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.

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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

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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.

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Last week, Pastor Mike told us that there were some men trying to add to the Gospel. There was such dissension between this new idea introduced that the brethren decided clarification from the church in Jerusalem was needed so they sent Paul and Barnabas back to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas take advantage of the opportunity and continue sharing the good news of Gentile conversions as they make their way back to Jerusalem through Phoenicia and Samaria. We left last week with some Pharisees saying that circumcision and observing the Law of Moses was necessary for salvation. This morning, we’ll look at the argument and see the decision made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem.

Our passage for today comes from Acts 15:6-29. Take the time and read this great passage.

Here’s the argument. For years, civilized society has engaged in debate. There are a number of hot topics in the news today. Gun control in light of school shootings. entitlements. Abortion. Race and religion. Social Justice. The push to remove historic monuments that seem to offend a few. Immigration. Open borders. Sanctuary cities. Debates also find their way into the church. Traditional vs. contemporary worship which I always find amusing given that singing and music are elements of worship. Baptism as a requirement for salvation and then is it by immersion or is sprinkling okay. What translation of the Bible is the approved one. Free will vs. predestination. Chairs vs. pews. Tile vs. carpet. What color a wall will be painted. Obviously, there are matters of preference that really can’t be effectively debated because it’s based on personal opinion.

That’s not quite the issue facing Paul and Barnabas. Some men have come alongside them, not to assist or help, but to challenge them on what they know to be true. I assure you folks, there is room in the church for healthy, honest, soul searching debate on matters of Scripture. Your pastors do not have a corner on the market for understanding the Bible and as we grow, our knowledge and understanding of the Bible grows as well. The same is true for you. Unfortunately, many times in debating topics of Scripture, there is a side that comes to the table without that understanding of Scripture. People that have been in the church a long time want to impart what they believe to be true. Notice I said have been in the church a long time, not necessarily walking with God a long time. So here we have some men that have come against the simplicity of the Gospel. The matter before the apostles and elders is this question: how are gentiles assimilated into the faith community? For the Jewish Christians, they believed that Gentiles should be circumcised and follow Mosaic Law. Any Gentile converting to Judaism was required to follow the Law, that’s the way it’s always been. The first Christian converts were Jews, right? So here we have the dilemma. Should Gentile converts to Christianity submit to Jewish requirements, particularly circumcision? How can Jews and Gentile converts live together in a faith family?

Paul and Barnabas head back to Jerusalem to get the answer to this question. Luke says, “The apostles and elders came together to look into this matter.” Luke leaves out all the specific aspects of the debate but there, “was much debate.” I’m sure that arguments from both sides were taken up. There was point/counter-point. There was passion and I’m sure some elevated speech patterns. Peter, who we have not heard from in a while, stands up and provides the following answer. Look at vs. 7-11.

There are a number of very important aspects of Peter’s answer. First, he shares that he was the one chosen by God to deliver the message of salvation to the Gentiles. Peter mentions, “In the early days.” Remember in Chapter 10 that Peter was sent to Cornelius opening the door to widespread Gentile evangelism. That was about ten years earlier. Every nation is welcome at the foot of the cross. Every tribe, every tongue, every background, every socioeconomic class of people can find forgiveness through the Messiah, through Jesus Christ! In God’s eyes, there is no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Hearts receive cleansing by faith, not by ceremony. Peter asks the rhetorical question, “Why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” That yoke of bondage, of keeping the law, didn’t work for our forefathers, why do you think it will work now? We couldn’t keep the Law, the people before us couldn’t keep the Law, why do you expect people today to keep the Law? Peter is reminding them of the inadequacy of the Law to affect salvation because no one could keep the Law. Jesus even addressed this in Matt. 11:29-30 when He said, “Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”

Peter doesn’t hesitate when he says, “But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” Grace is unmerited favor. Your Jewish lineage won’t save you. Your ceremony won’t save you. Your Law won’t save you. Remember that Peter is speaking from personal experience. He has tasted the freedom found in Christ. He has been delivered from the bondage of the Law and has been set free by the power of the Holy Spirit to preach a message of redemption to all people. Salvation is by grace through faith! Peter gives the proverbial salvation mic drop. The liveliness of the debate was over and the people sat in stunned silence. At some point when Peter finishes, Paul and Barnabas talk about, “The signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.” The apostolic response is not over. After Peter shared from his personal experience and Paul and Barnabas share, James gets up and says, “Brethren, listen to me.” Referring to this Jerusalem conference in Gal. 1:19, Paul said he saw, “James, the Lord’s brother.” In Gal. 2:9, Paul said that James, Peter, and John were pillars of the church at Jerusalem. It looks like James has taken on the role of the leading elder at Jerusalem.

Look at vs. 14-18. James provides scriptural evidence to support what Paul and Barnabas were teaching. James calls on the prophets Amos and Jeremiah. He shares truths from Moses, Isaiah, and Daniel to help the Jews understand what is happening regarding the Gentiles. Remember, this is all new to them. James has established from Scripture, the handbook for all things in Christianity, that Gentiles and Jews are one in Messiah. Here’s what James says, “Therefore it is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles.” The only restriction to membership was that Gentiles accept Jesus by grace through faith. Of course, that’s the same restriction now. Anticipating some possible push back from the Jews, James issues what has been called apostolic decrees. Since Gentiles were not required to keep the Law as the Jews thought they should, these decrees were designed to allow fellowship between Jews and Gentiles.

There are four decrees in James’ conclusion to the matter: “We write to them that they abstain from things contaminated by idols and from fornication and from what is strangled and from blood.” Three decrees are ceremonial and are no brainers for a Jew. They were a huge part of their daily lifestyle. Abstain from food offered to idols. Idolatry was absolutely detestable to a Jew and the devout Jew would want to stay far away from this. Abstain from what is strangled.    This referred to any process of killing an animal that did not remove all the blood. Jews could not and would not eat an animal that still contained blood. Abstain from blood. This falls in the same category as the previous one. Don’t consume the blood of any animal. Blood was considered sacred to them. There is one decree left that has to do with the moral code. Abstain from fornication. This is also translated sexual immorality. In a nutshell, any sexual activity outside the confines of biblical marriage is prohibited. The reasons for this are many and if we adhered to this principle, much heartache could be avoided in our lives. As long as Gentiles followed these four decrees, fellowship between them and Jews would be possible. If you’re thinking, hold on, aren’t there many, many more principles to follow? The short answer is yes. The issue being brought to Jerusalem is fellowship. Jews were arguing that they couldn’t have fellowship with Gentiles on the fundamental premise of ritual Law. They weren’t talking about the fundamental principles of holy living which can be assumed based on what we’ve already since throughout Acts. That’s likely why James said this in conclusion: “For Moses from ancient generations has in every city those who preach him, since he is read in the synagogues every Sabbath.”

What’s the effect? I love how we conclude this potentially explosive situation. The first part of v. 22 says, “Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church.” The conclusion to the issue was satisfactory with everyone involved. I wish that all debates ended this well. The varying positions and opinions were evaluated. A conclusion was made and was agreed upon by the leadership of the church and the church as a whole. Perhaps you’ve seen a church wide debate that didn’t end so well. Lines of division are drawn and no one is willing to see the other side, no one is willing to evaluate the issue based on the illumination of Scripture. Unfortunately, many times in the modern church, the issue is not a matter of Scripture, but a matter of personal preference. Again, too many times, those stronger voices will not stop after a decision has been made by leadership. Some in the church think their voice is the only voice that matters and if things do not go their way, then all hell will break loose in the church. On behalf of all the pastors and leaders at Three Rivers, we will not let unbiblical behavior go unchecked, we will not allow unholy or ungodly attitudes prevail. Yes, we will listen, we will pray, we will search the Scriptures, we will consider varying viewpoints and experience, we will labor over decisions, but we will not compromise on the truth of Scripture. Now, what of matters that we find are not as clear as others. That is where we will wait. If we don’t know or aren’t sure, we will commit to pray. So, here’s what they did. The church chose, “men from among them to send to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas – Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, and they sent this letter by them.” Much like we do when an issue arises, we’ll send an email, put something in the Current, post it on Facebook, or anything to get the word out about a policy implementation or a change to how we have been doing things or what we’ll do from here on out. That’s exactly what the Jerusalem church did with this issue.

The letter they sent is found in vs. 23-29.

An issue was raised by people in the church at Antioch. There was dissention among the people and they decided they needed insight from the church in Jerusalem. The points were argued and after hearing the issue, a decision was made by the leading elder and leading apostle based on the truth of Scripture. A policy letter was sent to the church at Antioch and if the people will follow the apostolic decrees as well as the other Scripture they have available, he says they will do well. What about you? How do you respond when problems arise? Are your problems a scriptural issue or a preference issue? When issues arise, and they will, if you handle them in a biblical manner, following biblical principles of behavior, holiness, and godliness, I assure you, it will be well with you.

The Opposition

You can watch the video for this message here.

Last week, Pastor Mike told us that a large number of Jews and Gentiles responded to the Gospel message Paul preached in Iconium. But there were some unbelieving Jews that stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against Paul and his colleagues. Paul’s preaching divided the city with some supporting the Jews and some supporting the apostles. A plot was formed to stone our dear brothers and they fled for their lives, but they continued to preach the Gospel. This morning, our missionaries end up in Lystra and we pick up the story with Paul preaching the truth.

Our passage today comes from Acts 14:8-20. Grab your Bible and take a look at it.

The stage is set and the narrative picks up with Paul already in Lystra. We don’t see him entering the synagogue which leads many to conclude there was no synagogue in this Roman colony. Paul encounters a man that is described three ways. He, “had no strength in his feet.” He was, “lame from his mother’s womb.” He, “had never walked.” Just to make sure we all understand: this man never enjoyed getting from one place to another on his own. He relied on other people to help him. The man is sitting somewhere that he can hear Paul speaking, but we don’t know the setting in which this takes place. At some point, Paul looks out into the crowd and locks eyes with the man. The man was listening, he was paying attention to what Paul was saying. As Paul is gazing into the man’s eyes, he recognizes the lame man’s faith.

We throw that word around a lot in the church. Faith is belief to the extent of complete trust and reliance. We put our faith in many things. The government. Teachers, coaches, schools, police officers, doctors, the military, cars, and other people. We find it so easy to trust these people; we find it easy to trust organizations and businesses. Is our faith as strong when it comes to God as it is with our kid’s coaches and teachers? I’m not saying don’t trust these folks, but I think we often have blind faith in these people. I think it’s safe to paint with a broad brush and say in most cases, coaches and teachers and police officers and government officials can be trusted. We’ve got many teachers right here as part of our faith family and I assure you, they love your kids and have their best interests in mind.

Does our faith in God compare with our faith in humans? I think of all the times I’ve counseled with people that have been hurt by others. Relationships that have gone awry. Family members estranged refusing to talk with one another. Unresolved anger and bitterness in the workplace. Friends gossiping about friends. Time and time again, people let us down that rightfully causes us to mistrust others, but often we find ourselves drawn back into those painful situations. God has never been involved in a scandal. We don’t have anywhere in recorded history where He does not do what He says He will do. We have nowhere written where God acts based on impulse or whim. Why do we find it easy to trust others and so difficult to trust God?

Whatever Paul was saying resonated with this lame man and Paul recognized his, “faith to be made well.” This is the third time in Acts that we see lameness healed. Remember the lame man in Chapter 3 that was laid at the Gate Beautiful that was healed by Peter. Then there was Aeneas that had been paralyzed for eight years in Chapter 9 that was healed by Peter. The result for all three is the same: Paul says, “Stand upright to your feet.” The man, “leaped up and began to walk.” Do you find it curious that he didn’t have to learn to walk. No shakiness, no tentative steps, no falling down, no trying to catch his balance, he miraculously, “leaped up and began to walk.” The response of the people in Lystra differs dramatically from the healings I just mentioned. In Chapter 3, the people, “Were filled with wonder and amazement.” (Acts 3:10) In Chapter 9, the people, “Turned to the Lord.” (Acts 9:35) But here in Lystra, “they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” Get the picture in your mind. The lame man is healed and the people raised their voices and began shouting. I’m sure there were looks of amazement, shock, awe, and wonder. They shout out in their native language, but there’s just one problem with that. Paul and Barnabas don’t speak Lycaonian. They didn’t know what was being said.

The people called, “Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker.” Zeus is the legendary Greek god of the universe, ruler of the skies and the earth. The Greeks considered him the god of all natural phenomena; the personification of the laws of nature; the ruler of all things and the father of all gods. He had a Roman equivalent named Jupiter. Hermes was Zeus’ attendant and spokesman. Legend has it that he was the son of Zeus and Maia. His Roman equivalent was known as Mercury, the fleet of foot protector of travelers, thieves, and athletes that was able to move freely between the land of mortal and the land of the gods. Luke doesn’t say, but I bet the people began bowing down to Paul and Barnabas. I’m sure our Apostles thought the people’s response was strange, but they really began to understand when, “The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.” The people witnessed the miraculous healing of the lame man and concluded that the gods have become like men and are standing right in front of them. The false, pagan priest of the pagan god Zeus comes from the pagan temple just outside the city and wants to offer pagan sacrifices to Paul who the pagan priest thought just had to be Hermes.

This action caused Paul and Barnabas such distress, “They tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.” In our day and age, we often treat important people differently than we treat common folk. We tend to fawn over stars and big-time athletes and often are excited just to get a glimpse of someone famous. Paul did not appreciate being treated like this. He and Barnabas tore their robes as a sign of great distress and opposition to this inappropriate demonstration by the people.

In Paul’s mind, everything is clear. He and Barnabas are simply on a journey telling people about Jesus and demonstrating His power as they have opportunity. The people mistakenly think they are gods and begin worshiping them. I can picture Paul waving his arms and screaming, “we’re just men like you, stop this!” Paul explains by saying, we “preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all this is in them.” That’s Paul’s explanation. We’re just guys sharing the message of the Gospel. They worship, “vain things.” Empty worship. Worthless worship. Idolatrous worship of gods who were not gods. Paul goes on to say, “In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.” This is the first time in Acts that a group of people like this are addressed. They are totally pagan. They believe in many false gods so Paul had to start at the beginning. One fundamental aspect of Christianity is that there is one God. He told them they needed to turn from idols to a singular, living God. Any religion that will transform men into gods is worthless. This principle was likely very strange to these people.

Paul gives three main points in this mini-message. First, God is the Creator of all that lives in the sea and on land. Second, Paul tells them of God’s mercies with past generations. If people wanted to walk away, God allowed it. We’ll see this more clearly in Acts 17:30. There is an indication that people acted in ignorance, but now they should know better. Third, God left proof of who He is. He still provided the rain that allowed food to grow that produced fruitful seasons that the people could be satisfied. This concept would not be foreign to these people of Lystra. There were writers of the day that spoke of divine providence of the gods, but the idea of only one true God would have rocked their world. One God was the source of all things natural; one God was the source of all things from heaven, one God that left proof of His involvement in the world. “Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.” As he’s speaking, the people are still thinking he and Barnabas are gods. It’s got to be frustrating for Paul. He’s telling them the truth of God, but they’re not picking it up. Paul is building a bridge between the creation and the Creator.   He’s trying to meet these people where they are. He’s trying to bring them to the place where they can know the one true God, but something interrupts his message.

Before Paul could proceed to the next phase of the message, “Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead.” The religious left comes again against what God wants to do. Remember the Jews were jealous of the crowds at Pisidian Antioch that wanted to hear from Paul and Barnabas. Just a few weeks ago, we heard Pastor Zane tell us these same Jews, “incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district.” (Acts 13:50) Last week we saw large numbers of people turning to the Lord such that, “The Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.” (Acts 14:2) The Jews have been pursuing Paul and Barnaba because of the success they’ve had in turning people from a religion to a relationship with Christ. The Jews from Antioch and Iconium won over the crowds and then stone Paul and leave him for dead. This is a mob and they have a mob mentality – even if not everyone participated. The people that just witnessed the miraculous healing of the lame man; the people that just wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas are turned against them and gathered stones. Why Barnabas was not given the same treatment is not known. In a stoning, large boulders, as big as someone can pick up are thrown at the person. Those stones are hurled at Paul and the crowd thinks he’s dead and drag him out of the city. In a miraculous turn of events, “While the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city.”

You cannot stop what God wants to accomplish. You might be able to delay it, but it’s not really a delay because all things work in God’s timing. Paul is stoned to death, but not death. Undeterred, “The next day, he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.” What will become of our missionary heroes? Will they receive the same treatment in Derbe as they did in Lystra? Join us next week as we continue to watch the incredible events of the early church unfold.

Three Promises

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We’ll skip 13:1-12 because that was the passage Pastor Mike was to preach through on Feb. 25th but was away in Tennessee. Last week we enjoyed a wonderful anniversary service so if you’re wondering when we’ll cover those verses, we’ll circle back after Easter. This morning, we’ll look at a history lesson Paul gives in the synagogue.

Take a look at Acts 13:13-25.

Verse 13 says, “Now Paul and his companions put out to sea from Pathos and came to Perga in Pamphylia; but John left them and returned to Jerusalem.” When they arrived in Perga, John Mark decided he’d head back to Jerusalem. Luke leaves out the details about why John Mark left and there has been much speculation. In Chapter 15 we’ll get some insight into the fallout resulting from this so we’ll wait until we get there to talk about John Mark. Luke continues by telling us Paul and his companions went, “on from Perga, they arrived at Pisidian Antioch.” Again, Luke leaves out the details of this trip to a different Antioch. To get to Pisidian Antioch from Perga would have been an extremely difficult trip. I want to mention this because we have a tendency to forget the incredibly difficult journeys these biblical people went on in obedience to the Lord. The trip to Pisidian Antioch was about a 100 mile trip, on foot, over the Taurus Mountains on a very desolate route known for its danger. Luke simply says they go there and arrive.

We don’t know the day they arrived, but, “on the Sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down.”We’ll see this pattern over and over again with Paul. His normal course of action is to be in the Synagogue on the Sabbath – even when he is not at home. This synagogue was the center of all the activity in the Jewish community. Back in the olden days, you’d have a church in the center of town and everything revolved around church on Sunday. Paul and his companions arrive and find their seats. The order of service in your typical synagogue followed the same pattern from week to week. Just like at 3RC, we typically have the same routine week after week – it’s not good or bad, or right or wrong, it’s what works for us. The synagogue was a bit more rigid. The service was generally divided into six parts and depending on who was there, some parts might not be done. One of the standard parts was the reading from the Law and the Prophets. So, “After the reading of the Law and the Prophets the synagogue officials sent to them, saying, “Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it.” It’s kind of comical to ask a preacher of God’s Word if they have anything to say. Probably all the pastors here have had this happen when visiting a church out of town. Somehow word gets to the pastor that a visiting pastor is in the congregation and they might be invited to say something or offer a prayer. We don’t know the specifics, but Paul and his companions are invited to speak to the synagogue.

Paul delivers a message that focuses on three main promises. Notice immediately that he speaks to two groups: men of Israel and those that fear God. You’ll see some pointed remarks directed at each group as we read through the text. The first part is the promise God made to Israel. Look at vs. 16b-25. I want to highlight a couple of points. Notice that God chose the fathers of Israel and it was through His hand that they were delivered from Egyptian bondage. During the exodus from Egypt, the people were generally belly-achers, complainers, disobedient and just plain awful and because of this, God determined not to let any of them in the promised land. “For a period of 40 years,” Paul says, God “put up with them in the wilderness.” Paul reminded them how God destroyed the seven nations of the Hittites, the Gergashites, the Amorites, the Canaanites, the Perizites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. It was a battle of epic proportions and God was their deliverer. Then God distributed the land to the twelve tribes. Then after the land was distributed which took 450 years, God gave them judges until Samuel the Prophet came along. The people asked for a king and God gave them Saul. Saul lasted 40 years until David, a man after God’s own heart, ascended to the throne. Fast forward through the lineage of Jesus and Paul says, “According to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus.” John the Baptizer proclaimed that Jesus was coming and a baptism of repentance was available to all the people of Israel. John described Jesus as a man he wasn’t fit to untie His sandals. A quick history review from the Exodus to Jesus just as God promised Israel.

Paul’s second part reveals God’s promise fulfilled by Christ. Paul starts out again speaking to the two groups he calls, “Sons of Abraham’s family, and those among you who fear God.” “The message of this salvation has been sent.” He just said in v. 23, “According to promise, God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus.” Paul is systematically setting up what God has done in the history of Israel. God has demonstrated his mercy to Israel from Abraham to David. And don’t forget the promise made by Nathan to David in 2 Sam. 7:16, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.” Don’t forget Matt. 1:1 where Jesus is called, “the son of David.” These facts are really important because of what Paul says next.

Look at what Luke says in vs. 27-31. This is the Gospel message and should be familiar to you if you’re a believer. The death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yes, the people killed Jesus out of ignorance as Acts 3:17 says, but those acts of ignorance fulfilled the prophecies that Messiah must suffer and die. What’s even more crazy is that Paul is talking to the people that should have recognized Jesus because they read about Him every week in the synagogue. If this section sounds familiar to you, it’s essentially the same message Peter preached in Acts 5. The Gospel message is still sufficient to accomplish salvation without adding to it or trying to make it more attractive. When you add or subtract or otherwise alter the Gospel, it’s not the Gospel. After Jesus was resurrected, Paul reminds the people what happened next. Jesus walked among the people and those people are now His witnesses throughout the land. Notice the lack of a personal pronoun from Paul. He’s putting everything on those that should have recognized Jesus. Paul zeroes in on the critical aspect of the Gospel – the resurrection. Look at vs. 32-37. The good news of the Gospel hinges on the resurrection. Paul quotes from Ps. 2:7, Is. 55:3, and Ps. 16:10. Anyone can die, but being raised from the dead is another matter. Predicting a resurrection is something altogether impossible. And that’s what we have in Jesus. Our faith hinges on the resurrection. Paul devoted 1 Cor. 15 to the resurrection and concluded in vs. 16-19, “For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If we have hoped in Christ in this life only, we are of all men most to be pitied.” If Christ was not raised, we have no hope and this life is all there is, but I submit to you, that’s just not true.

The final part of Paul’s message is an invitation to accept the promise. Read vs. 38-41. Paul recaps what is available if they’ll take the step of belief. Forgiveness of sin is proclaimed. Through Christ, “everyone who believes is freed from all things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses.” He even provides a warning that they would never believe what he is saying even though he is describing it to them. Remember Paul is in the synagogue speaking to the men of Israel and those who fear God. How many times have you shared something with someone even though you really believed they wouldn’t listen? You still do what’s necessary and trust the Holy Spirit will work in them. You don’t give up and you take every opportunity the Lord provides to share the life changing truth with people. You remain consistent and authentic in your walk of faith knowing that it makes a difference. You go back time and time again hoping and praying they’ll still listen.

Paul took the opportunity to share the truth with these people in the synagogue. He reminded them of the promise God made to Israel. He took them from Moses in Egypt to the exodus, to the division of the land to Saul to David. he shared how the promise of God was fulfilled in Jesus. The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is the good news they needed to hear – the message of salvation. He invited them to accept the promise that afforded forgiveness that could never be found in the Law of Moses. Something pretty exciting happened in vs. 42-43. The people were intrigued and wanted to hear more so Paul and Barnabas were invited back the following Sabbath day. Many of the Jews and proselytes – those that converted to Judaism, followed after Paul and Barnabas and they were urged to continue in the grace of God. Not saved, but on the path. What’s next for Paul and Barnabas? What will come of their next meeting in the synagogue? Good questions that will be answered if you join us next week.

Two Churches

Last week, Pastor Mike told us the Holy Spirit of God had been poured out on the Gentiles. This amazed the Jews of the day. They believed in who Jesus was and what He did and because of this, they were baptized. Jews and Gentiles are equal in God’s eyes. This morning, we’ll see how Peter responds to this incredible revelation.

Our passage today comes from Acts 11:1-30.

We start out with a confrontation with the church in Jerusalem. When you’re in ministry, confrontation is inevitable. Confrontation has a negative connotation; it’s not fun or exciting, but it is sometimes necessary. Sometimes there is confrontation where none is needed. Over the years, I’ve had my share of both and more often than not, it’s the latter category. People that disagree just because. No doctrinal issues, no scriptural misinterpretation, no ungodly or unholy behavior. Just disagreement with the thought that they have a right to voice their objection or provide an opinion. I hope I, and all the pastors here, are approachable enough that you can come and share your thoughts and feelings about a wide variety of topics and issues. If it’s a doctrinal or theological matter, we’re eager to sit down and reason through the scriptures. But if you’re complaining about something you prefer to be done or not done, you’re probably not going to be satisfied. Matters of doctrine will be carefully evaluated, but matters of preference really cannot be entertained.

“Now the apostles and the brethren who were throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God.” News spread throughout Judea that the Gentiles received God’s Word. As Peter made his way back home and entered Jerusalem, there were people waiting for him. It looks like many people had no issue with this, but there were some loud complaints that came from a smaller group of people Luke says, “were circumcised.” Those people were Jews and they had an issue with something that Peter did and they confronted him by saying, “You went to the uncircumcised men and ate with them.” Remember, it was unlawful for Jews to associate with Gentiles. Peter even said so in 10:28: “You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him.” Peter had to be convinced that all were equal in God’s eyes and now he must do the same with the Jews. Peter doesn’t freak out, doesn’t get offended, doesn’t look down on the Jews for asking this question. Instead he does what all leaders should do, he, “began speaking and proceeded to explain to them in orderly sequence saying.”

Look at vs. 5-17. This is Peter’s defense. He simply told them what happened, and it’s the fourth time we’ve heard it. I wish all confrontations ended the way this one did. You can see the move of the Spirit of God on the Jews Peter was talking to. Listen to this in v. 18: “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, “Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.” When we consider people the way God considers people, division should melt away, racism should be eliminated, and discrimination a thing of the past. Society in America is becoming more and more divided. I’m reminded of the children’s song: black and yellow, red and white, they’re all precious in His sight, Jesus loves the little children of the world. Whether you’re rich or whether you’re poor, it matters not to Him, He remembers where you’re going, not where you’ve been. Simple words, profound truth. I’m praying God would break down the walls that divide us. That’s the message Peter is conveying to these people and they got it! Perhaps you have a cross reference note next to the word repentance. Repentance crosses over to 2 Cor. 7:10 that tells us, “For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.” The Jews understood Peter’s explanation and rejoiced that Gentiles could receive salvation. This is yet another example of the incredible power of the Holy Spirit and how he works in people’s lives.

The second church is located in Antioch. Luke tells us, “So then those who were scattered because of the persecution that occurred in connection with Stephen made their way to Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except to Jews alone.” Remember back in 8:1, Saul was leading the effort to eradicate these followers of Christ that forced them to flee for their lives. Believers are scattered throughout Samaria and Judea and they’re telling Jews about Jesus. So, we arrive in Antioch. Antioch was a really important place. It was a strategic city for the Gospel message. It was founded about 300 B.C. and was a Hellenistic city that promoted Greek culture. It was not known for godliness. Antioch was a major cult center for the Greek goddess Daphne and the Assyrian goddess Astarte and was known throughout the Empire for its immorality, so what better place to introduce the cleansing power of God? It was the third largest city in the Roman Empire that had a population somewhere between 500,000 and 800,000 with a Jewish population somewhere between 25,000 and 50,000.

The Gospel began with the truth being told to the Jews as mentioned in v. 19 and here’s a good reason why. There was fairly large Jewish Hellenistic population there. Greek would be the dominant language spoken and those people that were there teaching the Word would also have to speak Greek. Something else was also happening. Verse 20 says, “But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who came to Antioch and began speaking to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a large number who believed turned to the Lord.” Perhaps one of the men is Lucius who is mentioned later in 13:1. Fast forward to Paul’s words in Rom. 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” God used Jews to reach the Gentiles, but at the same time, again according to Paul, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal. 3:28) Jesus Christ is the common denominator that fuses diversity together in the Kingdom. When you preach the truth of who Jesus is and what His mission is, God blesses the message. The messenger need not be perfect, only willing.

Gentiles responded to the life changing message of the truth of who Jesus Christ is. “A large number who believed turned to the Lord.” The church continues to grow through the preached Word from people that were transformed by the very message they are proclaiming. As the church was growing, word got back to Jerusalem, “and they sent Barnabas off to Antioch.” Conversions to Christ are awesome and miraculous, but we cannot stop there. There must be a training period where the new convert is taught the fundamental doctrines and principles of the faith. In my opinion, this has been one of the grandest failures of the modern church. Once saved, many church folk assume new converts will miraculously become what God wants them to be through some sort of magical, mysterious, Holy Spirit infusive, transformative process. If we compare our spiritual growth to our biological growth, we see the fallacy of such assumptions. When a baby is born, the parent does everything for that child. As the child grows, more and more responsibility is transferred to the child. At first the kid is carried from place to place, then the kid is taught to crawl and walk; is taught to dress themselves and brush and floss their teeth. The parent reads to the child and engages in intentional instruction. The parent teaches the kid about colors and shapes and animal names. The child is taught to recognize letters and words and learns how to read and then in school, is given assignments to read themselves. This continues throughout their scholastic career. Students are given syllabi so they know what to expect during the course or semester. On the job, a person is given instructions on how to perform certain tasks within their responsibilities. Employees are given handbooks or manuals giving them instructions. In the church? We attempt discipleship using hopes, dreams, and recommendations. As a result, many people don’t take the time to truly disciple others because they were not discipled themselves. We either assume someone else will do it, or the individual will somehow know how to be transformed. Of course, there is individual responsibility, but the child has a parent, the student has a teacher and the worker has a supervisor. If we want to be effective for the Kingdom, we must engage in intentional discipleship.

When Barnabas arrived in Antioch, he saw something I am sure made a profound impact on him. “Then when he arrived and witnessed the grace of God, he rejoiced and began to encourage them all with resolute heart to remain true to the Lord; for he was a good man, and full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And considerable numbers were brought to the Lord.” When news of Philip’s work in Samaria got to Jerusalem, the church sent Peter and John, who were apostles, to check it out. Hearing about the work in Antioch, the church sends the non-apostle Barnabas, a very good choice. Barnabas was the one that introduced Saul into the circle of the apostles. Luke described Barnabas as, “a good man,” the same phrase he used of Joseph of Arimathea in Lu. 23:50. Barnabas was, “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith,” the same way he described Stephen back in Acts 6:5. Barnabas was the right man for this mission and he did it all without a title. Remember: you don’t have to have a title to minister to God’s people. You don’t have to be in some assigned position from the church to do God’s work. Barnabas literally saw what the Lord had done in the people and he was filled with joy, unspeakable and full of glory. Believers who had been scattered following Stephen’s murder had powerfully shared the hope of Christ in this Gentile community and the people responded in considerable numbers. Considerable means notably large. As in other places we’ve seen in Acts, the church is now growing so fast, new converts cannot be counted.

Barnabas encouraged the people to remain steadfast and true to the Lord and leaves Antioch, very encouraged, “for Tarsus to look for Saul,” because he sees the amount of work that needs to be done and knows he cannot accomplish it by himself. In Tarsus, “When he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. And for an entire year they met with the church and taught considerable numbers; and the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” Saul and Barnabas go back to Antioch and engage in intentional, concentrated discipleship for a year. Saul and Barnabas worked shoulder to shoulder with this Gentile community continuing a partnership that would take them on a missionary journey to Cyprus and beyond that we’ll see in Acts 13 and 14. Because of their devotion to Christ, the people that followed Jesus were called Christians and this happened first in Antioch.

Luke mentions the prophet Agabus to close out the story of Antioch. Take a look at 11:27-30. Agabus predicted a famine in the land and Luke says it occurred during the reign of Claudius. Extra-biblical documents confirm there was a famine throughout the Roman Empire around 46 A.D. That’s not the point of Luke telling us this seemingly random fact. The reason he points this out is how the people responded to hearing a famine was coming. “And in the proportion that any of the disciples had means, each of them determined to send a contribution for the relief of the brethren living in Judea.” The brethren didn’t ask for help although they probably heard Agabus’ message since he went to Antioch from Jerusalem. Agabus says a famine is coming and the disciples in Antioch respond. Nobody way forced to give, but everyone did give: everyone participated. “Each of them determined to send a contribution.” Then look how the offering got to Jerusalem. They sent, “It in charge of Barnabas and Saul to the elders.” If you recall from the first mention of Barnabas back in Acts 4:36-37, he sold a tract of land and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet. Now he and Saul are going to bring money and bring it to the elders. This represents a shift in leadership. The elders have been present from the beginning, but where are the apostles? Verse 1 says they were throughout Judea. And we know Peter just arrived back in Jerusalem. It seems their responsibilities took them away from Jerusalem and the daily operations were left with the elders. We’ll see that take shape as we continue our walk through Acts.

We started off this morning looking at the confrontation between Peter and the church at Jerusalem. They took issue with Peter eating with uncircumcised men. Peter shared his vision that God is no respecter of persons and everyone is equal in God’s eyes and the people responded with rejoicing. We moved on to Antioch where large numbers of Gentiles responded to the gospel message. Barnabas and Saul are dispatched from Jerusalem and spend a year engaged in intentional discipleship. The story of the church at Jerusalem and Antioch are not over: next week, we’ll see a challenging shift in Peter’s life.