Monthly Archives: May 2015
Politics were important even in Israel 2000 years ago. In Acts 25, Paul was standing before Festus, and there were pretty high stakes for Paul.
Act 25:9 But Festus, willing to do the Jews a pleasure, answered Paul, and said, Wilt thou go up to Jerusalem, and there be judged of these things before me?
Act 25:10 Then said Paul, I stand at Caesar’s judgment seat, where I ought to be judged: to the Jews have I done no wrong, as thou very well knowest.
Act 25:11 For if I be an offender, or have committed any thing worthy of death, I refuse not to die: but if there be none of these things whereof these accuse me, no man may deliver me unto them. I appeal unto Caesar.
Paul understood the legal system. He knew that if he went back to Jerusalem, it would be nothing more than a show trial. He also knew that he did not do anything wrong, so he wanted justice to be done as well as to fulfill the previous prophecy that he would go to Rome. Festus might have been willing to humor the Jewish people for some reason, but Paul knew what he was allowed to do.
Taking this into modern society, there are still governments. We don’t live in anarchy. It seems to me then that we need to be as aware as Paul was. He knew the reality that was around him, and he knew how the government worked. He knew he could appeal, and he exercised that right because he saw the political implications of not doing so.
Obviously, I know that many people are not interested in politics or government. However, I think that one thing we can see from Paul here is that he at least knew and understood the situation he was in and how to make the best of it. As we saw earlier, he understood he had to go to Rome. He was able to utilize even the governmental structure at the time to advance the mission.
What is our job on earth? We are to glorify God in all that we do. If we can do that by working through government, then there’s no problem.
In Acts 24, Paul is again granted a rather interesting opportunity to share his faith with Felix. Felix had just been his judge, but after that he called for Paul to explain Christianity to him.
Act 24:24 And after certain days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, which was a Jewess, he sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.
Act 24:25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.
Act 24:26 He hoped also that money should have been given him of Paul, that he might loose him: wherefore he sent for him the oftener, and communed with him.
Verse 26 points out that there very well might have been ulterior motives as to why he wanted to speak with Paul, but it is simultaneously true that he did not need to call Paul. It seems to be the case that at the very least, Felix was interested in the message of Christianity that Paul was spreading.
Paul then spoke about righteousness, temperance and the future judgment. Righteousness seems obvious. Felix was obviously a judge. He would have understood that some things are good, and some things are not. Paul would have talked about the righteousness that can only come from Christ, but it was an area of connection.
In terms of temperance, I do not know a lot about Felix as a historical figure, but as an official and the government, it is quite possible that he had a lifestyle of excess. At the very least, it would have been radically different than the Christian message of exercising self-control.
The future judgment would have been appealing to a judge as well. He would have understood the idea that people need to be judged according to what they have done.
The main point here is that Paul knew his audience. I think that we can sometimes be intimidated by sharing the message of Jesus Christ because it seems to be such a massive task. You all know I am interested in apologetics, and there are plenty of great arguments that can be used to defend the reasonability of a belief in Jesus Christ. However, I don’t need to use them all and memorize them all every time. We need to know our audience, and that will make the more relevant for the person we are talking to.
Acts 23 is very interesting because we get to see the simultaneous use of the natural and the supernatural in advancing the plan of God. First, after testifying before the Jewish leaders, Paul actually had a supernatural experience with Jesus Christ.
Act 23:11 And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.
After that, there was a Jewish plot to kill Paul by a band of 40 men who had sworn to not eat or drink until they had assassinated their target.
Act 23:15 Now therefore ye with the council signify to the chief captain that he bring him down unto you to morrow, as though ye would enquire something more perfectly concerning him: and we, or ever he come near, are ready to kill him.
Act 23:16 And when Paul’s sister’s son heard of their lying in wait, he went and entered into the castle, and told Paul.
In the first case, we see the supernatural providing encouragement for Paul. The text does not say if he was having doubts or any type of questions at this point, but even if he was not, I am sure he appreciated the supernatural encouragement.
In the second case, God used natural situations helped Paul remain safe. His nephew happened to hear what was going on and told Paul who told the centurions. Without that information, perhaps Paul would have been assassinated at that point.
The important part here is the plan of God was moving forward. God knew Paul needed to go to Rome. Therefore, he provided Paul with the encouragement to continue doing what he was doing. He simultaneously made sure that Paul was not killed before concluding that mission. God knew what was coming, and it was no surprise. However, it is a great privilege to be approximately to be 2000 years into the future and to have the ability to look back at how God was operating.
Paul must’ve been an interesting man. In Acts 22, the story ends with him explaining to the Roman centurion that he was indeed a Roman citizen and therefore could not punished until he was legally condemned. Paul could have said that at the beginning of the conversation. He could have avoided this entirely unpleasant episode, but he did not for some reason. Perhaps he did not because it gave him an opportunity to witness. However, it did not end there for his opportunities.
Act 22:30 On the morrow, because he would have known the certainty wherefore he was accused of the Jews, he loosed him from his bands, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down, and set him before them.
Beyond this one opportunity, he was now going to have an opportunity to speak before a Council to share the good news of Jesus Christ with them. I don’t know about you, but when I think about witnessing opportunities, I generally don’t think about beginning them coming by being arrested.
That is part of what made Paul a remarkable missionary. He did not pass up any chance he got. Particularly in this situation, he had the right to remain silent. Although that was not a right in ancient Rome like it is today, nobody was pressuring him. He could have been arrested, brought to the Roman castle, quietly went inside, explained he was a Roman citizen and then set free. It doesn’t seem that the Romans were that upset about Paul originally. However, he recognized that on the stairway, he had a chance to speak to the people. Then, he ended up going before the Council because he had gone down this path of speaking.
How would be react in this situation? I would like to say that I would be so attentive to potential opportunities that I would take advantage of them in the way that Paul obviously did. God does put us in situations where we can be utilized, and we need to take advantage of those.
In Acts 21, Paul knew what he was getting into.
Act 21:11 And when he was come unto us, he took Paul’s girdle, and bound his own hands and feet, and said, Thus saith the Holy Ghost, So shall the Jews at Jerusalem bind the man that owneth this girdle, and shall deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.
Act 21:12 And when we heard these things, both we, and they of that place, besought him not to go up to Jerusalem.
Act 21:13 Then Paul answered, What mean ye to weep and to break mine heart? for I am ready not to be bound only, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.
Act 21:14 And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, The will of the Lord be done.
Paul knew that he was going to be arrested. He trusted the testimony of Agabus who brought him this prophecy. However, obviously that did not stop him even though his friends were even encouraging him to avoid that situation.
This would be a perfect situation where I think most of us would try to improve on the plan that God had. God intended for Paul to go to Jerusalem, so Paul knew that he needed to go. That is admirable. On the other hand, I think it would be very easy to justify avoiding Jerusalem at all costs. Paul could have said that his missionary work was so important, and he would not be able to do it if he was in jail, so it would seem to make sense to maybe improve on the plan that God had for him.
We need to try to avoid doing that though. We might think that we can do a better job planning out the future, but as the company pray that the end of this passage, we need to look for the will of God to be done.
Paul visited Ephesus in Acts 20 for what he knew was the last time. As a result, he had some very important things to communicate to the people that had gathered at that church.
Act 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
Act 20:29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.
Act 20:30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Act 20:31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
Fallen humans have a tendency to take that which is good and turn it into something that is not. People were going to enter the church, a good institution, and they were going to try to make people depart away from the message of Jesus Christ. We don’t necessarily know how or what they were going to do, but Paul seems to take this type of intrusion as a very serious assault which needed to be countered.
There are plenty of good things in the world today. However, it seems like people have a way of twisting them into something that is not good. For kind of a ridiculous example, food is a good thing. However, too much of it is not healthy for anyone. It is something good that has the potential to be turned into something unhealthy.
If humans are able to abuse something even that simple, then it should not be surprising that some of them were going to try to come to mess up something that is similarly good. It strikes me as the reality of living in a fallen world. The church was instituted by Jesus Himself, and it is a great institution. However, it is comprised of imperfect humans, and it is not surprising that these imperfect people make mistakes. It does not mean that what God has established is the problem however. That is the important differentiation to make note of.
Yesterday, we talked about Apollos, and today we get to see how Paul handled believers who had been taught by Apollos in Acts 19.
Act 19:1 And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples,
Act 19:2 He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost.
Act 19:3 And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism.
Act 19:4 Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.
Paul pointed out again that they were going in the right direction, but they did not go far enough. Repentance was incredibly important, but there was also the necessity of a belief in Jesus Christ that came after that.
Think about society today. I don’t think you will run into anyone who would argue that we live in a perfect world. I think it is rather obvious that there is something that is wrong with the world. Some people might want to believe in the ultimate goodness of humanity, but I don’t really know that we can sustain that. It seems to make sense that the world is actually imperfect.
When faced with that reality, we can certainly be sorry about it. I think that is where repentance alone brings us to. We realize that we have messed up, and that is important. However, if we are just stuck there, then I don’t see that there is hope. The hope is a byproduct of what Jesus Christ did. Because Jesus paid the price, we can have eternal life. We need the repentance to recognize our hopelessness on our own, but we need the belief in Jesus Christ to actually understand what hope we actually have. It is a complete story as we saw yesterday.
Potential is not something that should be wasted. In Acts 18, we meet Apollos. He was a great preacher, but he only knew up until the baptism of John. As a result, he did not understand all of the things about Jesus Christ. Rather than throw him out as a lost cause, two friends of Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, taught him the rest of the story.
Act 18:24 And a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man, and mighty in the scriptures, came to Ephesus.
Act 18:25 This man was instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in the spirit, he spake and taught diligently the things of the Lord, knowing only the baptism of John.
Act 18:26 And he began to speak boldly in the synagogue: whom when Aquila and Priscilla had heard, they took him unto them, and expounded unto him the way of God more perfectly.
Act 18:27 And when he was disposed to pass into Achaia, the brethren wrote, exhorting the disciples to receive him: who, when he was come, helped them much which had believed through grace:
Act 18:28 For he mightily convinced the Jews, and that publickly, shewing by the scriptures that Jesus was Christ.
They could have said that it wasn’t worth the time. They could have said they were too busy to straighten this guy out and fill him in on the rest of the story. However, this husband and wife team understood that there was potential here, and they needed to help do what they could to educate.
I think about this today. Rather than writing people off as lost causes, maybe we need to look for the common ground. Maybe we need to look for areas where we can see the potential. For example, there are many people in the world today who have a strong commitment to justice. Christians believe that God is a God of justice. Therefore, maybe the better approach is to use that as an area of connection. Apollos understood the baptism of John, so I am sure that was how the conversation started, but it advanced to the point where he became a follower of Jesus Christ by understanding the entire picture. My hypothetical people understand justice, but maybe they do not have a firm reason for why they believe that other than their own opinion. Maybe that’s where the conversation needs to start.
Acts 17 has become one of the hallmark chapters for apologists everywhere. I really could point to three different things in this chapter that demonstrate Paul’s interactions. We’re going to start with only two of them however because everyone writes about Paul in Athens.
Act 17:1 Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews:
Act 17:2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,
Act 17:3 Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.
Act 17:4 And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.
Some people believed here. We obviously do not have a hard number, but after the Jewish people created trouble and drove Paul out, he went to Berea to try again.
Act 17:10 And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Berea: who coming thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.
Act 17:11 These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.
Act 17:12 Therefore many of them believed; also of honourable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.
Many people believed here. Again, I wish we had hard numbers to go by, but at the very least it seems to be the case that more people in Berea believed than believed in Thessalonica. However, it seems like something else happened in Berea. The people actually did their homework to find out if Paul was being honest. We don’t know the content of everything that Paul said, but this is the type of situation where it seems like they made sure that he had his Old Testament prophecies in a row. They didn’t assume right away that he was right or wrong. They went to the Scriptures and saw that the prophecies were there that Paul claimed Jesus was the fulfillment of.
I think this has tremendous application for us today. We live in a very biblically illiterate culture, and there are many misconceptions about what the Bible says. I feel like one of the best ways to do apologetics is to get people into the book itself. “Oh, you think there are contradictions that make you unable to believe in the Bible? Let’s look at some of them.” “Oh, there’s no way that Jesus could have fulfilled all of this prophecies? Let’s read them.”
There is no point in attacking or defending a straw man. In a biblically illiterate society, it helps to get people back to the text itself. It is something we can both read and both talk about. It seems that that is what happened in Berea. Paul had people who knew the text, and it seems that they were convinced.
Revenge seems to be popular. On any television drama, it seems to be the case that if someone gets hurt, they immediately look for revenge. In Acts 16, Paul and Silas were put in prison, and there was a miraculous earthquake that broke all of the chains and gave them the opportunity to escape. The prison warden also saw this, and he knew that if his prisoners escaped, he would be put to death, so he was ready to kill himself.
Act 16:28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.
Act 16:29 Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
Act 16:30 And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
I imagine that Paul and Silas probably knew that the warden would be put to death if the prisoners escaped, and if they were looking for revenge, this was a perfect opportunity. The warden would have paid for it, and they would be free without having to commit the act of revenge themselves.
However, they did not. Even though they had the opportunity, they remained in prison, and the warden was so impressed that he immediately asked them what he had to do to be saved. An opportunity came around because there was no revenge taken.
Bringing this to our lives then, we are faced with choices all the time. We have the opportunity to take revenge or hurt people in all kinds of ways every day. It isn’t always revenge, but when we do have these opportunities and do actually end up hurting someone else, the opportunity for a positive witness is gone. There is another family of people in heaven today because no revenge was taken in this situation where I think many people would be happy to let the warden pay for it.