Creation- Day 4

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So far, we have the heavens and the earth, we have light and darkness, we have the firmament, the sky and last week, Pastor Mike told us about the dry land, the plants, and the vegetation and everything that we enjoy about trees and fruit and it was all good. All that took place in three, literal 24-hour periods of time. We finished with the third day of creation. Today, we wake up to the fourth day.

Take a look at Gen. 1:14-19 that describes day 4 of creation.

We begin today listening to God as He speaks. V. 14 says, “Then God said, ‘Let there be lights in the expanse of the heavens to separate the day from the night, and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years.” God is systematic in His process of creation. On day 4, He provides a specific light source to separate the day from the night. On day 1, there was a separation of light and darkness that is now defined. There are lights, plural, “in the expanse of the heavens.” “The expanse of the heavens” is a reference to what we see above us. Remember, creation is a geocentric account. The lights serve three specific purposes. First, the lights provide a separation, a distinction between day and night. When it gets dark out, we call it night. I’m sure there have been summer storms when the clouds roll in when you’ve used the phrase, “It’s dark as night out there.” If we wait around for a while in the night, the dark becomes light and we call it day. It happens over and over again, In my lifetime, it’s happened over 20,000 times.

Night is used metaphorically as in nothing good happens at night. Night and day are distinct. Most people work during the day and sleep at night. Sometimes babies get their days and nights mixed up. We take day trips. God has defined the light and that’s what makes it daytime. Second, the lights are also to be used as, “signs and for seasons and for days and years.” Sign, in this context, is a visible mark or object intended to convey a clear message. When you pair the word with, “and for seasons,” it makes a little more sense. “Signs and for seasons” seem to indicate time periods during greater time periods. This makes sense when you look at cross references and link the phrase that starts this verse, “let them be.”  God is orchestrating their purpose. Ps. 74:17 says, “You have established all the boundaries of the earth; You have made the summer and winter.” The lights define the seasons, the days, and the years. During the winter months, the light is less. During the summer months, the light is more. Seconds turn to minutes, minutes to hours, hours to days, days to months, months to years, years to decades, decades to centuries, centuries to millennia. Like sands through the hourglass, these are the days of our lives. Third, the lights are, “to give light on the earth.” This is not the first time we’ve seen light in creation, but now there is a permanence to their purpose and function. The lights provide a luminosity that allows us to see in the dark. Even in the middle of the night, there is enough light to walk about and generally be able to find your way. God provides a declaration or designation for the lights. “And let them be for lights in the expanse of the heavens to give light on the earth”; and it was so.” When God speaks, His creation must listen. God declared and defined the roles of the lights: the light-bearers in the firmament of the atmosphere provide light on the earth. There was no other option: “it was so.” Those lights have been serving in this capacity ever since.

The lights are then defined. As far as earth is concerned, there are just two lights that we can count on in the sky. Just two lights that provide the luminosity enabling us to see. They are both great. V. 16 says, “God made the two great lights, the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night; He made the stars also.” Notice here that the words sun and moon are not used. One light is greater while the other is lesser. They are both light-bearers or luminaries and both have defined roles. These celestial bodies follow the rules established by the Creator. Oddly enough, there are people that consider these two great lights as bodies to be worshiped. There is the sun god Ra that Egyptians worshiped as the source of life. There are a number of other names for a sun god including Helios, Apollo, and Mitra. Moon worship is not as prevalent as sun worship although there were some ancient cultures that considered the moon greater because it appears bigger in the sky. The moon was thought to be male and the sun female. There is archaeological evidence to support that the Egyptians believed that the moon and sun were married and the stars were their children. Interestingly, 20 nations feature the sun on their flag. 18 countries feature the moon on their nation’s flag. Of those countries, the crescent moon is featured because it cycles from new moon to waning crescent and everything in between. The sun offers no such cycles. So, the greater light governs the day and the lesser light the night. Keep in mind that the sun is the only source of physical light to us. The light we see on the moon is what is reflected off of the sun. Ps. 104:19 reminds us that, “He made the moon for the seasons; the sun knows the place of its setting.”

In addition to the greater light and the lesser light, “He made the stars also.” I love what looks like an afterthought. Yes, God made the greater light and the lesser light, but he also made the stars that go beyond what the eye can see, that go beyond what the most sophisticated telescopes we have can see. Is. 40:26 commands us to, “Lift up your eyes on high and see who has created these stars, the One who leads forth their host by number, He calls them all by name; because of the greatness of His might and the strength of His power, not one of them is missing.” In His incredible handiwork, God made the sun and the moon and He also made stars that fill the void of space and provide and incomprehensible display of His imagination. Ps. 136:7-9 “To Him who made the great lights, for His lovingkindness is everlasting: the sun to rule by day, for His lovingkindness is everlasting, the moon and stars to rule by night, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.” As far as you can see into the sky, God created that. There are a lot of celestial bodies in the vast expanse of space. Planets, dwarf planets, moons, and stars, and when you look up you can see several thousand of those objects. Interestingly enough, there was some debate about 14 years ago when the dwarf planet Eris was first discovered. Astronomers and scientists argued that Pluto was really a dwarf planet. That set forth many arguments over planets. Eris gets its name from the Greek goddess that means strife and discord. Aptly named.

Get a decent telescope and now you can see millions of stars. As Pastor Zane mentioned a couple of weeks ago, no one can know just how many stars there are, but astronomers estimate there are maybe 1012 stars in our galaxy and perhaps 1012 galaxies giving us about 1024 (septillion) stars. The sun is actually a star that is about 4.37 light years from the sun. A light year is a measure of distance: it is the distance light travels in one year. One light year is about 6 trillion miles. To give you some basis for comparison, the United States is 2680 miles wide, the earth is almost 8000 miles at the equator, and the moon is almost 239,000 miles from earth. Ps. 19:1 says, “The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.” So why do people worship the sun or moon or stars? It’s called astrolatry which is a form of idolatry. It was practiced extensively in Egypt, Babylon, Judah, and Israel. It’s never been okay. De. 4:19 gives us this warning: “And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the Lord your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.” Why do people pay attention to horoscopes? Why do people think their future is in the stars? Great questions. Jeremiah warned against star worship, as did Zephaniah, and Ezekiel. I think idolatry stems from our sinful nature that desperately wants to worship something, anything that will fulfill the desire we have placed in our hearts by God. As we’ll see in Chapter 3, sin separated us from what God designed. The intimacy in the relationship with God was something that God desired to have with us, His creation. The void in our soul, the very being of who we are is a vast emptiness that we will fill with something. According to atheists.org, “Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.” Even those that claim to believe in nothing have a faith system that believes in no gods.

Throughout history, humanity has made attempts to fill the void created through disobedience. We really need to look at Romans 1:18-25. You’ve heard this passage several times during this current series. I encourage you to take the time to read Rom. 1:18-25. Paul captured it perfectly. There is so much to see here, but I want to highlight just a few things that describe what we see in our culture today.

Verse 18, they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”
Verse 19, “That which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”
Verse 21, they, “became futile in their speculations.”
Verse 22, “Professing to be wise, they became fools.”
Verse 25, “They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.”

We are where we are in this world because we have chosen to ignore the proof that surrounds us. You can choose to believe all that we have surrounding us simply came into being. That is quite a leap of faith. Or you can choose to believe that there is one, true God who was intentional in His creation, that was intentional in ordering the universe, that was intentional in what He modeled for us, and that was intentional in His desire for us.

Jer. 31:35: “Thus says the Lord, Who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; the Lord of hosts is His name.” Each of us has an opportunity to share the truth about who God is and why we are here. If you are a believer, you have the meaning of life that people seek. You have the direction people need to go. Through the power of the Holy spirit, you have been given the privilege and responsibility to share the truth. Dan. 2:3 reminds us, “Those who have insight will shine brightly like the brightness of the expanse of heaven, and those who lead the many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

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Creation – Day 1 (Continued)

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Last week we provided an introduction into this incredible, foundational first book of the Bible. Last week I mistakenly said what you believe about the first 3 chapters and meant to say first six chapters is foundational to how you interpret the rest of the Bible.

I encourage you to read it and meditate on the God of creation allowing the Scriptures to fill your mind with His awesomeness. We got only through the first four words of verse 1 and I promise you, that is only the beginning. There is so much to unpackage and grasp from the biblical creation account. Let me clarify something I said about translations. Your English translation can be trusted! There are word for word translations, thought for thought translations, paraphrases, narratives as well as a number of other types. I encourage you to select a word for word translation for Bible study. The New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV) are both excellent word for word translations. The NASB is a more literal word for word translation while the ESV is easier for fluidity of speech. Word for word translations take a word from the Hebrew, Greek, or Aramaic depending on where you are in the Bible, and translates it to an equivalent English word. Sometimes, there is no one for one word translation. In Spanish, the word for good is bueno. It doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes you need a couple of words or a phrase to get an equivalent meaning in English.

Let’s continue where we left off.

Take a look at Gen. 1:1-5.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” There is something that leaps off the page in the very first verse of Scripture. The Genesis account of creation is a geocentric account. As we go through the days of creation, you’ll see everything is focused on the earth. Of course, we see the sun and moon and the stars, but only as it relates to being on earth. We don’t see any account of what’s happening on those celestial bodies. God exists apart and independent of all that He created. He was there before the beginning. The Psalmist declared, “Before the mountains were born You gave birth to the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, You are God.” (Ps. 90:2) There is no origin to God, He is. In these first verses of Scripture, we see three of His attributes. He is all powerful – omnipotent. He is all present – omnipresent. He is all knowing – omniscient. We’ll see these three qualities throughout the creation and throughout Scripture.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Ps. 33:6 says, “By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of His mouth all their host.” Remember, we’re focusing on the who of creation and not the how. The work of creation was completed by the power of God’s voice. It’s important to introduce the term ex nihilo. You see this Latin phrase commonly used with creation. In the beginning, God did not start with a pile of matter and then subsequently shaped or constructed things. We have a number of examples of construction in the Bible. We’ll see the construction of an ark in Gen. 6. The Israelites made mortar and brick in Ex. 1. The tabernacle and all its furnishings are constructed beginning in Ex. 25. We learn of Solomon’s temple and its construction in 1 Kings. In these instances, materials were collected or provided by people. When we talk about creation ex nihilo, there was nothing and God created something from nothing. How could He do that? Because He’s all powerful and we’re focusing on the who of creation, not the how.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Created is the Hebrew word bara and is used to indicate a new activity or to bring about something from nothing. There was nothing happenstance about this. It was an intentional act by an intentional Creator. We’ll also see the Hebrew word asa used and it is typically translated “made” as in v. 7 where the verb involves existing matter. You might ask why spend the time making the distinction. It points to the involvement of a divine Creator that was purposeful in His creation. Bara is always used in conjunction with God while asa is used of both God and man. I can asa, but I cannot bara.

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” Out of nothing, God caused into being the heavens and the earth, two things that previously had not existed. There was no space dust, no cosmic matter, no asteroids, meteoroids, planets, stars, galaxies, or universes. Because God knew the design and created the blueprints, He knew what was needed to sustain plant and human life. He had a specific order in which He spoke things into existence. Just after He created time, God spoke the heavens and earth into existence. The word heavens is used in a number of contexts in Scripture so you have to evaluate what’s going on to determine its usage. This word could mean heavens as in the atmosphere surrounding earth. It could mean all things visible like matter and dust and gas and also invisible things which would include angels. If that’s true, we can apply Col. 1:16 that says, “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things have been created through Him and for Him.” If that’s not the case, then Gen. 1 only focuses on the creation of earth. Remember that this work is a theological masterpiece, not a science textbook. This is a geocentric account – it is focused on earth.

The gap theory. So, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” V. 2 says, “The earth was formless and void.” I want to introduce, very briefly, the Gap Theory also known as the Ruin-Reconstruction theory. Gap theorists believe that v. 1 contains the entire account of creation. This theory hinges on the phrase, “The earth was.” Some have translated the Hebrew word hayah as “became” so v. 2 would read, “The earth became formless and void.” Pastor Mark will go over this, but the theory goes that the world was created perfectly by God in v. 1, but then some cataclysmic event occurred after v. 1 that caused the earth to become formless and void or uninhabitable in v. 2. One sub-theory is that this is when Satan rebelled causing judgment on the perfect creation. Millions of years passed to get to v. 2. The remaining creation account in Genesis then provide an account not of the creation, but of the re-creation. Nowhere in Scripture is this referred to again. There are a number of problems with this theory that Pastor Mark will unfold for us in a few weeks.

“The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” Notice there are three phrases in this verse. The first is “The earth was formless and void.” That’s the same earth in v. 1. The third rock from the sun except there was no sun yet or planets. Tohu wabohu is the Hebrew phrase meaning without form and empty. It describes the formless and empty glob of matter that God spoke into existence. In that state, the earth was uninhabitable. The second phrase is, “darkness was over the surface of the waters of the deep.”        Darkness was there. This is not a metaphor for evil, it simply means there was no light. Where was that darkness? It was, “over the surface of the waters of the deep.” Taken by itself, it seems that there was water covering everything, maybe this was a giant globule of floating liquid. In Ex. 15:5, Ps. 106:9, and Is. 63:13, the word deep is used to describe Israel’s deliverance from the Egyptian army at the Red Sea.

The third phrase is, “And the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters.” The Spirt of the God is Ruach Elohim in the Hebrew meaning breath of God and is sometimes translated as wind of God, but that doesn’t make sense here given that there is no air at this point in creation. God is hovering over the surface of what He has created. He is looking at that glob of liquidity without form that He created. He’s not trying to figure things out. He’s not trying to determine what He will do because He has already determined what it will be. He created the earth to be inhabited by what we will see in the coming days of creation to be filled with an incredible array of plant and sea life, of walking and flying creatures and His ultimate design of human life. Is. 45:18 says. “For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (He is the God who formed the earth and made it, He established it and did not create it a waste place, but formed it to be inhabited).” At this point, the earth was uninhabitable just waiting for Elohim to tell it what to do. The surface of the waters of the deep would refer to the global waters on top of the earth and the surface of the waters would refer to the atmosphere above the waters. We’ll see this clarified on days two and three.

“Then God said, ‘let there be light’; and there was light.” When you enter a dark room, your first instinct is to turn on the light. God spoke the light into existence and so we have the creation of language. Darkness permeated everything that was and then God said there would be light. As this point in the creation, we know that this light is not the sun because that happens on the fourth day. So, what exactly is the light? I think it stems from the words used. If you remember earlier in the message, I made the distinction between the Hebrew words bara and asa. There are a number of possible explanations, but it looks like in v. 1, God created, bara ex nihilo, the heavens and the earth. Then in v. 16 on day 4, “God made (asa) the two great lights, the greater to govern the day, the lesser to govern the night.” He took the matter He created from nothing in v. 1 and fashioned it into what we know is the sun and the moon. Another possible explanation is that God Himself was all the Light the world needed at this point. Ps. 104:1-2 says, “Bless the Lord, o my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great; You are clothed with splendor and majesty, covering Yourself with light as with a cloak, stretching out heaven like a tent curtain.” The Apostle Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus in Acts 9:3 says, “A light from heaven flashed around him.” In John’s gospel, he referred to Jesus as the Light of men and then said he came to testify about the Light. (Jo. 1:4, 7) “God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.” The light was good. It is a declarative statement. It is a divine, holy judgment of His creation. At the very least, the light displaced the darkness. Remember darkness seeped into every corner of the creation in v. 1. Now there is a separation between light and dark. Please understand at this point in God’s work, it’s not as easy to look at like the chocolate and vanilla ice cream you can get in the same container. This first day is not over because God still needs to name the dark and the light.

“God called the light day, and the darkness He called night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day.” Remember from last week, God has positional authority over His creation and He gets to name things. Many arguments have occurred over this verse. What exactly is meant by the term day? Is that creation day like the days we have today? We use the word day with a number of different meanings dependent on the context. Us older folks talk about back in the day or back in my day. We talk about the heat of the day. We mention this day and age. We have good days and bad days.

The Hebrew word used in this verse is yom. As in our day, the word yom is used in different ways in Genesis. It depends on context. In my Navy days, we lived by an 18-hour day at sea. We were on watch for six hours, off for 12. There was no rising or setting sun to provide a reference point, and there were still a number of people that were on a 24-hour day. Even though we couldn’t see the sun, we still had clocks. To find out what the word day means in the creation account, we have to look at other uses in the Old Testament. Yom, in all forms, is used 2281 times in the Old Testament. Yom plus a number is used 401 times excluding Gen. 1 and refers to a 24-hour day. The word combination evening and morning occur 38 times outside of Gen. 1 and most often indicate a 24-hour day. Only one time in all of Scripture do we see the word combination evening and morning along with day and that is Dan. 8:26 that says, “The vision of the evenings and mornings which has been told is true; but keep the vision secret, for it pertains to many days in the future.” This language clearly indicates a period of time. Throughout the majority of Christian history, the day in Gen. 1 refers to a 24-hour period. It wasn’t until the 1800s that arguments between scientists and theologians began to crop up in an effort to discredit what the Bible said. The best meaning of the word day is a literal, 24-hour period of time that we know and live by today. Could God have created everything all at once? Because He is God, He could have, but He also provided these 24-hour periods of time as a model or example for us. Ex. 20:11, “For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and made it holy.”

The first day is over. Evening and morning – the first day. God was busy on this first day and we’ll see things unfold as we understand Heb. 11:3 that reminds us, “By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things which are visible.”

Genesis: An Introduction

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We begin a new study into the book of beginnings. Genesis is the first book of the Old Testament and it forms the foundation for the rest of Scripture. How you approach it makes a difference in your theology. Doctrines that people follow that are inconsistent with the Bible would be eliminated if a careful study of Genesis is conducted. There are some basic guidelines when it comes to our study of the Bible.

From 3RC’s statement of faith: “We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be the verbally and plenary inspired Word of God in its original manuscript form. The Scriptures are inerrant, infallible and God-breathed and, therefore, are the final authority for faith and life.” There are some words in there that need to be explained. Inspire literally means God-breathed. Every word in the Bible is there for a reason, not just the principles or ideas that are contained within it. All parts are equally authoritative and equally divine. Plenary means full or complete. There are no other testaments or inspired books out there. 2 Tim. 3:16 says, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” In the original manuscript form: there are some folks out there that believe translations are inspired. Not true. Translations are the work of scholars and in many cases, those translations are trustworthy, but all cases, those translations are not inspired. Inerrant means without error and infallible means incapable of being wrong. Sometimes those words are used interchangeably, but they are different. Just because you see something in the Bible does not mean God condones that action or behavior.

The Bible was written so we can understand it and God wants us to know and understand. The Bible has a unified message from Genesis through Revelation. It does not contradict itself, but it does have some very difficult and paradoxical passages that people have wrestled with and against since the words were penned by its human scribes. It must be studied and interpreted through the lens of when it was written and to who it was written.  The Bible cannot mean to us what it was never meant to mean to the original recipients. We often experience this in our modern Bible studies when a passage is read and then the question follows, “What do you think that means?” You can’t know what it means without studying what it says. Sometimes the English word that has been translated does an inadequate job of conveying what the writer intended. Every passage can have just one meaning that is true. That meaning cannot change from person to person or from generation to generation. The meaning is dependent on a number of factors including context, grammar, and historical setting just to name a few. You can search the Scriptures to prove what you believe (eisegesis) or you can search the Scriptures and allow them to instruct you in what and how to believe. You can ignore these guidelines for Bible study, but then you will misinterpret Scripture and potentially impact eternity. There are essentials of Scripture – things we must agree on to have spiritual fellowship and there are non-essentials that are under the umbrella of love and in all things, we model Jesus Christ.

That being said, can you approach the Bible as a skeptic and investigate who Christ is? Of course! Investigative journalist Lee Strobel did just that and came to the saving knowledge of Christ and is a noted evangelist and speaker.

I want to caution you on what has become common practice in our study of the Bible and that is relying on commentaries. One writer said, “The Bible throws a lot of light on commentaries.[1]” Commentaries do have a place in our studies, but they should not be the primary tool for your illumination.  There is a difference in reading the Bible and studying it. I encourage you to do both each day. As we study and read the Bible, I encourage you to: Confess any sin in your life and ask for God’s forgiveness and also ask that God reveal any hidden sin so that all may be confessed and forgiven. Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Ask God for wisdom and for a desire to walk in the Way as we learned in Acts. Apply the truths learned in reading and studying the Bible immediately in your life. This is one that sometimes gets me: remain humble and teachable. We should always be growing and sometimes that growth may come from sources we might not think about. The more I learn about God and walking by faith, the more I realize how far I have come, and the stark realization that I have an immeasurable distance yet to go.

In his book, Scripture Twisting, James W. Sire wrote, “The illumination comes to the minds of God’s people – not just to the spiritual elite. There is no guru class in biblical Christianity, no illuminati, no people through whom all proper interpretation must come. And so, while the Holy Spirit gives special gifts of wisdom, knowledge and spiritual discernment, He does not assign these gifted Christians to be the only authoritative interpreters of His Word. It is up to each of His people to learn, to judge and to discern by reference to the Bible which stands as the authority even to those to whom God has given special abilities. To summarize, the assumption I am making throughout the entire book is that the Bible is God’s true revelation to all humanity, that it is our ultimate authority on all matters about which it speaks, that it is not a total mystery but can be adequately understood by ordinary people in every culture.[2]

Genesis is the first book of the Torah also called the Law also called the Pentateuch, also called the five books of Moses. There is history, poetry, and prophecy contained in this book. Old Testament writers Joshua, Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, and Malachi all attribute these first five books to Moses. In each of the gospels, the writer provides quotes from Jesus in which He attributes the writings to Moses. Other New Testament writers including Paul and the writer of Hebrews make quotes attributing this work to Moses. Jewish historians Philo and Josephus attribute these books to Moses. In Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, Moses is said to have written the words. As we walk through creation, there are things that are extraordinarily difficult if not impossible to understand. This biblical account of creation focuses on the who of creation rather that the how. Although each of your pastors will touch on scientific principles, we’ll leave the explanations of those theories that include radiometric dating, carbon dating, the six principles of geology that affect paleontology as well as a number of others to Pastor Mark. We must also recognize that we often approach the Bible with our own biases and denominational dogma that may be in conflict with the actual Scriptures. This morning, we’ll look at the first day.                                              

Read Genesis 1:1-5.

“In the beginning God.” Such a short phrase with incredible impact. It represents the start of many things we probably don’t think about. There used to be no time, but then the beginning happened. Our lives revolve around time; we place ourselves in the framework of humanity by time. Our birth is marked by time. Year, month, day, and hour. When we get up is marked by time, when we go to work or school is marked by time. Our schedules are marked by time. If you work outside the home, you are paid by time. There are standards for time. The length of one minute in Georgia is the same minute in California. We characterize our day by time: we tell people what we have time for: I’ve got all day for you! I don’t have time for your foolishness. Before God made the beginning – He is. There is no past tense with God – He is. God is in the past, the present, and the future at the same time – He is. Have you ever considered the weirdness of that? Jim Croce, that great 70s singer songwriter lamented, “If I could save time in a bottle, the first thing that I’d like to do is to save every day till eternity passes away just to spend them with you.”

“In the beginning God.” The implications for you and for humanity are critically important in this first verse. God exists. Okay, you can deny that God exists. That’s called atheism. This is a book of faith, but the atheist must exercise a different kind of faith to not believe in God. People all over exercise faith: faith that they’ll get paid for their work, faith that no other driver will crash into them, etc. There is one true God. It’s interesting to note that the verb “created” is singular. God is the Hebrew word Elohim that emphasizes God’s strength and power. It is the most often word used for God in the Old Testament occurring about 2500 times. One God so polytheism is debunked.

God (Elohim) is plural with a singular verb (created). There is a pluralistic unity in God. Some have used this to confirm the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and as we’ll see, there’s plenty of evidence to support that. Jo. 1:1-3 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being.” Unitarianism is debunked. That’s the doctrine that denies the Trinity as well as the deity of Christ. The universe had a distinct beginning and therefore matter had a beginning and is not eternal as materialism teaches. God created all we know and is separate and distinct from that creation so pantheism is debunked. Pantheism teaches that God and nature are one. God is in all things and all things are in God: not true. God is the Creator and is over all things and is superior to the creation and controls what happens so fatalism is debunked.

“In the beginning God” presents the idea that there is One star of the show. There is one headliner name in all capital letters. As we’ll see as we move forward into the six days of creation, there is an incredible, nearly incomprehensible aspect of the creation and when you evaluate all of this, it can only point to an incredible, indescribable, all knowing, all powerful, all present God that is in a class all by Himself! It’s all about the who in creation.

“In the beginning God” also provides the idea that God is supreme not only in time, but in position. As we’ll see in the weeks ahead, God named several things. In this first day of creation, “God called the light day, and the darkness He called night.” We see this positional authority throughout the Bible and it’s also seen in history. You have a child and you give that child a name. You get a dog and you give that dog a name. Start a company, and you give that company a name. Start a city and you get to name it. His position over creation is also seen because he delegated responsibility and authority. On day four, we’ll see God designated the, “greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night.” On day six, we’ll see God designated man to have dominion over the earth and all that is in it.  “In the beginning God” signifies His incredible and unique power. “In the beginning God” marks the start of His work on the first day of creation. It is not God’s beginning for He has no beginning. It marks the start of creation. There was no trial and error that took place for millions of years before God got it right. It is the start of His creative work in humanity, but He was thinking of you before the beginning. If you plan to have children or grandchildren, I know you’re thinking of that little one. What they will look like. What they might do in life. With God, He was doing the same thing with you except He knew exactly what you would look like, He knew what you would do in life, who you would marry, the questions on the test, the winning lottery numbers, the numbers of hairs on your head because you are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139:14) but I get ahead of myself.

When the beginning was, God was already there. Before we think about the time space continuum, God was there. Although God was in the past, it’s generally incorrect to say, God was, because He never was, He is. God had no pre-existence, He is. When He speaks of Himself, He says I am. Next week, we’ll actually move forward and cover the rest of day one.

[1] Utley, R. J. (2001). How it All Began: Genesis 1–11 (Vol. Vol. 1A, p. xv). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

[2] Utley, R. J. (2001). How it All Began: Genesis 1–11 (Vol. Vol. 1A, p. xviii). Marshall, Texas: Bible Lessons International.

The Sailing Adventures of Paul

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Last week, Pastor Mike told us of Paul’s meeting with King Agrippa and all the people that were in that meeting. Paul boldly shared his personal testimony with Festus and Festus concluded that Paul was out of his mind. But after Paul asks Agrippa a question about the prophets, he said that he was almost persuaded to follow Christ. They conclude that Paul has done nothing to deserve death or imprisonment, but since he appealed to Caesar, that’s where he had to go. This morning, we’ll look into the journey to see Caesar.                                                   

We’ll start with Acts 27:1-6.

We begin Chapter 27 with a detailed account of the first few legs of Paul’s journey from Caesarea to Italy. They delivered Paul to a centurion named Julius along with some other prisoners. They embarked on an Adramyttian ship. Adramyttium was a Mysian seaport southeast of Troas. This ship was likely designed for coastal use putting into ports along the way to the final destination. Luke takes the time to mention Aristarchus joined the voyage as well. Aristarchus was, “a Macedonian from Thessalonica.” They get underway from Caesarea and arrived at Sidon the next day. In Sidon, Julius allowed Paul to receive care from his friends. The names of those friends are not specifically mentioned by Luke. I think mentioning that Paul was treated with “consideration” is important. We can only speculate why Paul was shown this kindness, but perhaps Paul demonstrated love for Julius and the favor was returned. Paul’s friends likely gave him food and other supplies necessary for the trip to Italy. Shipboard passengers often had to provide their own provisions for trips on the sea. This was no prisoner transport ship – it was a ship that anyone could get on, as long as they had the money to book passage. V. 4 has Paul setting to sea from Sidon and sailing, “under the shelter of Cyprus because the winds were contrary.” They sailed around Cyprus on the lee side. That means the island provided some protection because the winds at this time of year typically came out of the north and northwest. They went out of their way in order to have better wind to reach the next port. It’s like traveling US 17 to avoid the traffic on I-95.

“We had sailed through the sea along the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy, and he put us aboard it.” Myra was apparently the destination of this first ship so they needed to find a connecting vessel to take them to Italy. Julius found a ship that was heading to Italy and so he got Paul and the others on this ship. Myra was nearly due north of Alexandria and was on the route that Alexandrian ships would take to deliver grain to Rome. Finding a ship there was probably pretty easy. Julius secured passage on the ship, but the voyage was about to take a turn for the worst. If you have served in the Navy or Merchant Marines, you can testify to the power of the ocean. For those fool hardy souls that choose to sail on top of the water, life can get very challenging on the sea.

Things are about to get dicey. Look at vs. 7-8. The winds were against them. Sailing was difficult, even for these experienced sailors. The distance from Myra to Cnidus was about 130 NM. Even sailing at a modest 4 knots, the journey should have taken just over a day, not many days as Luke says. In the sailor’s minds, they were off course. The voyage should have taken them north of Crete, but they went south of Crete. They arrive at a place called, “Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea.”

The tide turns in v. 9. Look at vs. 9-12. The best comparison I can make to this discussion is a Department Head meeting or leadership meeting. What’s curious is who participated. Julius the Centurion, the pilot, the captain, some or maybe all of the crew, and Paul. Do you remember what Paul did for a living? He was a tentmaker. However, he did do quite a bit of sailing so his input would not be like the Hollywood celebrities of our day weighing in on immigration. Paul said, “Men, I perceive that the voyage will certainly be with damage and great loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives.” Sea travel was growing increasingly dangerous due to the time of the year. The fast, or day of Atonement had come and gone. This day was linked to the moon phase and varied from year to year, but fell in late September or early October. With that information, it is not difficult to determine, with relative accuracy, the date for this voyage. Most scholars put the year as A.D. 59 and some at 60. In 59, the Day of Atonement was on Oct. 5th. In first century sailing on the Mediterranean Sea, mid-September to early November was a very dangerous time to sail because of the prevailing direction of the winds. Paul “perceived” that the voyage would be difficult, but Luke doesn’t tell us how he came to perceive that. Was it the Lord telling him? Was it based on his knowledge of sailing? At this point, we don’t know.        What we do know is the argument to sail on was more compelling and “the majority reached a decision to put out to sea from there.” Majority rules. Don’t you just hate when the majority makes a decision you believe with all your heart is wrong? You’re the lone voice crying in the wilderness. In this case, it wasn’t really majority rules because Luke says, “The centurion was more persuaded by the pilot and the captain of the ship.” Based on this, it looks like the centurion had decision making authority for the vessel. In fact, the Roman Navy was an extension of the Army.

20:13 says, “When a moderate south wind came up, supposing that they had attained their purpose, they weighed anchor and began sailing along Crete, close inshore.” Paul is underway and I wonder if he is feeling queasy. The plan was to winter in Phoenix, a place about 36 miles from where the decision was made to sail on. Continue reading vs. 14-20. If you’ve ever been in a storm at sea, it can be a frightening thing. These were experienced sailors. The gentle south wind changed to a violent or tempestuous wind called a Euraquilo. This is a strange word that is sailor’s slang. It comes from the Greek euros meaning east and the Latin aquilo meaning north. This phenomenon still occurs to this day and we call it a Nor’easter. It was a violent wind of hurricane force that is consistent with the topography of where they were sailing. The crew attempted a number of things to combat the violence of the wind. With the ship on the lee side of an island named Clauda, the crew was able to haul in the little boat they towed behind the ship, but it was very difficult. Then they used cables or helps underneath the boat to minimize the chance of the ship breaking up from the power of the sea. Then the crew lowered the sea anchor, better translated equipment or gear. What that specifically was Luke doesn’t say which leads me to believe he was not much of a sailor. He was probably not familiar with the proper nautical terms and used whatever words made sense to him. It is likely the gear has something to do with the sails. There are a number of sails on a ship like this. The main sail was the largest of the sails capable of catching a lot of wind. If the main sail was up which seems likely since they started with a gentle southern wind, they would need to lower it to prevent the ship being driven into the shoals. No sailor or captain want their ship to run aground. Fighting against the sea into the next day, they began throwing the cargo overboard. Still fighting the sea, on the third day, the crew threw the ship’s tackle overboard. Again, it’s not certain what exactly the tackle refers to. Suffice it to say, the crew was doing all it could to save the ship, the crew, and the passengers. Look at the sobering conclusion that Luke gives, “Since neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small storm was assailing us, from then on all hope of our being saved was gradually abandoned.” The crew is exhausted, probably sick, perhaps injured or hurt. Too stormy to serve food or perhaps too sick to eat, Paul stands up.

Paul gives an impassioned speech in vs. 21-26. Paul has not forgotten what the Lord told him in Acts 23:11: “You must witness at Rome also.” Remembering the promises of God should serve as great comfort to us. Far too often, we focus on the circumstances that surround us and forget the promises. Somehow, we believe our circumstances override God’s power. Paul was in a desperate situation with all indication that he and the others on the ship were facing certain death. Each soul is just as precious to God as Paul was. In the midst of the sailor’s ineffective attempt to gain control of the ship, Paul gives them a pep talk and shares what God told him through an angel: “Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.” When Paul perceived in v. 10, that was several days ago. He says, “Keep your courage men.” Keep going, keep fighting; don’t give up. We will not die! Oh, by the way, “We must run aground on a certain island.” These were professional sailors. They’ve probably spent their entire lives on the sea so running aground, on purpose, might have raised a few eyebrows. Look at vs. 27-32. The sailors suspected they were getting close to land because they could hear the waves crashing against the rocks. They cast four anchors from the stern. Some men feared certain death so they made a plan to escape by saying they would let down the little boat to cast some anchors down from the bow. Paul recognized this and reminded the Julius, “Unless the men remain in the ship, you yourselves cannot be saved.” The soldiers quickly cut away the “boat and let it fall away.”

Look at vs. 33-38. Paul encouraged them to eat something since they had little to no food for the past two weeks. We now find out that the ship has 276 souls on board. In preparation to land the ship, they throw their cargo of wheat into the sea.

In this exciting conclusion to the story in vs. 39-44, the sailors spot a good place to run aground so they cut away the anchors and hoisted the foresail. The foresail would catch the wind in which the sailors could better control the landing. They hit a reef and put the bow of the ship into a sand bar. The waves continued crashing into the stern causing it to break apart. Remember, there were other prisoners besides Paul and the soldiers did not want any of them to escape. As part of Roman law, soldiers could be held personally responsible for allowing a prisoner to escape. Killing them would prevent the prisoners from escaping. Julius intervenes and tells the soldiers that if any of them could swim, go first and get to land to secure the prisoners. It happens exactly as it should with some people swimming ashore, others holding onto planks from the ship, and still others, holding to various other things from the ship.

Why include this harrowing experience in the story of Paul? There is no sermon recorded by Luke; there’s not even any specific mention of Paul sharing the gospel to anyone on board. I think a major lesson to learn is that the promises of God are sure. When God tells you something, you can absolutely count on it to happen. You might be thinking, “Well, if God spoke to me like He spoke to Paul, I would have that confidence too.” All I can tell you dear saint, is God’s promises are recorded for us. We can read them over and over again. We can memorize them, meditate on them, and even remind God of what He said when we pray. Have confidence in God. Know that He loves you and will never leave you. Many promises are reserved for those that have made a decision to follow Him. Have you made that decision?

Paul before Festus

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The last time we were in Acts, Pastor Zane shared with us that Paul was defending himself to Felix, the Roman Governor of Judea. An attorney named Tertullus brought charges against Paul. Paul’s response was there was no evidence to support those charges. He admitted to serving the God his accusers served as well as the Law and the prophets. Felix hoped for a kick back, but when it didn’t come, Paul was kept in custody and was allowed to have his friends minister to him during his incarceration. Two years later, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus and Paul remained in custody. This morning, we find the Jews pressuring the new Governor in the case of Paul.                                                               

We’ll look at the whole chapter of Acts 25.

Festus is hardly even settled in Caesarea when he makes the journey to Jerusalem. This trip makes sense. Jerusalem is the religious center of the region. That’s where the ruling Jews would be located. You have to make peace with the ruling leaders in Jerusalem or ruling Judea would be politically impossible. Festus arrived in Jerusalem, “And the chief priests and the leading men of the Jews brought charges against Paul, and they were urging him, requesting a concession against Paul, that he might have him brought to Jerusalem.” It seems like the chief priests and the leading men were waiting for Festus. No sooner had Festus arrived that the leading men of the Jews approached him and brought charges against Paul. Remember, Paul is still in custody in Caesarea on the false charges brought by Tertullus two years earlier. The religious leaders renew their accusations and were hoping for, “a concession against Paul.” They wanted a favor. Bring Paul to Jerusalem. They had ulterior motives, “at the same time, setting an ambush to kill him on the way.” The zealots don’t want true justice, they wanted to exact their own version of justice and they wanted to do it themselves. They would only be satisfied with Paul’s death. Luke tells us, “Festus then said that Paul was being kept in custody at Caesarea and that he himself was about to leave shortly.” It seems likely that Festus was briefed about Paul during his turnover with Felix. At the very least, he knew of Paul and knew that he was in custody in Caesarea. Festus gives the non-committed response of, “Therefore, he said, “let the influential men among you go there with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them prosecute him.” In other words, if you big dogs want a piece of Paul, you’ll have to come down to Caesarea. Charges could be brought against him there. Festus became Paul’s protector preventing him from being killed by the Jews. The plot to kill Paul is foiled by God’s perfect timing. Festus spends the next, “eight or ten days among them.”  

After those eight or ten days with the religious leaders in Jerusalem, Festus took his leave and, “he went down to Caesarea, and on the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. After Paul arrived, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him, bringing many and serious charges against him which they could not prove.” Those that accused Paul in Jerusalem made the trip to Caesarea and are once again standing in front of Festus. They are persistent. There is no specific list of charges, but they are “many and serious.” In Paul’s defense, he says, “I have committed no offense either against the Law of the Jews or against the temple or against Caesar.” Based on his response, the charges are the same ones that caused him to be locked up, but he flat out says he has done nothing wrong. Not one thing, but that doesn’t stop the Jews from pursuing him. Festus listens to both sides and draws the same conclusion that Felix did a couple of years earlier. Paul’s done nothing wrong. The case against him is weak at best and most likely manufactured to fit an agenda. Being the Roman Governor is a political position and Festus doesn’t want to make enemies against the religious crowd so in his thinking, he wants to gain favor with the Jews, so he says, “Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me on these charges?” Festus asks Paul if he’s willing to go to Jerusalem for a trial. It would still be a Roman trial because Paul would appear before Festus. Remember, the Jews want what they defined as justice for Paul’s alleged wrongdoing. By sending Paul to Jerusalem, Festus would be doing the Jews a favor. The tide has shifted.

In v. 3, Festus told those Jews if they wanted to bring charges against Paul, they needed to travel to Caesarea. Now, he’s wanting to send Paul back to Jerusalem. We get an understanding for what Paul is thinking. V. 10 says, “But Paul said, “I am standing before Caesar’s tribunal, where I ought to be tried. I have done no wrong to the Jews, as you also very well know.” Paul is pretty bold by telling Festus what he knows. Paul’s where he should be, jurisdictionally. Nothing has happened legally to this point because there has been no evidence presented to prove his guilt for the crimes he is being accused. Festus is being motivated by favoritism – he’s wanting to please the Jews. Paul’s conclusion to Festus is, “If, then, I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of those things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar.” If I’m guilty, I’m guilty and I’m ready to die Paul says so that tells us the severity of the crimes that Paul was charged with. But if I’m not guilty, it is wrong to hand me over to the Jews because they have no authority over me. The Jews have already convicted Paul of his crimes and his sentence was death. While not afraid to die, Paul sought justice and knew that would never happen in a Jewish trial. The only hope for justice on this earth was in a Roman court. There is much information available about the justice system 1st Century Judea. As proconsul of Judea, Festus had the right to rule even in death sentence cases. He was well within his authority to preside over Paul’s case, but he faced pressure from the Jews. What is interesting is that Paul appealed to Caesar. Normally, you appeal a decision after it’s made, not before, but Paul saw what was happening and exercised his right as a Roman citizen to make that appeal. It seems to me that Festus is looking for an out, looking for a way not to alienate the Jews and at the same time, ensure justice prevails in Paul’s case. “Then when Festus had conferred with his council, he answered, “You have appealed to Caesar, to Caesar you shall go.” I think Festus breathed a sigh of relief that he didn’t have to deal with this. He saved political face with the Jews

The plot thickens. After concluding that Paul will be sent to Caesar, he goes back into custody. Caesar is a title in the same way that Pharaoh is a title. The Caesar that Paul appeals to during this period of time is named Nero. Nero, you may remember, was no friend of Christians. Legend has is that he started a fire in Rome and then blamed Christians all while he sat back and played the fiddle. But this is during the early years of Nero’s reign which was generally a stable time free of persecution. His evil side would come out later. Paul is going to Rome, a place he said he wanted to go to in Acts 19:21. In Acts 23:11, the Lord told him he would go to Rome when He said, “Take courage; for as you have solemnly witnessed to My cause at Jerusalem, so you must also witness at Rome also.” The Lord told him he would be a witness in Rome. Paul’s future is secure. So many times, I think we hear from the Lord, but then we doubt because it doesn’t happen the way or in the time frame we want. If God told you something, then trust He will bring it to fruition, but you have to be patient and allow Him to work. In order to get to Rome, Paul had to go in chains.

Two new characters enter the scene. “Now when several days had elapsed, King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea and paid their respects to Festus.” Remember Festus has recently relieved Felix as proconsul of Judea. King Agrippa and Bernice make the trip to Caesarea for what likely is an official type of visit to establish a relationship with Festus. It’s like President Trump making a trip to visit a new Prime Minister or president of another country. King Agrippa is the son of the Herod we saw in Acts 12 and is the great-grandson of Herod the Great. He reigned over parts of Judea and was considered king of the Jews although he was not really a king. Many believe it was a title he assumed because he was over the temple in Jerusalem and was responsible for appointing the high priest. Bernice was Agrippa’s sister and constant companion leading many to conclude they were involved in a relationship. Agrippa and Bernice arrive in Caesarea to visit with Festus. After a few days of visiting, Festus shares with his guests the case involving Paul.

Look at vs. 14-21. There is no new information here, but is simply Festus’ version of the story. There are some differences in his story. Festus depicts himself in a light that is simply not true. In v. 15, Festus told Agrippa that, “The Jews were seeking a sentence condemnation” for Paul. In reality, the Jews wanted Festus to do them the favor of returning Paul to Jerusalem for trial. Remember, they were setting an ambush along the way because they wanted him dead. In v. 16, Festus comes across as some fundamental supporter of justice. Relating the story, Festus told Agrippa, “I answered them that it is not the custom of the Romans to hand over any man before the accused meets his accusers face to face and has an opportunity to make his defense against the charges.” This indicates the Jews wanted Paul without a trial. The Jews wanted Paul in Jerusalem. In v. 9, Festus asked Paul if he’d be willing to go to Jerusalem, but Paul knew justice would not be served in a Jewish court and makes his appeal to Caesar. The rest of the story is pretty accurate. There are some interesting tidbits we need to look at. The charges brought against Paul were not what Festus was expecting. Festus concluded that there were what he called, “points of disagreement with him about their own religion and about a dead man, Jesus, whom Paul asserted to be alive.” Festus admitted his incompetence when he said, “I was at a loss how to investigate such matters.” That’s the real reason he was willing for Paul to go to Jerusalem. After this explanation, Festus looks pretty good. He seems to be a fair guy seeking only justice for the accused. Agrippa is intrigued and replies, “I also would like to hear the man myself.” “Tomorrow,” he said, “you shall hear him.”

Here’s what happens the next day. I want you to notice who is actually at this meeting. Check out v. 23. There is a dazzling display of all the big dogs. King Agrippa and Bernice. The commanders were there, probably five men that each commanded 1000 troops. All the prominent men of the Caesarea. This is all done amid great pomp. In this context, pomp means a vain and boastful display, a cheap display of high status. Finally, Paul is ushered in. Look at vs. 24-27. Festus relates the story once again. This is the third time we’ve heard a version of the story in this chapter. Let me summarize this for you. Festus has no idea what he’s doing. He’s bringing Paul in before Agrippa with the hope that some information may be uncovered that will help him draft a letter to the emperor – Nero – to justify sending Paul to Rome. Festus concluded that Paul didn’t do anything and so sending him to Rome with no charges wouldn’t be good.

Maybe due to his inexperience in the job, maybe because he wants to maintain good relation with the Jews, maybe due to his incompetence, Festus finds himself in a pickle. In the back of Paul’s mind, I can see him smiling at the providence of God. Circumstances are unfolding that will fulfill what God told him would happen. He was the first that concluded, “I love it when a plan comes together.” We’ll find out what happens in the meeting . . . next week.

A Difficult Arrival

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Last week, we learned about Paul and his journey from Miletus to Caesarea on his way to Jerusalem. He stayed at Phillip the Evangelist’s house and introduced us to the prophet Agabus. Agabus prophesied that Paul would be bound by the Jews in Jerusalem. Paul told the locals that he was ready to be bound and even die for Christ. This morning, the journey to Jerusalem is over and we’ll see things don’t get any easier for Paul.                                     

I hope you take a look at our passage today found in Acts 21:15-36.

Knowing what Agabus told Paul, I wonder if he had any anxiousness in him. Do you ever get a sick feeling in your stomach when you’re facing a tough situation? It might be butterflies in your stomach as you get ready to teach a Sunday School class and then one of the pastors chooses that day to visit your class. It might be as the time draws closer to your wedding day. Maybe you get nervous as you step on the jetway to get on an airplane or when you walk on the brow to get on the ship for deployment. Did this trip lead Paul to write Phil. 4:6-7 when he said, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul begins the 64 mile leg of the journey that will lead to Jerusalem and he is ready to die for Christ if that is what God has in store for him. Luke says, “Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came with us, taking us to Mnason of Cyprus, a disciple of long standing with whom we were to lodge. After we arrived in Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly.” Arrangements have been previously made to stay at the home of Mnason who Luke describes as being a disciple of long standing. Like Barnabas, Mnason was from Cyprus and could have been a founding member of the church. At any rate, Mnason is set up to receive Paul and his companions. Paul’s third missionary journey is complete. Never again will Paul make the rounds to the regions of Macedonia, Achaia, Galatia, or Asia. The traveling journeys to share the Gospel are over, but the work of the Lord will continue through Paul as we’ll see.

The remaining chapters in this book will differ markedly from the previous. They’ll fulfil what was told to Ananias back in 9:15 when God told him to meet with Saul, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel.” We’ll see this played out in incredible fashion. After a night’s rest courtesy of Mnason, “Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. After he had greeted them, he began to relate one by one the things which God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.” Paul takes the time to brief the elders on everything that happened during this final missionary journey. I am sure Paul related the stories about Apollos, Priscilla, and Aquila. He spoke of the seven sons of Sceva and how the Lord delivered them as well as those that practiced magic in Ephesus. He told the elders about Demetrius the silversmith and Eutychus, the young man that Paul raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit. He told them of the sorrowful good byes in Miletus with the elders of Ephesus. He told them about staying with Phillip the evangelist and shared the prophesy of Agabus. He shared all the plots to disrupt and derail the message of the Messiah. He told them how he was able to persevere during those hard times.

Paul has been gone about five years and when he finishes sharing all about his journey, “they began glorifying God; and they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed, and they are all zealous for the Law; and they have been told about you, that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs. “What, then, is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come.” After spending about five years among the Gentiles, Paul is in front of the Jews at the Jerusalem church. Remember at the Jerusalem Council, Paul shared about his work and the people were less than enthused. This time, the elders respond with joy and excitement, but that joy was short lived and we see a shift as the elders share a concern with Paul. Thousands of Jews have responded to the truth of Jesus Christ, but are still, “zealous for the Law.” We saw this back in 15:1 when, “some men came down from Judea and began teaching the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

So, what about the Law? Are we supposed to follow the Law? The elders tell Paul that those zealous for the Law will surely hear that he’d come back to Jerusalem. These potential problem people in Jerusalem are generally considered Jewish converts to Christ. Remember in Acts 11:2-3 when, “those who were circumcised took issue with [Peter] saying, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Peter shared what the Lord revealed to him at Joppa and concluded that, “God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” (Acts 11:18) The elders are concerned about possible backlash so they formulate a plan to alleviate any concerns someone might have with Paul. The elders tell Paul what must be done in vs. 23-24 to prevent any political unrest that might come. What appears on the surface to be no big deal, the elders saddle Paul with the financial burden of the purification process. We don’t know for sure what the vow was, but all the cross references point to a Nazirite vow. It’s more than just a haircut. According to Num. 6, this purification required: A male lamb for a burnt offering. A female lamb for a sin offering. A ram for a peace offering. And there might be other offerings specific to the individual.

Paul has traveled throughout Macedonia, Galatia, Asia, and other Gentile regions for five years. In 2 Cor. 11:24-28, Paul shares what he went through for the sake of the Gospel. I can only imagine the sense of incredulity at the behavior of the elders. Paul literally risked his life to promote the Gospel, to share the incredible sacrifice of Jesus Christ and these guys are afraid that there might be some political upheaval because Paul’s back in town. Why not just tell those that think you have to keep the Law to back off? To mind their own business? To get a clue? Don’t they remember the wonderful news from Peter in Joppa? Why would these Christian leaders be concerned over what a small minority might think? “But concerning the Gentiles who have believed, we wrote, having decided that they should abstain from meat sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication.” The elders remind Paul what was decided at the Jerusalem Council back in Acts 15. Gentiles are not required to keep the Law, but to follow those apostolic decrees to foster Jew and Gentile relationships in the community of faith. “Then Paul took the men, and the next day, purifying himself along with them, went into the temple giving notice of the completion of the days of purification, until the sacrifice was offered for each one of them.” Paul follows the instructions from the elders without any note of disagreement or push back. It was a sort of compromise and perhaps Paul was thinking that it’s no big deal. Maybe he thought this particular request wasn’t worth the fight. Whatever it takes to keep the peace to promote Jesus as the Messiah. He wrote to the Corinthians, “To the Jew I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law.” (1 Cor. 9:20) Remember, the Bible we hold is not documented in chronological order. Many of Paul’s letters were written during his missionary journeys while he traveled.

Not a week has passed and Paul’s in trouble again. Look at vs. 27-29. The Jews from Asia, probably Ephesus, saw Paul in the Temple. They would have known Paul by sight. Remember, Paul spent three years in Ephesus and three months in the synagogue. They bring a fourfold accusation against Paul. First, they say he, “preaches to all men everywhere against our people.” Second, they accused Paul of preaching against the temple. Third, they accused Paul of preaching against the Law. Finally, they say Paul, “brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this place.” There was a barrier preventing access to the interior courtyard which was the court of the women. Outside that barrier was the courtyard of the Gentiles. Gentiles were only permitted outside the outer walls of the temple. Jewish historian Josephus wrote that warning stones were placed at regular intervals along the barrier with inscriptions on them in Latin and Greek warning non-Jews to stay away. Their reasoning for the last one? “For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.” Guilt by association. No possible other explanation exists for Trophimus to be at the temple. As the Asian Jews incite a riot, “Then all the city was provoked, and the people rushed together, and taking hold of Paul they dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut.” Paul was physically removed from the temple and the doors were shut behind him.

Think of the mob mentality we’ve seen in the news today. You see community leaders stirring the pot in an attempt to get people riled up over some injustice whether real or perceived. Is there injustice in the world? Of course: innocent people locked up; guilty people go free. Two people commit the same crime: one goes free, one does not. A believer is told he cannot read his Bible at work, but the Muslim is permitted to read the Koran. A Christian baker is sued because he doesn’t want to bake a wedding cake for a  same sex couple, but fashion designers refuse to make clothes for Melania Trump and are heralded for standing up for what is right. Tim Tebow takes a knee in prayer and is excoriated in the press; Colin Kapernick takes a knee in protest and that same press talks about the sacrifice he’s made. Hypocrisy, double standards, and injustice rule the land, but we should be different. We fight all these things with the unchanging truth of God’s Word. We don’t pick and choose verses to suit our needs. We don’t condemn the Old Testament as out dated and old fashioned. We don’t throw out fundamental biblical principles of gender, sexuality, and marriage because a very vocal minority is offended. We combat all of that uproar and dissention by, “earnestly contending for the faith which was once for all handed down by the saints.” (Jude 3)

What happened to Paul? Look at vs. 31-36. The uproar is reported to the commander of the Roman cohort who immediately takes action. The commander, we’ll find out in 23:26 is named Claudius Lysias, is responsible for law and order in Jerusalem. Claudius shows up at the scene with “soldiers and centurions.” He has at least 200 men with him and the crowd immediately stops beating Paul. Claudius orders Paul bound with chains and then begins asking who he was and what he had done. The crowd is so incensed that Claudius can’t hear the facts and orders Paul taken away to the barracks for his own safety.

Paul has concluded his third missionary journey. He shares his experiences of the past five years with the elders in the Jerusalem church. Fearing political unrest, the elders tell Paul to purify himself to show the Jews that he was just like them. Before the purification process is completed, the Jews bring accusations against Paul. What should have been a joyous occasion filled with celebration at the work Christ has done through Paul, turns ugly with Paul left in chains and the crowd crying out, “away with him,” the same thing the mobs shouted at the crucifixion of Jesus. What will happen to Paul? Is this the end of the story? Join us next week to find out what happens to our beloved Paul.

The Students

You can listen and watch the message here.

Last week, Pastor Zane told us about the meeting that took place between Paul and Silas and the people in the synagogue at Thessalonica. Paul and Silas stayed there three sabbaths and gave powerful messages about the suffering of Christ, about His death, burial, and glorious resurrection. The long awaited Messiah had come! The Bible tells us, “And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with a large number of the God-fearing Greeks and a number of the leading women.” The Jews became jealous of these conversions and as we have seen before, a mob is formed and the attacks commenced. The Jews couldn’t find Paul so they dragged Jason before the city authorities and after Jason pinky swore that Paul wasn’t there, they let him go. This morning, we’ll pick up the story and see what happens to our missionary heroes.

Take a look at our passage today in Acts 17:10-15.

We begin with the next city. Paul and Silas narrowly escape another mob and leave Thessalonica under the cover of darkness. As is often the case in Acts, we lose a sense of time because we pick up with them leaving at night and then arriving in Berea. I imagine we think about this like going from St. Marys to Kingsland. It was about a three day walk from Thessalonica to Berea. Luke leaves out the details of the journey including where they stopped for the night, where they ate, and what they did along the way. Berea is on the eastern slope of Mt. Vernon in the Olympian mountains. It is located in a fairly remote area and was a city of some prominence having been one of the four capitals of Macedonia. Paul and Silas arrive and as is their custom, they go directly to the synagogue.

I love how Luke describes these people from Berea. Remember Paul just left Thessalonica where many people decided to follow Jesus. Thessalonica was the location of the church that Paul sent two letters to that are so important, they’re included in Scripture. But the Bereans Luke describes as, “More noble-minded than those in Thessalonica.” We need to be careful when we look at the words here. You could easily draw the conclusion that the Thessalonians weren’t noble, but that’s not what Luke says. Noble in this context means a willingness to learn and evaluate something fairly. It’s the difference between exegesis and eisegesis. You’ve likely heard both of those terms from the pulpit here at Three Rivers. One term is very healthy and one is very damaging. One term is biblical and one is not. One term demonstrates a willingness to learn, one does not. One term will foster growth; one term will stifle growth. The Bereans demonstrated one term. Let me be crystal clear on something. Bible study is hard work. There are no shortcuts. Even if you paid close attention to every sermon you heard, every Sunday School lesson you heard, every small group you attended, you will never get what you need to have a healthy relationship with Jesus. You will not be equipped in the manner necessary to prepare you for the challenges of life.

What makes the Bereans noble? “They received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” If you have spent any length of time in an evangelical church, you’ve heard of the Bereans. They are often referred to as an example of what each person should be like. I will echo those statements about the Bereans. There were several things they did that should be emulated. First, “they received the word.” They were attentive. They weren’t thinking about lunch, or about grocery lists, or laundry, or how they have it worse than their neighbors. They heard what Paul was saying and they were listening. They weren’t simply sitting there taking credit for being present. There are people that take great pleasure in being at church, but don’t participate in the things that make the church the church, they’re simply in the building.

Second, they did this, “with great eagerness.” Not just with eagerness, that would be encouraging enough, but these Bereans received the word, “with great eagerness.” It is very exciting to be preaching or teaching God’s word and see the faces of the people in front of you. There are times you look out and the people are on the edge of their seats, they can’t wait to hear what comes next. They’re hanging on the Word of God.

Third, and always very important, the Bereans, “Examined the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.” The Bereans did not take what Paul said with blind faith. They didn’t conclude that since Paul said something, it must be true. I always cringe when someone tells me, my pastor says, or my Sunday School teacher says, or some famous pastor says. I want to know what the Bible says and I want you to know what the Bible says. I find it shocking the people that stand on the authority of John MacArthur, David Platt, James MacDonald, Chuck Swindoll, or a host of other people. I’m not saying don’t read these guys or listen to them but filter it through the lens of Scripture. Too often, people in the church are not willing to apply due diligence to their Bible study, diligence they’ll apply to other areas of their life. They want it easy, they want it fast, they want it efficiently, they want it cheap, but it takes hard work to mine the depths of God’s Word and you’ll never reach the bottom. At the risk of offending you, many people in the church have a casual walk of faith and limited knowledge of the Bible and much of that comes from word of mouth or tradition. That’s why you see and hear arguments from professing believers about topics such as the inerrancy of Scripture, biblical marriage, judgment of sin, sanctity of human life, and sexuality. We have parents in the church more interested in dance, t-ball, and soccer than we do in Sunday School, children’s church, or AWANA. The believers from Berea did not take what Paul said at faceAWAN value. The word examine, as it is used here, is an incredible word. It means try to learn the truth of something by the process of careful study, evaluation, and judgment. It means to investigate. This is what the Bereans did: they dug into the Scriptures every single day to make sure that what Paul was saying lined up with the standard of truth.

The Bible must be studied properly. In historic context. With the meaning intended by God through the human authors as inspired by the Holy Spirit. The Bible cannot have multiple meanings for various passages of Scripture. For example, you have some people that talk about God’s blessings. Their teaching is that God’s favor is on you if you have everything you want: multi-million-dollar homes, airplanes, successful TV programs, stadium events, or good health. If you don’t have all of that, there is something wrong with you. We have other people in the church think that if something bad happens in their life, Satan is attacking them or they’re being persecuted. Still others want prayer for their kids for an upcoming test or sports event, or something else like that. These examples are examples I have observed myself. They only apply here in the United States. The idea of a multi-million-dollar home for a believer in a small village of Romania, Brazil, or Paraguay is non-sensical. For many believers in the world, their daily prayer is for food or to withstand the physical punishment of their faith and still glorify God. You see, we can’t rewrite the Bible to fit the American dream yet that’s what we seem to do with regularity. The Bible can have only one meaning. Many applications. The application of the principles of Scripture can look different in different cultures and in different families, but when the Bible says, “Abstain from sexual immorality,” that’s exactly what it means.

Here’s the reality. Paul was in the synagogue at Berea. His message was likely similar to what he preached in v. 3 when he was in Thessalonica. What did he preach there? The same message he preached everywhere: the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus who is the Messiah. He preached the good news that is called the gospel. What happened? The same thing that has been happening since humanity began: “Many of them believed.” “Them” refers to the noble-minded Bereans. When the truth of the gospel is presented, people have a choice. You can choose to accept Jesus as Messiah by grace through faith or you can continue in your sin. Many Bereans believed, but also, “a number of prominent Greek women and men.” Prominent means important or having special prestige or honor. Those prominent people are unnamed, but we know what happens when people of influence turn to God. You can see what happens to nations when their leaders follow God. You can also see what happens when people of influence do not follow God. Paul enjoyed great success in Berea, but the joy, peace, and tranquility were short lived. “But when the Jews of Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul in Berea also, they came there as well, agitating and stirring up the crowds.” Will the opposition ever stop? As long as we continue to zealously pursue Christ and actively participate in the mission of the church, expect opposition to be there. The Jews stirred the pot and got the crowds agitated to the point that Paul needed to head on out to continue the mission that God had appointed him to. The brethren in Berea, “sent Paul out to go as far as the sea.” They got Paul safely out, but “Silas and Timothy remained there” in Berea. The Jews viewed Paul as the primary opposition to their way of life and they wanted to stop him. Don’t underestimate the importance of Silas and Timothy. Even though Paul has the primary role, don’t think that Silas and Timothy just hung out and carried Paul’s luggage and washed his feet. “Now those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens; and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they left.” Paul is escorted from Berea to the sea which is about 20 miles. Then from the sea to Athens is another 250 miles or so. This is sort of an undefined conclusion. Luke doesn’t tell us exactly how Paul got to Athens. All we know for sure is that Silas and Timothy join Paul some time later.

It seems that trouble follows Paul everywhere he goes. Trouble in our life often causes us to wonder, but for Paul, we don’t get that idea. We don’t see him waiver or doubt. He seems focused on the mission given him. What about us? Do we seem to waiver depending on the circumstances of life? Are we intent to accomplish the mission God has put before us regardless of the circumstances? Are we diligent to seek out the truth of Scripture for ourselves or do we think somehow, we are exempt from the hard work of truth seeking? What will happen to Silas and Timothy? What about Paul? Join us next week as we continue looking into the incredible journey of Paul and his companions.