Offerings of Worship

Posted: March 7, 2019 in Leviticus, Uncategorized

Leviticus 1-3, “Offerings of Worship”

How to worship God? This is the question asked by every religion of the world, each one with different answers. For most religions, the answer is a variation of a theme: good works. Just pray the right prayers, participate in the right fasts, give the right amount to the poor, etc., and that’s how God is worshipped. It’s all about what we can do and what things we can bring to the table. Sadly, large portions of Christendom have fallen into the same idea – Catholics, Orthodox, and certain Protestants alike. As long as the right prayers are prayed, the right rituals are kept, then that’s how God is worshipped among His people.

But what does the Bible say? No doubt, the Bible has much to say about rituals and good works – the book of Leviticus being a prime example! Yet when we look deeper at the book of Leviticus, we find that it isn’t what men & women can bring to God that counts; anything that we bring to God is woefully inadequate. It has to be done time & time again, day-in & day-out, year after year. For all the ritual and sacrifice seen in Leviticus (and elsewhere in the Bible), it points to our dire need for something else: not our works, but God’s work. Our works (even when seen in our rituals) show our need; God’s work shows forth His grace. Yes, we need to be holy as God is holy, so God is the One who makes us holy. Yes, the shedding of blood is required for the forgiveness of sin, so God is the One to provide the perfect sacrifice. What we need is the work of God in His grace, and the law of God is what underscores our need for it.

All of this is seen in the book of Leviticus. The book is somewhat poorly named, the English title adopted from the Greek LXX (λευιτικον), meaning “pertaining to the Levites.” For as much as the book refers to priestly duties, it begins with instructing the Hebrews on personal worship. Yes, the Levites are involved, but so is the entire nation. Leviticus wasn’t just a handbook for the priests; it was given to the entire nation (and preserved for the entire church). The Hebrew name is simply taken from the first word in Lev 1:1, “And He called,” – which, although perhaps dry, is more descriptive. God called Moses to give instructions to Israel as to how to walk in holiness, about God’s own holy character, and ultimately, Israel’s need for grace.

GENERAL OUTLINE

The sacrifices & offerings (1-7): offerings of worship, and offerings of confession

The priesthood (8-10): consecration and conduct

Laws of holiness (11-22): instruction on being holy as God is holy

  • Clean/unclean (11-15)
  • Atonement & blood (16-17)
  • Moral laws (18-20)
  • Priestly laws (21-22)

Feasts and worship (23-25): corporate worship on a daily and yearly basis

Promises from God, vows from men (26-27): Blessings and curses, along with an appendix.

With an outline like that, is it really a manual for the priests? Yes and no. Yes, there are many instructions given directly to the priests for how they are to act as mediators between God and His people – but no, there are many details missing from what we might normally consider to be a manual. When an animal is slaughtered for instance, Leviticus gives us the general picture, but not the specifics as to which tools are used, what technique is to be applied, etc. It shows that although the Levites (particularly the priests) play a major role in the worship of God, they don’t play the only role. God wants all of His people to worship Him, so all of His people need to know some basic details about His character in order to do so. Thus, the book was given to all of Israel…and to all of us.

How so? Because God still wants His people to worship Him, and we are His people! But we can’t do it through our good works and our rituals. Even when we want to worship God, we can’t, because anything we bring to God is flawed. That’s exactly what God already provided the perfect sacrifice in Jesus! He’s the One who makes it possible for us to go to God and give Him our lives.

So yes, worship God – but worship Him through Jesus! Bring Him your all, because Jesus has already given His all for you.

Leviticus 1 – Burnt offerings: We give our lives.

  • Introduction (1-2)

1 Now the LORD called to Moses, and spoke to him from the tabernacle of meeting, saying, 2 “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: ‘When any one of you brings an offering to the LORD, you shall bring your offering of the livestock—of the herd and of the flock.

  1. Not much of an introduction, but it sets the stage for what’s to follow. Notice the setting, who spoke to whom, and from where: YHWH God to Moses, “from the tabernacle of meeting.” Newly constructed, put to good use.
  2. Whatever the offering to be described, one thing is clear to the children of Israel: they are the ones to bring it. “You shall bring your offering…” They cannot bring what belongs to someone else – they cannot expect their offerings and worship to be provided for them. They have to be personally involved.
    1. Our sacrifice is provided (Jesus!), but we must personally partake. Faith isn’t farmed out.
  3. FYI: You might recognize the Hebrew word for offering (קָרְבָּן) – the Aramaic version was quoted by Jesus to the Pharisees, regarding their abuse of the customs for sacrifice. Although God commanded the people to honor their father & mother, legalistic loopholes had developed among the Jews allowing any financial assistance that should have been given to one’s parents to be supposedly dedicated to God as worship: “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban, (this is, a gift to God),” (Mk 7:11). Basically, the Pharisees allowed the good & holy command of God to be twisted into selfishness. Offerings brought to God (1) need to be brought to Him & not simply put aside under the pretense of dedication, and (2) cannot be brought in violation of other God-given commands. Our worship does not excuse our sin. On the contrary – sin gets in the way of our worship! The whole point of the bloody sacrifices is that our sin must first be atoned before we can worship God. This is why all of our trust needs to be in Jesus – this is why we are to follow Him in humility and faith, with Jesus as our Lord and King. First, He deals with our sin, and then we worship.
  • From the herd (3-9)

3 ‘If his offering is a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish; he shall offer it of his own free will at the door of the tabernacle of meeting before the LORD. 4 Then he shall put his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him.

  1. The specific instructions regarding the bull (“burnt sacrifice of the herd”) are given in a moment, but God starts by giving Moses some general information about all of the burnt sacrifices, no matter the animal species.
  2. First: what is a “burnt sacrifice”? It’s only a single word in Hebrew (עֹלָה), and it comes from the same root that means “to ascend / rise.” We might think of the burnt sacrifice as the “ascending offering,” as the smoke of the sacrifice rises to God. 
  3. When was it offered? Interestingly, Leviticus 1 does not say. More information will be given in Chapter 6, but even there, the motive for the offering is not listed. Burnt offerings have already been shown many times in the Scripture (Noah after the flood, Abraham and Isaac, Jethro with Moses in Exo 18, etc.), and typically it has been an offering of worship and dedication. It was true heartfelt worship of God, surrendering oneself to the Lord.
  4. How was it offered? Some of the specifics are shown in a moment, but it was brought to the door of the tabernacle, and it all begins with a symbolic transfer of sin. The hands of the worshipper are placed on the head of the offering – an offering brought “of his own free will” or as an “acceptable” offering, that would stand as a substitute in place of the worshipper that the worshipper may be made acceptable to God.
    1. This is what Jesus became for us: our substitute! This is more clearly seen in the sin offering of Leviticus 4, and what Paul referenced to the Corinthians: 2 Corinthians 5:21, “(21) For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
  5. Why? Because “atonement” needed to be made. A covering was required for the sin of the worshipper. The worshipper had sin, which incurred the wrath of God, and God’s anger requires satisfaction (propitiation). 1 John 2:1–2, “(1) My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. (2) And He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the whole world.”

5 He shall kill the bull before the LORD; and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood and sprinkle the blood all around on the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of meeting. 6 And he shall skin the burnt offering and cut it into its pieces.

  1. Notice who kills the bull: the worshipper. He gets personally involved – he gets his hands dirty, raising the knife himself, taking a sense of responsibility for the death at hand (by his hand!).
  2. Afterwards, the priests splatter the blood all around. The ground around the altar is saturated with pint after pint of blood as the bull is drained dry, and the animal is butchered outside the gate. It isn’t pretty. It’s bloody & gory! That’s what sin is. We tend to lose sight of this.

7 The sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire on the altar, and lay the wood in order on the fire. 8 Then the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat in order on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar; 9 but he shall wash its entrails and its legs with water. And the priest shall burn all on the altar as a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.

  1. All but the skin was consumed in fire on the altar, with certain parts of the animal washed beforehand. (Perhaps considered unclean.) The idea is total consumption – total dedication – the whole being that is given.
    1. Is this what your worship of God is like? Romans 12:1, “(1) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.”
  2. sweet aroma” = a quieting aroma. The aroma of death quiets God’s wrath. When we think of a “sweet/pleasing aroma,” we sometimes think of barbecue…but that’s not really the picture. The picture here isn’t one of celebration; it’s of slaughter. The aroma that rises to God is an aroma that comes about only because something died. A substitute was bloodily slain in order that others could live. The aroma was the confirmation that death had occurred…and that was why it was sweet. God’s justice was pleased, and there were wonderful results. Paul uses this same idea with the Ephesians – Ephesians 5:1–2, “(1) Therefore be imitators of God as dear children. (2) And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling aroma.” Again, the basic idea is that of propitiation. 
  • From the flock (10-13)

10 ‘If his offering is of the flocks—of the sheep or of the goats—as a burnt sacrifice, he shall bring a male without blemish. 11 He shall kill it on the north side of the altar before the LORD; and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar. 12 And he shall cut it into its pieces, with its head and its fat; and the priest shall lay them in order on the wood that is on the fire upon the altar; 13 but he shall wash the entrails and the legs with water. Then the priest shall bring it all and burn it on the altar; it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.

  1. If someone couldn’t afford to bring a bull (an expensive animal!), then an offering could also be brought from the sheep or the goats. This time, the animal was brought all the way to the altar. 
  2. Again, the worshipper kills the animal (and perhaps slaughters it – that’s more unclear); the priests are the ones to take the blood, sprinkle it, and put the pieces of the animal carcass on the altar.
    1. Why the priests? Because they serve as the mediators. The worshipper could only come so far into the tabernacle; the priests had to go the rest of the way. The priests had to do the work on the worshipper’s behalf. – Jesus is the ONE Mediator (1 Tim 2:5)
  3. Again, the sweet aroma is the quieting, tranquilizing, soothing aroma. This idea runs throughout the various sacrifices – listen for how often it repeats. God emphasizes over and over again that He has wrath towards sin, and this wrath requires satisfaction and justice. It needs to be addressed before any worship can be offered.
  • From the birds (14-17). 

14 ‘And if the burnt sacrifice of his offering to the LORD is of birds, then he shall bring his offering of turtledoves or young pigeons.

  1. What happens if someone in Israel was too poor for either bulls or sheep? Then they could bring birds. No one was left out of worship!
  2. Joseph & Mary were in this category at the dedication of Jesus after His birth (Lk 2:24, Lev 12:8).

15 The priest shall bring it to the altar, wring off its head, and burn it on the altar; its blood shall be drained out at the side of the altar. 16 And he shall remove its crop with its feathers and cast it beside the altar on the east side, into the place for ashes. 17 Then he shall split it at its wings, but shall not divide it completely; and the priest shall burn it on the altar, on the wood that is on the fire. It is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.

  1. This time, the priest kills the bird, rips off its head, fishes out its gullet, splits it open, and places it on the altar.
    1. Don’t treat worship lightly! It’s anything but! It’s only possible because our sin was covered by the sacrifice of Jesus, and that sacrifice was brutal. So value your worship as something that came at a cost…because it did.
  2. Notice the refrain about the “sweet aroma” once again. Three versions of the same offering, all different expenses, but all the same result. The offering of the poor was no less valuable than the offering of the rich. God is no respecter of persons.

Leviticus 2 – Grain offerings: We give our stuff.

  • Offerings of flour (1-10). #1: Flour alone (1-3)

1 ‘When anyone offers a grain offering to the LORD, his offering shall be of fine flour. And he shall pour oil on it, and put frankincense on it. 2 He shall bring it to Aaron’s sons, the priests, one of whom shall take from it his handful of fine flour and oil with all the frankincense. And the priest shall burn it as a memorial on the altar, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD. 3 The rest of the grain offering shall be Aaron’s and his sons’. It is most holy of the offerings to the LORD made by fire.

  1. A “grain offering” is literally a “gift offering.” (קָרְבַּ֤ן מִנְחָה֙) When the word is used in other contexts, it could be used of almost any kind of gift given to someone else; when used in the context of worship, it was almost exclusively referring to a grain offering. Even so, it underscores the idea that this was a joyful offering – one done out of gratitude.
  2. Where did it come from? Their crops – their labors. Granted, while in the wilderness, they could only give grain that they somehow acquired. Only when in the Promised Land, would they be able to plant fields and bring the harvest of their crops. That was what they would spend their time on, day after day – and that was what they gratefully gave as a joyful offering to the Lord.
    1. What is it we have? That’s what we give. We give to God the fruit of our labors, acknowledging Him as the Provider of all things.
    2. Even in this, He still gives to us. After all, who is Jesus, but our bread of life? He gave His life for us, that our eternal futures may be provided by God!
  3. Three types of grain offerings described – the first being uncooked “fine flour.” Whatever the grain that was grown (wheat, barley, etc.,) the kernels were taken and ground into a fine powder. That was combined with oil and frankincense, and brought to the priests at the tabernacle. Oil & frankincense = symbols of the Holy Spirit and prayer.
  4. Unlike the burnt offering, only a portion of the grain offering was burnt on the altar. The rest was given to the priests, being part of their provision – and likely used to replenish the grain used to bake the bread of the presence.
  5. Out of what was burned, notice that it was also “a sweet aroma to the LORD.” Grain offerings were not of less value than burnt offerings! Often, the two were offered hand-in-hand – Numbers 28-29 showing how they were offered on a daily basis with one another for the nation. But even if & when individual worshippers brought it on their own accord, it was not bringing something “less” to God; it was bringing a good gift.
  • #2: Oven baked (4-6)

4 ‘And if you bring as an offering a grain offering baked in the oven, it shall be unleavened cakes of fine flour mixed with oil, or unleavened wafers anointed with oil. 5 But if your offering is a grain offering baked in a pan, it shall be of fine flour, unleavened, mixed with oil. 6 You shall break it in pieces and pour oil on it; it is a grain offering.

  1. The grain didn’t have to come raw; it could also come baked into cakes. Again, they were to be made with oil.
  2. When offered to God as a sacrifice, it was broken. Just like Jesus… “This is My body, broken for you. Do this in remembrance of Me,” (1 Cor 11:24).
  • #3: Pan cooked (7-10)

7 ‘If your offering is a grain offering baked in a covered pan, it shall be made of fine flour with oil. 8 You shall bring the grain offering that is made of these things to the LORD. And when it is presented to the priest, he shall bring it to the altar. 9 Then the priest shall take from the grain offering a memorial portion, and burn it on the altar. It is an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD. 10 And what is left of the grain offering shall be Aaron’s and his sons’. It is most holy of the offerings to the LORD made by fire.

  1. Lastly, the flour could also be cooked in a pan. The emphasis here wasn’t so much on the cooking; it was on sincere worship. Granted, the people of Israel couldn’t simply bring whatever they wanted however they wanted (they came on God’s terms; not theirs), but neither did God make their offerings of worship overly restrictive. Whatever they brought, they were to bring their best.
  2. Again, a portion was burned, being a sweet aroma, and it was a “most holy” offering. When offered in sincere praise and thanksgiving, God was pleased!
    1. Some people worry that they can’t afford to bring God much. Know this: God is neither impressed or depressed by your bank account. What He wants is your heart.
  • Regulations for grain offerings and firstfruits (11-13)

11 ‘No grain offering which you bring to the LORD shall be made with leaven, for you shall burn no leaven nor any honey in any offering to the LORD made by fire.

  1. No leaven nor honey. Leaven, we can understand based on Passover & the other pictures of leaven (yeast) in the Bible as symbolic of sin. But why not honey? Honey is sweet, but like yeast, it can also easily ferment. Fermentation grows, gives off gas, changes the structure of food. That was the opposite of what God desired for His offerings. God did not want anything added to the offerings – they were to be pure, as He is pure.

12 As for the offering of the firstfruits, you shall offer them to the LORD, but they shall not be burned on the altar for a sweet aroma.

  1. Firstfruits are different than the other grain offerings – these were not to be burned. Why? They weren’t for a soothing/sweet/quieting aroma – they had a different purpose. These were part of God’s provision for the priests (Num 18:12). As the children of Israel brought their tithes of their crops to God, God used it to provide for His servants.

13 And every offering of your grain offering you shall season with salt; you shall not allow the salt of the covenant of your God to be lacking from your grain offering. With all your offerings you shall offer salt.

  1. Along with the grain was to be an addition of salt: a sign of “the covenant of your God.” Salt symbolized the persevering covenant promises of God.
  2. Notice also that “all” the offerings were to be given with salt. It wasn’t just for the grain, but also the animal offerings. Why? Different theories exist, but practically speaking, salt draws out moisture (which is why it was used as a preserving agent). Because the Hebrews were forbidden from eating blood, any salt that was added to meat would help draw out the remaining liquid blood in the meat – being a reminder that the blood belonged to God.
  • Offerings of fruit (14-16)

14 ‘If you offer a grain offering of your firstfruits to the LORD, you shall offer for the grain offering of your firstfruits green heads of grain roasted on the fire, grain beaten from full heads. 15 And you shall put oil on it, and lay frankincense on it. It is a grain offering. 16 Then the priest shall burn the memorial portion: part of its beaten grain and part of its oil, with all the frankincense, as an offering made by fire to the LORD.

  1. Although the firstfruits as a whole were not burned on the altar, there was at least a smaller memorial portion burned on the altar – the rest of it being roasted and given to the priests.

Leviticus 3 – Peace offerings: We give our praise & enjoyment.

  • From the herd (1-5)

1 ‘When his offering is a sacrifice of a peace offering, if he offers it of the herd, whether male or female, he shall offer it without blemish before the LORD. 2 And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it at the door of the tabernacle of meeting; and Aaron’s sons, the priests, shall sprinkle the blood all around on the altar.

  1. What was the “peace offering”? It was a friendship offering – a celebration of fellowship and alliance. (שֶׁ֫לֶם ~ variant of “shalom”)
  2. Unlike the burnt offering, this time either sex of the animal was acceptable. Even so, there was still a symbolic transfer of sin, and the picture of peace with God made possible only through the shedding of blood.
    1. Jesus IS our peace! Ephesians 2:14–16, “(14) For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, (15) having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, (16) and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.” Because Jesus has made peace between us and God, now we can enjoy our fellowship together! We can boldly come into God’s presence as His children, love Him, petition Him, and fellowship with Him. (Oh, how we need to take advantage of this privilege!)

3 Then he shall offer from the sacrifice of the peace offering an offering made by fire to the LORD. The fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, 4 the two kidneys and the fat that is on them by the flanks, and the fatty lobe attached to the liver above the kidneys, he shall remove; 5 and Aaron’s sons shall burn it on the altar upon the burnt sacrifice, which is on the wood that is on the fire, as an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the LORD.

  1. This is the biggest difference between the peace offering & burnt offering. In the burnt offering, the entire animal was consumed on the altar; in the peace offering, only the fat and internal organs were burned. The meat was reserved to be eaten as a fellowship meal between the worshipper and God.
  2. In a sense, it looks forward to the celebration of Communion / the Lord’s Supper.
  • From the flock (6-16). #1: Sheep (6-11)

6 ‘If his offering as a sacrifice of a peace offering to the LORD is of the flock, whether male or female, he shall offer it without blemish. 7 If he offers a lamb as his offering, then he shall offer it before the LORD. 8 And he shall lay his hand on the head of his offering, and kill it before the tabernacle of meeting; and Aaron’s sons shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar. 9 ‘Then he shall offer from the sacrifice of the peace offering, as an offering made by fire to the LORD, its fat and the whole fat tail which he shall remove close to the backbone. And the fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, 10 the two kidneys and the fat that is on them by the flanks, and the fatty lobe attached to the liver above the kidneys, he shall remove; 11 and the priest shall burn them on the altar as food, an offering made by fire to the LORD.

  1. Similar procedure for the sheep.
  2. Again (and in all three examples of sacrifice), the aroma of death satisfies the wrath of God.
  • #2: Goats (12-16)

12 ‘And if his offering is a goat, then he shall offer it before the LORD. 13 He shall lay his hand on its head and kill it before the tabernacle of meeting; and the sons of Aaron shall sprinkle its blood all around on the altar. 14 Then he shall offer from it his offering, as an offering made by fire to the LORD. The fat that covers the entrails and all the fat that is on the entrails, 15 the two kidneys and the fat that is on them by the flanks, and the fatty lobe attached to the liver above the kidneys, he shall remove; 16 and the priest shall burn them on the altar as food, an offering made by fire for a sweet aroma; all the fat is the LORD’s.

  1. Likewise for the goats.
  2. Interestingly, there is no provision for birds or other smaller, less expensive animals. Why? The Bible does not explicitly say, but it’s probably because the birds that were typically offered as sacrifices were too small to be used as a meal.
  • Law for all offerings (17)

17 ‘This shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall eat neither fat nor blood.’ ”

  1. Why not the fat? Because the fat belonged to God – it was the best of the animal, and God is owed our best. Why not the blood? Because in the blood is the life, and life belongs to God alone.

Conclusion:

As Leviticus begins, it begins with instructions to worship. God had given His people a place where He would dwell among them, and He gave them a way for them to worship Him. God wants His people to worship…they just needed to know how, so they could worship God, God’s way. And the point wasn’t so much the ritual; it was the picture the rituals painted: before anything else happens, God’s wrath towards sin needs to be satisfied. Once it is, then we can worship God in spirit and truth.

  • Burnt offerings: we give our lives.
  • Grain offerings: we give our stuff.
  • Peace offerings: we give our praise.

Whatever it is we give, we go through Jesus!

  • Jesus is the fully-consumed sacrifice, having given everything for us.
  • Jesus is the bread of life, providing our every need.
  • Jesus is our peace with God, reconciling us to Him.

We don’t have what it takes to worship God on our own; but He has given us everything we need in Christ! Now that He has given everything for us, we give Him everything in return!

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When in Thessalonica and Berea, Paul and Silas were faithful to preach the gospel, despite difficulties. Why? Because the good news is that good. Don’t quit the gospel!

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.

At the conclusion of the book of Exodus, the promises of God come to fulfillment. When the Israelites built the tabernacle, the glorious presence of God came among them. Don’t let anything get in the way of you living in the presence of Jesus!

If You Build It…

Posted: February 28, 2019 in Exodus, Uncategorized

Exodus 35-40, “If You Build It…”

The foundational line from the old Kevin Costner film Field of Dreams was, “If you build it, he will come.” I’ve actually never watched it (so it’s not an endorsement!), but the line was so iconic that you didn’t have to watch the movie to know what it was about. If the farmer played by Costner plowed over his corn to build a baseball field, then baseball players from the past would come and play.

Sketchy theology aside (much less ideas of the ghosts of baseball-past!), the line itself could be used of ancient Israel, Moses, and the construction of the tabernacle. The people had been given the instruction from God on what His dwelling place among them needed to be – the only thing left to do was to build it and use it. If they built it, HE would come. God had promised them a dwelling place; He would deliver.

Although the play-by-play narration of the tabernacle construction initially seems to be a bit dry, it is bathed in immense grace. This is the culmination of the entire book! To see it, we need to back up to the build-up throughout the book of Exodus to see what led to this point. 

Though the family of Israel initially went to Egypt willingly, in response to the miracle of God with one of their own serving as the prime minister of the most powerful nation in the world, things changed after Joseph died and new pharaohs arose. The Hebrews went from being honored guests to oppressed slaves, and things remained that way for 400 years. This had been prophesied by God as far back as Abraham, but it was still hard. The people cried out for a deliverer, and when the time was right, God sent one in Moses. Moses, along with his brother Aaron, served as God’s spokesman to Pharaoh, and delivered nine devastating plagues to Egypt, demonstrating God’s infinite power over the false gods of Egypt as well as the hardness of Pharaoh’s own heart. Finally with the 10th (and most terrible) plague of the Passover, Pharaoh released Israel to freedom, God having purchased (redeemed) His people for Himself.

Israel was led by God into the wilderness to worship God, and God repeatedly demonstrated His power and glory. There was the final defeat of Egypt at the parting of the Red Sea (Yom Suph; Sea of Reeds) – there was the power of God to bring forth water from the rocks – there was the provision of God to bring forth bread in the desert. Though the people wavered in their faith, being a complaining people, God was gracious to care for them according to His promise.

Finally the group of 1 million+ Hebrews (and mixed multitude of God-fearing Egyptians) arrived at Mount Sinai. Although they had seen glimpses of God’s glory in the past (the pillar of cloud and fire), it barely prepared them for what they experienced at the mountain! God descended upon Sinai in a massive show of power, speaking audibly the 10 Commandments outlining His covenant with the people…and they feared! They begged Moses to be their mediator, and Moses agreed.

With further details of the covenant given, and the people agreeing to obey, the nation and their God agreed in a holy oath, sacrifice, and fellowship meal. Moses then ascended Sinai alone, receiving the detailed plans of the tabernacle: the place where God promised to dwell among His people – an act of amazing grace! Sadly, the people below grew tired of waiting, and descended into idolatry – breaking the covenant before they had a chance to walk in it. Moses quickly interceded for his people once again, and God agreed in His grace. The covenant was renewed, and the Israelites once again received the instruction of God through Moses, beholding His glory.

So where does that leave the Exodus story? At this point, God was not yet dwelling among His people, only giving instruction to Moses at the tent of meeting outside the camp. That wasn’t the plan or the promise; that was the discipline of God to His rebellious people. Yet with the covenant renewed, plans could continue for God to come inside the camp, and that required the tabernacle to be built. Only then would He truly dwell among His people leading them to the Promised Land, fulfilling the promises He gave to Abraham centuries in the past.

Despite the sin of the people, God still instituted His covenant relationship with Israel. He still gave them the promise of His abiding presence, and more than that, He fulfilled it. God wants His redeemed people to know Him, be with Him, and worship Him. That was true for the ancient Hebrews, and it is true for New Testament Christians. In the past, God came among His people at the tabernacle and they were to do everything they could in response to dwell with Him. Today, God came among us in the person of Jesus Christ – we too, are to do everything in response as we dwell with Him. 

Don’t let anything hold you back from Jesus! He’s come to us; you give yourself to Him!

Exodus 35 – Preparations to build

  • Covenant sign renewed (1-3)

1 Then Moses gathered all the congregation of the children of Israel together, and said to them, “These are the words which the LORD has commanded you to do: 2 Work shall be done for six days, but the seventh day shall be a holy day for you, a Sabbath of rest to the LORD. Whoever does any work on it shall be put to death. 3 You shall kindle no fire throughout your dwellings on the Sabbath day.”

  1. Renewal of the Sabbath was the renewal of the covenant sign (31:12-17). Since Chapter 34 saw the covenant itself renewed, the sign was reiterated. This was the external demonstration of how Israel was set apart to worship the God of heaven and earth: they trusted Him to provide for their every need, including their food. Whereas every other nation labored 7 days a week to eat, Israel labored only 6 – trusting God to provide the rest.
  2. And it was serious! It was violated under penalty of death. Why so serious? Because a lack of trust is a lack of faith. Because a lack of faith in God’s provision in this area points to a lack of faith in all other areas. Because the Sabbath rest is a picture of the rest that Jesus provides us at the cross. We do not labor for our salvation; we trust Jesus to provide it – we rest in Him. A lack of faith in Christ = a death sentence for all eternity. This is serious, indeed!
  3. BTW – Why was fire singled out? Likely to settle any debate as to whether kindling a fire was considered work. Even if it didn’t take blood, sweat, and tears to start a fire, the only reason to start it would be to use it in some other form of labor (such as cooking). This was a guard to prevent the Hebrews from breaking the Sabbath in other ways.
    1. This has grown into massive legalism over the centuries, to the point that ultra-orthodox Jews don’t even flip a light-switch on the Sabbath, or push an elevator button. Any spark in their mind is “kindling a fire.”
    2. Be careful not to push the law to legalism! The law is supposed to take us to Jesus, and leave us there.
  • Offering commanded (4-9)

4 And Moses spoke to all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying, “This is the thing which the LORD commanded, saying: 5 ‘Take from among you an offering to the LORD. Whoever is of a willing heart, let him bring it as an offering to the LORD: gold, silver, and bronze; 6 blue, purple, and scarlet thread, fine linen, and goats’ hair; 7 ram skins dyed red, badger skins, and acacia wood; 8 oil for the light, and spices for the anointing oil and for the sweet incense; 9 onyx stones, and stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate.

  1. A specific offering was sought from the people. God didn’t just say, “Bring Me whatever;” God commanded very specific items. This was everything that was needed for the tabernacle construction, from the gold to the thread. Where did it all originate? Egypt! 
  2. Note: the offering was commanded; not compelled. Moses was commanded to go to the Israelites and give them the opportunity to give, but no one was absolutely forced to give. This was an offering; not a tax. This was an opportunity for God’s people to show their thankfulness to God through their valuables and possessions. Those who gave were to have “a willing heart.” “Willing” = inclined, generous, noble. Generosity is noble! It is a reflection of God’s own character. After all, who gives more than God? He has given all!
    1. Although this particular offering is not a reflection of the tithe (which was indeed a compulsory gift in Israel, funding the priests & Levites), it does reflect the New Testament model of giving. Writing to the Corinthians, Paul says that God loves a “cheerful giver,” (2 Cor 9:7) – that is a person who is joyfully willing to give of his/her best to the Lord.
    2. What is the best thing to give to God? Yourself! Before God gets your money, be sure to give Him your heart! 
  • Construction commanded (10-19)

10 ‘All who are gifted artisans among you shall come and make all that the LORD has commanded: 11 the tabernacle, its tent, its covering, its clasps, its boards, its bars, its pillars, and its sockets; 12 the ark and its poles, with the mercy seat, and the veil of the covering; 13 the table and its poles, all its utensils, and the showbread; 14 also the lampstand for the light, its utensils, its lamps, and the oil for the light; 15 the incense altar, its poles, the anointing oil, the sweet incense, and the screen for the door at the entrance of the tabernacle; 16 the altar of burnt offering with its bronze grating, its poles, all its utensils, and the laver and its base; 17 the hangings of the court, its pillars, their sockets, and the screen for the gate of the court; 18 the pegs of the tabernacle, the pegs of the court, and their cords; 19 the garments of ministry, for ministering in the holy place—the holy garments for Aaron the priest and the garments of his sons, to minister as priests.’ ”

  1. The call didn’t just go out for an offering of materials; it went out for people: “all who are gifted artisans.” Literally, “wise/skilled” artisans. There was an opportunity for anyone and everyone within Israel to participate in the tabernacle to some extent (i.e., the offering), but when it some to the physical labor and service in construction, skilled/gifted artisans were needed. This was the role given to them by God, and they were the ones needed to step forward.
  2. That said, the call to the artisans was not restricted, apart from skill. ALL the artisans who were available were needed. There was much to do, so much help was required. — Likewise in the body of Christ. All of us are needed, and thus all of us need to serve using the gifts God has given us. (Rom 12, 1 Cor 12)
  3. There is a blessing in service. Consider it: the artisans got to handle all of the items of the tabernacle before the priests ever used them. (And the opportunity would never come around again.)
    1. What blessings we miss when we refuse to serve! When God gives you an opportunity, gifting, and calling, use them!
  • Offering commences (20-29)

20 And all the congregation of the children of Israel departed from the presence of Moses. 21 Then everyone came whose heart was stirred, and everyone whose spirit was willing, and they brought the LORD’s offering for the work of the tabernacle of meeting, for all its service, and for the holy garments.

  1. Stirred” comes from the same Hebrew word for “lifted.” Those who gave had lifted hearts & inspired spirits. This was a worshipful offering! It was heartfelt – not done out of grudging obligation or guilt, but out of gratitude and joy.
  2. This ought to be our attitude in giving and service! Consider what Jesus has done for us – why on earth would we hold back doing anything for Him? Let your heart be lifted by the work of Christ – let your soul be moved by the grace poured out on you by the Holy Spirit. Let God be your motivation in all you do!

22 They came, both men and women, as many as had a willing heart, and brought earrings and nose rings, rings and necklaces, all jewelry of gold, that is, every man who made an offering of gold to the LORD. 23 And every man, with whom was found blue, purple, and scarlet thread, fine linen, goats’ hair, red skins of rams, and badger skins, brought them. 24 Everyone who offered an offering of silver or bronze brought the LORD’s offering. And everyone with whom was found acacia wood for any work of the service, brought it. 25 All the women who were gifted artisans spun yarn with their hands, and brought what they had spun, of blue, purple, and scarlet, and fine linen. 26 And all the women whose hearts stirred with wisdom spun yarn of goats’ hair. 27 The rulers brought onyx stones, and the stones to be set in the ephod and in the breastplate, 28 and spices and oil for the light, for the anointing oil, and for the sweet incense. 29 The children of Israel brought a freewill offering to the LORD, all the men and women whose hearts were willing to bring material for all kinds of work which the LORD, by the hand of Moses, had commanded to be done.

  1. Notice who participated: everyone! Men, women, rulers – all classes, all economics, all people, period. Everyone had the same opportunity, and representatives from every group gave what they had. And note: they brought what they had; no one was pressured to bring what they did not
    1. Too much of church giving is motivated by guilt. Call it what it is: antibiblical!
  2. The point was participation. The priests and the artisans already had an opportunity to be a part; this was the opportunity for the rest of the nation. This was their chance to serve, and they weren’t about to pass it up. They were ready, willing, and able. (For all that Israel had done wrong up to this point, they did much right!)
  3. BTW – Notice the source of the gold: jewelry, earrings, etc. Everything that had been earlier given for the golden calf…these were the things supposed to be used for the Lord.
  • Artisans called (35:30 – 36:1)

30 And Moses said to the children of Israel, “See, the LORD has called by name Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; 31 and He has filled him with the Spirit of God, in wisdom and understanding, in knowledge and all manner of workmanship, 32 to design artistic works, to work in gold and silver and bronze, 33 in cutting jewels for setting, in carving wood, and to work in all manner of artistic workmanship. 34 “And He has put in his heart the ability to teach, in him and Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan. 35 He has filled them with skill to do all manner of work of the engraver and the designer and the tapestry maker, in blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine linen, and of the weaver—those who do every work and those who design artistic works. 36:1 “And Bezalel and Aholiab, and every gifted artisan in whom the LORD has put wisdom and understanding, to know how to do all manner of work for the service of the sanctuary, shall do according to all that the LORD has commanded.”

  1. Bezalel (“in the shadow/protection of God”) was filled & empowered by the Spirit for the work ahead of him. No doubt he was already skilled; he was also supernaturally skilled for this particular task. He had much to do, and God didn’t expect him to do it on his own power.
    1. God never does! What He calls us to, He equips us for, through the Holy Spirit. All we need to do is ask.
  2. Bezalel was also empowered to teach. What the Spirit gave him was not just for him; it was for him to pass on to others (like Aholiab). Where did all the other skilled artisans learn how to make the tabernacle items? From the careful instruction of Bezalel and Aholiab.
    1. Where will the next generation of Christians learn to serve with their gifts? From the men and women who have gone before them! This is part of discipleship, and it’s something in which all of us should be engaged.
  3. Don’t miss the grace that is on display in all of this. God knows us by name, and He knows how He wants to use us. 
  • Offering completed (2-7)

2 Then Moses called Bezalel and Aholiab, and every gifted artisan in whose heart the LORD had put wisdom, everyone whose heart was stirred, to come and do the work. 3 And they received from Moses all the offering which the children of Israel had brought for the work of the service of making the sanctuary. So they continued bringing to him freewill offerings every morning. 4 Then all the craftsmen who were doing all the work of the sanctuary came, each from the work he was doing, 5 and they spoke to Moses, saying, “The people bring much more than enough for the service of the work which the LORD commanded us to do.” 6 So Moses gave a commandment, and they caused it to be proclaimed throughout the camp, saying, “Let neither man nor woman do any more work for the offering of the sanctuary.” And the people were restrained from bringing, 7 for the material they had was sufficient for all the work to be done—indeed too much.

  1. It’s one thing to be called & moved; it’s another thing to act. Bezalel and Aholiab had been empowered – the artisans had been called – the people had been commanded to give…now it all needed to be done. — Too often, we hear what is needed & know that God has equipped us to do what is needed, but we stop short of obedience. We need to follow through!
  2. Every morning” implies multiple mornings. It took a long time to receive the offering. After all, there were over 1 million men, women, and children among the nation at the time. Practically speaking, it couldn’t be done in a single afternoon! Even so, it was still done decently & in order.
  3. Eventually the giving had to be restrained. 

—-

At this point, the bulk of Exodus 36-39 are a record of the fulfillment of Exodus 25-30. The items come in a different order, but each one is built virtually word-for-word according to the instructions given to Moses by God on the mountain.

  • 36:8-38 – Construction of the tabernacle “proper”: the tent curtains, boards, veil, and screen.
  • 37:1-29 – Construction of the items to be placed within the tabernacle: the ark, mercy seat, table of showbread, lampstand, altar of incense, anointing oil and incense.
  • 38:1-20 – Construction of the items outside the tabernacle structure: the altar of burnt offering, the bronze laver, the courtyard “fencing.”
  • 39:1-41 – Manufacture of the priestly garments: the ephod, breastplate, robe, tunic, and crown.

  • Follow up: Inventory of the offering (38:21-31)

38:21 This is the inventory of the tabernacle, the tabernacle of the Testimony, which was counted according to the commandment of Moses, for the service of the Levites, by the hand of Ithamar, son of Aaron the priest. 22 Bezalel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, made all that the LORD had commanded Moses. 23 And with him was Aholiab the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan, an engraver and designer, a weaver of blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and of fine linen.

  1. With the tabernacle completed, a summary of the materials could be given. Think of it like a biblical packing invoice. Why was it recorded for all time? So that people could understand that it was done, and that it was done above-reproach with full accountability. Even the leaders who participated in the counting were named. 

24 All the gold that was used in all the work of the holy place, that is, the gold of the offering, was twenty-nine talents and seven hundred and thirty shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary.

  1. 1948 pounds of gold = $35+ million.

25 And the silver from those who were numbered of the congregation was one hundred talents and one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five shekels, according to the shekel of the sanctuary: 26 a bekah for each man (that is, half a shekel, according to the shekel of the sanctuary), for everyone included in the numbering from twenty years old and above, for six hundred and three thousand, five hundred and fifty men.

  1. 6903 pounds of silver = $1.5 million.
  2. The silver had a specific purpose: it was the ransom offering. (36:11-16) Every single man paid a ransom, all used in the construction of the tabernacle…

27 And from the hundred talents of silver were cast the sockets of the sanctuary and the bases of the veil: one hundred sockets from the hundred talents, one talent for each socket. 28 Then from the one thousand seven hundred and seventy-five shekels he made hooks for the pillars, overlaid their capitals, and made bands for them.

  1. Consider the symbolism: every time the Israelite saw silver at the tabernacle, he could remember the fact that he was bought at a price.

29 The offering of bronze was seventy talents and two thousand four hundred shekels. 30 And with it he made the sockets for the door of the tabernacle of meeting, the bronze altar, the bronze grating for it, and all the utensils for the altar, 31 the sockets for the court all around, the bases for the court gate, all the pegs for the tabernacle, and all the pegs for the court all around.

  1. 4720 pounds of bronze – enough for the altar, all the utensils, pegs, etc.
  2. In fact, there was far more than enough! God provided all that was necessary.
  • Summary of the work (39:32-43)

39:32 Thus all the work of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting was finished. And the children of Israel did according to all that the LORD had commanded Moses; so they did. 33 And they brought the tabernacle to Moses, the tent and all its furnishings: its clasps, its boards, its bars, its pillars, and its sockets; 34 the covering of ram skins dyed red, the covering of badger skins, and the veil of the covering; 35 the ark of the Testimony with its poles, and the mercy seat; 36 the table, all its utensils, and the showbread; 37 the pure gold lampstand with its lamps (the lamps set in order), all its utensils, and the oil for light; 38 the gold altar, the anointing oil, and the sweet incense; the screen for the tabernacle door; 39 the bronze altar, its grate of bronze, its poles, and all its utensils; the laver with its base; 40 the hangings of the court, its pillars and its sockets, the screen for the court gate, its cords, and its pegs; all the utensils for the service of the tabernacle, for the tent of meeting; 41 and the garments of ministry, to minister in the holy place: the holy garments for Aaron the priest, and his sons’ garments, to minister as priests.

  1. The construction was finished! Israel had been faithful to follow-through.
  2. The work of construction was done, but the tabernacle was still not yet functional. Everything was made; now it needed to be used. The furnishings and equipment alone did not equal worship.

42 According to all that the LORD had commanded Moses, so the children of Israel did all the work. 43 Then Moses looked over all the work, and indeed they had done it; as the LORD had commanded, just so they had done it. And Moses blessed them.

  1. Moses inspected the work. Did he trust Bezalel and Aholiab to do it correctly? Certainly – but Moses would have been negligent not to look over it. 
  2. Moses “blessed” Israel. This seems minor & easy to overlook, but don’t forget that much of Exodus records Moses chastising the children of Israel for their disobedience. It wasn’t too many chapters ago that Moses smashed the tablets of the 10 Commandments in response to how Israel had faithlessly broken the covenant. Moses was even forced to command the Levites to strike down their brothers with the sword. One might think that Israel’s relationship with God and Moses was irreparable – that they had done the unforgiveable. Yet here they are, obedient to God, flush with His mercies…and Moses blesses them. There is grace that is given to the repentant! 

Exodus 40 – Assembly & completion

  • Command for assembly & consecration (1-15)

1 Then the LORD spoke to Moses, saying: 2 “On the first day of the first month you shall set up the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. 3 You shall put in it the ark of the Testimony, and partition off the ark with the veil. 4 You shall bring in the table and arrange the things that are to be set in order on it; and you shall bring in the lampstand and light its lamps. 5 You shall also set the altar of gold for the incense before the ark of the Testimony, and put up the screen for the door of the tabernacle. 6 Then you shall set the altar of the burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting. 7 And you shall set the laver between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar, and put water in it. 8 You shall set up the court all around, and hang up the screen at the court gate.

  1. Everything was arranged according to God’s design and command. Everything was set in order. (It wasn’t left up to Moses’ imagination or preference.) 

9 “And you shall take the anointing oil, and anoint the tabernacle and all that is in it; and you shall hallow it and all its utensils, and it shall be holy. 10 You shall anoint the altar of the burnt offering and all its utensils, and consecrate the altar. The altar shall be most holy. 11 And you shall anoint the laver and its base, and consecrate it.

  1. Everything outside the tabernacle-proper was anointed/made holy. Why not the inside? It was already holy because of the placement. Those items were already “set apart” from the rest, being inside the holy place & the holy of holies. The outside items were the things that were in full view of the others, and they needed to be visibly set apart for service.
  2. Note: The altar was the holiest piece outside the tabernacle-proper. (קֹ֥דֶשׁ קָֽדָשִֽׁים) It makes sense – after all, this was the place where the sacrifices would be made. This was the place blood would be shed on behalf of the people. As important as the bronze laver & other instruments were, they paled in comparison with the altar of sacrifice.

12 “Then you shall bring Aaron and his sons to the door of the tabernacle of meeting and wash them with water. 13 You shall put the holy garments on Aaron, and anoint him and consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest. 14 And you shall bring his sons and clothe them with tunics. 15 You shall anoint them, as you anointed their father, that they may minister to Me as priests; for their anointing shall surely be an everlasting priesthood throughout their generations.”

  1. Consecration ceremony reviewed (29:1-37). It’s only summarized at this point, as the text looks ahead to Leviticus 8 for the fulfillment. BTW – When was the one time the “everlasting priesthood” of Aaron and his sons changed? When Jesus became our Great High Priest, according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb 5:6).
  • Moses’ obedience (16-33)

16 Thus Moses did; according to all that the LORD had commanded him, so he did. 17 And it came to pass in the first month of the second year, on the first day of the month, that the tabernacle was raised up.

  1. Moses was fully obedient. It’s not that Moses expected obedience from everyone else, but not for himself; obedience was expected from everyone. Moses set an example of a lifetime of faithful obedience, failing only once in his long career of service (though that one failure was severe enough to keep him from entering the Promised Land).
  2. Finally! One year after the Passover & Red Sea, everything was fully assembled & arranged per the command in 40:1-10, as the text goes on to show.

18 So Moses raised up the tabernacle, fastened its sockets, set up its boards, put in its bars, and raised up its pillars. 19 And he spread out the tent over the tabernacle and put the covering of the tent on top of it, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 20 He took the Testimony and put it into the ark, inserted the poles through the rings of the ark, and put the mercy seat on top of the ark. 21 And he brought the ark into the tabernacle, hung up the veil of the covering, and partitioned off the ark of the Testimony, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 22 He put the table in the tabernacle of meeting, on the north side of the tabernacle, outside the veil; 23 and he set the bread in order upon it before the LORD, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 24 He put the lampstand in the tabernacle of meeting, across from the table, on the south side of the tabernacle; 25 and he lit the lamps before the LORD, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 26 He put the gold altar in the tabernacle of meeting in front of the veil; 27 and he burned sweet incense on it, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 28 He hung up the screen at the door of the tabernacle. 29 And he put the altar of burnt offering before the door of the tabernacle of the tent of meeting, and offered upon it the burnt offering and the grain offering, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 30 He set the laver between the tabernacle of meeting and the altar, and put water there for washing; 31 and Moses, Aaron, and his sons would wash their hands and their feet with water from it. 32 Whenever they went into the tabernacle of meeting, and when they came near the altar, they washed, as the LORD had commanded Moses. 33 And he raised up the court all around the tabernacle and the altar, and hung up the screen of the court gate. So Moses finished the work.

  1. Apparently, Moses personally oversaw the set-up. He didn’t just provide the instruction; Moses got involved. Again, Moses never exempted himself from anything commanded of others. Leadership was not “better” than the laity; they simply had a different role. 
  • Consummation: God’s glory descends (34-38)

34 Then the cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. 35 And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the cloud rested above it, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle.

  1. Finally! The cloud of glory came down. This was the moment that the tabernacle became God’s dwelling place – this was the moment it changed from a mere tent (though an opulent one) to the most holy tabernacle of God, His dwelling on earth among His people. What grace – what power! It’s amazing that as glorious as this was, so few words were written about it at this point. More is described in Leviticus 9-10 when the sacrifices are first given and Nadab & Abihu offer their strange, profane fire before the Lord.
  2. What good is a building, without the presence and glory of God? What good is a church without the presence of Jesus and filling of the Holy Spirit? These things are mere structures and gatherings without God. HE is what makes them special! He is the Glorious One!

36 Whenever the cloud was taken up from above the tabernacle, the children of Israel would go onward in all their journeys. 37 But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not journey till the day that it was taken up. 38 For the cloud of the LORD was above the tabernacle by day, and fire was over it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel, throughout all their journeys.

  1. A bit of preview of Numbers, as Israel was led directly by God through the wilderness. God kept His promise to be with them and guide them as their Covenant King.

Conclusion:

They built it, and God came! God kept all His promises to Israel! He promised to free them from slavery, and He did. He promised to give them a covenant, and He did. Best yet, He promised to dwell among His people – and despite all of their sin, faithlessness, and rebellion…He still did. He gave them the tabernacle, they were faithful to build it, and God came according to His word. As rebellious as the Hebrews were, they were still the people God had redeemed, and He wanted them to be with Him & worship Him. This was His outreach of mercy and grace, and thankfully, they responded in obedience. And because they did, the glory of God descended among them!

That’s great for ancient Israel, but what does it mean today for the Church? God still wants His redeemed people to be with Him and worship Him. How do we do it? It’s all through Jesus!

If the tabernacle is a preview of Jesus’ abiding presence among us, His sacrifice for us, and His priestly work on our behalf, then we need to ensure that we get involved with the Tabernacle! We don’t want to let anything get in the way of us worshipping God through God’s appointed means (i.e. Jesus!).

  • We give ourselves to Jesus. (Preparation and offerings)
  • We see Jesus as He is. (Construction)
  • We go to Jesus & experience Jesus. (Assembly & consummation)

Our life, walk, and fellowship with God is far more than going to a building, participating in rituals, or doing religious things out of habit. When we have faith in Jesus, then we have faith in the Living God – and He lives, moves, and acts among His people today. That means we dwell with Him – we live with Him day-in and day-out. It means that worship is more than an event on the calendar; it’s a way of life.

Is this what your faith looks like? Do you dwell with the Living God? Do you experience Him on a daily basis, giving Him your life? That’s what God desires for us; the only thing that stops us from experiencing it is ourselves.

When looking at Paul and Silas in the Philippian prison, we’re tempted to ask the point of it all. Why were they there? God had a purpose for them, and He showed it through a series or miracles starting at midnight. God is always sovereign over our problems! Look for His purposes in every situation, and seek Him.

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.