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?

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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.

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.

The Opposition

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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.

The Preparation

You can listen and watch the message here.

Last week, Pastor Zane introduced us to Cornelius. Cornelius was a devout, praying man that had a vision. God told Cornelius to send for Peter who was staying 

with Simon the Tanner in Joppa. The same time Cornelius was having a vision, Peter fell into a trance and was given a vision. They sky opened up to him and it was revealed that what had been unclean and unholy was no longer unclean and unholy. The dietary restrictions had been lifted, but the meaning was far deeper than that. This morning, we’ll see how Peter responds to this incredible revelation.

I hope you grab your Bible and read our text for today found in Acts 10:17-33.

One of the biggest church killers is the phrase, “We’ve never done it that way.” Since the dawn of humanity, people all across the globe have uttered those six words. That phrase has stifled fresh ideas, innovative methods, and new technology along with a host of other things that could impact eternity. While not always, the phrase it typically uttered by people who have been around a while, who feel vested in a church, and who feel a sense of ownership. They’re content with the status quo no matter how out of touch it may be. Early in my vocational ministry, I was being interviewed by a church just like this.          For Peter, this is what is happening. Change has come and he cannot process it.

Luke says, “Now while Peter was greatly perplexed in mind as to what the vision which he had seen might be, behold, the men who had been sent by Cornelius, having asked directions for Simon’s house, appeared at the gate; and calling out, they were asking whether Simon, who was also called Peter, was staying there.” (Acts 10:17-18) Remember, Cornelius was told in a vision to send men to Joppa to find Peter. Cornelius briefed his men on why they were going and the importance of the mission. We don’t know much about these three men, but we find them at Simon’s door asking if Peter is there.  Just an interesting note, the phrase, “had been sent” comes from the same root word where we get our word apostle. As the men are asking about Peter, the Spirit reveals to him that three men are looking for him. You might task, why all the vision and dream stuff? In Acts 2:17, Luke quoted the prophet Joel that said, “And that it shall be in the last days, God says, that I will pour out My Spirit on all mankind; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.” (Joel 2:28) Remember, the people we’re looking at did not have what you are currently holding in your hands. They were living out the New Testament and relied on the leading of the Holy Spirit and the leading of the Apostles without being able to line it up with Scripture in the manner we can.

Peter is contemplating what this vision could mean when he is interrupted by the Spirit of God telling him to go downstairs and go with the men who are there. Peter was to go, “without misgivings.” That literally means doubting nothing. God even qualifies that by saying, “For I have sent them Myself.” Peter goes downstairs and without introduction says, “Behold, I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for which you have come?” It’s a fair question and one you would ask to any stranger that comes to your door. What can I do for you? What do you want? Can I help you? Now a days, you might not even open the door to someone you don’t know. The men answer Peter by telling him. “Cornelius, a centurion, a righteous and God-fearing man well-spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews, was divinely directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house and hear a message from you.” They provide Cornelius’ credentials. By society’s standards, and it seems by God’s standards, Cornelius is someone. Devout. Righteous. He and his family were God-fearing. He was a prayer warrior. He gave alms. He was well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews – he had a good reputation. His private life lined up with his public life. This guy was the complete package. Too often, our life outside of church is markedly different than our life inside. If you’re considered for leadership here at 3RC, don’t be surprised if we ask for references. There are far too many people in  leadership who do not consistently demonstrate the fruits of the Spirit. We’re looking for people that are authentic. We’re looking for people that are growing, but haven’t arrived. We’re looking for people that want to be righteous, not right. People that are prayerful, not powerful. People that are committed, not contentious. Cornelius was that kind of guy.

His men tell Peter of their mission and that confirms what the Spirit had revealed to Peter. Peter is given instructions to go with the men to Cornelius’ house. So here we have an impasse of faith. What do you do with what God clearly tells you to do? In this case we have an angel of God telling Cornelius what to do, the voice of God speaking to Peter in a vision, and the Spirit of God telling Peter what to do. Nothing is left to chance, variables are removed; there are no what ifs or if onlys. Will you walk through the door opened by God? Will you go down the path God illuminates? Will you walk by faith? Would Peter hesitate and if so, why? Peter had a choice. Obedience or disobedience. 2000 years later, we face the same choice each and every day.

We move from we’ve never done it that way, to let’s walk down this new path that we’re not sure where it’ll take us. Peter is beginning to understand the vision because he doesn’t slam the door in the face of the three sent by Cornelius. Peter, “Invited them in and gave them lodging.” That’s pretty funny considering it wasn’t his house. Sure, come on in, we’ve got plenty of room. After a night’s rest, Peter, “Got up and went away with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him.” Peter leaves with the three men sent by Cornelius with some believers from Joppa and they head off to Caesarea. It was a long walk. Caesarea is about 30 miles from Joppa and, “On the following day he entered Caesarea. Now Cornelius was waiting for them and had called his relatives and close friends.” Get the picture in your mind. Cornelius has a vision to get Peter and then sends men to get Peter. While all that walking is going on, Cornelius begins to gather his family and friends to hear from Peter. He is confident that Peter will come with his men.

Verse 25 says, “When Peter entered, Cornelius met him, and fell at his feet and worshiped him.” Don’t think too ill of Cornelius. He had been told in a vision to send for Peter. Did Cornelius know exactly who Peter was? Had Peter’s reputation preceded him? Peter quickly corrects Cornelius and says, “Stand up; I too am just a man.” Of course, it’s wrong to worship a man. We would never do that. I find it interesting how star struck we get these days. From athletes to singers; from actors to musicians and even politicians. How many people would stand in line to meet Tua Tagovailoa? That starriness has even crossed into the church. Pastors that you don’t have access to. I have a friend in ministry on staff at a very large church. I asked him of his interaction with the pastor and he told me that he had met him a couple of times. Paul told us in Rom. 12:3 not to think too highly of ourselves. So, Peter walks in and sees the place packed with people. The people are not like Peter or the other apostles. Look at vs. 28-29. Peter’s vision about the sheet is becoming clearer as he remembers God’s words: “What God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy.” (Acts 10:15) Peter is standing in the midst of a house full of Gentiles. I came like you asked me to, I didn’t object, so tell me what I’m doing here.

Cornelius gives Peter his message. I don’t get any impatience in Peter’s tone; I don’t think he’s all huffy. Why am I here, Peter asks. Cornelius gives it to him straight. It’s found in vs. 30-33. Cornelius recaps the incredible vision he had. Remember that Cornelius is a God-fearing, devout, giving, praying Gentile of some importance in Caesarea. Peter is all those same things that Cornelius is, but is a Jew. The fuzziness of the vision Peter had about the sheet is becoming clearer and clearer with each passing moment. Peter’s vision involved animals of all kinds: “four footed animals and crawling creatures of the earth and birds of the air.” It’s been four days since Cornelius’ vision and it’s the third time we’ve heard about it in these 33 verses in Chapter 10. One of the tools in Bible study is noting repetition. Any time Scripture repeats itself to this extent, we really need to take notice. While the vision is becoming clearer, Peter still does not know the specific reasons behind this visit. However, one thing is crystal clear: God has orchestrated this visit between Cornelius and his family and friends with Peter. Cornelius finishes by saying, “We are all here present before God to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord.”

Things are spinning in Peter’s mind. He’s been in front of crowds before so the people staring back at him are no big deal. He’s been in pressure situations before: dragged before the religious leaders of the day, he’s healed the lame, raised the dead, led by the Spirit, heard from God. All in a day in the life of a servant. But this? This is different. He’s in a room full of people that talk differently, look differently, eat differently, have different backgrounds and as he listens to Cornelius’ reasons for bringing him there, the light bulb goes off. You’ll have to wait to find out what happens next.

What about the Change?

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Last week, Pastor Mark introduced us to Ananias. The Lord told Ananias to get ready to receive a new Christian named Saul. Ananias protested reminding the Lord that Saul was a known persecutor of the church. God told Ananias that Saul was a chosen instrument and that He needed to show Saul how much he was to suffer for the name of Jesus. This morning, we’ll see how Ananias responds to God’s command.

I encourage you to read Acts 9:17-22.

The first thing we see is that Ananias does as instructed. Notice that Ananias does not offer alternative plans. He doesn’t bargain with the Lord. He doesn’t spend time in prayer, or speak with his friends, or fast, or put a poll on Facebook. We have so many examples in Scripture where people immediately obey what the Lord has told them to do so why do we find it so difficult to be obedient? Do we really comprehend Jeremiah’s words in Jer. 29:11 when God says, “For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.” Sometimes we’re expected to do things that don’t make sense to us, things that cannot be explained; things where we must exercise faith. Don’t be scared of God’s will.

Put yourself in Ananias’s position. He’s told in a vision to make nice with a guy that has been persecuting the church. Saul’s reputation precedes him. Saul is known throughout the area as a guy that is on the offensive against the church. It’s not that he’s saying mean things – he’s murdering or has his hands in the death and imprisonment of believers. So, for Ananias to put aside what he knows about Saul is pretty significant. Ananias obeyed the Lord even when it made no sense to him. “Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying hands on him says, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Ananias calls him “Brother Saul.” We know from reading the Scripture that Saul was not a biological brother. This is a reference to being related through the blood of Christ so something also happened in Ananias’s heart to greet Saul so warmly. Ananias was given two jobs for this first encounter with the infamous Saul of Tarsus. First, Ananias tells Saul that it’s the Lord Jesus, the same Lord Jesus that he had been persecuting, that sent him to get Saul his sight back. We know from 9:8 that even though Saul could open his eyes, he could not see. Now that’s a scary endeavor. When Ananias laid his hands on Saul, “immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight.” We don’t know what those scales were or how they worked other than the Lord put them there to help Saul recognize exactly who Jesus was.

Second, Saul, “got up and was baptized.” When we allow Scripture to interpret Scripture, we see that baptism is an outward demonstration of a changed heart. We saw it with the Ethiopian eunuch and it’s the pattern that has been established in Acts. Maybe you’re thinking, hold on, what about Simon? Simon was baptized in 8:13, but Peter told him in 8:21 that he has, “no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God.” Peter went on to tell Simon that he was, “in the bondage of iniquity.” Instead of repenting as Peter told him to do in 8:22, Simon asked them to pray that he would escape judgment in 8:24. Simon was not a true convert. We know that Saul was a true convert because of what follows. Right after being baptized, Saul, “took food and was strengthened.” He had not eaten for the three days he was without sight.

Here’s some proof of a life transformed. God really can change people. Often in the church, we want to hear stories of how God snatched people out of the gutter, how He redeemed someone from drugs, alcohol, and wild living. It’s a big draw to have someone from the absolute worst of society share how God saved them. Of course, we should all rejoice in being saved from the bondage of sin, but often times, those stories of deliverance from great sin leave people longing for a more “powerful” testimony. I have said it before and I will say it again. God gets more glory from a life of obedience than He does from a life of sin. Let’s take a quick look at something this man we’re looking at wrote. Read what Paul had to say about this in Rom. 6:1-7.

So, let’s take a look at what happened to Saul right after he was made new. Look at the rest of v. 19. “Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus.” We’ll see from Acts 22:3 that Saul studied under the Pharisee Gamaliel so he would know the Old Testament. He spent several days with the disciples perhaps receiving some specialized instruction in his new found faith. V. 20 says, “and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” This is vitally important and one of the reasons Saul had been in such opposition to what the apostles were teaching. The apostles were dragged into jail twice for doing what Saul is now doing. Stephen was killed for what Saul is now doing. Saul is proclaiming that Jesus is God which was defined as blasphemy by the religious crowd. This is quite the turnaround from what people knew about Saul. He’s going into the synagogues of Damascus and telling people that Jesus is God. That’s where there are people – remember the synagogue played a key role in the life of a Jew. He went into the synagogue and freaked out the people.

You remember in the 1843 Charles Dickens classic, A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge was a miserly man who had disdain for all things good. When wished Merry Christmas by his nephew, Scrooge replied, “Bah, humbug.” Scrooge’s nephew says, “Christmas a humbug, uncle! You don’t mean that, I am sure.” Humbug means fraud or hoax so Scrooge was saying Christmas was a hoax. I quote from Dickens’ the words of Scrooge: “What else can I be,” returned the uncle, “when I live in such a world of fools as this? Merry Christmas! Out upon merry Christmas! What’s Christmas-time to you but a time for paying bills without money; a time for finding yourself a year older, and not an hour richer; a time for balancing your books, and having every item in ‘em through a round dozen of months presented dead against you? If I could work my will,” said Scrooge indignantly, “every idiot who goes about with ‘Merry Christmas’ on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding, and buried with a stake of holly through his heart. He should!”

Everyone is probably familiar with Scrooge and when the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future visit him, he has a change of heart. A complete turn around and the people are shocked and amazed. This is what I envision to be the response of the people of Damascus. “All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” Every single person that heard Saul speak was amazed. Amazed here means so astounded as to be practically overwhelmed. The people knew about Saul; he had a reputation and Christians were probably warned about him. They knew he was a destroyer; they knew he imprisoned believers; they likely knew he was at the stoning of Stephen; they knew he would stop at nothing; they knew he was on his way to Damascus with the authority from the chief priests to haul them off to Jerusalem in chains so for Saul to have a turn around to the extent that he declared that Jesus is the Son of God was nothing short of miraculous. I’m sure the people were skeptical, I’m sure they were guarded, I’m sure they had their doubts just like Ananias did, but one thing is for sure: they were they were completely shocked.

Here’s some more proof. While the people sat around talking about Saul and how incredible the current events were, “Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ.” There are two really cool things in this verse. First, Saul grew stronger and stronger. How that took place, we can only imagine. Perhaps it was the Lord speaking to him, maybe the disciples shared some things they had picked up the previous few years as they walked with Jesus, maybe Saul saw the confidence people had in Jesus; we just don’t know. Second, he confounded the Jews in Damascus. Confound means confuse, cause astonishment as to bewilder and dismay. The Jews were befuddled. These are still the Jews that rejected Jesus as Messiah. They were confused because Saul was preaching what he had previously condemned as blasphemy. Finally, Saul confounded the Jews because he proved that Jesus is the Christ. Now that’s a pretty huge statement. Saul was able to defend what he now believed. What he previously rejected, he now embraced. What had been defined as blasphemy, now brought hope. What he had attacked, he now articulated. What he had condemned, he now communicated. Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. Christ is the New Testament designation of the Old Testament Messiah. He is the sacrificial Lamb of God that cleansed humanity from sin. Jesus is the anointed one as prophesied in 1 Sam. 2:10 and Ps. 2:2. Jesus is the mediator, the advocate, the redeemer, the reconciler, the Holy One, the everlasting God, the all knowing God, the all seeing God. He is our strength, our Creator, our comfort, our confidence. He is our banner, our shepherd, our great High Priest, our provider, our healer, our help. As John so beautifully wrote, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” (Jo. 20:30-31) This is what Saul proved. No refuting, no doubt, no shame. This is Jesus who is the Christ, the strong Son of the living God.

Saul is miraculously saved and the outward demonstration of that transformation is a complete 180. What will happen to him? Will he suffer persecution like the apostles? How much will he suffer? Will the religious crowds seek to silence him? Join us next week at we continue to look at the former Christian killer turned Christian convert.