn’t far behind. There was a need in Athens for Jesus, and Paul wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity.

Don’t pass up your opportunities! We need to see them for what they are (as God reveals them), and use every one to point people to Jesus. All around us, people are ignorant of the truth of God; we are the preachers sent by God to proclaim Him to them. Go for it! Seize the day!

Acts 17:16–23

  • Provoked to preach (16-17). Do you see the need?

16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him when he saw that the city was given over to idols.

  1. Again, Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy (the “them”) in Athens. It wasn’t a place he had planned to be, but he couldn’t ignore the things he saw there. By the time of Paul’s arrival, Athens was already an ancient city, and was the intellectual and cultural center of the world surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Rome may have ruled the world, but the culture was Greek, with Athens at the head. And Athens had no lack of idols! (AT Robertson) “Pausanias says that Athens had more images than all the rest of Greece put together. Pliny states that in the time of Nero Athens had over 30,000 public statues besides countless private ones in the homes. Petronius sneers that it was easier to find a god than a man in Athens. Every gateway or porch had its protecting god.” Few things indicate the lostness of a city than the abundance of idols. Instead of church spires pointing to God, statues, signs, & temples show the many other things worshipped by the masses.
    1. Lest we think this is limited to foreign nations far to the East, we need look no further than our own cities. How many homes fly flags to football teams, but never go to church? How many skyscrapers are built for stock-trading and hedge-funds? Modern-day temples to the gods of cash. Drive in certain parts of Dallas or Hwy 31, and we’re bombarded with sign after sign advertising sex – no different than the many temples in the ancient world where men visited temple prostitutes. For as much as we think our own culture is more “civilized” than foreign lands, we are just as full of idolatry!
    2. Do you want to understand Paul’s compulsion to preach the gospel? Do you want to be free to take the opportunities to seize the day for Jesus? Step 1 is to see the need! We’ll never share the gospel with anyone we think doesn’t need it. Everyone needs it! People are lost, and the signs of their lostness are all around us. We’ve simply become so accustomed to it that
  2. How did Paul react? “His spirit was provoked.” The word is interesting, in that it can refer to being irritated, or incited to anger. (It comes from the same root as Hebrews 10:24, “to stir up.”) Paul was upset by the things he saw around him – he was physically and emotionally bothered by the lostness and idolatry of Athens. As he looked around, he saw nothing but hopelessness…and the worst part was that the people didn’t even realize they were hopeless! They were headed for destruction, and didn’t even realize the danger. It compelled Paul to take action. He simply didn’t see any other option.
    1. We get provoked about all kinds of things. Someone cuts us off on Broadway – a teacher messes with our kid at school – our insurance balks at paying a bill, etc. All these things are upsetting, and some genuinely so. But when was the last time you got provoked for the cause of Christ? When was the last time you were physically bothered by the amount of people lost without Jesus – the same people you’re around every single day? We lose sight of the seriousness of it. Again, it’s something to which we just grow accustomed.
    2. Pray that God would break our hardened hearts! May God help us see the situation for what it is, and allow us to be truly bothered by the spiritual reality that surrounds us! We live in a society that is just as lost as Athens. The good news? Athens only had one evangelist; God has given America every one of us!

17 Therefore he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.

  1. He kept the same basic pattern: going to the Jews and also to the Greeks. The one change was that instead of going exclusively to the Jews and waiting to get kicked out of the synagogue, Paul conducted his Gentile ministry simultaneously as his Jewish one. He was in the synagogue on Saturday, and in the Gentile marketplace every other day of the week.
  2. And why not? Both groups needed the gospel, and Paul had no idea how long he’d be in town. He had already sent word to Silas and Timothy to come to him so that they could get back to their primary mission, so Paul needed to take the opportunity while he had it. Time was short, & the need was urgent, so he didn’t waste time. He said what needed to be said to the people who needed to hear it. To the Jews, Paul likely went through the same Scriptures, reasoning with them through the Old Testament prophecies that spoke of Jesus. To the Gentiles, Paul took a different tactic – most likely the same basic message that he soon gave to the Athenian council later in chapter 17. Whatever it was that would best communicate the message of Jesus to the people listening, that’s what Paul shared.
  3. It’s not that Paul changed the content of the gospel (the news of Jesus doesn’t change at all!), but Paul didn’t hesitate to change the mode of sharing it. The Jews of Athens were familiar with the Old Testament prophecies, so Paul could teach from the Old Testament prophecies. The Gentiles of Athens had no such background, so he needed to take a different tactic. Both routes led to Jesus; he just had to discern the best one to use with the audience he had.
    1. Think of it like a fisherman’s tackle box. Different fish require different bait. Some lures work with one sort of fish, but are useless with another. The tactics a fly fisherman uses with his rod & reel are useless when deep-sea fishing. The end goal is the same, but the methods & tools are different. – Likewise with evangelism. There are all kinds of tools we can use to share the gospel, and some work better with certain groups of people than others. Different fish require different bait, and Jesus makes us fishers of men. So change it up! Maybe one person is going to respond to a cartoon gospel tract, but another person wants a booklet that’s more in-depth. One person can walk through the “Romans Road,” while another person needs to be walked through the 10 Commandments. There’s not one-single method of evangelism that’s absolutely best. As long as what you share is biblical & points to Jesus, then that’s all you need!
  4. Notice the other thing Paul did among the Gentiles: he shared “with those who happened to be there.” Who’s the best person to share Jesus with? The one right in front of you. Often, we find ourselves searching for just the “right” person to have the “right” conversation. In Paul’s view, the “right” person was the one “right” in front of him! Who is it that God has placed in front of you? Treat it as a divine appointment…because it is one!

When in Athens, Paul looked around him, saw the need & was provoked to preach. What was the result?

  • Attracting attention (18-21). Do they see the difference?

18 Then certain Epicurean and Stoic philosophers encountered him. And some said, “What does this babbler want to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a proclaimer of foreign gods,” because he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.

  1. Because Paul spoke with people in the marketplace, he attracted the attention of other people who were in the marketplace – and since he was in Athens, the ancient home of philosophy, the many philosophers were among them. These were men who publicly debated their viewpoints of life, with entire schools dedicated to the teachings of their masters. The things Paul spoke was new and different among them, and it confused them, which in turn caused them to mock him. 
  2. Luke specifically identifies the “Epicurean and Stoic philosophers” as the ones who “encountered” Paul. Both philosophies were founded by men centuries earlier than Paul, and although they differed from each other & often debated each other, each looked inward to the imagined abilities of man to deal with the hardships of life. (Apologetic Study Bible) “Epicureans were practical materialists, believing that gods were uninvolved with human affairs, that humans should pursue pleasure, and that there was no afterlife/judgment. Stoics were pantheists (God was the Soul of the universe) and determinists (virtue consisted in dispassionately enduring life’s inevitable hardships.” From that description, it would seem that Epicureans and Stoics would find a home in 21st century America. How many people do you know today that live just for this life, thinking that this is all we have & after death there’s nothing, so we might as well enjoy what we have today? Or on the other hand, perhaps they believe in a form of God, but only that He’s generally “out there,” but we’re really on our own & we just have to grit our way through life. It may be an oversimplification, but those are basically modern-day Epicureans and Stoics. And just like the ancient versions were bothered by the gospel preached by Paul, the modern ones are confused by the gospel preached by the church.
  3. In Paul’s day, they mocked him, calling him a “” Literally, they called him a “seed-picker,” with the picture of a bird pecking the ground picking up all the various seeds it could find to eat. The idea is basically that of a “scavenger or scrap-monger,” (BDAG) as opposed to someone who taught a well-thought reasonable philosophy of life, like them (supposedly!). They were the ones who had all the answers – what this new guy taught was bizarre. It was “foreign” to them. There was only one God over all the other gods? And this God was personally involved the lives of men & women? This God sent Jesus to die and rise from the grave? To us, these ideas are ingrained in our culture & history, but to the Athenian philosophers it was brand-new & strange. They didn’t know what to think of it, and they dismissed it. There’s no doubt that what Paul preached was new & “foreign” to them – but it was still the truth. It still needed to be said. Even among a people who dismissed him and made fun of him, this was the news they needed to hear.
    1. Have you ever felt dismissed by others because of your faith in Christ? Maybe when you first got saved, you couldn’t wait to share the news with your friends, but found that they immediately made fun of you. “Oh great, now you’re one of those Bible-thumpers…one of those Jesus-freaks. Well fine for you, but don’t try to push your ignorance on me!” If that was you, you’re not alone! Paul went through the same things. The only difference is that it didn’t stop Paul from speaking. Yes, what he spoke was different & sometimes dismissed, but at least people noticed the difference! When you first told other people about Jesus, no doubt, people noticed the difference…maybe they had heard it before, but they had never heard it from you. In itself, that’s a good thing (even if it may not have seemed like it at the time), because it at least meant that they paid attention – it means that they knew you believed what you had to say, even if they didn’t. That’s not always a comfortable situation for us to be, but for them, it’s a starting point…and it may be the very thing that starts them on the road to faith in Christ.
    2. Think of it from another perspective: maybe you were that person at one point. Maybe you weren’t raised in a Christian home, and you made fun of Christians when you saw them. You dismissed them, thinking you didn’t need what they had, or that it just sounded too good to be true. Aren’t you glad someone kept sharing with you?
  4. BTW: What was it Paul preached? The gospel! “He preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.” Luke doesn’t say much of Paul’s words (though he will, starting in verse 22), but what he said was enough. Jesus + the resurrection = good news! Jesus is the Son of God, sent by God to bear the anger we are owed for our sins against Him – He is the substitution and sacrifice we require because of our lives of rebellion against God. Yet with all the religions out there, how do we know Jesus is the answer? It’s through the resurrection! Three days after His death on the cross, Jesus rose to life again from the grave – proof beyond doubt that He conquered death, and that eternal life can be found in His name. Jesus and the resurrection – it’s all the elements we need for the gospel! 
  5. There was one more element to the mockery of the philosopher: an implication of a criminal charge. Over 400 years earlier in the city of Athens, Socrates was famously found guilty of “impiety,” (not believing in the gods of the State) which caused him to preach ideas that corrupted the youth of Athens. Socrates was sentenced to death (via drinking poison) in 399BC. If Paul was accused of preaching “foreign gods,” then perhaps Paul was guilty of a similar crime as Socrates. His message needed to be investigated, which was why he was taken to the Athenian council.

19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new doctrine is of which you speak? 20 For you are bringing some strange things to our ears. Therefore we want to know what these things mean.”

  1. Literally, the word “Areopagus” is two words in the Greek: Ares + Hill, or to use the Roman terminology, “Mars Hill.” It was both a physical location and a council (not unlike when we say “Washington” to mean either the city or the government located within the city). There is some debate as to what it looked like during the time of Paul, but it is a literal hill, in view of the Parthenon, the ancient temple to Athena on the top of the Acropolis hill in Athens. Wherever they met (either on the hill, or in view of it in another building), the point was that Paul was officially on trial. It wasn’t the first time Paul had faced legal troubles for preaching the gospel (nor would it be the last!), but it was the first time Paul faced it alone. Remember, he hadn’t come to Athens for this purpose – he was just there as a temporary measure while troubles blew over elsewhere & his team could rejoin him. Yet there he was: mocked & now arrested for giving out good news. What would happen? It was better than Paul could have hoped for…
  2. For all the derision received earlier from the philosophers, Paul got the mother of softball questions from the council! “May we know what you’re preaching? Explain it to us.” Sometimes we search hard for a way to tell people about Jesus – other times, the opportunity seems to fall in our laps. [Phone call asking how to get saved.] Here, the opportunity fell on Paul, and he wasn’t about to waste it!
  3. BTW – Don’t miss the fact that although some people mock, others want to know. Granted, some of the men in the Aeropagus currently asking Paul to share his message will later mock him when they hear it, but not all of them would. Yet at the time, they all genuinely wanted to know about the gospel: “we want to know what these things mean.” They didn’t understand about the resurrection, or about this one God over all the earth, and they needed someone to explain it to them. What they heard in bits & pieces, they needed Paul to tell them from the beginning.
    1. For all the people you & I encounter that don’t want to hear us talk about Jesus, there will be some who want to know. We just don’t know who they are, which is why we share with everyone! We need to remember that although we live in the Bible belt, not everyone knows what the gospel truly means. Sure, they know some basic facts about Jesus – they’ve been immersed in a culture that proclaims one God over everything, and pictures of crosses are everywhere, with churches on every corner. Even so, many people don’t know the implications of the cross. They might know that Christianity teaches that Jesus rose from the dead, but they don’t know why that’s a big deal. If you walk the streets of Tyler, asking people if they’re Christian, most will say “yes,” but when you ask them why, the majority won’t be able to give you an answer. They’ll say it’s because they’re a member of a particular church, or because they were raised in a certain family, or that it’s because they aren’t some other religion so they must be Christian. They don’t know what it means to be Christian…but they need to know. And when given the opportunity, some of them will want to know. So when they know they’ve got the opportunity, they’ll give you the opportunity to tell them…and we’ve got to take it!

21 For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing.

  1. This isn’t exactly a compliment from Luke. Yes, the council of the Aeropagus wanted to know what Paul had to say, but most of the men weren’t looking to make a life-change; they were simply curious. They wanted to know if what Paul taught was something trivial, or something that could cause issues in the city. And besides, it was a chance to debate something new. They’d heard the teachings of the Epicureans and Stoics for years, along with the disciples of Plato, Aristotle, and the dozens of other schools of philosophy that were there. People would play with one idea until they got tired of it, and go to the next, and the next, etc. Today, people binge on Netflix; in Athens, they binged on philosophy.
  2. Whatever the motivations may have been for the men on the council, Paul saw his opportunity and ran with it.
  • Seizing the day (22-23). Do you take your chance?

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; 23 for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD …

  1. Paul may or may not have known the motivations behind the men questioning him, but he treated their question as an honest one, and tried to build bridges with them rather than burning them from the start. This was his opportunity to preach Jesus to the men who influenced what the rest of the city would be allowed to hear taught in the marketplace, so Paul wanted to make the most of it. He didn’t come out lambasting them as sinners doomed for hell (which they were, just like all of us); he simply found a way to tell them the truth. It’s not that Paul ever backed away from telling them of their sin (as becomes apparent in verse 30); he just didn’t lead off with it.
    1. Ray Comfort uses the analogy that if he wants to wake you, he doesn’t want to just shine a flashlight directly into your eyes. Some folks (in a true zeal for the Lord) just switch on their high-beams, and it’s no wonder that people run the other direction! Some simple questions & reasonable conversation can easily be used as a bridge to the gospel, if nothing else, to give an opportunity to say “Did you get one of these?” as you hand out a gospel tract. It doesn’t need to be complicated; we just need to have our eyes open to the opportunities around us to do it.
  2. Paul began politely, but straightforward, not wasting any time, noting that they were “very religious,” but without all of the facts. The word for “religious” = “fear/reverence of demons/deities.” In some contexts, it could mean “superstitious,” but in other contexts it was simply a general spirituality. The Athenians were spiritually aware, but factually ignorant. The fact that there were literally thousands of idols in the city was evidence of at least some level of spiritual awareness. Paul could look around and see that the people knew there was something beyond what they could see, even if they didn’t know what to do with it. – It’s little different in our culture today. Even among those who consider themselves without any religious affiliation (“none” being the fastest growing group in America today), there’s still at least some level of spiritual awareness. People wish “good vibes” to folks when they’re sick – they believe we all need to be good to each other because we’re all part of the same spiritual family, etc. Obviously, what they believe is not Biblical truth, but it is at least some form of spiritual awareness. It’s a starting point…use it. Paul did.
  3. Out of the thousands of idols that were in the city, one particular statue stood out to Paul: the one that was labeled as not having a label. It was dedicated “To the Unknown God,” in an attempt to acknowledge there were some things the Athenians didn’t know. Interestingly, “Unknown” is comes from the same word we get “agnostic.” (Ἀγνώστῳ θεῷ – to a god no one knows about.) Today, agnostics are those who do not know whether or not there is a God; the Athenians knew that God exists, but they could not be definitive on His identity. In one sense, they tried to cover their bases; in another sense, they were content in their ignorance. They spent their time worshipping the gods they thought they understood; they only gave lip-service to the One they didn’t. (Just like people give lip service to the true God today!)

…Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you:

  1. The Athenians did not know that God, but Paul did. And that God was the one Paul proclaimed. He wasn’t preaching some foreign deity (easily deflecting the charge brought against Socrates); he was preaching the God the Athenians should have known – the God that they half-heartedly acknowledged, but never truly knew. Paul was proclaiming to them the truth.
    1. Beloved, this is our privilege when we preach the gospel: we proclaim the truth. For all the thoughts that people have about our world & spirituality & eternity, there’s much that people don’t know. They are agnostic either by intent or by accident. What they need is the truth. What they need is a clear proclamation of the true God and His Son. When a ship is lost in fog near rocky shores, what do they need most? A lighthouse. When pilots attempt to land their planes in darkness, what do they look for? The lights on the runway. A bit of clarity makes all the difference in the world! In the fog and darkness of the many competing spiritual messages out there, what do people need? The light of the world, clearly proclaimed in Jesus! We have the privilege of preaching Him, of giving that clarity to others.
  2. Unfortunately, we don’t have time to look at the actual message proclaimed by Paul. There is so much depth in it, and we need to give it its due attention. But it’s almost impossible to see all of this with Paul and not look ahead just a bit. Preview of the message:
    1. God, the Sovereign Creator (24-28). Of all the gods imagined by the Athenians, there is only one God over all the earth, and the evidence of Him is abundant.
    2. God, the Righteous Judge (29-31a). Because the unknown God can be known, people can know something about His character and His commands. This is not a God to be ignored or written off; this is a God to be worshipped.
    3. The Judge Identified (31b). God chooses to judge the world through the Man God raised from the dead, and that’s the Man to whom all the world need to pay attention.
  3. At that point, we’re going to see Paul cut off. Paul doesn’t say a word about the cross, and didn’t even get the chance to speak the name of Jesus before he began to get mocked by the crowd. Not that it was totally unfruitful – verse 34 shows that at least some people believed and were saved. But for all the mocking he received and the difficulty he had even getting people to hear the message of Christ, Paul still preached it. If he hadn’t, not even the few who believed would have been saved. Those very few people could be very glad Paul took the opportunity he had – even if it wasn’t exactly the opportunity he wanted.

Conclusion:

Take your opportunity! Seize the day, and go for it! Every day is a new chance to be a witness for Jesus – every morning is a new morning you can wake to the mercies of God, and have a clean slate to testify of Christ. Please understand: it’s not about legalism, guilt, or forcing Jesus down anyone’s throat; it’s about compassion for the lost and faithful stewardship of what God brings our way as we seek to glorify Him. Will we fail in this? Yes. Have I failed in this? Many times…and no doubt, will do so many times in the future. We can’t change the past, but we can be forgiven of it. We can’t change what we didn’t do, but we can change what we will do. This day, this moment, let us seize the day!

  • Do you see the need? People are lost, and they need Jesus! Every car that passes you on the freeway is driven by someone who will face the judgment of God. Every waiter/waitress that serves you at the restaurant is someone who needs a substitute for his/her sins. Every billboard you pass is a reminder of the idolatry that saturates our city, and the need that people have for Jesus. Ask God to open your eyes, and see the need as He sees it.
  • Do they see the difference? They will, when they see the work of Jesus in your life. They can, if you live your life being daily filled with the Spirit. They will, when you go through your day living for the glory of God, walking according to His standard instead of the world’s.
  • Will you take your chance? You’ve got the opportunity; use it! Ask God for boldness, and take a leap of faith. You might get a softball, or you might rejected; either way, you’ve been obedient and you’ve brought glory to God. In the end, that’s what matters most!

It is so easy to let fear of personal rejection keep us from sharing the good news of Jesus. But remember what’s at stake: nothing less than eternity. It doesn’t mean we need to be obnoxious in what we say; it does mean we need to be consistent in saying something. Maybe it’s through social media – maybe it’s through simple conversations – maybe it’s through regular invitations to pray. There is no one way to share the message of salvation in Jesus; there is only one Jesus to be shared. So share Him! Take the opportunities He gives you, and go for it!

The Rubik’s Cube is the perfect gift for any occasion. The famous 3D puzzle can easily be solved with the online solver, there’s no need to memorize algorithms.

Too Good to Quit

Posted: March 3, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 17:1-15, “Too Good to Quit”

Some things are good; other things are really good. Not just better, but truly good on a fundamental level. What’s the difference? Vanilla ice cream is good, and vanilla ice cream topped with chocolate syrup is better – but only incrementally so. But an ice cream that not only tastes amazing, but is actually heart-healthy and beneficial for you…that’s fundamentally good. (Unfortunately, it’s also imaginary! 😊) It’s one thing to take part in good stuff; it’s something else to participate in that which is truly good.

By definition, the gospel is good. The message of Jesus is not merely better than other religious messages or prophets – it’s not simply something to help improve our quality of life. The gospel of Jesus is fundamentally good – it is good on another level, changing our lives from the inside out. The news of Jesus is the power of God unto salvation – it is the message we need to hear, receive, and believe to receive the forgiveness of Almighty God for our sins, and to be transformed into His true children. Without the gospel (good news) of Jesus, we are lost in our sin, bound for eternal hell; with the gospel of Jesus, we are gloriously saved & destined for heaven. That is good news – it is good, good news.

Yet just because it’s good doesn’t mean that it is easy to share. As most of us have experienced, it can be scary to even open up a conversation about Jesus – much less to continually preach Him in the midst of harsh responses. The harder things get, the easier it seems to keep our mouths shut. We essentially quit sharing Jesus – making life easier on us, but eternally harder on those who are still lost.

If anyone knew the temptation of quitting the gospel, it was Paul. Things were hardly ever easy for him. His easiest days in evangelism would probably be some of the hardest we’d ever face. Yet he never gave up. Why? Because the good news of Jesus is too good to quit.

To get the full picture, we need to back up a bit. Just as Jesus had said in Acts 1, the gospel was in the process of going out to the entire world through the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. The news of Jesus had been preached among the Jews in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria – and was now being preached among the Gentiles to the ends of the earth.

At the forefront of Gentile evangelism was Paul. Now in his second missionary journey, he and Silas (along with Timothy and sometimes Luke) preached Jesus in Asia and Macedonia. Most recently, the missionaries were in Philippi – an important Roman colony, but one without many Jews. As always, Paul preached the gospel, saw some success, and soon encountered a bit of trouble. Some of the Philippians, unhappy with Paul for freeing one of their slave girls from demonic possession, took Paul & Silas to the city leaders for punishment. The magistrates found the two men guilty without giving them a chance to defend themselves, and illegally sentenced them to beating and imprisonment.

Yet out of injustice, God showed His glory! It was there in the prison that God worked several miracles, culminating in the jailer and his family coming to faith in Christ. What had begun in tragedy was transformed into victory for Jesus and His gospel! The leaders, confronted with the potential consequences for their illegal actions, were forced to publicly repent toward Paul and Silas (guaranteeing at least a bit of safety for the fledgling church), and the men were released from custody. That said, they were begged to leave town as well.

No problem – there were still other places that needed the gospel. Paul and Silas had places to go, people to see, and good news to preach! But again – just because the news was good did not mean that the work was easy. The missionaries may not have faced additional beatings and jailings, but they still faced persecution. So why proceed? If persecution was consistently part of the pattern, why keep preaching?

Answer: because the news is that good! The gospel is too good to quit! If there wasn’t much to it – if Jesus was not absolutely necessary for forgiveness and salvation, then we would have no reason to say anything. What would be the point? But Jesus is necessary – for us and for the whole world. Without Him, we have no hope.

Paul could not quit the gospel, and neither can we. The good news of Jesus is too good to quit!

Acts 17:1–15 – Paul’s pattern of ministry: evangelism, conversion, persecution.

  • The pattern in Thessalonica (17:1-9). #1: Evangelism (1-3)

1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews.

  1. According to Luke’s narration, Paul and the others basically followed the major road (the Egnatian Way) to the next Roman major colony. The total journey from Philippi to Thessalonica was around 94 miles: 33 from Philippi to Amphipolis, 27 from Amphipolis to Apollonia, and then the 34 remaining miles to Thessalonica. Keep in mind this was all walking. If it wasn’t obvious that Paul, Silas, and the others were dedicated to the gospel through their city ministry, surely it ought to be obvious by their journeys along the road! One of the best contributions of the Roman empire to the world at the time was the relative safety they provided on roadways, but even so, it was never easy. There was sleeping out in the elements, dangers from wild animals and potential robbers, and the general discomfort of walking such long distances for hours at a time. What’s the one thing that motivated Paul & the others to do it day after day? The goodness of the good news! The gospel of Jesus is worth it! All around the Roman empire, men and women were lost in their sin, destined for the judgment of God. This was the one bit of information that would keep them from hell. How could they not share it? How could they remain silent? Paul made the point in his letter to the Romans: Romans 10:14–15, “(14) How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (15) And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”” The gospel had to be preached, and Paul, Silas, & Timothy understood their responsibility to preach it.
    1. How about us? It’d be easy to absolve ourselves of responsibility. After all, Paul & the others were the only Christians going forth in that part of the world. If they didn’t do it, who would? As for us, we have TV, radio, and the internet – we have missionaries in every corner of the globe – we live in the American Bible belt where everyone has at least some exposure to the facts of Jesus (through the holiday calendar, if nothing else). Why should we feel any personal responsibility? (1) Jesus commands us to make disciples of the nations. (Mt 28:19-20). The Great Commission was not given only to 11 surviving disciples; it was given to all those who believe in Jesus, and who follow Him as our Lord. When our Lord & King gives a command, it is not optional. (2) For all the ways that someone could hear the gospel, who are you to say that the final event won’t come through you? What if God wants to use you in a specific way to bring someone else to faith in Christ? Would we deny our Lord His will?
    2. Don’t misunderstand – God is not calling each and every one of us to travel to foreign countries, or even far-off cities, to preach the gospel. (Though He might be calling some of you!) But He has placed you in a specific mission field: it’s right outside these doors. Could your coworker or neighbor hear the gospel through some other means? But until they’re soundly saved, then you can know this much: God has given them a personal Christian missionary: you. For all that this text shows about the need not to quit the gospel, there is another side of that: getting started sharing the gospel in the first place. May we be the Christians who share!
  2. Although we don’t read of any ministry that took place in Amphipolis or Apollonia, there is no reason to assume there was none. Surely Paul & Silas shared the gospel every chance they got. Perhaps there are Christians in heaven today as a result of the missionaries’ brief stop through town.
  3. Once they got to Thessalonica, the team fell into their traditional pattern: going to the Jews first, before the Gentiles. Because the gospel is the good news of Jesus as the Hebrew Messiah, Passover Sacrifice, High Priest, and King of kings, the gospel is first preached to the Jews. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures, so Paul ensured that Hebrews were the ones first told.

2 Then Paul, as his custom was, went in to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.”

  1. Again, this was Paul’s pattern everywhere he went. Going to the local synagogue (when one was available), Paul would worship alongside his fellow Jews, listen to the reading of the Scripture (OT Torah), pray, and then typically (as was the custom of the day) be invited to speak as a travelling rabbi. (A great example of Paul’s typical Jewish message is found in Acts 13 when he and Barnabas arrived in Antioch Pisidia.) In the case of Thessalonica, Paul did not receive only one opportunity to do this – it went on for three weeks, as Paul & Silas went to synagogue Sabbath after Sabbath (every Saturday) to preach Jesus from the Old Testament.
    1. Lest there be any doubt, Jesus can be preached from the Old Testament! Some Christians limit themselves to the New Testament, thinking that’s the place where they can read the gospel and grace of God, believing that the Old Testament has nothing but law and wrath. Far be it! The good news of Christ is all over the Old Testament! The promises and grace of Jesus are seen from Genesis – Malachi. The whole of the book is about Him. Keep in mind that the only Scripture Paul had available to him was the Old Testament. If he didn’t preach Jesus from the Torah, the Prophets, and Writings, he would not have been able to preach Him at all! 
  2. So what did Paul preach – what was his message? The Messiah’s (the Christ’s) death and resurrection was necessary. It was reasonable, logical, and provable. Step by step, Scripture by Scripture, Paul showed how the Old Testament points to the events fulfilled in the life and ministry of Jesus. The Messiah is the Seed of the Woman proclaimed to Adam and Eve, who had to be bruised by the Serpent (“suffer”), yet Who would bruise and crush the Serpent in return (“rise again”) – (Gen 3:15). The Messiah is the fulfillment of Joseph who was sold into slavery by his brothers (“suffer”), yet rise to the most powerful position in Egypt (“rise again”) – (Gen 37-41). The Messiah was to be despised and rejected by men, stricken by God, afflicted and killed – yet still see His days prolonged as He sees the labor of His soul (Isa 53). Over and over, the story of the Old Testament points to both the suffering of the Messiah as well as His glorious victory. One moment He is shown suffering and dead, while the next He rules over all the world as the descendant of David with all the glory of God. This was what Paul patiently explained to his Jewish listeners, carefully opening the Scriptures for them to see. He placed the truth of God right in front of them, and they could see it with their own eyes. And it was true: the Old Testament spoke of the necessary death and resurrection of the Messiah!
    1. BTW – This wasn’t new with Paul; Jesus preached the same thing. [Road to Emmaus] Luke 24:25–27, “(25) Then He said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! (26) Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” (27) And beginning at Moses and all the Prophets, He expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” And if that meeting wasn’t enough, Jesus did the same thing to the whole group of the disciples, when later standing before them. (Lk 24:44-47)
    2. Two takeaways: (1) These things were all prophesied in the Scriptures – not hidden from anyone. Although the original hearers of these prophesies might not have known how these things could be fulfilled, it is obvious in the light of Jesus. Anyone can look the Bible and see how Jesus fulfills the promises of God. (2) All these things were necessary. Not only were they necessary in order that the Scriptures might be fulfilled (after all, Jesus couldn’t leave anything undone), but it was necessary to fulfill the plans and purposes of God. The wrath of God cannot be satisfied without a sufficient sacrifice unto death, and there is no way to know that the wrath of God has been fulfilled without a resurrection. The Messiah’s death and resurrection was truly necessary. (And thankfully, it has been given!)
  3. And that was the other part of Paul’s message: the identity of the Messiah was clear. “This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.” Paul did not preach the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy without preaching the identity of the Messiah. All of those prophecies could be said to be fulfilled, because they could be seen in a Person: Jesus of Nazareth. As Peter said to the Jews on Pentecost: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ!” (Acts 2:36) There is salvation in no other – only Jesus is the Messiah/Christ (Anointed One) sent by God. Only He has died in our place, taking our place on the cross for our sins. Only He has risen from the dead, proving beyond doubt that He is God. Jesus is the Christ, and Jesus is our only hope!
  • #2: Conversion (4)

4 And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of the devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas.

  1. All kinds of people were “persuaded” by the message of the good news. Jews, devout Greeks, leading women – they were convinced of the truth of the gospel. Not that they were “sold” the message, or somehow talked into a form of faith – Paul didn’t treat the message of Christ so casually, as if it was some trinket to be sold in a marketplace. On the contrary, Paul “reasoned with them from the Scriptures,” (vs. 3) – it was the Scriptures themselves that convinced the people of the message. Once they understood the truth of Jesus – once they were certain that what Paul preached & the Bible said was true, they could not help but respond! How could they do otherwise? It would be as if you understood that you had a deadly disease, but a doctor offered an antibiotic with a 100% success rate. How could you refuse it? You wouldn’t dare! You’d be willing to pay any price to get it, as long as you could be saved. — As good as the good news of Jesus already is, what makes it better is that the price has already been paid! All you need to do is receive His free gift of grace.
    1. Have you been persuaded by the Scriptures and the gospel? If so, what stops you from responding to Jesus in repentance and faith? What is so valuable in your life that you’d be willing to sacrifice your eternity? Give it all for Christ! He offers to save you, freely and without condemnation – but you must Don’t be one who is persuaded, but apathetic (a deadly laziness); be responsive through repentance & faith!
  2. What a wonderful beginning to the ministry in Thessalonica! Paul and Silas spent three weeks in the synagogue, and other unmentioned time among the Gentiles in the city (unmentioned by Luke, but apparent from Paul’s letters). People were coming to Christ, and the gospel was making an impact upon the city populace.
  • #3: Persecution (5-10)

5 But the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people.

  1. Some of the Jews began persecuting Paul and the others. Although some of the Jews were persuaded by the gospel of Christ, others were not, and they quickly became jealous of the growing church. After all, Paul was preaching from the Jewish Scriptures about the Jewish Messiah, and now even Gentiles were coming to faith (including some of the influential families in town). If the Thessalonians kept listening to this new rabbi, then the other Jews would lose their own standing. They determined to do whatever they could to discredit and/or disturb this new teaching and teachers.
  2. Under the guise of purity to the Hebrew Scriptures, these Jews left all of the morals and teachings of the Scriptures behind as they purposefully sought “evil men from the marketplace” to intentionally provoke a “mob.” If they couldn’t persuade people against the gospel, then they could certainly distract them from it. Whipping up a mob would do just the trick (just like filing frivolous lawsuits do today). It had the effect of setting “all the city in an uproar,” and took the attention of the message, placing it on the messengers. They set out searching for Paul and Silas, hoping to do them harm. Of course they could not do anything to the missionaries that God did not allow, and although God had allowed Paul & Silas to be arrested in the past, God guarded them in this city, hiding them from the view of the mob. 

6 But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some brethren to the rulers of the city, crying out, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too. 7 Jason has harbored them, and these are all acting contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying there is another king—Jesus.”

  1. When the mob couldn’t find Paul, they settled for Jason. Apparently, the mob looked for any Christian they could find – and dragging the host of the two missionaries would have to be good enough.
    1. BTW – It demonstrates one thing, if nothing else: you don’t have to be actively preaching the gospel to be hated by the world. The world hates us simply because we belong to Christ. Many Christians fear sharing the gospel because it might make things more difficult for them when they speak out. The truth is, you don’t have to speak out for others to make things difficult for you as a born-again Christian. Simply being known by the name of Jesus (as a Bible-believing Christian) is enough for some people in the world to call you a bigot (or worse). We might as well speak up! Our silence isn’t doing us any favors.
  2. The mob may have had to settle for Jason rather than Paul, but they still come up with a criminal charge against him: sedition. Paul and Silas preached a king other than Jesus (Jesus, the Jewish Messiah), and Jason gave the men room and board. That made Jason an accomplice to sedition and treason against Rome – a serious crime, indeed (if true). The ironic thing is that the Jews accusing Jason of this also believed in the Messiah; they just didn’t believe that Jesus is it.
  3. This much is true: Jesus IS King! To accuse Jason (and Paul & Silas) of sedition didn’t work, because the kingdom of Jesus is not of this world. His kingdom will one day be on earth (in fact, it will cover the whole earth!), but it wasn’t like that at the time, so the charge was false. But Jesus is indeed King! He has been given all authority in heaven and on earth – He is the Son of God, the King of kings and the Lord of lords. One day every eye will see Him, every tongue will confess Him, and every knee will bow before Him. The key is to do it now in faith, rather then, out of obligation.
  4. One other thing was true: Paul and Silas DID turn the world upside down with the gospel! Amazingly, the news of the earlier missionary journey had made its way to Thessalonica. Perhaps there were already Christians who had passed through town, resulting from the initial conversion of 3000 on the day of Pentecost – or perhaps there were other Christians who had come, after being expelled from Rome or fleeing persecution in Jerusalem. However the Thessalonians had heard of the Christians in the past, they understood the impact of their message: it is life-changing! The news of Jesus’ death and resurrection turns the world upside down, because it turns individual lives upside down. It transforms us from the inside-out. No longer do we lust after the stuff of our culture (how high we can get on the weekend, how much sex we can seek, how much stuff we can buy, how much power we can wield, etc.); now we seek after the glory of God. The things that once captured our attention and consumed our values no longer do. As Paul wrote to the Philippians about his former boastings, he counted them as rubbish (garbage), because he now had Christ (Phil 3:8).
    1. As a born-again believer, how has your world been turned upside down by Jesus? How have you changed? What things did you long after, that now no longer hold any value? Praise God for the change! It is yet one more proof that you are a new creation in Christ, and that the Holy Spirit lives inside you! 

8 And they troubled the crowd and the rulers of the city when they heard these things. 9 So when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go.

  1. To say that the mob leaders “troubled the crowd” is to say that they stirred them up, and threw them into a state of confusion. If the city leaders were inclined to ignore the situation, they could no longer do so. Something had to be done, or massive trouble would come. As a result, they fined Jason and the rest of the church. Basically, they set bail to the Christians, forcing them to make Paul & Silas leave. – That said, the city leaders apparently didn’t think Paul and the others were that big of a threat: they were fine to release Jason and the others when they got their money.
  2. At this point it was obvious that things weren’t safe for the missionaries. It was time to go, so they left for the next town.
  • The pattern in Berea (17:5-10). #1: Evangelism (10-11)

10 Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so.

  1. Paul and Silas were sent out by night for safety. Although an official bail had been set, it was always possible that the mob could erupt the moment they saw the missionaries, so the Christians got them out of town as discreetly, but as quickly, as possible. From Thessalonica, it was approx. 50 miles to Berea, and that’s where the men went next.
  2. Once in town, the pattern began all over again. Paul and Silas found the local synagogue, went in on the Sabbath day, and started preaching the gospel. This time, they found a bit different of a response. In Thessalonica, it took Paul three weeks’ worth of reasoning from the Scriptures for people to start thinking through the gospel. There was much work of explanation and demonstration, going Scripture by Scripture. Although Paul surely taught through the same material, the Bereans received it much more willingly. Luke writes that they “were more fair-minded” than the earlier group. Literally, they were more “noble” in their reception. Like someone born into nobility or royalty might be open-minded to hearing people from within their realm, so were the Bereans more open-minded to Paul and Silas. They weren’t looking for a reason to argue; they simply wanted to know the truth.
  3. And the truth was right in front of them! Paul taught from the Scriptures, and the Bereans could see the Scriptures for themselves. Although individually owned Torah scrolls were rare, the Bereans still made a careful cross-examination of the verses quoted by Paul and Silas. They spent time with the Bibles that were available, looking at the proof with their own eyes. When Paul quoted the prophecies that spoke of Jesus, the Bereans could look at the text and know that what Paul said was the truth. They could see that Jesus was given the “sure mercies of David,” (Isa 55:3, Acts 13:34), and that God would “not allow [His] Holy One to see corruption,” (Ps 16:10, Acts 13:35). And when the Bereans read these words for themselves, the Holy Spirit did His work of convicting these men and women in their hearts, opening their eyes to their need to be saved by believing in Jesus.
    1. How important it is for us to be like the Bereans! Praise God for the pastors and teachers He has given to the church, but we don’t need to take these men at their word; we can (and should!) look into the Bible for ourselves to see if what they are saying is true. That applies just as much at Calvary Chapel Tyler, as it does any other church. Am I teaching the Scripture rightly, logically, in its context – or am I ripping verses out of context to make them say what I want them to say? The only way you’ll know is if you’re reading the Bible yourself! Be a Berean!
    2. BTW – Don’t think this applies only to born-again Christians. Think of what Paul was doing at the time: preaching the gospel to non-believing Jews! Even if you don’t yet believe the message of Jesus, then you need to take every Bible teaching you hear back to the Bible. How else will you know whether it is true? 
  4. Remember that the preaching of Paul was only part 1 of the pattern…
  • #2: Conversion (12)

12 Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men.

  1. Notice the similarity of the conversion in Berea with Thessalonica: Jews, Greeks, leading men and women believed. This was a cross-section of the entire community. Whoever heard was invited to believe: Jew, Gentile; men, women; rich, poor. It didn’t matter their background; the only thing that mattered was the invitation of God to be saved through Jesus.
  2. Again, was it the persuasion of Paul and Silas that caused the Bereans to believe? No! Just like in Thessalonica, it was God the Spirit speaking through His Scriptures. It wasn’t that God didn’t use the preaching of Paul & Silas (of course He did); but people cannot be debated into the kingdom. Salvation cannot be closed through an evangelistic sales-pitch. It doesn’t work that way. Either people have their hearts open to the call of God as His word is proclaimed, or they don’t. This has a two-fold effect upon us as believers:
    1. First, it takes the pressure off us. We don’t have to fear sharing the gospel under the guise that we won’t be “successful.” Any success that is seen belongs to the Lord; not us. We can’t talk anyone into the kingdom; all we can do is tell them the availability of it.
    2. Second, it puts an emphasis on prayer. Salvation is a spiritual work. Anyone who thinks they can go out & “win souls” for Jesus on the basis of his/her charm & speaking ability is fooling themselves. If God isn’t in the work, nothing happens. When we tell others of Jesus, we pray. Pray before you start your day, asking for opportunities to share. Pray throughout your day, that God would open your eyes and ears. Pray before you open your mouth, knowing that Spirit needs to fill you and empower you. And pray as you walk away, asking that the seeds planted will bear fruit.
  3. As great as the ministry in Berea was going, there was still one more part of the familiar pattern…
  • #3: Persecution (13-15)

13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica learned that the word of God was preached by Paul at Berea, they came there also and stirred up the crowds.

  1. Remember that Thessalonica was 50 miles away. Somehow, news got back to the city, and the Jews there were still so upset with the presence of Christians among them, blaming Paul & Silas, that they made the 50-mile journey all the way to Berea for the specific purpose of stirring up more mobs. In comparison with Paul’s earlier missionary journey, it wasn’t unlike what happened in Lystra (Timothy’s hometown). There, Jews came all the way from Antioch and Iconium to instigate a mob against Paul, and at the time, he was almost stoned to death (Acts 14:19). Apparently, Paul had a way of getting under people’s skins, and they were willing to travel great distances to cause him harm.
  2. One might think this would discourage Paul. Why wouldn’t it? After all, how many of us would get up to speak, knowing it would be so upsetting to some people that not only would they want to cause us damage, that they’d be willing to follow us from place to place & continue causing harm? It’d be enough to make us not want to say anything at all. Not Paul – Paul kept going. Paul had enough troubles on his first trip with Barnabas, but already his second trip with Silas had been filled with trials. Since entering Macedonia (a region to which he had been specifically called by the Holy Spirit), he faced nothing but difficulties. Out of the three major cities he visited, all three had accompanying persecution. There was the beating & imprisonment in Philippi, the mobs & nightfall escape from Thessalonica, and now the renewed mob (and soon to be flight) in Berea. That’s not even to speak of the dangers faced along the road. And that’s all on top of the massive persecution faced by Paul when he was first saved (having to be snuck out of both Damascus and Jerusalem), the difficulties & near-death experience he had on the first missionary journey, and the later persecutions and imprisonments he faced later in life. He recounted some of it to the Corinthians: 2 Corinthians 11:24–27, “(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; (26) in journeys often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; (27) in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—” Paul faced all kinds of trials, repeatedly. Why get up day after day & do it? Why continue, even with some churches that were disobedient and hard to manage (like the Corinthians)? There’s only one answer: Jesus! 2 Corinthians 11:30,12:10 “(30) If I must boast, I will boast in the things which concern my infirmity. … (10) Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in needs, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ’s sake. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” When Paul was weak, Jesus was strong – when Paul struggled, Jesus was exalted. In all his troubles, Jesus not only showed Himself faithful on Paul’s behalf, but Jesus’ gospel was preached, demonstrated to all through even the life of His servant. Why did Paul continue? Because the gospel is that For all Paul suffered, it was nothing compared to Jesus upon the cross – for all that Paul endured, it was nothing compared to the eternity in hell that others face without Jesus. Paul was entrusted with the gospel, and woe to him if he did not preach it! (1 Cor 9:16)
    1. Why do we witness of Jesus? Because the gospel is that good – the gospel is that important. Because Jesus is that worthy of our witness. Is it hard? It can be. We may never face the physical difficulties of Paul – we may never face head-on persecution as did he (or as do many other Christian brothers and sisters around the world), but we can still grow weary. There are some family members for whom you’ve prayed for years, but they aren’t budging in their resistance to Christ. There are some neighbors who simply don’t want to hear anything from you. There are some fears and hesitancies you just can’t seem to overcome. Don’t grow weary in doing good! Don’t lose sight of the importance and the goodness of the gospel you preach and the Jesus you represent! 
    2. And by all means, don’t try to do any of this in your own power! Paul didn’t simply pull himself up by his bootstraps & will himself on to the next city; Paul lived a life constantly being filled & renewed by the Holy Spirit. The power of the Holy Spirit isn’t limited to Paul & the other apostles; God’s power is available for the asking. Are you growing weary? Is your heart growing cold to the need to proclaim Jesus? Those are sure signs that you need to be filled anew by the Holy Spirit, walking in the power and presence of God. Keep going! Press on to the high mark of the calling of Jesus Christ, as you proclaim Him in your life & your words!

14 Then immediately the brethren sent Paul away, to go to the sea; but both Silas and Timothy remained there. 15 So those who conducted Paul brought him to Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him with all speed, they departed.

  1. Once more, Paul was sent away for safety. There’s some debate among scholars as to whether Paul went to Athens either by land or by sea. Although the text says that Paul was sent “to go to the sea,” it could mean that he was sent out on the road that led towards the coast, and he then walked to Athens. A boat is definitely an option – it just isn’t specified by Luke.
  2. What is certain is that Paul went by himself. “Silas and Timothy remained” in Berea (apparently, Paul was the only object of the mob), and Luke seems to have remained behind in Philippi. Paul was initially accompanied by some of the Berean Christians, but once they got him to Athens, they went back home & Paul waited for the others.

Conclusion:

Don’t quit on the gospel! The good news is too good not to share! It’s the news of how Jesus is the Christ/Messiah sent by God to suffer for our sins at the cross, and rise from the dead in victory. It’s the news of how Jesus paid the price for every treasonous sin you committed against God, and rose from the dead offering you forgiveness & eternal life. It’s the news of how Jesus changes you from being a child of wrath, to a son or daughter of God. This is good news – it is good, good news!

Don’t quit on it! Believe it – preach it – endure in it. Does life sometimes make it tough to be a witness for Jesus? Sure. Paul admitted as much, never calling his sufferings anything less than what they were. But what was it that kept him going? The high calling of Christ! Jesus was enough – Jesus was more than what Paul required to go from town to town, telling others of Him. Paul knew what awaited others without Christ, and he had the message of One who could save them. Paul also knew that Jesus is worthy of witness, that Christ is that good of a Savior & God.

Don’t give up! Don’t quit! In the face of our rapidly changing culture, we dare not be silent. Some get discouraged when they look around & see that it is no longer “easy” to be an American Christian. Guess what? It’s nothing new…it isn’t easy for most Christians around the world! Even so, it isn’t a reason for discouragement; it’s reason to double-down & dig in to what we know to be true. The world around us desperately needs Jesus, and that is more obvious now than ever.

Purposes in our Problems

Posted: February 24, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 16:25-40, “Purposes in our Problems”

Do you ever see something, and wonder, what’s the point? Perhaps it seems so unusual, you ask yourself, “What on earth is this all about?” 

Sometimes we find ourselves asking the same question of God. The things you’re going through seem so hard, you ask the common question: “Why? Why me? Why this?” You’re not the first to wonder such things, and you certainly won’t be the last. Job famously questioned why God allowed the terrible tragedies in his own life, and if anyone had a reason to question, it was Job! The psalmist wondered why the wicked prosper (Ps 73:3), and we wonder why God allows certain things to happen in our lives. We see it & say, “What’s the point?”

Emotionally, it’s hard to see in the moment, but theologically, we can know there is a purpose in all of our problems. That’s not to say there’s anything good in evil (as if murder or rape can be somehow justified, spiritually speaking); it is to say that God can work wonderful things from even the worst of situations. Whatever it is that goes on, God can use it for His glorious purposes.

Want proof? The best proof of all is the cross. After all, what can be worse than the death of God? That’s what took place in Jerusalem when created mankind rejected its Creator, torturing and executing God the Son in one of the most painful ways imaginable. Truly, that was evil unspeakable. Yet from that came the most glorious event in all human history: the satisfaction of the wrath of God due to sin, and our forgiveness and reconciliation with God once Jesus rose from the grave. What was horrible tragedy turned to something glorious, all due to the marvelous purposes of God.

The same thing takes place in our own personal tragedies. Whatever it is that happens, God can (and does) work even those things for His glory. As Paul wrote to the Romans, Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” No doubt, those words are hard to hear when we’ve got tears in our eyes – but that’s why the time to absorb that truth is when we aren’t in the trials. If we can get that into our heart and mind now, then we’ll have that truth upon which to rely later.

What was demonstrated at the cross through Jesus was also demonstrated in the lives of Paul and Silas while in Philippi. When we last left the missionaries, they were locked in the inner part of the Philippian prison with their backs sore and bloody from a beating and their feet in the stocks. What happened? They had come to Macedonia at the call of God, being guided by the Holy Spirit through a dream. Paul, along with Silas, Timothy, and Luke had all promptly obeyed the leading of God, and were almost immediately rewarded with converts. Although Philippi was a large Roman colony, it had a very small contingent of Jews – not even enough for a synagogue to be built. Even so, among the Jewish and God-fearing women who gathered for prayer, there was at least one who came to faith: Lydia – who invited the missionaries to stay at her house & soon all her household were baptized.

Soon enough, Paul and Silas were evangelizing among the rest of the city, and Paul was repeatedly interrupted by a demon-possessed girl, who, although the demon spoke the truth, was a distraction from the gospel. Eventually, Paul cast out the demon and got into immediate trouble with the girl’s owners & the city leaders. The magistrates immediately cast judgment (not even giving time for Paul and Silas to defend themselves), had the two men beaten with rods & cast into prison. Normally, the casting out of a demon would have been cause for immense joy; in this case, it was a pretext for persecution.

So there they were: in jail, in pain, and seemingly with no way out. Although they had been obedient to the Lord, they suffered immensely. Why had God allowed this to happen? If it had been us, we would have been asking, “Why me? What’s the point?” God certainly had a point, and He was about to make it known!

(FCF) When in the middle of our problems, we get self-centered and full of self-pity. But God is God over everything, even our most difficult situations. And Jesus can still be glorified in the worst of times. We just need to seek Him and what He wants to do in it. Whatever your situation, look for what God is doing, and go do that.

Look for God’s opportunities in your difficulties. Seek the purposes of Christ!

Acts 16:25–40

  • Miracles at midnight (25-34) – God shows His purposes in our problems.

25 But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them.

  1. Already, we have to smile at the situation! Usually when we think of prison songs, we imagine people singing, “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen.” Not with Paul & Silas! They weren’t singing the blues; they were having church! They were “praying and singing hymns to God,” giving praise to Jesus in the middle of their prison cell. What a fantastic attitude – what a example to the rest of us! In the midst of pain & suffering, they chose joy. How so? Because joy is a choice – praise is intentional. We don’t have to wait to react and feel a certain way; we can choose our response (and even the lack of a choice is a choice). With everything going on to them & around them, Paul and Silas chose to praise God. That’s not to say that every note was exuberant and overly happy – no doubt there were tears accompanying some of their prayers, if from nothing else, the physical pain they experienced. Even so, they chose to put their attention on the Lord, and give Him the praise of which He is worthy. (And He is worthy of that praise at all times…even our times of suffering!)
    1. When you suffer, what do you choose? Choose to praise! Choose to give glory to God! It doesn’t mean that heartache is sinful, or that grief is wrong – there are times totally appropriate for such emotions. Just read through the book of Psalms, and there are dozens upon dozens of songs full of honest raw emotion teetering on outright despair, if not for the psalmists’ faith in God. But their faith is never absent. Almost always, at the end of their pain is praise, and they affirm their trust in God. Even on the worst of days, they choose to praise. So can we. Choose praise – choose joy – choose to look to Jesus rather than your pain. When you do, what will you find? The peace that passes all understanding (Phil 4:7) – the grace of God that is sufficient for you (2 Cor 12:9). You will find the strong hand of the all-powerful Savior who loves you, died for you, and lives ever-interceding for you.
  2. The praise of Paul and Silas didn’t help only them – it affected everyone around them. Even “the prisoners were listening to them.” The praise of the missionaries was indirect evangelism. As they prayed and sang, others listened. Can you imagine the impact? All of them were suffering, but surely Paul and Silas were among some of the worst cases. After all, they were freshly beaten, and still bleeding from their wounds. Yet although the other prisoners were bored or angry or depressed or in pain, none of them could sing praises to their gods like Paul and Silas sang to the true God. Paul and Silas had faith in a God who would hear them, despite the lack of a temple. They had faith in a God who was worthy of praise, despite the apparent lack of a blessing. They had faith in a God that they could worship, even without the presence of a fresh sacrifice. This was something unlike the other prisoners had ever seen or heard before. This was something real, something sincere, and it was something that made a profound impact (as becomes later apparent when none of them attempt to escape).
    1. If the peace of God in the midst of your pain isn’t reason enough to praise Him (which it should be!), consider the impact of your praise upon others. Christian, know this: other people watch your faith. They want to know that it is real, and there is only one way for them to know it: when it’s tested. They know you’ll praise God when things are good. Why wouldn’t you? Everyone does that…that’s nothing special. But what about when things are bad? What happens when life scrapes the bottom of the barrel? At that point, praise is unexpected, and incredibly powerful. People take notice of that kind of faith. That’s the kind of faith that speaks clearly of a Living God! For all that happened to Job, Job clearly understood this, and modeled it beautifully at the start of his trials. Job 1:20–21, “(20) Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. (21) And he said: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The LORD gave, and the LORD has taken away; Blessed be the name of the LORD.”” Did Job grieve? Did Job mourn the loss of his children? Of course – how could he do otherwise? But Job worshipped. Job praised God, declaring God’s name to be blessed. Job had a real faith, and it was a faith that made others sit up and take notice! 

26 Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.

  1. To say that there was a “great earthquake” is to say it was a “mega” quake. Literally, it is “σεισμός … μέγας” (~seismology, study of earthquakes). Earthquakes are not uncommon around Greece, Macedonia, and Turkey (Turkey just experienced a 5.1 magnitude quake on Feb 20, 2019), so the fact that there was an earthquake was not itself unusual. What was unusual was the timing and centralized location of the quake. It “just happened” to be right in Philippi, right at the time Paul and Silas were imprisoned, right when they needed relief from their chains. AT Robertson notes: “If the prison was excavated from rocks in the hillside, as was often the case, the earthquake would easily have slipped the bars of the doors loose and the chains would have fallen out of the walls.” This was no ordinary earthquake; it was a miracle! It was supernatural seismic activity, and it was exactly what was needed to set the prisoners free.
  2. Although this is an obvious miracle, this is only the first of several miracles that night. 

27 And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. 28 But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

  1. Scary, but understandable reaction from the jailer. Should the prisoners have escaped, his own life would be forfeit. Guards were held responsible for the fate of the guarded, and the jailer knew that should the prison be empty, he would be killed. He saw no other option (because he didn’t see the people who were actually still there).
  2. Paul stopped him “with a loud voice” (literally “megaphone”). He saw the urgency in the situation and reacted quickly and passionately. Don’t miss this: Paul actively saved the life of someone who could rightly be considered an enemy. Walk around prisons today – how many inmates have compassion for their guards? There are some, but it isn’t the norm. It was no different in ancient days – and then, the conditions were worse and the cruelty of many of the guards was palpable. Luke never writes about the attitude with which the jailer treated Paul and Silas, but he had certainly shown them no compassion when putting them in jail. His only directive was the keep the men secure; he went the extra distance by fastening their feet in stocks when they were already behind locked doors in the inner prison. That was a man who didn’t flinch at causing his prisoners unnecessary pain. Yet, Paul reached out to him. Paul had mercy on a man who showed him no mercy. Why? Because that’s what Jesus would do. That’s what Jesus calls us to do. Matthew 5:43–44, “(43) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ (44) But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you,”  That sort of love stands out – that sort of love is a powerful witness for the gospel!
    1. Is this the sort of love you demonstrate? Do you choose to love those who hate you and work against you? Paul had every right to be angry at his jailer, and Jesus certainly had every right to be angry with the men who drove spikes through His hands & feet. Yet Jesus prayed for them, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34) Like the songs and praise of Paul and Silas, this sort of love is a choice – and it is a choice that both glorifies God and helps bring other people to Christ.
  3. Paul’s words to the jailer outline the second miracle: no one escaped. “We are all” There was no reason for the jailer to kill himself, because all the prisoners were still present and accounted-for. ALL of them – miraculously, none of them had taken advantage of their freedom by fleeing the scene.
    1. It begs the question: Why? Why didn’t the other prisoners run for it when they had the chance? Luke never says, but potentially, some (if not all) of them came to faith! Something stopped the men from leaving, perhaps it being the sovereign hand of God at work – but perhaps it was as simple as the fact that the prisoners were so impacted by the earlier praise, prayer, and witnessing of Paul and Silas that they understood the true God was working. Even those who didn’t come all the way to putting their faith in Jesus as their Savior at least saw evidence of the God they didn’t yet worship – and it was enough to stop them in their tracks.
    2. Maybe you’ve seen evidence of God and the work of Jesus, but you haven’t yet fully come to faith – you haven’t yet surrendered your life to Jesus. What’s stopping you?

29 Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

  1. Can you imagine the relief of the jailer as he looked around and saw all the prisoners still in the jail? Can you imagine the impact this all made upon him? It’s no wonder he “fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.” He was overwhelmed in an instant by the obvious work of God, realized his own need to be saved, and knew that these men in front of him had the answer.
  2. Question: Saved from what? Did the prisoner truly understand what he was asking? Although these are the first words we read from him, there’s no reason to assume he understood anything different than the need to be saved from the wrath of the Creator God served by Paul and Silas. Some scholars suggest that perhaps the jailer was present in the marketplace when the missionaries preached the gospel and cast the demon out of the girl, and thus, he was familiar with the gospel message. Although that’s possible, the answer is likely far more simple: just like the prisoners, the jailer also heard the prayers and songs of Paul and Silas. After all, he was there – he was on duty guarding the men. He would have witnessed the same faith all the others witnessed and heard the same prayers and testimonies the others heard. By this point, he knew that Paul and Silas had each received forgiveness from sin and were reconciled to God with Him as their Father & they as His children. The jailer wanted to know and experience the same.
  3. Have you had this kind of eye-opening moment? Have you come to grips with the fact that God is real, Jesus is alive, and the Bible is true? Do you understand your need to be saved – that the sin you’ve committed against God is heinous & vile, treason against the God who gave you life & breath? That our sin isn’t some minor teenaged-rebellion to be winked away, but true crime against the true God, which God must punish to satisfy justice? If you have, then you know you need to be saved; what you need to know is how. Like the jailer, you ask the question “What must I do to be saved?” The good news is the that Bible gives the answer in the words of Paul and Silas!

31 So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

  1. What was the answer? Not some ritual, or class, or good works; faith. “Believe!” The jailer asked what to “do,” and there wasn’t any work to do – there was only a response of the heart. The single imperative command from Paul was for the jailer to believe – no action (assembly) required! Note: Paul doesn’t tell the jailer to simply believe that he will be saved – this isn’t faith in the jailer’s own faith. If you go through the bookstores today, there are all kinds of authors telling people just to believe whatever they want, but to believe it strongly, and the “universe” will simply bring it to them. Not only is the idea utter nonsense, it’s thoroughly antibiblical. You can believe all day long that you can fly, but the moment you step off a bridge, you’re going to fall like a rock. Mere belief won’t bring these things to pass; we must believe on something that is true and factual. There must be a basis for our belief. What is the basis of salvation? Paul says it…
  2. Believe on whom? “The Lord Jesus (Christ).” How specific this is! Paul and Silas had faith in God, but they didn’t tell the jailer to simply believe in God, undefined. There were too many false ideas of God, which are of no help. They certainly didn’t tell the man to believe in himself, that he was able to do the right thing and make himself worthy to stand before the Almighty God and Judge of the earth. They didn’t even tell him to believe on them, as apostles and missionaries. Paul and Silas were messengers of the good news, but they weren’t the good news themselves. That belonged only to Jesus. Jesus is Himself the Lord God, and it is only through faith in Him that anyone is saved from God’s wrath due to sin. As Peter and John told the Sanhedrin back in Jerusalem, there is “no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,” (Acts 4:12). Where was the hope of the jailer found? In Jesus alone, believing upon Him as Lord (crucified for sin, risen from the dead, proven to be God).
  3. With this faith, there is a guarantee: “you will be saved.” Grammatically, the Greek word for salvation is in the future-passive-indicative (tense-voice-mood), meaning that this is something factual that will be done to him (not him doing it to himself), not based on other external conditions. There isn’t a might/maybe/perhaps here – there isn’t a “Do this, that, and the other” precondition of the jailer’s own actions. There is only one stated precondition (faith), and the rest is a simple fact of future. If the jailer believes, the jailer is saved. Consider it: saved! Every evil act, forgiven – every treasonous thought, wiped away – all the debt you owe against the Almighty completely paid, with you fully justified in His sight…all because of Jesus. You can be delivered from wrath, reconciled to God, brought into God’s eternal family, even empowered to fight sin in the present day by the indwelling presence of God the Holy Spirit in your own life. That is true salvation, and it is available to all.
  4. Who can be saved? Anyone and everyone: “you and your household.” The invitation of Paul and Silas was not limited to the jailer himself – it was available to his wife and children, his extended relatives, his servants, and even the prisoners all around him. There is no limit on those who can be saved by the Lord Jesus! Like Peter said to the Jews at Pentecost: Acts 2:39, “For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” If you hear the call of God, you can be saved!
    1. To this, some people question if it’s really true. “Can I be saved? Me? You don’t know how bad I’ve been!” I don’t need to know; God already knows, and God has already promised that His salvation is available to you, too. There is none too far gone, no one too sinful, no one too evil to be forgiven by the grace of Jesus. After all, it was the blood of the Son of God that was shed at the cross – nothing you’ve done can outweigh what He has already given. So yes, you can be saved. The question is: will you be saved? That can only be answered by you & God, and the answer is found in your willingness to believe.
  5. All of this led to the third and fourth miracles of the night: the salvation of the jailer, and the salvation of his household/family…

32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. 34 Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

  1. Paul and Silas not only had the opportunity to witness to the jailer, but also to his whole family. Luke only recorded a single sentence of the gospel (which is more than enough to bring someone to salvation!), but Paul and Silas obviously spoke more than a sentence to the household. They spent time with these Philippians, giving them “the word of the Lord.” Paul and Silas ensured that these people thoroughly understood the gospel, and knew what it meant for them to put their faith in Jesus as Lord and Savior.
  2. The jailer believed! How can we know? After all, Luke doesn’t directly write of the moment that the jailer responded to an altar call or invitation. There isn’t a record of him “asking Jesus into his heart,” or anything else that we might look for in modern evangelicalism. We see it in the fruit of his changed heart. Instead of throwing Paul and Silas back into chains & the stocks, he cared for them and “washed their stripes.” The jailer wasn’t saved by works, but his faith was shown in his works (Jas 2:18). His life was instantly transformed by Jesus, and he went from a man who callously inflicted more wounds on his prisoners (by locking them in the stocks) to a man cleaning the wounds of those entrusted to his care. He was paid to be a guard; not a nurse – yet he gladly and willingly cared for the men who had cared enough for him to share with him the news of eternal life. Truly, this jailer was a new creation in Christ!
  3. It wasn’t just the jailer; it was “all his family.” Each of them “believed in God,” and all “were baptized.” The baptism did not save them; it was the appropriate response to their salvation. Some have wondered why the household had to be baptized that very night, but the better question is: what need was there to put it off? If the people believed, the apostles being convinced of their faith, and if water was present for immersion – why wait? Like Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, nothing hindered them from getting baptized, so they went for it. Can you imagine the joy of that moment? It’s wonderful enough when any one single person puts his/her faith in Christ – angels rejoice over that alone. But to have a whole household come to faith in a single night? That’s awesome!
    1. BTW: Don’t miss the order. Although verse 33 speaks first of their baptism, verse 34 clarifies that they had already first believed. The only reason they were baptized was due to their faith/belief in Christ. Without that, there is no reason for baptism whatsoever.
    2. Question: Does the fact that the jailer’s whole family was baptized justify infant baptism? Some Christian denominations believe that it does, but there’s nothing in the text that gives evidence to it. Nowhere does Luke specify who was included in the jailer’s household – there is no mention at all of babies or infants.

Amazing miracles took place that night in Philippi – all of them demonstrating the sovereign purposes of God. Why did God allow Paul and Silas to be put in prison? Because there were people at the prison who needed to be saved. Inmates needed to hear the gospel, and a jailer and his family needed to respond to it. God had amazing plans at work – plans that were impossible to see in the moment when Paul and Silas were unjustly arrested and illegally beaten and jailed. True evil had been inflicted upon them, but God works all things for His glory in the lives of His children. That’s what He did overnight with the missionaries, and that’s what He continued to do in the morning.

  • Apologies in the morning (35-40) – God shows His sovereignty over our enemies.

35 And when it was day, the magistrates sent the officers, saying, “Let those men go.” 36 So the keeper of the prison reported these words to Paul, saying, “The magistrates have sent to let you go. Now therefore depart, and go in peace.”

  1. What brought about the change in mind? We can’t say with certainty. It’s possible that the magistrates believed that one night in jail was enough to send a message to Paul and Silas to stop causing trouble (so-called) – it’s possible that the earthquake scared them into action, thinking it to be divine retribution for their unjust actions – it’s possible they simply were convicted of having done the wrong thing (which they had!).
  2. Whatever the reason, they commanded that the missionaries should be released from jail. This was a good thing, right? Even the newly-saved jailer thought so, as he passed on the message to Paul and Silas. The two men were free to go, and they could “depart, and go in peace.” To Paul, it wasn’t quite that simple. After all, a great injustice had taken place. Paul called it out for what it was.

37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us openly, uncondemned Romans, and have thrown us into prison. And now do they put us out secretly? No indeed! Let them come themselves and get us out.”

  1. According to Roman law, what the magistrates had done was inexcusable. Robertson quotes Cicero, who wrote: “To fetter a Roman citizen was a crime, to scourge him a scandal.” These things were simply not done to Roman citizens. True citizens had the protection of the Roman Caesar, no matter where they were in the Roman empire – especially in a Roman colony, as was Philippi. What the city officials had done to Paul and Silas as Roman citizens could easily have led to a death sentence for them – especially if the magistrates themselves were non-citizens, as compared with Paul! It was a most serious offense.
  2. Question: Was Paul trying to humiliate the city leaders? Not likely. If he had the chance, he would have witnessed to them of Jesus, just as he and Silas did with the prisoners and the jailer. This wasn’t personal for Paul…he didn’t mind being made to look foolish if it helped promote the gospel. No – most likely, this was Paul thinking of the infant Philippian church. If he and Silas had been beaten and jailed under the pretext of teaching new, unlawful customs (16:21), then what would happen to the Philippian Christians after Paul and Silas left town? Forcing a public apology from the city magistrates helped provide a measure of protection for the Christians who remained behind.
    1. News flash: it isn’t about us…it never is. Just because you get offended doesn’t mean the whole world needs to stop and make it better. The question is: what is best for the gospel? What is best for the cause of Christ? If filing a lawsuit somehow promotes the gospel (as it did for the Christian bakers in Colorado), then by all means, file the lawsuit for legal protection. However, if suffering loss is better used to lift up Jesus, then suffer the loss. Let Jesus be your guide on how to act; not your hurt feelings or your pride. 

38 And the officers told these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Romans. 39 Then they came and pleaded with them and brought them out, and asked them to depart from the city.

  1. Once the magistrates learned the truth about the identities of Paul and Silas, their attitudes quickly changed! They realized the danger they had caused for themselves, fearing the wrath of Caesar (though sadly, they did not yet recognize the fear of God!). They quickly went to the prison (or what was left of it!), and were publicly contrite. How quickly the tables had turned! Not 12 hours prior, they refused even to hear any defense from Paul & Silas; now they “pleaded with them,” begging for mercy and for the missionaries to leave without bringing charges against them.
  2. Don’t miss the spiritual truth on display. Who was in charge of Philippi? Not the magistrates persecuting the Christian missionaries, but the God whom the missionaries served! The day before, people might look at the situation & wonder if God was powerless regarding Paul and Silas. God had brought the men to Philippi, and they were being obedient to Him, yet all these bad things were happening to them. Was God punishing them – was He impotent? Absolutely not! The question was answered in the midnight earthquake, the salvation of the jailer, and in the contrition of the magistrates. God was sovereign over every situation, using all things for His glory and purposes. Whether the city leaders worshipped Him or not made no difference. They weren’t in control; He was.
    1. He is. There is no single situation you face, over which God cannot and does not rule. It doesn’t mean we can always see obvious answers. (Paul and Silas surely didn’t when locked in jail at night!) But it does mean that answers exist. Trust that they do! Trust that God has His purposes at work – trust that He will work all things to His glory. What we see imperfectly, God sees clearly. What we see in a moment, God sees from an eternal perspective. Have you ever started at a mosaic painting? When you’re too close, all you can see are a bunch of dots – it takes distance and perspective to see the full image. God has perspective we don’t; we need to trust He knows what He’s doing, because He does.

40 So they went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.

  1. It’s no surprise that Paul and Silas took a bit of time to visit with the other Christians in Philippi. The church needed to know the news of what happened. Surely, they had been concerned for Paul & Silas, praying for them while in prison. No doubt, they were probably also a bit fearful that the same thing might happen to them. The missionaries took the time to tell the story, give glory to Jesus, and (most likely) introduce them to their newest church members of the jailer’s family. With all that done, Paul and Silas were free to hit the road once more – there were still more cities in Macedonia and Greece that needed the gospel.
  2. Interestingly, Luke seems to have remained behind in Philippi for a time. Even though Paul and Silas are presumably reunited with Luke and Timothy at Lydia’s house, the narrative remains in the 3rd person “they,” rather than the 1st person “we.” What Luke did in the interim, we don’t know – but Luke never draws attention to himself. His goal was to record what the Lord Jesus did through the apostles, primarily Peter and Paul. Doing so kept the focus on the gospel mission (and thus on Jesus), which is exactly where it should be!

Conclusion:

There are purposes in our problems! We cannot always see them for what they are, but God does. How was it that Paul and Silas could end up in prison for doing what God wanted them to do? What good could come out of such painful suffering? Glorious good! Men and women were saved, people were impacted by the reality of Jesus Christ, and God showed Himself sovereign over city leaders who did not believe. There was a powerful testimony of Jesus in Philippi – all brought through a seemingly hopeless situation.

Beloved: nothing is hopeless when we serve the God of all hope! Our God is sovereign over all of these things, and He brings beauty from ashes. That’s not to say that we do not (or will not) suffer. We will. Paul & Silas did – Peter did – Jesus did…we will, too. But the things that God can work through our suffering are nothing short of miraculous! They can have eternal impact as Jesus is glorified and people are saved. We need to trust God to do it.

As born-again Christians, we need to choose our attitudes – we need to choose our perspectives. We don’t have to react to our sufferings the same way as everyone else – we can choose to respond with joy, praise, mercy, and love. Instead of looking at ourselves, we can look for the things God is doing – look for the people God is reaching – look for His potential purposes…and then join Him in that. Or to put it as Jesus did: seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and then we can trust God to add everything else.

If you’re not yet a Christian, choose Christ! Perhaps you’re in the middle of suffering, but you can’t see God’s purposes in your suffering because you are not yet reconciled to God. No matter what else is going on in your life, you have but one need: you need to be saved! What do you need to do? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” This is your opportunity…don’t waste it.

Acts 16:11-24, “Discouragement in the Difficulties”

It’s been said that “no good deed goes unpunished.” Where the phrase originated is unknown, but at times, it certainly seems true from experience. You try to do something nice for someone, and it often blows up in your face. You help someone complete a project at work, and they end up taking all the credit & get the promotion. You give money to someone, only to have them constantly demand more. In fact, this is the very reason for “Good Samaritan” laws: to protect people who try to offer assistance from harmful lawsuits from those they attempted to assist.

Sometimes it can feel similar in our faith. There we are, tying to do something good, when all of a sudden it gets thrown back at us. Maybe you try to pray for someone, and they get offended that you would dare to pray. Or you try to share Jesus with them, and they get upset. Maybe you try to take a stand for righteousness, and all of sudden you find that you’re the one in trouble. 

When it happens, we often wonder “What did I do wrong?” or “Where is God in all of this? I thought He was supposed to bless me?” We get bogged down in discouragement & don’t know what to do. The answer? (1) You probably didn’t do anything wrong, and (2) God is in control, just like He always is. Where we have the disconnect is that we’re not waiting on God to see it all the way through. We expect His blessing to be one of “ease,” and it isn’t always easy. We’ve got to trust God when things are going good, and when things are going bad.

It isn’t unique to us…Paul went through the same thing, and we get a prime example of it when he and his friends arrive in Philippi. 

The 2nd missionary journey had begun. There had been a change in personnel, and Paul’s new travelling partner was Silas, who had originally gone to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas to help deliver a letter from the apostles & elders in Jerusalem affirming salvation by grace, rather than the religion of works that was taught by the Judaizers. Together, Paul and Silas went through the cities of Galatia visiting the churches previously planted by Paul and Barnabas, both checking on the health & discipleship of the churches, as well as taking the news of the Jerusalem letter with them.

Along the way, Paul encountered his own challenge with Jewish customs regarding the young man Timothy. Although Paul had just argued vehemently (and correctly) that Gentiles did not need Jewish circumcision to be faithful Christians, Timothy was an uncircumcised half-Jew. It was better to have Timothy circumcised than to put a stumbling block to the gospel, so Paul & Timothy each humbled themselves to endure it.

That wasn’t the only challenge faced by Paul, as he also encountered active resistance from the Holy Spirit. It seemed that no matter which direction Paul turned to preach the gospel, the Spirit prevented him from going. It wasn’t that God the Spirit didn’t want Paul to preach; He just wanted Paul to preach in a certain place. Once again, Paul humbled himself, setting aside his own will, and soon God’s will was revealed to him in a dream. A man from Macedonia appealed to Paul for help, and there was no doubt that Paul and the team were to head west, to Macedonia.

With Paul & the others squarely in the will of God, preaching the gospel and headed in the right direction, surely things are going to be easy for them. Right? Not so much. Being in the will of God doesn’t guarantee ease and comfort. We often think it does…but then again, we’re often wrong! 😊 Too many Christians get the idea that the way God confirms His will to us is when God makes it easy for us, and we look for the path of least resistance. Yet that isn’t true at all. Quite often, God calls us to things that are hard. Consider Joseph, who had to be enslaved & thrown into prison, if he was ever to be elevated to 2nd in command of Egypt. Consider David, who after being specifically anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel, spent the next several years running from the current king who was bent on killing him. And of course, consider Jesus, whose singular mission in His earthly life was to suffer and die on the cross as a sacrifice for our sin. Was any of that easy? Not in the slightest! But it was the will of God.

Paul and Silas were doing what God wanted them to do, having gone where God specifically directed them to go, and they were about to encounter something extremely difficult to endure. Their difficulties didn’t mean they were wrong; it was part of God’s greater plan. What they needed to do was trust that God had them right where He wanted them, and that God was going to do exactly what He wanted to do. They could trust that God was in control.

Some days are easy; some aren’t. How do you handle them? It can be relatively easy to keep a good attitude in the good days, but what about the bad days? Although we easily get discouraged when things don’t go our way, we need to trust that God is in control…because He is.

Don’t be discouraged by the difficulties; trust Christ!

Acts 16:11–24

  • Arrival in Philippi (11-15). Some days are easy…

11 Therefore, sailing from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and the next day came to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is the foremost city of that part of Macedonia, a colony. And we were staying in that city for some days.

  1. Sailing to Macedonia. There’s no mention of ministry that took place at the various islands. Presumably, the ship docked in these places only to drop off/take on supplies, and keep going. The wind was favorable to them, as it only took two days to sail the 156 miles to Neapolis (“New-Town”), whereas it took five days to sail the reverse direction in the 3rd missionary journey (20:5-6).
  2. The whole idea here is that Paul & the others were immediately obedient to the call of God in the dream. Once they had concluded that Macedonia was the place to be (16:10), that’s when they went to Philippi.
    1. It is one thing to know the will of God; it’s another to act on it. Proper theology without obedience doesn’t do a whole lot of good. The Bible tells us a lot we need to know, but Jesus doesn’t want to simply fill our heads with facts; He wants us to be His hands and feet in the world. When He gives us something, yes, we need to acknowledge it; we also need to act upon it. 
  3. Important note about Philippi: it was a Roman “” What took place in the city was as if it took place on Roman soil. People born in Philippi were Roman citizens, the laws that were carried out were to be carried out as if it was right in front of the Senate or the Imperial palace. This seems like a minor detail for now (especially since Paul visited other Roman colonies that aren’t identified as colonies – i.e. Thessalonica), but this becomes important later when Paul confronts the city leaders who mistreated him. As a Roman colony, Philippi had many freedoms, but they were also held to a higher standard…one they violated when they beat Paul and Silas without a trial.

13 And on the Sabbath day we went out of the city to the riverside, where prayer was customarily made; and we sat down and spoke to the women who met there.

  1. As Paul always did, he (and the group) first gave the gospel to the Jews before heading out to the Gentiles. Thus, he waited for the Sabbath day when he could gather with them. The only problem? There weren’t a lot of Jews! Apparently, not enough Jewish men existed in Philippi to warrant a synagogue to be built. It took a minimum of 10 Jewish men to be present, and Luke writes only of women gathering to pray.
  2. Question: Where were the men? Granted, the Jewish presence was small, so there wouldn’t have been many Jewish men around – but if there were Jewish women, surely there were at least some Jewish men. Even if there were only a handful, they should have also met on the Sabbath to read from the Scripture and pray. Yet there were only women at the riverside, with no men to be found other than Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke.
    1. It’s a good question for us, too. Where are the men? This isn’t the main point of the text, but we cannot ignore the fact of the absence of male worshippers of God among the Philippians. Neither can we ignore the absence of faithful men in the evangelical church today! Too many men claim to know Christ, but have little to do with the church. They don’t gather to worship or pray – they don’t lead their families in spiritual matters – they are content to be absent, letting other things take priority. It ought not be this way! 

14 Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul.

  1. Lydia – a businesswoman of a foreign city. “Thyatira” was a city in Asia, quite a distance from Macedonian Philippi (and also the area where Paul had originally desired to preach the gospel). Thyatira was known for their dyes, and Lydia seemingly had come to Philippi as a merchant to sell it, or sell the fabric dyed with it. Somehow, she was a worshipper of God (a God-fearing Gentile; not a Jew), and she gathered with the other Jewish women for prayer. Thyatira is later seen in Revelation, as the recipient of the 4th letter from Jesus. At some point, a church was established there, but they allowed immorality to enter and corrupt it. As for Lydia, there’s no indication that she had any false motive in her heart at all. Like all of us, she was a sinner in need of salvation, but she understood that mercy could not be found in the false gods worshipped around Thyatira & Asia; it could only be found in the true God of heaven and earth, as revealed in the Scriptures. She sought to know this God with the knowledge she had – something which was soon to be rewarded by God, who is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him! (Heb 11:6)
    1. BTW: Who is it that needs to be saved? Everyone! Blue-collar, white-collar – rich, poor – squeaky-clean, or with a record; everyone needs the salvation of Christ! Not one of us is exempt.
  2. Not only did Lydia need to be saved; she was saved! “The Lord opened her heart” to the gospel, as Paul preached it. Note it wasn’t Paul’s persuasive abilities – it wasn’t a certain evangelistic method – nothing is said of the 4 Spiritual Laws or some amazing apologetic argument. It was God. The Lord did a work in her heart, and that was how she was saved. Prior to meeting Paul, Lydia worshipped God, but she didn’t truly know God. But God knew her! Once she heard the gospel, God used His word in supernatural ways to open her heart to it, and bring her to a saving knowledge of Christ. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (Rom 10:17), but not even that can happen if God is not involved. God has to do the work, or no one gets saved. God did the work in Lydia’s life, and she was born-again in an instant!
    1. What does this tell us in terms of evangelism? It means prayer is essential. No matter how well you memorize your testimony, no matter how winsome and likeable you may be, no one is going to get saved if God doesn’t work in their hearts. The apostle John wrote that “we love Him because He first loved us,” (1 Jn 4:19) – salvation always begins with God. God takes the initiative, and we simply follow through in faith. So, when we share the gospel, we share it prayerfully. We pray before we head out to work, asking for God to give us opportunities and leading. We pray before we come to church, asking God to move among those who arrive. We pray when we listen to radio Bible teaching, asking God to convict those who hear. We pray, because salvation is supernatural, and it always starts with God. 
    2. What does this mean in terms of our own salvation? It means that when we were saved, it wasn’t us doing the work; it was Jesus. Yes, we reached out to Him, but only because He reached out to us first.

15 And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us.

  1. Lydia wasn’t the only one converted; her whole “household” also came to faith, and all of them “were baptized.” We don’t know who was included in her household – the fact that no husband is named perhaps indicates that she was unmarried or a widow. But whoever was in her home (servants, siblings, children, etc.), all of them also believed upon Jesus as Lord & Savior. Because they were, they all proclaimed their newfound faith by being baptized, identifying with Jesus’ death and resurrection from the grave. (Being lowered in the water & rising up in new life.)
    1. BTW: The fact that everyone in Lydia’s household was baptized by no means justifies the practice of infant baptism. (Nor does it with the Philippian jailer later, 16:33). No age is given of any baptized family member, and there is simply no reason to assume that infants were present among them. When it comes to baptism, the Biblical record is (and is only) that people knowingly exercise their faith in responding to the call of God, and then physically respond with baptism.
  2. From the way Luke describes it, it was perhaps controversial for Lydia to invite Paul and the others to stay with her. It would not controversial because she was a woman (after all, she had many people in her household); it was controversial because she was a Gentile. Jews normally did not have associations with Gentiles or go to their homes, as seen in the case with Paul & the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10:28). Yet Lydia was no longer “just” a Gentile; she was a “faithful” believer in the Lord Jesus. Faith in Jesus gave her a new identity & a new nation. She was no longer a stranger to Paul; she was a sister in Christ!
    1. When we come to faith in Jesus, we become brand-new! (2 Cor 5:17)

It was a fantastic start to the ministry in Philippi! Sure, it may have been small, but any one person coming to faith in Christ is one person no longer doomed for hell. Angels rejoice when even one sinner repents (Lk 15:10), and in this case there was at least a whole family! Paul, Silas, and the others had been convinced that the Holy Spirit had called them to Macedonia, and surely this instance with Lydia’s household was terrific confirmation. The question was: would that confirmation remain?

  • Trouble in Philippi (16-24). Some days aren’t…

16 Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. 17 This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.”

  1. Interestingly, Luke doesn’t say where the demon-possessed girl encountered the group. They had all been at “prayer,” but whether this was in the same place at the riverside among the Jewish women, or perhaps elsewhere in town among the Gentiles is unknown. The fact that she followed the missionaries around from place to place seems to indicate this was a more public event.
  2. Sadly, the girl was enslaved two ways: (1) to her masters, and (2) to the demon. Slavery was simply a reality of that culture, and she was victim to it. What made it worse was that the slave-owners took pleasure in her spiritual misery. Not only did she not have freedom over her physical body, but her soul was spiritually oppressed by a demon. Quite literally, there was not a thing about her that actually belonged to her. This was a girl totally lost, and seemingly without hope.
  3. In the midst of all of this, she spoke the truth. The demon within her recognized the apostle and missionaries for who they were. No doubt the fallen spirits who serve the devil easily recognize men and women filled and sealed with the Holy Spirit of God. The same thing happened throughout Jesus’ own ministry, as demons routinely identified Jesus as the Son of God.
    1. The problem is that demons are liars. One of the best ways to discredit the truth is to have a known liar agree with the facts. All of a sudden, the facts get called into question because people don’t know what to believe. This is why Jesus often commanded the demons to be silent. He neither needed, nor wanted, their testimony about Him.
    2. Contrast that with so many people today who claim to specialize in spiritual warfare and demonic exorcism. They make a side-show out of conversing with the demons – not because it’s helpful to exorcism, but because it’s helpful to the reputation of the exorcist. Know this: demons are liars, and they aren’t to be given the time of day. Anytime a supposed “expert” starts making a big deal out of supernatural conversations, it’s time to walk the other direction.

18 And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour.

  1. On one hand, we can rejoice at the exorcism of the demon – but on the other hand, we might wonder why it took Paul so long to do it. Why did he put up with it for “many days,” when he could have cast out the demon on the first day? Why did he wait until he was “greatly annoyed” by the situation, rather than just granting freedom to the girl? Scripture doesn’t say, but it seems that “freedom” was the issue. Again, slavery was a cultural reality at the time. As much as we might hate it, wishing it to be different, that was simply the way it was. Although Paul was a minister of the gospel, he had no legal right to interfere in the life of a slave. If he had come across the girl before she was owned by her masters, surely he would have cast out the demon immediately. As it was, he had to abide by the law of the land, as long as it did not interfere with the gospel.
  2. And that was likely what changed the whole situation. At a certain point, the demonic interruptions did interfere with the gospel! How could Paul preach Jesus, when this girl was following him from place to place? How could he testify of the true Son of the true God, when a lying spirit kept speaking up? Additionally, the demon would have caused great confusion, simply by what it said. Typically, Greeks would have thought that “the Most High God” was Zeus. The demon may have spoken the truth, but it wasn’t pointing people to the truth; it was only causing greater confusion and delusion.
    1. Know this: the enemy doesn’t want to see people saved! The devil and his minions will do whatever they believe needs to be done to either distract people from the gospel, or discredit the preaching of the gospel. We see the evidence of it in false claims of fantastic miracles (like gold dust dropping from the ceiling, or supposed outpourings of power that render people twitching and helpless). We see evidence of it in mass numbers of religious scandals, where priests and pastors sin so egregiously that non-believers want nothing to do with the true gospel and the church. In the spiritual war, the devil does not hold back his ammunition. 
  3. Eventually, Paul responded by casting out the demon. Again, there’s such a contrast in Paul’s actions than with those who claim to be demon-exorcists today: (1) There is a clear command. There are no ifs/ands/buts – there is no debate/flourish – no calling attention to either Paul or to the demon. Paul simply says what needs to be said, and that’s the end of it. (2) There is a proper recognition of power. All of it was said in the authority of Jesus Christ. By himself, Paul had no authority to command a demon to leave. Why would a demon care who Paul was, on his own? Of himself, Paul had no spiritual power – neither do we. We are mere human beings, created in the image of God, but vastly less powerful than the weakest of angelic beings (of which demons are: fallen angels). Our words carry no weight with the demons; Jesus’ words, however, do. When Paul commanded this demon, he commanded it “in the name of Jesus Christ.” This was not some trite phrase to throw on to the end of his prayers or wishes – this wasn’t something Paul said to make him sound “more” Christian; this was said in truth. Paul came solely in the authority of Jesus Christ, the Son of God risen from the dead. Paul was an ambassador of none less than the Almighty Incarnate God. Just like ambassadors of the USA speak to foreign nations on behalf of the president, so did Paul speak on behalf of the Lord Jesus, with all of Jesus’ authority.
    1. Men & women: when it comes to spiritual warfare (in whatever form it may take), we do battle in the name of our Lord Jesus! We have no strength to bring to the table; Jesus has infinite power. We have no authority in our weak selves; Jesus has been given all authority in heaven and on earth (Mt 28:19). The power is His, the victory is His, and the glory is His alone!
  4. What happened next? The demon left. What else could it do? The demon had a grip on this girl for who-knows-how-long, but its hold was broken in an instant at the name of Jesus! It left the girl, likely looking for the next unsuspecting unbeliever to enslave. — This is all Luke says about the girl, and her story drops from sight – but consider the event from her perspective: she was now spiritually free! She too, knew the saving power of Jesus Christ, having experienced His deliverance first-hand. What she did with that, we cannot know – we can only hope that she responded in faith, surrendering her life to Jesus as Lord, forever remaining free in Him.

19 But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.

  1. There was quick trouble for the missionaries! Paul had effectively destroyed their demonic business model (though it wasn’t Paul, but Jesus), and the girl’s owners would have none of it. The girl’s spiritual freedom was an attack on their livelihood, being that it is possible that the only reason they purchased the girl as a slave was to take advantage of her demonized condition.
    1. How said is it that the girl’s masters saw her only as a tool of moneymaking? — Do we look at people as objects, or do we see them as God sees them?
  2. All of a sudden, Paul & Silas found themselves under arrest, facing legal troubles for doing something good. In any other scenario, casting out a demon would have been met with joy from the crowd & given a potential platform to share the gospel. In this case, Paul & Silas were immediately punished for doing a good thing.

20 And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; 21 and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.”

  1. No small irony: the demon spoke the truth (if misleading), while the human slaveowners lied. What “trouble” had Paul & Silas brought to Philippi? All they had done was pray, preach, and free a girl from a demon. Perhaps the slaveowners were offended (i.e., “troubled”), but surely no one else was. Additionally, what “customs” did Paul & Silas teach that were illegal for Romans to practice? Paul was himself a Roman citizen! As a Jewish Christian, Paul was not breaking the law by his existence. Interestingly, the word for “customs” is “ethos” ἔθος (~ “ethics”). Paul’s manners & habits were not immoral – his practices were not contrary to Roman law. Granted, if he were ever commanded to worship the emperor, Paul would gladly become a criminal, but that wasn’t the case (at least, not yet).
  2. So what was this all about? Was this a lie? After all, Christianity was not yet sanctioned by the Roman government. True, but Paul, Silas, and the others weren’t accused of spreading a new religion; they were accused of teaching Jewish customs. There may not have been many Jews in Philippi, but Judaism was allowed within Rome, and thus, so was the teaching of the missionaries. The accusation of unlawful customs was simply an excuse. They wanted revenge for their loss of profit, and they found a way to exact it.
    1. There may be a time when we are forced to choose between obeying the law of God and the law of men, in which case the law of God will win out every time. (Just as an increasing number of Christian businesspeople are learning!) Until that point, we can be certain that accusations against the gospel are nothing less than someone’s rebellion against the truth. They don’t want the word of Jesus to be true, so they look for any & every excuse to discount it.
    2. We cannot control the response of unbelievers, but we can control our own. Stand fast for Christ! Do not compromise on the gospel, nor on any aspect of the word of God. When you are falsely accused, let God be your defense, and entrust yourself to Him.
  3. Notice the racial component of their accusation. They saw Paul & the others as mere “Jews,” as opposed to themselves who were “Romans.” (Of course, they didn’t know that Paul was born with Roman citizenship himself!)
    1. There’s no question that there are minor differences between races, but we have a problem when we see people through racial lenses. Truly there is one race: the human race!

22 Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods.

  1. Mass grief as a mob was whipped up. The city leaders commanded the men to be stripped and beaten. There was no trial, no hearing, nothing. US citizens are guaranteed the right to due process, and as a Roman citizen in a Roman colony, Paul should have at least gotten something. As it was, he and Silas were repeatedly “beaten with rods.” How much, we don’t know. Jewish custom limited beatings to 39 lashes, but Romans had no such restrictions. The beatings continued until the magistrates thought it was enough.

23 And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. 24 Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

  1. Beaten, bloody, with their backs sliced open by the rods and dirt rubbed into the wounds from when they fell to the ground, Paul and Silas were locked away. They weren’t just put into any part of the jail; they were put “into the inner prison” with their “feet in the stocks.” Imagine it: if your feet are fastened in stocks, it means that your ankles are elevated off the ground, with you either sitting or lying in the dirt. So not only were they in agony on their backs, but their feet are suspended, losing feeling, and they are left in the darkest part of the prison in total discomfort. The further into the prison they were, the more the magistrates believed there was no hope for escape. (If only they knew what was coming!) 
  2. As we know, this isn’t the end of the story. By the time midnight rolled around, Paul & Silas had a wonderful attitude as they sang praises to God. But what happened in the meantime? Did they start off with that attitude – or were they wondering what went wrong? Or consider it from the perspective of one of the new Philippian converts: what would all of this have looked like to them? One minute, their new pastors were preaching the gospel & casting out demons; the next, they’re thrown in jail, still bleeding from the wounds on their backs & unable even to move their feet. What went wrong? If Paul & Silas were doing what they should have been doing, why were they suffering the way they were? Could the Philippian Christians expect something similar to happen to them?
  3. This is the major problem with the so-called prosperity gospel: it simply doesn’t match up to the Biblical record! If God is somehow obligated to bless Christians when Christians do the right things & have the right faith, then what happened with Paul & Silas? Had God neglected His duties – had He forgotten about the apostle? Certainly not! God was no less faithful to Paul and Silas when they were bleeding from their backs in prison, than He was when He first called them to go to Macedonia & led them to their first converts in Philippi. God was just as sovereign in both instances, and just as good, gracious, and loving. He hadn’t forgotten anyone, least of all, His two missionaries suffering in the Philippian prison. God had a plan, and He was working it out perfectly according to His timing.
    1. Our problem is twofold: (1) We don’t want to wait on the timing of God, and (2) often, we don’t trust that God has a plan! Unless we see God doing what we want when we want it, we think that God is gone. As if He isn’t working, or (worse yet) is punishing us for doing something wrong when we know we’ve done something right. Beloved, that is a fundamental lack of faith! It is an accusation against God’s righteous character, and/or a belief in His incompetence. God forbid we would believe such a thing! God forgive us for our lack of faith!
    2. So what should we do? Trust! Have faith that God is working out all things according to His will. It may not be for our comfort or for our ease, but it will be for His glory. Romans 8:28, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” Which things work together for good? All When do they work together for good? At all times, according to the purpose of God. When we are called by God’s name, saved by the blood of God’s Son, sealed and indwelt by God’s Spirit, then we can trust that we are going to be used for God’s glory. In all things, at all times…full-stop, period. So trust Him to do it!

Conclusion:

For Paul & Silas, there were easy days & there were hard days. There were times when, as they followed the Lord, they experienced joy in the ministry – and they were quickly followed by times when they continued to follow the Lord, they experienced hardship and suffering in the ministry. God had a plan for them in the midst of it all…they simply had to trust Jesus to guide them through it.

When have you been discouraged in your walk with Jesus? Maybe there’s a loved one you’ve prayed for years to be saved, but see little to no progress. Maybe you’ve taken a stand for righteousness among friends, and ended up losing those friends in the process. Maybe you’ve been suffering through illness, hardship, or even persecution. What do you do?

Here’s what you don’t do: accuse God of abandonment or neglect! Just because you haven’t seen how the things in your life is working for His glory, you can be sure that they are. God is far more sovereign than you realize, and He sees what you cannot. Even suffering can be used for the glory of God. Want proof? Look to the cross!

What do you do? Trust! Trust that God has all things under His control, because He does. Trust that He knows what’s best, and knows how best to accomplish His plans, because He does. Beloved, don’t get discouraged in the hard times & difficulties; those are the times to cling even tighter to the promises of God’s goodness in Jesus!

Changing with the Challenges

Posted: February 10, 2019 in Acts, Uncategorized

Acts 16:1-10, “Changing with the Challenges”

Anything worth doing will have its challenges. For those who want to become medical doctors, they must prepare for 11-15 years’ worth of education, and many sleepless nights. For those wishing to become Navy SEALs, they need to endure not only the normal rigorous military training, but an additional intense 24-week school, including what is known as “Hell Week,” preparing for pain, torture, struggle, and life/death situations. And though other pursuits are less intense, similar statements of endurance and sacrifice could be said of any vocation, sport, etc. If you want to get it done right – if you want to succeed, you will need to put up with the challenges.

The Christian life is no different. Whether one is in full-time ministry or not is irrelevant. Those in the pew face their own share of challenges just as much as those in the pulpit. There are days when everything hits on all cylinders, going great – and then there are days (and seasons!) when it seems that everything is hitting the brakes & we don’t know what to do.

How do we respond to those challenges? Every situation is going to be a bit different, and there is no catch-all solution to every problem – but there are still some things that are the same. Take our attitudes, for instance. For all the differences that exist in our challenges, one thing that is constant is the fact that we are the ones facing them. We have to personally deal with them on some level, and our attitudes make a huge difference in how we experience them. Think about it from another perspective: with all due respect to the dental profession, few people like going to the dentist. How do we respond? We can either kick in our heels, complain, and fear everything – or we can relax and try to make the best of it. Our attitudes make all the difference.

It’s the same way with the challenges we face in our faith. What do we do when we have to deal with difficult people and seemingly impossible situations? What do we do when it seems like our prayers are hitting the ceiling? We can either get mad, frustrated, and try to push our way through – or we can relax and trust Jesus to show us the way. The former might feel more natural, but the latter is far better!

To a large extent, this was what Paul experienced as he got started on his 2nd missionary journey. He had his own challenges to face, and his attitude went a long way to getting him on the other side. Paul had the choice of digging in his heels & pushing his own way – or, he could tame his ego, walk in humility, and see the work of God. 

Remember what got us to this point. Paul, Barnabas, and the other Christians had just experienced a tremendous vindication over the group of false teachers known as the Judaizers. Whereas the Judaizers claimed that Gentiles must be circumcised and keep the law of Moses in addition to coming to faith in Christ (making salvation a “Jesus +,” which is not the good news at all!), Paul taught the biblical gospel. Paul and Barnabas held fast to the teaching that we are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus alone (Jesus + nothing!). Because the Judaizers had come to Antioch of Syria claiming authority from Jerusalem, the debate was taken back to Jerusalem to get the opinion of the apostles and elders there. Although the issue was carefully examined, the church leadership sided with Paul. Both the testimony of the Scriptures and the testimony of what God had already done among the Gentiles was proof that God had not called them to legalism.

The issue decided, the apostles and elders in Jerusalem wrote a decree detailing the freedom of Gentile Christians. They were not to live as lawless pagans, but neither did they need to become circumcised Jews. With that, there was much rejoicing! Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch to local ministry, all until God began stirring Paul’s heart for the mission field once again. He and Barnabas made plans to leave…all until the point that they came to a sharp disagreement over personnel. Barnabas wanted to give his cousin John Mark another shot at the field; Paul did not. In the end, the two men went their different ways, and Silas of Jerusalem was Paul’s new travelling partner. Together, they went forth on land through Syria and Cilicia.

It’s been often said, “Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not be broken,” – Paul knew what it meant to be flexible. He could have bucked up in his pride, but he didn’t, and Christianity as a whole can be grateful as a result! Our own stubborn pride can create stumbling blocks for our witnessing, and create barriers between us and God. God will guide us, but we need to humble ourselves enough to listen to Him.

Pride is the enemy of the Great Commission, but humility serves the gospel of Christ. Humble yourself during challenges of faith, and watch Jesus move!

Acts 16:1–10

  • Challenged by the culture (1-5)

1 Then he came to Derbe and Lystra. And behold, a certain disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Iconium.

  1. Remember that when Paul and Barnabas decided to go different directions, they each were still planning to visit the churches they visited/planted during the 1st missionary journey. Barnabas and John Mark went to the island of Cyprus, going the original direction of the journey; Paul and Silas went backwards. Acts 15:41 tells us that Paul and Silas went by land through “Syria and Cilicia,” most likely passing through Paul’s hometown of Tarsus, but from there it was a relatively quick journey to what was originally the furthest-most cities on the previous trip: “Derbe and Lystra.” What’s notable about Lystra is that this was the city where Paul was nearly stoned to death, after the unbelieving Jews stirred up the city when Paul and Barnabas refused to be worshipped as gods (Acts 14:19-20). We’d understand if Paul might have been hesitant to return to the town, but it was apparently a priority for him, as it was one of the first places he went.
    1. Question: Was Paul foolhardy, and looking for trouble? Of course not. Paul simply had no reason to fear. Although we don’t read of a supernatural revelation from the Holy Spirit to Paul about this journey, it was no doubt bathed in prayer, and Paul had no warning from the Spirit not to go to Lystra. (And the Spirit did speak up on other occasions, as we’ll soon see!) God had called Paul on this journey, and the purpose was to visit the churches that were established. There was a church in Lystra, so naturally, it was on Paul’s list.
    2. We need not fear the things God has called us to do. That’s not to say that God will always call us to safe, easy things – even some of Paul’s missionary duties put him directly in harm’s way. Other brothers and sisters in Christ are called by God to witness to people who would persecute, harm, and even kill them. Sometimes, God calls us to truly dangerous Even so, we have no reason to fear. What God calls us to, God equips us for. The Holy Spirit gives strength to those who will be martyred – God gives the peace that passes understanding in our times of need. As Paul himself said (in the context of his suffering), “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” (Phil 4:13). Jesus’ grace is sufficient, and because it is, we can walk in faith instead of fear. We can step boldly where others fear to tread – not because of anything we can do, but because of everything Christ does for us.
  2. It was a good thing Paul went to Lystra, because that is where he found the young man he would later consider to be his son in the faith: Timothy. Luke provides only a brief introduction to Timothy at this point, writing that he was the son of a believing Jewish mother and a Greek father. (There’s no indication about his father’s faith in Christ.) Elsewhere from Paul’s writings, we know that Timothy’s mother was Eunice, and his grandmother was Lois, and both were strong believers in Christ (2 Tim 1:5). His father is unnamed, and considering nothing is said of him at all, it is probable that he was already dead. Considering that Timothy was already a “disciple” by the time Paul and Silas arrived in Lystra, when did Timothy get saved? It’s unknown, but there are only two possibilities: (1) it was during Paul’s 1st visit, or (2) as a result of the witness of his mother and/or grandmother. Either way, Timothy started out as a strong follower of Jesus, and remained that way the entirety of his life. He would go on to be one of Paul’s most faithful students and friends, become a leader at the church in Ephesus, and (according to legend) later martyred there.
  3. Two things are noted about Timothy at this point: First, he was half-Jewish, on his mother’s side. Second, he had a good reputation among Christians in two cities (Lystra and Iconium). That means that Timothy was already serving the Lord on some level prior to Paul’s arrival, which would make him a natural fit for the mission team. It also meant that there were some real challenges awaiting him, if he did join…

3 Paul wanted to have him go on with him. And he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in that region, for they all knew that his father was Greek.

  1. To Paul, there was no doubt in his mind that Timothy would be extremely valuable in the ministry, but there was also a legitimate problem: he was a potential distraction from the gospel. Though technically Timothy had the freedom to remain uncircumcised, having a Jewish mother culturally meant that he was considered Jewish. While he remained among Gentiles in Gentile-heavy towns, this wasn’t a problem. After all, his father was Greek & everyone knew it, so no one pressed the issue about his Jewishness. But remember how Paul operated: he always went first to the local synagogues and preached the gospel to the Jews. And in these other cities, they might not be so understanding once they learned of Timothy’s parentage (which was a common way to be introduced). It was one thing for Paul to refrain from circumcising Gentiles; it was quite another to do so for Jews. This would have been a terrible hindrance to the ministry. Not only would it have called Timothy’s own testimony into question (potentially being a “bad” Jew although a faithful Christian), but it would have also fueled the rumors that surrounded Paul. Paul would constantly face challenges from the Judaizers, and these things eventually followed him to Jerusalem when a mob erupted at the temple at even the weakest suggestion that Paul had brought Gentiles to the temple (which he hadn’t – Acts 21:27-29). The last thing Paul needed was to hand his accusers any ammunition against him.
  2. So what did Paul do? He personally took care of the problem, and circumcised Timothy himself. Putting aside the painful nature of the act, don’t miss how big of a deal this was. Remember that Paul had just returned from Jerusalem where he won a victory against the Judaizers, with the specific judgment being that Gentiles (of which Timothy was half) did not need to get circumcised. Paul had argued vehemently that circumcision was unnecessary for Gentiles, and in fact, held the line regarding another one of his young students, Titus (Gal 2:3). Was Paul being inconsistent? He was being culturally appropriate to the circumstances. Gentiles wouldn’t care that Timothy was uncircumcised, but Jews would. If they knew Timothy was born of a Jewish mother, then they would consider him a disobedient Jew in violation of their holy covenant with God. Remember that not even Paul abandoned his Jewish culture; he simply saw the fulfillment of it in Jesus as the Messiah. But in the end, the gospel was paramount. This was not a battle to try to fight all over again; this was something Paul & Timothy both could humble themselves before & rectify. As Paul later wrote to the Corinthians: 1 Corinthians 9:19–22, “(19) For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; (20) and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; (21) to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; (22) to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.” In this case, it wasn’t about Paul or Timothy being “right;” it was about how best they would be able to share the good news of Jesus.
  3. Question: Did Timothy have the freedom to remain uncircumcised? Did Paul have the freedom to try to argue the point? Yes. Was it worth it, if it set up a stumbling block to the gospel? No. Freedom is wonderful! Flaunting it is not. [Romans 14:1-18] Paul’s point to the Romans is that they had freedom on all kinds of things. Whether the meat they ate was slaughtered according to kosher regulations, or not – whether they met on Saturday for the Sabbath or not – none of those things affected one’s salvation, so each person could be convinced in his/her own mind. But there are two problems that could develop: (1) Christians might become judgmental of one another, and that sort of judgment doesn’t belong to us, but to God. (2) Other Christians might inadvertently cause another brother/sister to stumble in sin, by parading his/her freedom in front of the other. It isn’t worth it. Put it in modern terms: one Christian feels a freedom to drink alcohol, while another doesn’t. One of the worst things the 1st Christian could do would be to start guzzling beer in front of the 2nd Christian who is convinced it’s a sin. A massive stumbling block has just been put in the way. What would make it worse? If the 1st Christian did that same thing in front of a non-believer, who was (despite his/her lack of belief) was still convinced it was sinful. That person now has a major stumbling block from ever hearing the gospel from the Christian. Paul makes the same point to the Corinthians, when writing about eating meat sacrificed to idols: 1 Corinthians 10:31–33, “(31) Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. (32) Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, (33) just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved.” The bottom line: our freedom does not trump the Great Commission. The freedom we experience in the gospel does not outdo the need to share the gospel with others. If our freedom is challenged when we still have a chance to share Jesus, then by all means we humble ourselves, because Jesus needs to be known!
  4. With this first challenge down, now what? Paul still had a mission ahead, so the group pressed on…

4 And as they went through the cities, they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem.

  1. Remember that this was part of Paul’s original plan: they were supposed to go back through the cities and visit the churches to see how everyone was doing. And they didn’t go empty-handed! They were able to take with them the letter that was written “by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem,” safeguarding them from the dangerous doctrine of the Judaizers. And it was necessary they do so. Although Luke doesn’t write of the Judaizers until Paul and Barnabas returned to Jerusalem after the 1st missionary journey, Paul’s letter to the Galatians deals with the issue in-depth, acknowledging their own personal experience with it. Apparently the Judaizers hadn’t just gone to Antioch, but had quickly spread to other churches as well. The Jerusalem letter would have gone a long way to reaffirming the gospel of grace preached by Paul and Barnabas (which is the gospel of the grace of Jesus alone!).
  2. Some criticize Paul for delivering a letter saying no circumcision was necessary, in light of the fact that he just got done circumcising Timothy, but we have to keep in mind there were two different situations going on. These churches were full of Gentiles who were being pressured to become Jews; Timothy was a Jew (or at least seen as one), and Paul did what was necessary to remove any obstacles to Timothy’s witness. There’s no hypocrisy or contradiction; Paul preached and practiced grace alone!

5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily.

  1. Whatever it was that Paul and the others in the group did, it worked! The good news of the Jerusalem decree was delivered, and the better news of the gospel of Jesus went forward. Note that the existing churches were not just “strengthened,” but “increased.” Like an athlete in training, the churches grew stronger, more firm in the faith, able to hold fast against unbiblical teaching (such as the Judaizers). More than that, they grew in number. These people who had come to faith were continuing to bring other people to faith, and no doubt Paul, Silas, and Timothy helped in the effort. After all, they hadn’t just come as letter carriers; they were evangelists. Everywhere Paul went, he searched for opportunities to tell people about Jesus, and it wouldn’t have mattered if it was his first time to visit a city, or if he had been there often.
  2. Strong churches aren’t necessarily measured in size (although these churches increased on a daily basis); strong churches share Jesus. The number of people in a building is not an indication on a congregation’s faithfulness to doctrine – after all, even cults can gather large groups together. A better indication of a church’s health & strength is its commitment to the gospel! Is Jesus preached? Is He known and witnessed by the people in the congregation? [Healthy sheep reproduce]
  3. So this was what Paul and Silas had originally set out to do. Was it over? Was it “mission accomplished”? Not quite. They weren’t content simply revisiting the places Paul had previously been; there were other cities where the gospel had not yet gone. Those people needed Jesus, too…and Paul, Silas, and Timothy were the ones to tell them! However, they had a few problems getting started…
  • Challenged by the Spirit (6-10)

6 Now when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia, they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia. 7 After they had come to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit did not permit them.

  1. Although it seems almost surreal, the missionary group faced active interference by the Holy Spirit. They tried to go west into Asia (the region; not the continent – the entire area in which Paul was at the time is modern-day Turkey), but the Holy Spirit forbade them from preaching in Asia. Likewise, they tried to go north into Bithynia, and the Spirit didn’t let them go there, either. How did the missionaries know the Holy Spirit was preventing them in these things? Luke doesn’t say, but apparently there was no doubt about it. God the Spirit either put up direct blocks to their travel, or put a heaviness upon them in prayer, or perhaps even gave them direct revelation (though undescribed by Luke). However God did it, He made His will known. There were certain places He did not want Paul going at the time.
  2. Question: Would Paul always be forbidding from preaching the gospel in Asia? Ephesus was in Asia, and not only did Paul briefly touch there on this particular journey while heading back to Antioch (Acts 18:19), but he returned there on his 3rd missionary journey, spending between 2-3 years there (Acts 19:1-10). God the Spirit did want Paul to preach in Asia…just not yet. Paul’s desire to preach the word in Asia (and Bithynia) was good, because anywhere we go is filled with people who need to know Jesus. It’s just that God had a particular plan in mind for Paul, and the Holy Spirit was directing him to what it was. The challenge for Paul was not getting in the way.
    1. Have you ever gotten in the way of what the Spirit wants to do? Maybe like Paul, you wanted to do something good, but it seemed that God wasn’t opening the door, so you forced your way through. (Some men have done this entering the ministry! They really wanted to be pastors, but they hadn’t received a pastoral calling from God. In the end, they were miserable & they quickly burned out.) In other cases, perhaps you weren’t necessarily in blatant sin, but were perhaps so consumed with what you wanted, you were blind to what God was doing through someone else. Either way, it has the same basic effect as sin: we’re putting our will in the place of God’s will.
    2. Never forget that God is God, and we’re not! If God the Holy Spirit wants to forbid us from doing something (even something that seems good to us), He has every right to do so. He is the sovereign King – He is the all-knowing Lord. He knows the end from the beginning, and He knows how He can best use us for His glory. If He wants to prevent us from going in one direction, it means He has another direction in mind for us to go. In other words, God still has a plan for us. When God puts up a blockade for us, it doesn’t mean He doesn’t want us (as if He didn’t pick us for the soccer or kickball team in school); it means He wants to use us differently. Why not let the God who formed you and created you determine for you how best He wants to use you? His plans are always going to be better than ours, guaranteed!
  3. BTW – In verse 7, some manuscripts say “the Spirit,” while other older texts say “the Spirit of Jesus.” Is there a difference? God the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of God and the Spirit of Jesus. After all, Jesus is God. Calling the Holy Spirit “the Spirit of Jesus” simply affirms the unity of the Trinity.

8 So passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas. 9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night. A man of Macedonia stood and pleaded with him, saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

  1. Earlier, Paul experienced active interference by the Spirit. This time, he received active instruction from the Spirit! God gave him a dream of an unnamed “man of Macedonia” who “pleaded” with him to come preach the gospel. What an answer to prayer! Paul had been looking for a place to preach, earnestly desiring to share Jesus with people, and now he had crystal-clear direction. It was time to head over to Macedonia.
  2. Question: Does God still speak to us through dreams and visions? There’s nothing in the Scripture that would indicate otherwise. It is seen in the Old Testament: Joseph famously had two dreams that caused his brothers to get jealous and sell him into slavery (Gen 37). Likewise Daniel had a night vision explaining Nebuchadnezzar’s dream (Dan 2), and a dream of his own about future empires (Dan 7). It is seen in the New Testament: Peter had his rooftop vision in Joppa showing him how God cleansed what was once unclean (Acts 10), and Paul had this event here. It is even spoken of in prophecy as a sign of the church age & the end times (Peter quoting Joel in Acts 2). There are enough Biblical examples to know that God can and sometimes does speak through dreams and visions. The key is not falling under the false assumption that every dream or vision is of God. Sometimes a dream is just a dream – sometimes we’ve got an overactive imagination, or we’ve eaten a weird food before bedtime, or we’re hallucinating during an illness. How can we know the difference between a dream/vision given by God & a vision brought on by bad eggs? Test it. As John wrote: “test the spirits, whether they are from God,” (1 Jn 4:1). Paul wrote something similar of prophecy: to let it be tested/judged (1 Cor 14:29). Whatever it is you experience in a dream or vision, hold it up to the clearly revealed word of God in the Scripture, and see how it matches up. In Paul’s case, he was actively seeking God for answers on where to preach the gospel, and it came as no surprise when God answered him.
  3. Note when God the Spirit gave Paul this vision: when Paul was actively engaged in ministry. It’s not like Paul was twiddling his thumbs binging on Netflix while half-heartedly praying that God might use him and direct him. On the contrary, Paul was in the field & active! There are times that we remain still and wait upon the Lord, but waiting upon His direction doesn’t mean that we’re hermits. We don’t lock ourselves away in a tower and do nothing. If you don’t know what the Lord wants you to do in the future, get busy doing what you know the Lord wants you to do now. Maybe you’re praying about a short-term mission trip (or even perhaps a long-term change to the mission field!) – while you wait for direction from the Holy Spirit, there is a mission field right outside our doors. Go share the gospel with your neighbor before you share Jesus overseas. Maybe you’re praying about a possible career change – in the meantime, be the best worker you can be right where you are. Be mindful of what God has given you now, instead of daydreaming about where He might take you in the future. The point? Look around and see what God has currently entrusted to you. Take care of those things first, knowing that the Holy Spirit will guide you along the way.

10 Now after he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go to Macedonia, concluding that the Lord had called us to preach the gospel to them.

  1. There was immediate obedience, and no wonder why. After being challenged by the Spirit so many times in his previous directions, surely Paul and the others were overjoyed to know God’s clear will for them. They were told where to go, and they didn’t have to be told twice! (Immediate obedience is always the best obedience!)
  2. FYI: note the move to the 1st person plural pronoun “” The author Luke includes himself. Apparently, Luke lived in Troas, and this was when he met Paul. Luke doesn’t write of the meeting, but just like Paul and Timothy hit it off, so did he and Luke. Luke was now part of the growing missionary group, and a much needed one as well, considering his occupation as a medical doctor. (BTW – Anyone can be used in the Great Commission! God needs preachers, but He wants more than preachers. God wants doctors, plumbers, teachers, accountants, laborers…you name it, God can use it!)

Conclusion:

Do you face challenges in your faith? Paul did. Although Paul saw a valuable future preacher in Timothy, he also saw a terrible stumbling block in Timothy’s lack of circumcision. Later, Paul was expressly forbidden from preaching the gospel in areas he wanted to go. Were either of these things wrong? No. Remaining free from circumcision would have been a grand expression of Timothy’s liberty, and was arguably the right thing to do. Likewise, sharing the gospel with anyone anywhere is the right thing to do. Both of these things were challenged…and they were challenged for the right reasons.

  1. Paul and Timothy needed their sole focus to be the gospel; not arguments and distractions.
  2. Paul needed to share the gospel where the Holy Spirit could use him best.

It’s not that what Paul wanted was wrong; it’s just that the Spirit wanted something better!

So what did Paul do? How did he handle it? Through humility.

  1. Paul did not push his “right” not to circumcise Timothy; both he and Timothy humbled themselves for the sake of the gospel.
  2. Paul did not force his will where the Holy Spirit prohibited him. Instead, he remained proactive until God gave him clear direction.

Either one of those things could have been sacrificed to Paul’s ego; Paul put it aside. He humbled himself before Jesus as Lord, and let Jesus be the One to guide him. And Jesus did! Again, pride is the enemy of the Great Commission, but humility is used to spread the gospel.

How often have we let our pride get in the way of the things God is doing? We’ve dug in our heels trying to force our will, rather than seeking God’s will. It’s not that the Holy Spirit won’t guide into the things He desires for us; oftentimes, we don’t know His will because we’re not truly listening. We want what we want, and it doesn’t always match up to what He wants.

Humble yourself! When you’re challenged, don’t buck up; get low to Jesus. Maybe your prayers aren’t being answered because of unconfessed sin in your life…humble yourself and repent. Maybe they aren’t being answered because God is trying to direct you…humble yourself and listen. Maybe you’ve got some difficult conversations to have with some difficult people. Don’t rehearse the argument and get riled up; go into it with humility, seeking what is best for the glory of God and the gospel. Let Jesus be Lord, and do what it takes for Him to be known.