Friday, July 29, 2011

Ministering In Rome

Acts 28:12-22

Having been blown off course by the hurricane, and landing at Melita, the shipwrecked group sailed with the ship from Alexandria which first had to land at Syracuse as originally scheduled. Once their business was completed, they turned back and headed for Italy, landing at Puteoli.

“And landing at Syracuse, we tarried there three days. And from thence we fetched a compass, and came to Rhegium: and after one day the south wind blew, and we came the next day to Puteoli: Where we found brethren, and were desired to tarry with them seven days: and so we went toward Rome. And from thence, when the brethren heard of us, they came to meet us as far as Appii forum, and The three taverns: whom when Paul saw, he thanked God, and took courage.” (Acts 28:12-15)

Almost four years after leaving Ephesus, intending to visit Jerusalem and then go on to Rome, Paul finally got there. When he did, he was met by some of the Christians he had written the book of Romans to. Imagine the relief and encouragement this gave after almost three years as a prisoner. Our expectations are seldom the same as God’s schedule.

“And when we came to Rome, the centurion delivered the prisoners to the captain of the guard: but Paul was suffered to dwell by himself with a soldier that kept him.” (Acts 28:16)

Paul was technically a prisoner, but he was only being held because of his appeal to Caesar and was not charged with any crime. As a result, he was given freedom to live in a private home with just a single guard to stay with him.

“And it came to pass, that after three days Paul called the chief of the Jews together: and when they were come together, he said unto them, Men and brethren, though I have committed nothing against the people, or customs of our fathers, yet was I delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. Who, when they had examined me, would have let me go, because there was no cause of death in me. But when the Jews spake against it, I was constrained to appeal unto Caesar; not that I had ought to accuse my nation of.” (Acts 28:17-19)

Despite their treatment of him, Paul still had a love for the Jews. He contacted the Jewish leaders and explained why he had been arrested, knowing that some of his enemies might come at any time to cause trouble. As he explained, he had not violated any of the Jewish teachings, or customs, but was arrested for political reasons. The Romans would have released him except for Jewish demands for further charges in an effort to kill him without a valid trial and thus discredit his supporters. He had felt obligated to appeal to Caesar for his freedom, even though he could not make serious charges against the Jews, because no provable attempt had been made on his life.

“For this cause therefore have I called for you, to see you, and to speak with you: because that for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain.” (Acts 28:20)

Paul believed that the prophecies and laws had been fulfilled in Christ. If that were so, the Jewish leadership was in rebellion against God, much like they were when God had chosen David to be king in Saul’s place but most of the tribes chose to make Ishbosheth king instead. They were unwilling to yield their control.

“And they said unto him, We neither received letters out of Judaea concerning thee, neither any of the brethren that came showed or spake any harm of thee. But we desire to hear of thee what thou thinkest: for as concerning this sect, we know that every where it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:21-22)

Claudius, Roman Emperor from 41-54 AD., had banned Jews from Rome as described in Acts 18:2. Only after his death had the Jewish community begun to rebuild their power. As a result, there was little direct communication with Jerusalem. While there was a church in Rome, they posed no threat to the Jewish community, and had been largely ignored, but they had heard the clams against them from other areas. The Roman Jews wanted to know what the conflict was about.

“And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.” (Acts 28:23-24)

They set aside a day, and Paul spent the entire day explaining the gospel to the Jews. Kind of makes modern soul winning efforts seem shallow doesn’t it? He went through the old testament showing the basis for belief establishing a sound basis for making a decision. Some chose to believe, and others did not, but they made informed decisions.

“And when they agreed not among themselves, they departed, after that Paul had spoken one word, Well spake the Holy Ghost by Esaias the prophet unto our fathers, Saying, Go unto this people, and say, Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive: For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and should be converted, and I should heal them.“ (Acts 28:25-27)

Isaiah had said the Jews would be satisfied with what they had and refuse to see any more in Isaiah 6:10 and again in Isaiah 44:18. It was the people’s choice, not God’s. God will not force people to believe him. Some will not believe until every knee bows and every tongue confesses at the final judgment.

“Be it known therefore unto you, that the salvation of God is sent unto the Gentiles, and that they will hear it. And when he had said these words, the Jews departed, and had great reasoning among themselves.” (Acts 28:28-29)

Though the Jews had the advantage of having been given God’s word, the Gentiles would be and are still more receptive than the Jews. The Jews left Paul discussing what they had heard that day.

“And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, Preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.” (Acts 28:30-31)

Paul continued his ministry in Rome for two more years, renting a house where he was free to witness and preach to anyone who was interested enough to come and listen. He had greater freedom in preaching as a Roman prisoner than he had as a free man. I can only imagine the impact his personal teaching had on the church at Rome.

Concluding Remarks

Paul arrived in Rome between 54 and 66 AD., during Nero’s reign. In 66 AD., Nero ordered Jerusalem destroyed. Some believe that Paul was temporarily released from prison then later re arrested and executed. Scripture makes no such claim, and the prison epistles may have been written during the two years described.

Under Nero, persecution of both Jews and Christians became intense, as he made them scapegoats for the problems under his administration. Repeated rebellions by the Jews made it easy to blame them for the problems, and Christianity was viewed as an offshoot of the Jewish religion. The burning of Rome appears to have been an outpouring of hatred against the Jews and Christians, orchestrated by Nero in an attempt to remain as emperor. He was deposed in 68 AD.

Tradition tells us that Paul was executed as a result of this unrest. It may well be true.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Delivered From A Poisonous Snake

Acts 28:1-11

After two weeks caught in the jaws of a hurricane, everyone on the ship had given up hope of surviving. Sensing they were close to land, they dropped anchor and waited for morning, when the spotted a small estuary that might provide a safe landing. In the attempt to land, they were grounded and the waves destroyed the ship, but they all got safely to shore.

“And when they were escaped, then they knew that the island was called Melita. And the barbarous people showed us no little kindness: for they kindled a fire, and received us every one, because of the present rain, and because of the cold.” (Acts 28:1-2)

Weakened by two weeks of not eating, the swim through wind whipped winter seas would have been exhausting, and the cold and torrential rain that follows a hurricane could well have caused the death of many survivors from hypothermia. The people of the island were not very sophisticated or refined, but they were very concerned for the wellbeing of the castaways. Too often sophistication is just a manifestation of selfishness and self absorption.

Paul did not sit and glory in being served, but actively began gathering wood and helping out where he could, understanding the concept of ministering or meeting the needs of others.

“And when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks, and laid them on the fire, there came a viper out of the heat, and fastened on his hand. And when the barbarians saw the venomous beast hang on his hand, they said among themselves, No doubt this man is a murderer, whom, though he hath escaped the sea, yet vengeance suffereth not to live.” (Acts 28:3-4)

The people of the island assumed, like many today, that when something bad happened, God was punishing the individual for some thing. In their mind it was obvious Paul had done some terrible thing, and the hurricane had been an attempt by the gods to kill him. When it failed, they sent a poisonous snake to catch him off guard. It is shocking how prevalent this idea is among so called “Christians”. If they were like the Navajos, these people probably spent a lot of effort trying to appease the gods whenever something went wrong. Paul simply ignored the incident.

“And he shook off the beast into the fire, and felt no harm. Howbeit they looked when he should have swollen, or fallen down dead suddenly: but after they had looked a great while, and saw no harm come to him, they changed their minds, and said that he was a god.” (Acts 28:5-6)

Jesus declared that those who believed in him would do such things in Mark 16:17-18. “And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover.” Paul had not been handling the snake to impress the people but had been bitten in the process of gathering wood. Spirit filled men do not try to impress others. They simply trust God to do what needs to be done. It is much different than most attempts to show spiritual power today.

Unspiritual people, attribute the power to man instead. When Paul was not affected by the snake bite, the islanders concluded that the hurricane must be some sort of power struggle between the gods and that Paul was too strong for the others to get to him. Such belief is often referred to in Greek mythology.

“In the same quarters were possessions of the chief man of the island, whose name was Publius; who received us, and lodged us three days courteously. And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him.” (Acts 28:7-8)

Publius’ father apparently had some kind of lung infection such as pneumonia or tuberculosis that was causing bleeding in his lungs, resulting in a high fever and a bloody froth at his mouth and nose. It was unlikely he would recover from such a severe case. After Paul prayed and laid hands on him he was obviously healed, able to breath freely and with no fever.

“So when this was done, others also, which had diseases in the island, came, and were healed: Who also honoured us with many honours; and when we departed, they laded us with such things as were necessary.” (Acts 28:9-10)

You can imagine the respect and attention Paul received as people began to come to him for help. They demonstrated their respect by giving and sharing what Paul and his companions needed because they appreciated what he was doing and teaching. It is a typical response of people who are experiencing god’s power. When we have to demand people give, there is a problem. Paul and the ship’s company spent three months on the island before it was safe to resume their journey.

“And after three months we departed in a ship of Alexandria, which had wintered in the isle, whose sign was Castor and Pollux.” (Acts 28:11)

Luke notes that the ship they sailed on was based in Alexandria, Egypt, but the figurehead was of the twin sons of the Roman god, Jupiter, Castor and Pollux. It had spent the winter in port on the island, taking no chances of being caught in a storm like the one that destroyed the ship Paul had been on.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Trusting Experience More Than The Spirit

Acts 27:9-44

Unseasonable winds had delayed the journey to Rome and the seasons were changing, increasing the danger of severe weather.

“Now when much time was spent, and when sailing was now dangerous, because the fast was now already past, Paul admonished them, And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives.” (Acts 27:9-10)

Although he was not a sailor, Paul had sailed a lot, and the Holy Spirit made him aware of the danger. Since the harbor at Fair Havens was not a safe place to winter, the captain and crew recommended sailing to the safer harbor at Phenice.

“Nevertheless the centurion believed the master and the owner of the ship, more than those things which were spoken by Paul. And because the haven was not commodious to winter in, the more part advised to depart thence also, if by any means they might attain to Phenice, and there to winter; which is an haven of Crete, and lieth toward the south west and north west. And when the south wind blew softly, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, loosing thence, they sailed close by Crete.” (Acts 27:11-13)

Trusting the captain’s experience more than Paul’s warning the centurion agreed to go on, and when a favorable wind blew, they set out. Unfortunately the favorable wind quickly became a hurricane.

“But not long after there arose against it a tempestuous wind, called Euroclydon. And when the ship was caught, and could not bear up into the wind, we let her drive. And running under a certain island which is called Clauda, we had much work to come by the boat: Which when they had taken up, they used helps, undergirding the ship; and, fearing lest they should fall into the quicksands, struck sail, and so were driven.” (Acts 27:14-17)

Unable to control the ship they were forced to run before the wind until they passed close to an island where by using their life boats they were able to swing the ship into the leeward side and lessent the force so they could safely lower the sails and batten down the hatches, but fearing they would driven aground, they could not anchor there, and just drifted with the wind.

“And we being exceedingly tossed with a tempest, the next day they lightened the ship; And the third day we cast out with our own hands the tackling of the ship. And when neither sun nor stars in many days appeared, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope that we should be saved was then taken away.” (Acts 27:18-20)

Every thing they could do to increase their chances of survival, but after several says with no control of the ship and no break in the storm, the entire company had given up hope.

“But after long abstinence Paul stood forth in the midst of them, and said, Sirs, ye should have hearkened unto me, and not have loosed from Crete, and to have gained this harm and loss. And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship. For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. Wherefore, sirs, be of good cheer: for I believe God, that it shall be even as it was told me. Howbeit we must be cast upon a certain island.” (Acts 27:21-26)

Had they not ignored the Holy Spirit’s warning, the entire situation would have been avoided, but the Holy Spirit now had declared that they all would survive, although they would be stuck on a small island. How many times I have ignored the still small voice of the Lord and found myself in a similar situation.

“But when the fourteenth night was come, as we were driven up and down in Adria, about midnight the shipmen deemed that they drew near to some country; And sounded, and found it twenty fathoms: and when they had gone a little further, they sounded again, and found it fifteen fathoms. Then fearing lest we should have fallen upon rocks, they cast four anchors out of the stern, and wished for the day.” (Acts 27:27-29)

After fourteen days fighting the storm, the sailors realized they were approaching land, although they couldn’t see it. In an effort to prevent being smashed against the shore, they set anchors, wishing it was day so they could see what they faced. Fearing the anchors wouldn’t hold, many of the sailors intended to take the lifeboats and run for shore.

“And as the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea, under colour as though they would have cast anchors out of the foreship, Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved. Then the soldiers cut off the ropes of the boat, and let her fall off.” (Acts 27:30-32)

The Holy spirit made Paul realize that if the sailors deserted, there would be no one to control the ship and everyone else would die. When he warned them, the soldiers set the lifeboats adrift to prevent the sailor from deserting ship. They no longer questioned the Holy Spirit’s advice.

“And while the day was coming on, Paul besought them all to take meat, saying, This day is the fourteenth day that ye have tarried and continued fasting, having taken nothing. Wherefore I pray you to take some meat: for this is for your health: for there shall not an hair fall from the head of any of you. And when he had thus spoken, he took bread, and gave thanks to God in presence of them all: and when he had broken it, he began to eat.

Then were they all of good cheer, and they also took some meat. And we were in all in the ship two hundred threescore and sixteen souls. And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, and cast out the wheat into the sea.” (Acts 27:33-38)

For two weeks, they had not eaten, partly because they couldn’t cook while the storm was so bad, and partly as a result of fear and seasickness. This had undoubtedly made their depression worse. After eating they had hope enough to dump the cargo in hopes of survival, no longer needing it for ballast.

“And when it was day, they knew not the land: but they discovered a certain creek with a shore, into the which they were minded, if it were possible, to thrust in the ship. And when they had taken up the anchors, they committed themselves unto the sea, and loosed the rudder bands, and hoisted up the mainsail to the wind, and made toward shore. And falling into a place where two seas met, they ran the ship aground; and the forepart stuck fast, and remained unmoveable, but the hinder part was broken with the violence of the waves.” (Acts 27:39-41)

Seeing a place where the water might be deeper because of the outlet of a creek, the sailors attempted to guide the ship into it. They struck bottom and the force of the waves began to break up the ship.

“And the soldiers' counsel was to kill the prisoners, lest any of them should swim out, and escape. But the centurion, willing to save Paul, kept them from their purpose; and commanded that they which could swim should cast themselves first into the sea, and get to land: And the rest, some on boards, and some on broken pieces of the ship. And so it came to pass, that they escaped all safe to land.” (Acts 27:42-44)

Roman law required that the guards serve the penalty of any prisoner they allowed to escape. The soldiers wanted to execute all the prisoners to be sure none did so, but the centurion knew that Paul was innocent and did not want to be responsible for his death. As a result, despite the hurricane and shipwreck, there were no casualties. God had protected them all.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

They Made A Decision

Acts 26:24-27:8

Several years ago, The Sword of the Lord sponsored a soul winning sermon contest. The focus was on the presentation of Christ in a way that would elicit a response from people. By the criteria used, Paul did not preach much of a message here, but the Holy Spirit used it in the lives of both Festus and Agrippa.

“And as he thus spake for himself, Festus said with a loud voice, Paul, thou art beside thyself; much learning doth make thee mad.” (Acts 26:24)

Having little or no understanding of the historical facts or philosophical background, Festus rejected the entire message out of ignorance as the thoughts of a person who has obsessed with something so long he’s unable to consider anything else.

“But he said, I am not mad, most noble Festus; but speak forth the words of truth and soberness. For the king knoweth of these things, before whom also I speak freely: for I am persuaded that none of these things are hidden from him; for this thing was not done in a corner.” (Acts 26:25-26)

Agrippa’s father and grandfather had been king during Christ’s ministry and the development of the church. They practiced the Jewish religion to some degree, and thus knew the basis for what Paul was saying. As a result, unlike Festus, he was prepared to make a valid judgment, and Paul addressed him directly.

“King Agrippa, believest thou the prophets? I know that thou believest.” (Acts 26:27)

Knowing Agrippa’s belief, Paul has reminded him of the events surrounding Christ’s life and death. Now he invites him to compare these events with the prophecy.

“Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian.” (Acts 26:28)

When he compares the prophecy with the facts of Jesus’ life, Agrippa recognizes intellectually that Jesus must be the Messiah, but he is unwilling to commit himself to Christ for what ever reason. Paul didn’t spend a lot of time trying to get him to reconsider. Like Festus, Agrippa had decided not to believe.

“And Paul said, I would to God, that not only thou, but also all that hear me this day, were both almost, and altogether such as I am, except these bonds.” (Acts 26:29)

Both Agrippa and Festus could change their decision, but it would have to be their decision, despite Paul’s desire for them. He respected the decision and didn’t try to make them change their mind, even though he disagreed. If you’ve ever had a salesperson try to make you buy after you decided not to, you know how disrespectful and insulting such efforts are. They are not the result of spiritual leading, but of a refusal to accept the person’s decision.

“And when he had thus spoken, the king rose up, and the governor, and Bernice, and they that sat with them: And when they were gone aside, they talked between themselves, saying, This man doeth nothing worthy of death or of bonds. Then said Agrippa unto Festus, This man might have been set at liberty, if he had not appealed unto Caesar.” (Acts 26:30-32)

After considering what Paul was teaching, the entire assembly agreed that whether one believed what Paul said or not, it did not violate either Jewish or Roman law, even as stirring up conflict. Legally, there was no grounds for holding Paul, and he had been imprisoned illegally for two years. Because of his appeal to Caesar, however, they could not just drop the matter, as Paul had unquestionably been done wrong. God used the imprisonment and Paul’s appeal to protect him from the Jewish conspiracy. As Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”

“And when it was determined that we should sail into Italy, they delivered Paul and certain other prisoners unto one named Julius, a centurion of Augustus' band. And entering into a ship of Adramyttium, we launched, meaning to sail by the coasts of Asia; one Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, being with us. And the next day we touched at Sidon. And Julius courteously entreated Paul, and gave him liberty to go unto his friends to refresh himself.” (Acts 27:1-3)

Acting on their conclusions, Paul was shipped to Rome. Knowing he had been illegally imprisoned, he was given a great deal of freedom, and allowed the company of his friends.

“And when we had launched from thence, we sailed under Cyprus, because the winds were contrary. And when we had sailed over the sea of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra, a city of Lycia. And there the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing into Italy; and he put us therein. And when we had sailed slowly many days, and scarce were come over against Cnidus, the wind not suffering us, we sailed under Crete, over against Salmone; And, hardly passing it, came unto a place which is called The fair havens; nigh whereunto was the city of Lasea.” (Acts 27:4-8)

Early ship and sail designs made sailing against the wind difficult, and the Journey took a great deal longer than usual, forcing repeated stops along the way.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sharing His Testimony

Acts 26:1-23

Unlike Festus, Agrippa was well versed in Jewish tradition and culture, being the great grandson of Herod the great and of mixed Jewish heritage. In addition, he had been king since shortly after his father’s death in Acts 12. As a result he was curious about what Paul had to say, and Festus’ question gave an opportunity to learn more.

“Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews: Especially because I know thee to be expert in all customs and questions which are among the Jews: wherefore I beseech thee to hear me patiently.” (Acts 26:1-3)

Paul welcomed the opportunity to respond because Agrippa was familiar with the Jewish custom, as well as the story of Jesus’ ministry and the growth of the church. Rather than denouncing the Jews or declaring his innocence, Paul shares his testimony as to why he became a Christian.

“My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. And now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made of God unto our fathers: Unto which promise our twelve tribes, instantly serving God day and night, hope to come. For which hope's sake, king Agrippa, I am accused of the Jews.” (Acts 26:4-7)

Having been raised his entire life to believe that God would send a redeemer and set Israel free, and acting in accordance with that belief, Paul is now imprisoned because of that very belief. The prophecies had stated that Messiah would raise from the dead, and Paul believed that Jesus had done so. If God could create the universe and part the red Sea, why couldn’t he raise Jesus from the dead? Paul had been as skeptical as anyone originally.

“Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead? I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.” (Acts 26:8-11)

Paul had been even worse than the Jews who accused him, going out and seeking Christians to destroy. Like many others, Paul had believed God had power to do things but was determined that God could only do it Paul’s preconceived way. Since God had not done it that way, he was determined God could not have done it, and was determined to destroy anyone who said God had.

“Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. ” (Acts 26:12-15)

Only when the Holy Spirit worked in a miraculous manner did Paul consider that he might be wrong. No amount of logic could get him to reconsider his opinion. When God dealt with him, Paul had been forced to face the possibility he was wrong. When he asked who he was, he revealed himself to be the very Jesus Paul was so opposed to. The facts had not changed, but for the first time Paul stopped to look at them. Paul then skips ahead to the message Ananias gave him as to God’s purpose.

“But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” (Acts 26:16-18)

God had saved Paul that way so he could be a witness of what he’d seen God do and share what God would show him. He promised to protect him from both Gentiles and Jews in the process so that they could be saved as well.

“Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” (Acts 26:19-20)

Paul had spent his life since that time sharing the gospel with both Jews and Gentiles. Like he had been, the Jews were determined to destroy any one who did not accept their idea of God’s working, and attacked Paul for his teaching, even though he was not contradicting them.

“For these causes the Jews caught me in the temple, and went about to kill me. Having therefore obtained help of God, I continue unto this day, witnessing both to small and great, saying none other things than those which the prophets and Moses did say should come: That Christ should suffer, and that he should be the first that should rise from the dead, and should show light unto the people, and to the Gentiles.” (Acts 26:21-23)

He has not changed his message, and it is not different than what the Old Testament Prophets said. They had prophesied that Christ would be persecuted and killed, and would raise from the dead. It just was not what the preconceived ideas stated. When we approach a subject with our minds made up, we tend to ignore any facts that don‘t support our position.

Friday, July 22, 2011

A Political Prisoner

Acts 25:6-27

Felix had left Paul in prison for two years for political purposes, to keep the Jews happy. Three days after Festus was inaugurated to replace him, the Jews struck in an attempt to kill Paul, hoping Festus would not be aware of their subterfuge. Instead, he demanded they appear in Caesarea to present their grievances.

“And when he had tarried among them more than ten days, he went down unto Caesarea; and the next day sitting on the judgment seat commanded Paul to be brought. And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove. While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.” (Ac 25:6-8)

About two weeks into his administration, Festus tried to deal with the issue of Paul’s imprisonment. The Jews presented a number of unsubstantiated charges against Paul. Festus himself could find no legal grounds for the accusations, since it was not against Roman law to worship other Gods, and there was no mandate to worship the Jewish religion. Paul’s defense was that he had not broken any Roman laws, and that he had not broken the Jewish laws either. The Jewish leaders were trying to make an example of Paul to prevent the growth of Christianity.

“But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?” (Acts 25:9)

Since the Jews had no firm legal ground, but he wanted to prevent social unrest, Festus asked Paul if he was willing to submit to a mediation proceeding in Jerusalem, Not realizing that the Jews were hoping that such a hearing would provide and opportunity to murder Paul. Festus was unaware of the conspiracy to murder him, but Paul was not.

“Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar's judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest. For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.” (Acts 25:10-11)

Roman Law provided that a citizen was entitled an appeal if he felt that he had been unfairly treated by the authorities. Having already been held for two years without being convicted, Paul had a valid grievance. To be asked to remain in custody and submit to another trial when no valid charges had been preferred was outrageous. Paul decided to exercise his right as a citizen.

“Then Festus, when he had conferred with the council, answered, Hast thou appealed unto Caesar? unto Caesar shalt thou go.” (Acts 25:12)

After checking with his advisors, Festus realized he really had no choice but to either let Paul go or let him make his appeal to Caesar. Letting him go would surely result in additional uprisings, so he elected to sent him to Caesar.

“And after certain days king Agrippa and Bernice came unto Caesarea to salute Festus. And when they had been there many days, Festus declared Paul's cause unto the king, saying, There is a certain man left in bonds by Felix: About whom, when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me, desiring to have judgment against him. To whom I answered, It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die, before that he which is accused have the accusers face to face, and have licence to answer for himself concerning the crime laid against him.” (Acts 25:13-16)

All the surrounding governors and authorities wanted to establish a working realtionship with the new governor, so king Agrippa came down to visit Festus. Herod Agrippa II was the son of Agrippa I and the last important descendant of Herod the great. He ruled from 48-100 AD.

Festus took advantage of Agrippa’s visit to ask his advice, since had far more experience both in government and in dealing with the Jews. The Jews demand to have Paul executed clearly did not meet Roman legal standards, and when the case came to him he could find no legal grounds even to hold Paul.

“Therefore, when they were come hither, without any delay on the morrow I sat on the judgment seat, and commanded the man to be brought forth. Against whom when the accusers stood up, they brought none accusation of such things as I supposed: But had certain questions against him of their own superstition, and of one Jesus, which was dead, whom Paul affirmed to be alive.

And because I doubted of such manner of questions, I asked him whether he would go to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these matters. But when Paul had appealed to be reserved unto the hearing of Augustus, I commanded him to be kept till I might send him to Caesar.” (Acts 25:17-21)

When Paul demanded a hearing before Caesar, Festus felt that he was obligated to honor the appeal, but he wanted to know how he should have handled the case. Agrippa asked to hear the case himself so he could give valid advice.

"Then Agrippa said unto Festus, I would also hear the man myself. To morrow, said he, thou shalt hear him. And on the morrow, when Agrippa was come, and Bernice, with great pomp, and was entered into the place of hearing, with the chief captains, and principal men of the city, at Festus' commandment Paul was brought forth.

And Festus said, King Agrippa, and all men which are here present with us, ye see this man, about whom all the multitude of the Jews have dealt with me, both at Jerusalem, and also here, crying that he ought not to live any longer. But when I found that he had committed nothing worthy of death, and that he himself hath appealed to Augustus, I have determined to send him. Of whom I have no certain thing to write unto my lord. Wherefore I have brought him forth before you, and specially before thee, O king Agrippa, that, after examination had, I might have somewhat to write. For it seemeth to me unreasonable to send a prisoner, and not withal to signify the crimes laid against him.” (Acts 25:22-27)

As Festus explained when he brought Paul before them, he had been stuck with this case, and in his efforts to resolve it, he had found no evidence of Paul having actually committed a crime, and certainly not a capital offense. Because Paul had appealed to Caesar, he felt he had to send him, but it seemed ridiculous that Paul had been imprisoned so long, and no charges had ever even been filed. Paul should not have even needed to make such an appeal. Under American law, he would have had the right to a settlement from the authorities for illegal arrest. It would be especially damaging that no valid basis for his arrest could be provided. It’s not hard to understand Festus’ problem, and to deny Paul’s request would just aggravate the problem.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The hearing Before Felix

Acts 24:22-25:5

“And when Felix heard these things, having more perfect knowledge of that way, he deferred them, and said, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will know the uttermost of your matter.” (Acts 24:22)

Having been governor for several years, Felix knew a good deal about the Christian’s beliefs, and that they were not trying to destroy the Jewish religion. He also knew the Jewish leaders would do almost any thing to maintain their political and religious power. Like politicians today, they would make any charges that they thought might discredit their opponents. He put them off until the chief captain was could explain what really happened.

“And he commanded a centurion to keep Paul, and to let him have liberty, and that he should forbid none of his acquaintance to minister or come unto him.” (Acts 24:23)

While Paul was technically a prisoner, He had not been indicted, and Felix placed him under house arrest, free to move about the community and visit people at will. The centurion’s main job was to see that Paul didn’t leave town.

“And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.” (Acts 24:24-25)

Because he was familiar with both Jewish and Christian beliefs, Felix wanted to know more, and had Paul brought to speak to him and his wife. As Paul spoke, Felix was convicted about his need for a savior, to the point of actually trembling from he emotional stress, but chose not to accept at that time. As has been stated before the Holy Spirit does not force people to do what is right, but allows man to decide for himself.

“He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.” (Acts 24:26)

Apparently, Felix never experienced the same level of conviction, and began to hope that Paul would bribe him to turn him loose. The Roman system left a lot of things to the discretion of the individual, and was riddled with graft and corruption.

“But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix' room: and Felix, willing to show the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.” (Acts 24:27)

Paul had languished as a prisoner for two years. When Festus was appointed to replace Felix, for political reasons, Felix left Paul as a prisoner. Three days after his appointment, Festus made a trip to Jerusalem to meet with his subjects.

“Now when Festus was come into the province, after three days he ascended from Caesarea to Jerusalem. Then the high priest and the chief of the Jews informed him against Paul, and besought him, And desired favour against him, that he would send for him to Jerusalem, laying wait in the way to kill him.” (Acts 25:1-3)

The Jews tried to take advantage of Festus’ not knowing their practices to get rid of Paul. They requested that Paul be brought to Jerusalem for trial, with the intention of attacking and killing him in transit, before Festus would realize what was happening.

“But Festus answered, that Paul should be kept at Caesarea, and that he himself would depart shortly thither. Let them therefore, said he, which among you are able, go down with me, and accuse this man, if there be any wickedness in him.” (Acts 25:4-5)

The Holy Spirit caused Festus to instead keep Paul at Caesarea and order the Jews to go there to present their evidence and see if there was a real case.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Holy Spirit Uses Human Implements

Acts 23:11-35

Paul had been warned by God that he should not go to Jerusalem, and that if he did he would be imprisoned. Ignoring the Holy Spirit, Paul went to Jerusalem anyway, and was arrested and denied the privilege of sharing the gospel with the Jews, despite every attempt. Without the Holy Spirit’s power, even Paul could not make anything happen.

In Judges 16:20, Delilah had cut Samson’s hair, “And he wist not that the LORD was departed from him.” He was undoubtedly shocked to discover he couldn’t defeat the Philistines like he always had before. Paul had always been able to reach some people, and didn’t realize there was no power to enable him to do the job. He had come because he wanted to witness to the Jews. Imagine the discouragement, that he has not even been allowed to finish speaking. I’m sure he was praying about it.

“And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.” (Ac 23:11)

Though Paul had disobeyed the Lord in going, God had not forgotten him. God is still going to use him to witness in Rome, even though he will have no more impact in Jerusalem. It will not happen immediately however, and Paul was not to be discouraged by the delays. The Jewish actions soon resulted in the final disposal of the case being left to the Romans as Agabus had prophesied.

“And when it was day, certain of the Jews banded together, and bound themselves under a curse, saying that they would neither eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. And they were more than forty which had made this conspiracy.
And they came to the chief priests and elders, and said, We have bound ourselves under a great curse, that we will eat nothing until we have slain Paul. Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you to morrow, as though ye would inquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.” (Acts 23:12-15)

Wicked men will go to any extent to preserve their power and prestige, and a group of the Jews was no exception, conspiring to murder Paul. Like most conspiracies, cooperation of certain authorities was needed, and the leaders agreed to request another hearing to give opportunity to kill Paul. God thwarted the plan by making it known to the Romans.

“And when Paul's sister's son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul. Then Paul called one of the centurions unto him, and said, Bring this young man unto the chief captain: for he hath a certain thing to tell him.

So he took him, and brought him to the chief captain, and said, Paul the prisoner called me unto him, and prayed me to bring this young man unto thee, who hath something to say unto thee. Then the chief captain took him by the hand, and went with him aside privately, and asked him, What is that thou hast to tell me?

And he said, The Jews have agreed to desire thee that thou wouldest bring down Paul to morrow into the council, as though they would inquire somewhat of him more perfectly. But do not thou yield unto them: for there lie in wait for him of them more than forty men, which have bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink till they have killed him: and now are they ready, looking for a promise from thee.

So the chief captain then let the young man depart, and charged him, See thou tell no man that thou hast showed these things to me.” (Acts 23:16-23)

Recognizing the danger of such a conspiracy, the chief captain made arrangements to get Paul away safely to Caesarea and block the conspiracy, preserving Roman supremacy. The Jews were already rebelling, and had the conspiracy succeeded, they would have been emboldened to push harder. Even as it was, it was only about five years later that Rome was forced to destroy Jerusalem to quell an uprising. That he considered the threat serious is apparent from his actions.

“And he called unto him two centurions, saying, Make ready two hundred soldiers to go to Caesarea, and horsemen threescore and ten, and spearmen two hundred, at the third hour of the night; And provide them beasts, that they may set Paul on, and bring him safe unto Felix the governor.” (Acts 23:23-24)

Two hundred seventy troops were sent out after dark to get Paul out of Jerusalem and take him to the Roman stronghold at Caesarea. A letter explaining the reasons for his actions was sent to the governor. To have allowed the Jews to judge the case themselves would have weakened the authority of Roman laws, strengthening the Jews appearance of power..

“And he wrote a letter after this manner: Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix sendeth greeting. This man was taken of the Jews, and should have been killed of them: then came I with an army, and rescued him, having understood that he was a Roman.

And when I would have known the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him forth into their council: Whom I perceived to be accused of questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or of bonds.

And when it was told me how that the Jews laid wait for the man, I sent straightway to thee, and gave commandment to his accusers also to say before thee what they had against him. Farewell.” (Acts 23:25-30)

Following orders the entire force escorted Paul to Antipatris that night, probably arriving about midnight. The following morning, the main body returned to Jerusalem, leaving the cavalry to take Paul the rest of the way, since an ambush was unlikely beyond that point.

“Then the soldiers, as it was commanded them, took Paul, and brought him by night to Antipatris. On the morrow they left the horsemen to go with him, and returned to the castle: Who, when they came to Caesarea, and delivered the epistle to the governor, presented Paul also before him. And when the governor had read the letter, he asked of what province he was. And when he understood that he was of Cilicia; I will hear thee, said he, when thine accusers are also come. And he commanded him to be kept in Herod's judgment hall.” (Acts 23:31-35)

A change of venue ensured that Paul would get a fair hearing by removing him from the Jews’ sphere of influence. It would also establish that they still had to follow Roman law. God used the conflict with Rome to protect Paul, even though Paul had not been obeying God when he went to Jerusalem.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Flesh Accomplishes Little

Acts 22:30-23:10

Since he dared not use torture to interrogate Paul, the chief captain ordered the Jewish leadership to appear for a hearing to determine what the charges were and whether there was sufficient evidence to hold him.

“On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him from his bands, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them.” (Acts 22:30)

Under Roman law, the accused usually defended himself. The law allowed him considerable freedom to show his innocence. Jewish law made a similar concession, requiring that the claims be verified before punishment was administered. Paul started his opening statement.

“And Paul, earnestly beholding the council, said, Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” (Acts 23:1)

All his life Paul had had the intention of doing what was right, even though he had been wrong, as he learned on the road to Damascus.

“And the high priest Ananias commanded them that stood by him to smite him on the mouth.” (Acts 23:2)

Under both Roman and Jewish law, the accused was permitted to speak freely in his own defense. Ananias was abusing his position in ordering Paul to be smitten, and perverting judgment by limiting what evidence could be presented. It is a problem in our modern courts as well. Paul was angry at the blatant disregard for the law they were to uphold.

“Then said Paul unto him, God shall smite thee, thou whited wall: for sittest thou to judge me after the law, and commandest me to be smitten contrary to the law?” (Acts 23:3)

The high priest’s authority came from God, and Paul warned him that he would be held accountable by God for ignoring God’s law. In his anger, he accused the high priest of hypocrisy, of painting the wall to hide it’s defects.

“And they that stood by said, Revilest thou God's high priest? Then said Paul, I wist not, brethren, that he was the high priest: for it is written, Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.” (Acts 23:4-5)

Although Paul had originally been a Jewish leader himself, he had been separated from that life for more than twenty years, and he was not familiar with the current political and religious leaders and had not recognized the chief priest. He referred to Exodus 22:28 in his apology for his comment. “Thou shalt not revile the gods, nor curse the ruler of thy people.” Even when they are wrong, we are not to be disrespectful to the authorities.

“But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.” (Acts 23:6)

Paul had been present at Stephen’s martyrdom, and knew that they intended to kill him. Ananias was trying to shut him up even before he had the opportunity to share the gospel. Paul was willing to die, but he did not want to die without sharing his message. In an attempt to get a valid hearing, Paul appealed to the Pharisees conflict with the Sadducees over the after life.

“And when he had so said, there arose a dissension between the Pharisees and the Sadducees: and the multitude was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both. And there arose a great cry: and the scribes that were of the Pharisees' part arose, and strove, saying, We find no evil in this man: but if a spirit or an angel hath spoken to him, let us not fight against God.” (Acts 23:7-9)

Like the humanists and rationalists of today, the Sadducees did not believe in a real spiritual world, practicing the Jewish religion merely as a good moral standard and for a cultural identity. They became quite upset at the idea that God or his demands were real, however. The Pharisees, on the other hand were genuine believers, convinced that God was real and their beliefs were valid. Though they thought he was wrong, the Pharisees would give Paul the benefit of the doubt.

“And when there arose a great dissension, the chief captain, fearing lest Paul should have been pulled in pieces of them, commanded the soldiers to go down, and to take him by force from among them, and to bring him into the castle.” (Acts 23:10)

The unresolved conflict erupted over Paul’s statement that the trial was over whether the resurrection was true or not, and became so out of hand, the chief captain was fearful they would kill his prisoner, and he would be held accountable. He ordered the forcible removal of Paul to the castle.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Protected by the Holy Spirit

Acts 21:40-22:29

“And when he had given him licence, Paul stood on the stairs, and beckoned with the hand unto the people. And when there was made a great silence, he spake unto them in the Hebrew tongue, saying, Men, brethren, and fathers, hear ye my defence which I make now unto you.” (Acts 21:40-22:1)

Having been given permission to speak, Paul got the crowd’s attention and began to explain what had happened. The mob as a whole only knew what he was accused of. Jerusalem was an occupied city, and many languages were in common use. As an occupied city, they were constantly forced to accept other peoples way even when it conflicted with their tradition. That Paul spoke Hebrew as a native implied that he might at least understand their traditions and beliefs.

“(And when they heard that he spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he saith,) I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.” (Acts 22:2-3)

The first ting Paul did was describe his qualifications to be heard on the subject. No one has any reason other than good manners for listening to someone who has not demonstrated their qualifications. It is why a holy life style is so critical if we are to be an effective witness. He started by showing that he had lived a similar life to many of them, and thus understood their concerns.

“And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters unto the brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound unto Jerusalem, for to be punished.” (Acts 22:4-5)

Though there were thousands of Jewish Christians in Jerusalem, it was still very much a minority religion. Like those who were opposing him, Paul had originally tried to destroy Christianity. He shared his testimony as to what changed his mind.

“And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me.

And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus. And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him.” (Acts 22:6-13)

Paul had accepted the Lord as a result of the Holy Spirit’s power, not as a result of some impassioned plea or psychological manipulation. Ananias had only served to instruct Paul in what he needed to do next.

“And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:14-16)

After obeying the instruction to call on the name of the Lord and be baptized, Paul spent three years in Arabia being personally taught by the Lord, fulfilling Ananias’ prophecy that he would see and hear the Lord and know his will. After that three years, he returned to Jerusalem.

“And it came to pass, that, when I was come again to Jerusalem, even while I prayed in the temple, I was in a trance; And saw him saying unto me, Make haste, and get thee quickly out of Jerusalem: for they will not receive thy testimony concerning me. And I said, Lord, they know that I imprisoned and beat in every synagogue them that believed on thee: And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him. And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.” (Acts 22:17-21)

Paul had assumed that knowing his past would cause the Jews to wonder why he changed his beliefs. Instead, God warned him that they would view him as a traitor and try to kill him making him ineffective in reaching the Jews, so God would send him to reach the Gentiles.

“And they gave him audience unto this word, and then lifted up their voices, and said, Away with such a fellow from the earth: for it is not fit that he should live.” (Acts 22:22)

Nothing had changed. The Jews still viewed him as a traitor, and like many other groups, demanded his death for turning away. That he had gone and taught the Gentiles what they viewed as heresy only inflamed them further.

“And as they cried out, and cast off their clothes, and threw dust into the air, The chief captain commanded him to be brought into the castle, and bade that he should be examined by scourging; that he might know wherefore they cried so against him. And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said unto the centurion that stood by, Is it lawful for you to scourge a man that is a Roman, and uncondemned?” (Acts 22:23-25)

Roman law, laws protected Citizens from torture and imprisonment until convicted of a crime, but not non- citizens. Paul reminded the centurion of that law.

“When the centurion heard that, he went and told the chief captain, saying, Take heed what thou doest: for this man is a Roman. Then the chief captain came, and said unto him, Tell me, art thou a Roman? He said, Yea. And the chief captain answered, With a great sum obtained I this freedom. And Paul said, But I was free born.” (Acts 22:26-28)

Since Paul’s family were citizens, there was no hope that any violation of his rights would be overlooked. Any questioning was likely to be challenged in court and dealt with severely. God used the existing laws to protect him.

“Then straightway they departed from him which should have examined him: and the chief captain also was afraid, after he knew that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.” (Acts 22:29)

Friday, July 15, 2011

You Can’t Circumvent God’s Word

Acts 21:27-39

The Holy Spirit had repeatedly warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem and what would happen if he went. In an effort to avoid the conflict, he had gone through one of the ceremonial cleansings of the practicing Jews.

“And when the seven days were almost ended, the Jews which were of Asia, when they saw him in the temple, stirred up all the people, and laid hands on him, Crying out, Men of Israel, help: This is the man, that teacheth all men every where against the people, and the law, and this place: and further brought Greeks also into the temple, and hath polluted this holy place. (For they had seen before with him in the city Trophimus an Ephesian, whom they supposed that Paul had brought into the temple.)” (Acts 21:27-29)

Even Paul and the other apostles’ best efforts could not change what God had said would happen. Within a week, some of the Jews who had come to worship from Asia spotted him and began to accuse him, without verifying what was actually happening. The other Jews, already suspicious, quickly joined in.

“And all the city was moved, and the people ran together: and they took Paul, and drew him out of the temple: and forthwith the doors were shut.” (Acts 21:30)

A riot ensued with Paul’s death as the intended outcome. He was forcibly removed from the temple and the doors were closed to prevent further intrusion.

“And as they went about to kill him, tidings came unto the chief captain of the band, that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Who immediately took soldiers and centurions, and ran down unto them: and when they saw the chief captain and the soldiers, they left beating of Paul.” (Acts 21:31-32)

Because of the constant unrest among the Jews, the Roman army was constantly alert for uprisings. Thanks to their quick response, the mob hesitated to kill Paul and he was detained by the soldiers.

“Then the chief captain came near, and took him, and commanded him to be bound with two chains; and demanded who he was, and what he had done. And some cried one thing, some another, among the multitude: and when he could not know the certainty for the tumult, he commanded him to be carried into the castle. And when he came upon the stairs, so it was, that he was borne of the soldiers for the violence of the people. For the multitude of the people followed after, crying, Away with him.” (Acts 21:33-36)

Unable to ascertain just what had happened for the tumult, the captain ordered Paul taken in for questioning, but the soldiers were forced to provide protection from the mob calling for his death.

“And as Paul was to be led into the castle, he said unto the chief captain, May I speak unto thee? Who said, Canst thou speak Greek? Art not thou that Egyptian, which before these days madest an uproar, and leddest out into the wilderness four thousand men that were murderers?” (Acts 21:37-38)

Initially, the Roman captain had believed Paul to be just another of the rabble rousers who kept the Jews in constant uproar. The mobs actions led him to believe he was the same person who had previously caused a riot. That Paul was educated and spoke his language challenged his assumption.

“But Paul said, I am a man which am a Jew of Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city: and, I beseech thee, suffer me to speak unto the people.” (Acts 21:39)

Paul was not aggressive in demanding his rights, just requesting permission to speak after demonstrating that he was not who they thought he was.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

An Attempt To Prevent Conflict

Acts 21:15-25

After a period spent with Philip and the church at Caesarea, Paul’s company took their luggage and headed for Jerusalem, accompanied by several Christians from Caesarea.

“And after those days we took up our carriages, and went up to Jerusalem. There went with us also certain of the disciples of Caesarea, and brought with them one Mnason of Cyprus, an old disciple, with whom we should lodge. And when we were come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.” (Acts 21:15-17)

While the other apostle made frequent trips to outlying churches, James seems to have devoted most of his ministry to Jerusalem itself. As a result, after many years, he was the most deferred to of the leaders in Jerusalem, although as Paul stressed, no more important than any of the others.

“And the day following Paul went in with us unto James; and all the elders were present. And when he had saluted them, he declared particularly what things God had wrought among the Gentiles by his ministry.” (Acts 21:18-19)

Welcomed by the church, Paul reported what God had done by his ministry. Once again we are impressed by the attitude, of focusing on what God has done, rather than on what we’ve done, just as they’d done in Acts 14 and 15. Matthew 6:2 speaks of the hypocrites who do their works so they can have the glory. II Corinthians 10:17-18 commands, “But he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. For not he that commendeth himself is approved, but whom the Lord commendeth.”

The Holy Spirit always glorifies the Lord according to John 16:14 states. “He shall glorify me: for he shall receive of mine, and shall show it unto you.” As Paul stated in Galatians 6:14, Spirit filled Christians will not be glorifying themselves. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” The result was that the church glorified God, rather than Paul.

“And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord, and said unto him, Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law: And they are informed of thee, that thou teachest all the Jews which are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children, neither to walk after the customs.” (Acts 21:20-21)

People tend to accept the things they have grown up with as normal and mistrust any thing different. After twenty five or thirty years of Christianity, thousands of the Jews had accepted Christ, but despite the best efforts of the apostles, they were still biased toward Judaic practices. Non believing Jews had made false accusations that Paul was teaching that it was wrong to follow Jewish tradition and caused suspicion that could easily cause trouble.

“What is it therefore? the multitude must needs come together: for they will hear that thou art come. Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.” (Acts 21:22-24)

To try to defuse the situation, the elders recommended that Paul go through some of the Jewish ceremonies to demonstrate that he was not trying to destroy Jewish culture. They had no intention of implying that non Jewish should follow those standards.

“As touching the Gentiles which believe, we have written and concluded that they observe no such thing, save only that they keep themselves from things offered to idols, and from blood, and from strangled, and from fornication.” (Acts 21:25)

Paul had faced a similar situation in Antioch, when Christians from Jerusalem came practicing Jewish standards and customs. Even Barnabas and the other Jews in the church had begun to follow those standards, causing a conflict with the Gentiles. Paul describes the situation in Galatians 2. He saw the wisdom of their suggestion and followed them.

“Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.” (Acts 21:26)

Paul was just following the advice in Romans 12:18, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” When God has not given a specific command, we may need to give up our own standards, even if we believe them valid. I Corinthians 11:16 describes such a case. “But if any man seem to be contentious, we have no such custom, neither the churches of God.” Spirit filled Christians will not deliberately offend other Christians by imposing their own personal standards.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Ignoring God‘s Warning

Acts 21:1-7

After meeting with the Ephesian leaders, Paul and his company resumed their journey to Jerusalem, with the intent of being there for Pentecost. With only about a month left, they sailed on costal trading ships to various stops along the way, seeking a ship headed toward Israel.

“And it came to pass, that after we were gotten from them, and had launched, we came with a straight course unto Coos, and the day following unto Rhodes, and from thence unto Patara: And finding a ship sailing over unto Phenicia, we went aboard, and set forth. Now when we had discovered Cyprus, we left it on the left hand, and sailed into Syria, and landed at Tyre: for there the ship was to unlade her burden.” (Acts 21:1-3)

After a few days of travel, they found a ship headed for Phoenicia that would be making a stop in Tyre, Syria to make a delivery. This ship did not hug the coast but sailed straight across the Mediterranean.

“And finding disciples, we tarried there seven days: who said to Paul through the Spirit, that he should not go up to Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:4)

They then spent a week with the Christians in Tyre, because they were spiritually brothers and sisters, even though they had never met. While they were there, the Christians there were directed by the Holy Spirit to tell Paul not to go to Jerusalem. When they left, the Christians in tyre accompanied them to the edge of town.

“And when we had accomplished those days, we departed and went our way; and they all brought us on our way, with wives and children, till we were out of the city: and we kneeled down on the shore, and prayed. And when we had taken our leave one of another, we took ship; and they returned home again. And when we had finished our course from Tyre, we came to Ptolemais, and saluted the brethren, and abode with them one day.” (Acts 21:5-7)

After staying overnight with the Christians in Ptolemais. Paul’s company went to Caesarea, the home town of Cornelius and Roman garrison. It was also the city where Philip ended up after his mission to the Samaritans.

“And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him. And the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.” (Acts 21:8-9)

Philip had made his home in Caesarea, and Paul and his group stayed with them for many days, visiting and sharing what he Lord had done. Philip was one of the original deacons named in Acts 7, and is the only person referred to as an evangelist in the Bible. He and his family were still active in church more than twenty years after he’d left Jerusalem.

“And as we tarried there many days, there came down from Judaea a certain prophet, named Agabus. And when he was come unto us, he took Paul's girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.” (Acts 21:10-11)

Paul had told the Ephesian leaders that the Holy Spirit had repeatedly warned him of the danger of going to Jerusalem. In Tyre, the Holy Spirit told Paul he should not go to Jerusalem. Agabus delivers a final warning to Paul, that if he goes, he will be arrested by the Jews and turned over to the Roman authorities.

“And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.” (Acts 21:12-14)

Despite repeated warnings by the Holy Spirit, and the pleading of his friends and fellow Christians, Paul refused to be dissuaded from going. Even Spirit filled men ignore the Holy Spirit’s leadership from time to time. Paul was so focused on his desire to win Jews to Christ he ignored the Holy Spirit. His associates finally decided that they were wasting their time trying to change his mind, and decided to let him suffer the consequences of his actions if that is what God wanted.

Unlike Satanic spirits, the Holy Spirit does not take possession and force us to do things. He always leaves us free to take control at any time. As I Corinthians 14:32 states, “And the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets.” Any person can refuse to allow the Holy spirit to have his way. If a person is unable to control himself, it is not the Holy Spirit motivating him.

In I Corinthians 4:6. Paul was concerned “…that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another.” Here, the Holy
Spirit has made it very clear that even Paul did not always follow the Holy Spirit’s leadership. It is a very important message.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

The Need To Feed

Acts 20:28-37

“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)

Paul reminded the leaders of the Church at Ephesus of their responsibility to maintain their own spiritual health as well as that of the people they taught. He then went on to explain why sound and spiritual development is so critical.

“For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20;29-30)

Predators prey on the those who are weak and sickly. Hunger both weakens the animal, and distracts it from obvious danger, making him more vulnerable. I Peter 5:8 tells us, “…your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” Spiritually starved Christians may to weak to escape, or be so hungry they ignore the danger in the effort to get a single bite of food. As Paul pointed out, those spiritual predators are going to be there. Unfortunately, some of them get inside the fence where only the healthiest can fend them off. The conflict at Antioch was a result of false brethren who’d gotten into the church as we saw in Acts 14 and 15, and they are constantly trying today.

Peter sounded the same warning in II Peter 2:1. “But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction.” Revelation 2 and 3 describes the effects of these teachers if allowed to continue unchecked. They need to be alert to the danger.

“Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.” (Acts 20:31)

Paul himself had spent three years in Ephesus warning them, but now they would have to take responsibility themselves. As he realized, God was able to take care of them and fulfill his plan, but they would have to decide whether to allow him to. Many today are afraid to trust God to take care of what they have done, and insist on keeping control.

“And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified. I have coveted no man's silver, or gold, or apparel. Yea, ye yourselves know, that these hands have ministered unto my necessities, and to them that were with me. I have showed you all things, how that so labouring ye ought to support the weak, and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:32-35)

II Peter 2:3 describes the actions of the false teachers, saying, “And through covetousness shall they with feigned words make merchandise of you…” because, like Balaam, they “loved the wages of unrighteousness.” Paul had set the opposite example, supporting himself and even refusing to allow them to support him to set a proper example before them. While Paul clearly believed God expected the church to support the pastor, according to I Corinthians 9, the Holy spirit would not allow him to take unfair advantage of his position. False teachers, on the other hand, would have no such qualms.

“And when he had thus spoken, he kneeled down, and prayed with them all.” (Acts 20:36)

One of the hardest thing for many parents is turning loose and letting their children take control of their lives. Many missionaries and pastors have the same problem letting go of churches they have started. The problem for both parents and pastors is a failure to trust God. Paul simply knelt and prayed, turning them over to God and trusted him to keep his word. By doing so in their presence, he demonstrated his confidence in them and placed both himself and them in a position of having to stand by the commitment.

“And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul's neck, and kissed him, Sorrowing most of all for the words which he spake, that they should see his face no more. And they accompanied him unto the ship.” (Acts 20:37-38)

Love is the major characteristic of a spirit filled church, and separation from loved ones is a painful part of life. Knowing that Paul would not be coming back was an emotionally painful realization for the leaders of the church at Ephesus, and would have been so for the other members, had they been present. Like my brother does, they delayed the separation until the last possible minute, even accompanying him to the ship because of their love.

Monday, July 11, 2011

An Orderly Transfer Of Leadership

Acts 20:17-28

“And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus, and called the elders of the church.” (Acts 20:17)

It had only been a about a year since Paul had left Ephesus, after spending nearly three years there. Wanting to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost, and having only a few weeks left to get there Paul decided to skip going back to Ephesus.

“And when they were come to him, he said unto them, Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, Serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:18-21)

Paul reviewed the ministry he’d had among the Ephesians and in Asia, and the attitude he’d demonstrated during the entire time. The most obvious change in a spirit filled person is the attitude. Paul had been changed from a proud Pharisee to an humble and spirit filled man. While we know about the conflict with Demetrius and the Craftsman that precipitated Paul’s leaving Ephesus, we only know about some of the other struggles from incidental mentions in other books, because these things were only incidental to the ministry and not something to be bragged about or dwelt on. We know no details, but in I Corinthians 15:32, Paul refers to having been thrown to wild animals, to make the point that it would be wasted there was no resurrection. In his humility, Paul and Luke made no issue of it, because what happened to him was irrelevant. I Corinthians 11:23-26 describes some of the other things that had happened to him before this time.

Despite such severe opposition and struggles, Paul had continued to preach and teach both Jews and Gentiles about Christ, personally speaking in public places as well as visiting from house to house. His message had been the same every place he went, that people must repent, and he had not limited himself just to preaching salvation, but had kept back nothing about faith and obedience to God, but fulfilled Matthew 28:20 by “…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.”

“And now, behold, I go bound in the spirit unto Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall befall me there: Save that the Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions abide me. But none of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” (Acts 20:22-24)

Paul had a tremendous burden for his own people, even to the point of giving up his own salvation if it would cause them to be saved, as he described in Romans 9. Despite that great burden, God had not called Paul to the Jews, since both Jesus and the other apostles had focused on Jerusalem for many years. The Holy Spirit had already warned Paul of the dangers he would face if he went, but Paul wanted to go to satisfy himself that he had done everything he could to reach them, even if it cost him his life.

“And now, behold, I know that ye all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. Wherefore I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God.” (Acts 20:25-27)

Knowing that God had warned him specifically of the danger, and what he’d been through before, Paul knew that even if he survived, he was unlikely to ever return. He’d done his best to teach them what they needed to know, and it was now up to them to move ahead on their own, knowing that he would no longer be available. Inevitably, this comes to every church, and Paul reminds them of their responsibilities.

“Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28)

The word pastor means “shepherd”. The sheepherder’s primary job is to see that the sheep are fed. He is responsible for the health of every sheep under his care. While lambing season may be more exciting, he must not neglect the other sheep during lambing season. Peter gave similar instructions in I Peter 5:1-3. “The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; Neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock.”

As one of the flock, it is critical that the pastor maintain his own spiritual strength as well, because he will be unable to care for and protect them if he is spiritually weak himself. He must not get the idea he is superior to the others. God will not be pleased with a man who has not taken care of his flock, even if he has a great crop of lambs.

Luke 12:42-48 describes responsibilities of the overseer or bishop and the consequences of not fulfilling he responsibilities. “And the Lord said, Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of meat in due season? Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you, that he will make him ruler over all that he hath.

But and if that servant say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and maidens, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken; The lord of that servant will come in a day when he looketh not for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in sunder, and will appoint him his portion with the unbelievers.

And that servant, which knew his lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”

Paul had set the example of a spirit filled leader, but now it was up to the leaders of the church to take over and do the job they had been given. Having had a year in which hey could call on him at any time, they can now assume full responsibility. God is not the author of confusion according to I Corinthians 14:33, and such an orderly transition is typical of the Holy Spirit’s leadership.

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Church Family

Acts 20:7-16

One of my former sister-in laws told my nephew she had hated coming to our family gatherings because we pretended that we enjoyed being together. As my nephew said, there was never any question whether her family liked each other, they couldn’t stand to one another. He thought that to even pretend would be an improvement. After visiting the family again, he has really pushed for family get together.

When my brothers and sisters and I get together, we may talk until late at night, and especially the last night we have together, savoring the last time we have. While we don’t agree about everything, we just enjoy being together, and get together as often as possible. There is no need to impress anyone. I feel sorry for families who don’t have such a relationship.

The church is God’s family. They ought to have a desire to spend time with their brothers and sisters. When that desire is not present the church family is dysfunctional. Many churches are like my sister-in-law’s family, and can’t wait to get away from each other. The attitude in the church at Jerusalem as described in Acts 2:44-47 and Acts 4:32-35, as a result of the Holy spirit’s working. The church at Troas displayed a similar spirit.

“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.” (Acts 20:7)

The Christians began worshipping on the first day of the week, rather than the seventh or Sabbath, and Paul emphasizes this in I Corinthians 16:2 commanding, “Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him…” Some believe that worshipping on Sunday rather than Saturday is wrong.

Genesis 2:3 declares, “And God blessed the seventh day, and sanctified it: because that in it he had rested from all his work which God created and made.” The Sabbath was a celebration of God’s completing creation. It is an acknowledgement of his physical blessings in this life. The Sabbath carried over in the Law because all the promises under the Law were about the physical benefits, as described in Deuteronomy 28:9-13.

“The LORD shall establish thee an holy people unto himself, as he hath sworn unto thee, if thou shalt keep the commandments of the LORD thy God, and walk in his ways. De 28:10 And all people of the earth shall see that thou art called by the name of the LORD; and they shall be afraid of thee. And the LORD shall make thee plenteous in goods, in the fruit of thy body, and in the fruit of thy cattle, and in the fruit of thy ground, in the land which the LORD sware unto thy fathers to give thee. The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give the rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thine hand: and thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow. And the LORD shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath; if that thou hearken unto the commandments of the LORD thy God, which I command thee this day, to observe and to do them:” (Deuteronomy 28:9-13)

While God finished his work on the sixth day and rested on the Seventh day, our redemption was not complete until the first day of the week, and it is our redemption and spiritual promises Christians celebrate, rather than our physical blessings. The church at Troas was meeting on Sunday. As a family, they shared a meal and Paul preached. Like a family they paid little attention to the time, just enjoying the time together. Paul was still preaching at midnight.

“And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together. And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.” (Acts 20:8-9)

Frequently in a family get together, one of the children will go to sleep, and no one thinks much about it. We just make sure he’s okay, and go on with our talking. When Eutychus went to sleep, it was not a big deal, but his falling out of the window and dying interrupted the preaching.

“And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him.” (Acts 20:10)

For a genuinely Spirit filled man like Paul, even a disruption as serious as this created no serious problem, but preachers today worry that a cell phone ringing or someone moving around will quench the Holy Spirit. Having watched for many years, I suspect that the big problem is we have learned to give and illusion of Spiritual power with earthly techniques. Paul just raised him from the dead, but apparently didn‘t bother to wake him up..

“When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed. And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.” (Acts 20:11-12)

They continued to fellowship and visit until dawn, when Paul left to start his journey. Eutychus woke up and showed no ill effects, over shadowing any sadness caused by Paul’s departure.

“And we went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul: for so had he appointed, minding himself to go afoot. And when he met with us at Assos, we took him in, and came to Mitylene.” (Acts 20:13-14)

Because the ships were so small by today’s standards, and navigation was less precise, there was a tendency to hug the shoreline as much as possible, which also gave opportunity for trading. Undoubtedly it was cramped on the ship, and Paul chose to walk where he could. Since the ships tended to be rather slow, he could travel short distance before they were ready to sail again. He walked to Assos, although the others went by ship, but rode to Mitylene.

“And we sailed thence, and came the next day over against Chios; and the next day we arrived at Samos, and tarried at Trogyllium; and the next day we came to Miletus. For Paul had determined to sail by Ephesus, because he would not spend the time in Asia: for he hasted, if it were possible for him, to be at Jerusalem the day of Pentecost.” (Acts 20:15-16)

While they would pass very close to Ephesus, Paul decided not to stop because they had spent a whole week in Troas, where they had less background. They would have had a harder time leaving Ephesus in such a short time, and Paul wanted to be Jerusalem for Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. Having stayed in Philippi until seven days after Passover, then spending five days getting to Troas and seven days there, and a couple more days getting to Miletus, he was getting concerned that he’d make it. They’d already spent almost half the time.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

It Takes Teamwork

Acts 20:1-6

“And after the uproar was ceased, Paul called unto him the disciples, and embraced them, and departed for to go into Macedonia.” (Acts 20:1)

Paul had already decided to leave Ephesus, with the intent of going to Jerusalem and eventually to Rome. The uproar by Demetrius and the craftsman and the Holy Spirit’s handling of it just precipitated his leaving. His presence was no longer required, and to stay would hamper the church’s growth by inflaming the opposition. The Holy Spirit used the uproar to move Paul along.

Later, while in prison, Paul would write the book of Ephesians, reminding them of the love of God that saved them and encouraging them not to forget what he’d done, or drift into sin. In Revelation 2, God rebuked the church at Ephesus for having forgotten the love God had demonstrated to them, and begun to focus on other things, although they were still doctrinally sound.

“And when he had gone over those parts, and had given them much exhortation, he came into Greece, And there abode three months. And when the Jews laid wait for him, as he was about to sail into Syria, he purposed to return through Macedonia.” (Acts 20:2-3)

Returning to Jerusalem would require passing through or close to a number of areas Paul had already worked in. It was logical to use the opportunity to visit those areas to encourage and address any problems. While the Holy Spirit sometimes gives specific instructions, such as when he directed Paul and his companions to go into Macedonia rather than Asia, or when he directed Philip to meet the Ethiopian Eunuch near Gaza, he frequently doesn’t. If there is no specific direction to another place, it implies we are where God wants us and should serve in this place until he shows us where to go next. God frequently uses circumstances to lead us. To bypass the nearby areas would not be an efficient usage of the time in the area. It appears that Paul spent several months visiting the other churches, and we know for sure that he spent three months in Greece, encouraging and teaching those who had believed in Athens and whatever other cities they had visited.

Sailing directly to Syria and Israel would limit the choices to travel, making it easier for the Jewish conspirators to find him, so Paul chose an indirect route through Macedonia. Although it was much longer, this route had the further advantage of allowing him to visit the Macedonian churches as well.

“And there accompanied him into Asia Sopater of Berea; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timotheus; and of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus. These going before tarried for us at Troas.” (Acts 20:4-5)

Seven members of Paul’s company went on ahead to contact the various Asian churches while Paul and others visited the churches in Macedonia. All of them were men who had been saved under Paul’s ministry, and were trained and mentored by Paul and Silas, on the job. They had demonstrated a spiritual level that Paul could regularly leave them or send them to meet the needs of the various churches.

It is interesting to review what we know about these men. Trophimus was already a member of the group when Paul left Timothy and Silas at Berea and is mentioned in II Timothy 4:20. Tychicus was sent to Ephesus and Colosse at different times and is mentioned several times. Gaius was from Timothy’s home town, and along with Aristarchus had been seized in Ephesus during the uprising by the craftsmen. Paul was staying in Gaius’ home and the church was meeting there when he wrote the book of Romans. Another Gaius is mentioned at Corinth, and a third one is mentioned in II John as a result of John’s ministry. Aristarchus is mentioned in both Colossians and Philemon. Sopater and Secundus are only mentioned in this verse. Timothy is rather well known.

As we look at this list we are again impressed that the great spread of the Gospel was not merely a product of Paul’s efforts but that the Holy spirit drew other men to him who would devote their lives to the Lord as well. In addition to these seven, Paul was also aided by Barnabas, Silas, Titus, John Mark, Priscilla and Aquila, Luke, and others. As Paul and Barnabas were careful to point out in Acts 14, It was not what they had done, but what God had done with them. Paul was very concerned that Christians not place the emphasis on individuals, writing, “that ye might learn in us not to think of men above that which is written, that no one of you be puffed up for one against another,” in I Corinthians 4:6. I suspect he would be very troubled by the modern focus on well known preachers and evangelists.

Just as focusing on a star player can hurt a sports program, it can harm the Lord’s work. The star does not win games without a good coach and team to direct and support him.

“And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.” (Acts 20:6)

Though Troas is only about a hundred and fifty miles from Philippi in a straight line, it took five days of sailing to arrive. Reunited, they spent a week with the Christians in Troas where Paul had been directed to go into Macedonia, in Acts 16.