456.) Acts 21

January 31, 2011

On to Jerusalem in Jesus’ Name! The Jerusalem Cross is a design that appeared with the nobles during the First Crusade and was supposed to provide them with divine protection in the Holy Land. It features five crosses, one large and four small, that are said to represent Jesus and the four evangelists.  It also symbolizes the four corners of the world in which Christianity is to be spread.

Acts 21 (New Living Translation)

Paul’s Journey to Jerusalem

1 After saying farewell to the Ephesian elders,

One commentator has said a better rendering is “after tearing ourselves away from them.”  This was not an easy farewell!  Paul had invested himself deeply in these leaders, and they loved him dearly.

we sailed straight to the island of Cos. The next day we reached Rhodes and then went to Patara. 2 There we boarded a ship sailing for Phoenicia. 3 We sighted the island of Cyprus, passed it on our left, and landed at the harbor of Tyre, in Syria, where the ship was to unload its cargo.

4 We went ashore, found the local believers, and stayed with them a week.

We have not heard, in the chapters we have read, about the beginning of the church in Tyre.  This reminds us that Acts gives only a partial account of all the “acts of the apostles” and of the Holy Spirit during this time!

These believers prophesied through the Holy Spirit that Paul should not go on to Jerusalem. 5 When we returned to the ship at the end of the week, the entire congregation, including women and children, left the city and came down to the shore with us. There we knelt, prayed, 6 and said our farewells. Then we went aboard, and they returned home.

7 The next stop after leaving Tyre was Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed for one day. 8 The next day we went on to Caesarea and stayed at the home of Philip the Evangelist, one of the seven men who had been chosen to distribute food. 9 He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy.

10 Several days later a man named Agabus, who also had the gift of prophecy, arrived from Judea. 11 He came over, took Paul’s belt, and bound his own feet and hands with it. Then he said, “The Holy Spirit declares, ‘So shall the owner of this belt be bound by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem and turned over to the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the local believers all begged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

13 But he said, “Why all this weeping? You are breaking my heart! I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus.”

In the Iliad, Homer tells of Achilles being warned by the prophetess that if he goes out to a certain battle, he will be killed.  “Nevertheless,” answers the Greek hero, “I am for going on.”

No matter what lay ahead, Paul was for going on.

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14 When it was clear that we couldn’t persuade him, we gave up and said, “The Lord’s will be done.”

The warnings from the Holy Spirit were intended to prepare Paul, not to stop him.
—David Guzik

Paul Arrives at Jerusalem

15 After this we packed our things and left for Jerusalem. 16 Some believers from Caesarea accompanied us, and they took us to the home of Mnason, a man originally from Cyprus and one of the early believers. 17 When we arrived, the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem welcomed us warmly.

18 The next day Paul went with us to meet with James, and all the elders of the Jerusalem church were present. 19 After greeting them, Paul gave a detailed account of the things God had accomplished among the Gentiles through his ministry.

Recently I have been able to listen to several different people tell me about wonderful things that the Lord is doing around the world, works of redemption and reconciliation!  Our God is so powerful;  He is stirring up His people in every nation.  We are seeing events happening that sound impossible:

  • vast numbers of Muslims coming to Jesus because He appears to them in dreams and says, “I love you”;
  • terrorists in Nigeria laying down their arms because they are following Jesus now;
  • Bible classes being taught by former murderers and kidnappers in one of Colombia’s most dangerous prisons;
  • Orthodox Jews, including even rabbis, receiving revelation that Yeshua is their Messiah.

I have sat with my mouth open in amazement and my eyes filled with tears of wonder as I have heard these detailed accounts of the things God is accomplishing among the people of the world.

I hope that in Heaven we will be able to hear many more “detailed accounts!”

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Music:

Won’t those be amazing stories?!  We will see how wonderfully the Lord has worked, even, sometimes, through us!  Don Moen sings “Like Eagles.”

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20 After hearing this, they praised God. And then they said, “You know, dear brother, how many thousands of Jews have also believed, and they all follow the law of Moses very seriously. 21 But the Jewish believers here in Jerusalem have been told that you are teaching all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn their backs on the laws of Moses. They’ve heard that you teach them not to circumcise their children or follow other Jewish customs. 22 What should we do? They will certainly hear that you have come.

23 “Here’s what we want you to do. We have four men here who have completed their vow. 24 Go with them to the Temple and join them in the purification ceremony, paying for them to have their heads ritually shaved. Then everyone will know that the rumors are all false and that you yourself observe the Jewish laws.

25 “As for the Gentile believers, they should do what we already told them in a letter: They should abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality.”

Paul Is Arrested

26 So Paul went to the Temple the next day with the other men. They had already started the purification ritual, so he publicly announced the date when their vows would end and sacrifices would be offered for each of them.

27 The seven days were almost ended when some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul in the Temple and roused a mob against him. They grabbed him, 28 yelling, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who preaches against our people everywhere and tells everybody to disobey the Jewish laws. He speaks against the Temple—and even defiles this holy place by bringing in Gentiles.” 29 (For earlier that day they had seen him in the city with Trophimus, a Gentile from Ephesus, and they assumed Paul had taken him into the Temple.)

It was absolutely prohibited for Gentiles to go beyond the designated “Court of the Gentiles” in the temple grounds.  Signs were posted which read (in both Greek and Latin): “No foreigner may enter within the barricade which surrounds the temple and enclosure.  Any one who is caught trespassing will bear personal responsibility for his ensuing death.”  The Romans were so sensitive to this that they authorized the Jews to execute anyone who offended in this way, even if the offender was a Roman citizen.

30 The whole city was rocked by these accusations, and a great riot followed. Paul was grabbed and dragged out of the Temple, and immediately the gates were closed behind him. 31 As they were trying to kill him, word reached the commander of the Roman regiment that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. 32 He immediately called out his soldiers and officers and ran down among the crowd. When the mob saw the commander and the troops coming, they stopped beating Paul.

33 Then the commander arrested him and ordered him bound with two chains.

That is to say, handcuffed to a soldier on either side.  Did he think of the prophecy of Agabus (verse 11)?

He asked the crowd who he was and what he had done. 34 Some shouted one thing and some another. Since he couldn’t find out the truth in all the uproar and confusion, he ordered that Paul be taken to the fortress. 35 As Paul reached the stairs, the mob grew so violent the soldiers had to lift him to their shoulders to protect him. 36 And the crowd followed behind, shouting, “Kill him, kill him!”

Paul Speaks to the Crowd

37 As Paul was about to be taken inside, he said to the commander, “May I have a word with you?”

“Do you know Greek?” the commander asked, surprised. 38 “Aren’t you the Egyptian who led a rebellion some time ago and took 4,000 members of the Assassins out into the desert?”

39 “No,” Paul replied, “I am a Jew and a citizen of Tarsus in Cilicia, which is an important city. Please, let me talk to these people.” 40 The commander agreed,

Once again Paul benefits from his Roman citizenship.

so Paul stood on the stairs and motioned to the people to be quiet. Soon a deep silence enveloped the crowd, and he addressed them in their own language, Aramaic.

This is the Lord’s Prayer written in Aramaic, the language Jesus spoke.

_________________________

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Jerusalem cross.    http://www.steveschembri.co.uk/Jerusalem2009/JerusalemCross.gif
Acts of the Apostles.  http://www.sacredheartweb.org/img/acts.gif
Achilles.    http://www.ancientsculpturegallery.com/images/0272.jpg
Jesus looking at the earth.    http://churchofchrist-cg-az.com/sitebuilder/images/JesusLookingAtWorld-975×1005.png
Do Not Enter.     http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/dd/Do_Not_Enter_sign.svg/600px-Do_Not_Enter_sign.svg.png
The Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic.    http://www.catholic-convert.com/wp-content/uploads/2006/07/Aramaic.jpg
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455.) Acts 20

January 28, 2011

The Church of St. John on Lake Ohrid, Macedonia, dates to the 13th century.

Acts 20 (New Living Translation)

Paul Goes to Macedonia and Greece

1 When the uproar was over, Paul sent for the believers and encouraged them. Then he said good-bye and left for Macedonia. 2 While there, he encouraged the believers in all the towns he passed through. Then he traveled down to Greece, 3 where he stayed for three months. He was preparing to sail back to Syria when he discovered a plot by some Jews against his life, so he decided to return through Macedonia.

4 Several men were traveling with him. They were Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica; Gaius from Derbe; Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. 5 They went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. 6 After the Passover ended, we boarded a ship at Philippi in Macedonia and five days later joined them in Troas, where we stayed a week.

As Paul visited and encouraged churches he had established, he was also collecting money from them as a gift to the mother church in Jerusalem.  The men who accompanied him as he headed back to Jerusalem were likely representatives of the various churches, coming to bring their greetings personally along with the money.

Paul’s Final Visit to Troas

7 On the first day of the week, we gathered with the local believers to share in the Lord’s Supper.

Something new here!  Believers are meeting on the first day of the week — on Sunday — for the Word and bread and wine.

Paul was preaching to them, and since he was leaving the next day, he kept talking until midnight. 8 The upstairs room where we met was lighted with many flickering lamps. 9 As Paul spoke on and on, a young man named Eutychus, sitting on the windowsill, became very drowsy. Finally, he fell sound asleep and dropped three stories to his death below. 10 Paul went down, bent over him, and took him into his arms. “Don’t worry,” he said, “he’s alive!” 11 Then they all went back upstairs, shared in the Lord’s Supper, and ate together. Paul continued talking to them until dawn, and then he left. 12 Meanwhile, the young man was taken home unhurt, and everyone was greatly relieved.

“To preach for more than an hour, a man should be an angel himself or have angels for hearers.”
–George Whitefield

Paul Meets the Ephesian Elders

13 Paul went by land to Assos, where he had arranged for us to join him, while we traveled by ship. 14 He joined us there, and we sailed together to Mitylene. 15 The next day we sailed past the island of Kios. The following day we crossed to the island of Samos, and a day later we arrived at Miletus.

16 Paul had decided to sail on past Ephesus, for he didn’t want to spend any more time in the province of Asia. He was hurrying to get to Jerusalem, if possible, in time for the Festival of Pentecost. 17 But when we landed at Miletus, he sent a message to the elders of the church at Ephesus, asking them to come and meet him.

Now Paul will talk with his church leaders, not so much as an evangelist, but as a pastor:

18 When they arrived he declared, “You know that from the day I set foot in the province of Asia until now 19 I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. 20 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. 21 I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus.

22 “And now I am bound by the Spirit to go to Jerusalem. I don’t know what awaits me, 23 except that the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead. 24 But my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God.

from My Utmost for His Highest,
by Oswald Chambers

It is easier to serve God without a vision, easier to work for God without a call, because then you are not bothered by what God requires; common sense is your guide, veneered over with Christian sentiment.  You will be more prosperous and successful, more leisure-hearted, if you never realize the call of God.  But if once you receive a commission from Jesus Christ, the memory of what God wants will always come like a goad; you will no longer be able to work for Him on the common-sense basis.

Paul says he counted his life dear only in order that he might fulfill the ministry he had received.

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Music:

HERE  is Robin Mark and “Be Thou My Vision.”

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25 “And now I know that none of you to whom I have preached the Kingdom will ever see me again. 26 I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, 27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know.

28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you.

Enemies of the gospel — from outside the church, and from inside the church.  Pastors must carefully guard themselves and the people God has entrusted to them!

Do we pray zealously for our pastors to be able to feed and protect their flocks with God’s grace and strength?

32 “And now I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself.

33 “I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. 34 You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. 35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

from Wishful Thinking,
by Frederick Buechner

AVARICE

Avarice, greed, concupiscence, and so forth are all based on the mathematical truism that the more you get, the more you have.  The remark of Jesus that it is more blessed to give than to receive is based on the human truth that the more you give away in love, the more you are.  It is not just for the sake of other people that Jesus tells us to give rather than get, but for our own sakes too.

36 When he had finished speaking, he knelt and prayed with them. 37 They all cried as they embraced and kissed him good-bye. 38 They were sad most of all because he had said that they would never see him again. Then they escorted him down to the ship.

See how they loved him!

John 13:34-35 (English Standard Version)

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.  By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

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The harbor of Miletus in modern Turkey began its decline in the Middle Ages when silt from the River Meander began filling it up.

“We sensed Paul’s presence more strongly than anywhere else in that desolate stretch of marshland, once Miletus’ busy harbour . . . Perhaps it was the virtual absence of ruins and of tourists, perhaps the very desolation and remoteness of the place, but as you read the speech to the elders about how they would see his face no more, and how he commended them to God and the word of his grace, I felt like joining them in weeping . . . So shall I always think of him there, on that moving occasion, so resolute, so eloquent, so faithful a servant of Christ.”

–from Seeing Through the Eye:  Malcolm Muggeridge on Faith

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Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
Images courtesy of:
Church of St. John.    http://www.filigallery.com/d/139165-2/Ohrid+Macedonia+_54_.JPG
Sunday.    https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/sunday1.jpg
preaching.    http://www.christisthelight.com/Joy/priest_preaching_behind_podium_hg_clr.gif
catch the vision!    http://www.deeprootschurch.com/Catch%20the%20Vision%20Picture.jpg
in greed we trust.    http://www.truegreed.com/includes/in_greed_we_trust.jpg
love one another.    http://media.photobucket.com/image/Love%20one%20another/persian_rose9/9-14-01_love-one-another.jpg
former harbor of Miletus.    http://www.sacred-destinations.com/turkey/images/miletus/resized/lion-harbor-c-hlp.jpg

454.) Acts 19

January 27, 2011

This single column and parts of the foundation are all that now remain of the Temple of Artemis (Diana) in Ephesus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.  Archaeologists have been digging in Ephesus on and off since 1863.

Acts 19 (New Living Translation)

Paul’s Third Missionary Journey

1 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions until he reached Ephesus, on the coast, where he found several believers. 2 “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” he asked them.

“No,” they replied, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”

3 “Then what baptism did you experience?” he asked.

And they replied, “The baptism of John.”

4 Paul said, “John’s baptism called for repentance from sin. But John himself told the people to believe in the one who would come later, meaning Jesus.”

5 As soon as they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 Then when Paul laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in other tongues and prophesied. 7 There were about twelve men in all.

Paul Ministers in Ephesus

Few places have made such an impression on me as the ruins of Ephesus. Such a life-like-ness! It is as though all the Ephesians just stepped out.  I nearly expected to run into Paul around the next corner.

8 Then Paul went to the synagogue and preached boldly for the next three months, arguing persuasively about the Kingdom of God. 9 But some became stubborn, rejecting his message and publicly speaking against the Way. So Paul left the synagogue and took the believers with him. Then he held daily discussions at the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for the next two years, so that people throughout the province of Asia—both Jews and Greeks—heard the word of the Lord.

It seems likely that Tyrannus lectured there in the cooler morning hours, leaving the hall to Paul afterward.  Paul may have worked his trade in the morning to support himself, and then taught in the afternoon.

11 God gave Paul the power to perform unusual miracles. 12 When handkerchiefs or aprons that had merely touched his skin were placed on sick people, they were healed of their diseases, and evil spirits were expelled.

13 A group of Jews was traveling from town to town casting out evil spirits. They tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus in their incantation, saying, “I command you in the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, to come out!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a leading priest, were doing this. 15 But one time when they tried it, the evil spirit replied, “I know Jesus, and I know Paul, but who are you?” 16 Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, overpowered them, and attacked them with such violence that they fled from the house, naked and battered.

This fragment of an ancient Greek papyrus contains remedies for an earache.

from Lord, Who Are You?  The Story of Paul and the Early Church,
by Mark Link, S.J.

Roving exorcists were common in Paul’s day, especially in places like Ephesus, where magic and superstitions were widespread.  In his Comedy of Errors, Shakespeare refers to Ephesus as the city of “dark-working sorcerers,” “soul-killing witches,” and “prating mountebanks.”

Ancients used the term “Ephesus Writings” to refer to magical papyri or to magical formulae to be placed in lockets and worn around the neck.  Archaeologists have found papyri scrolls that contain a number of exorcist rites.  One ancient Jewish rite is reminiscent of this Acts episode.  It reads:

Invocation to be uttered over the head of the possessed one.

Place before him branches of olive, and standing behind him say:

“Hail, spirit of Abraham; hail, spirit of Isaac; hail, spirit of Jacob; Jesus the Christ, the holy one . . . I adjure thee, O demon, whoever thou art . . . Come forth . . . and depart . . . I give you over to black chaos.”

17 The story of what happened spread quickly all through Ephesus, to Jews and Greeks alike. A solemn fear descended on the city, and the name of the Lord Jesus was greatly honored. 18 Many who became believers confessed their sinful practices. 19 A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. 20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect.

“The Sermon of St. Paul at Ephesus”  by Eustache Le Sueur, 1649 (The Louvre, Paris)

21 Afterward Paul felt compelled by the Spirit to go over to Macedonia and Achaia before going to Jerusalem. “And after that,” he said, “I must go on to Rome!” 22 He sent his two assistants, Timothy and Erastus, ahead to Macedonia while he stayed awhile longer in the province of Asia.

The Riot in Ephesus

This is a reproduction of the Temple of Artemis (Diana) from Ephesus (present day Turkey).  The original was beyond beautiful, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, measuring 425 ft long, 220 ft wide, and 60 ft high.

It was described by Antipater of Sidon, who compiled the list of the Seven Wonders:

I have set eyes on the wall of lofty Babylon on which is a road for chariots, and the statue of Zeus by the Alpheus, and the hanging gardens, and the colossus of the Sun, and the huge labour of the high pyramids, and the vast tomb of Mausolus; but when I saw the house of Artemis that mounted to the clouds, those other marvels lost their brilliancy, and I said, “Lo, apart from Olympus, the Sun never looked on aught so grand.”

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Acts19 Artemis

When the goddess Artemis was represented in stone and metals, she bore upon her head a mural headdress, representing a fortified city wall; from it, drapery hung upon each side of her face to her shoulders. The upper part of her body was completely covered with rows of breasts to signify that she was the mother of all life. The lower arms were extended.  In later times her Greek followers represented her with stags or lions standing at her sides. The most renowned of her statues stood on the platform before the entrance to her temple in Ephesus, shown above. As the statues indicate, she impersonated the reproductive powers of men and of animals and of all other life.

–E. J. Banks

23 About that time, serious trouble developed in Ephesus concerning the Way. 24 It began with Demetrius, a silversmith who had a large business manufacturing silver shrines of the Greek goddess Artemis. He kept many craftsmen busy. 25 He called them together, along with others employed in similar trades, and addressed them as follows:

“Gentlemen, you know that our wealth comes from this business. 26 But as you have seen and heard, this man Paul has persuaded many people that handmade gods aren’t really gods at all. And he’s done this not only here in Ephesus but throughout the entire province! 27 Of course, I’m not just talking about the loss of public respect for our business. I’m also concerned that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will lose its influence and that Artemis—this magnificent goddess worshiped throughout the province of Asia and all around the world—will be robbed of her great prestige!”

28 At this their anger boiled, and they began shouting, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 Soon the whole city was filled with confusion. Everyone rushed to the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, who were Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia. 30 Paul wanted to go in, too, but the believers wouldn’t let him. 31 Some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, also sent a message to him, begging him not to risk his life by entering the amphitheater.

The mob gathered here, at the Great Theater of Ephesus, which, when completed, seated some 24,000 people.  If you ever sit there, you will hear its excellent acoustics!  It was severely damaged by an earthquake in A.D. 262.

32 Inside, the people were all shouting, some one thing and some another. Everything was in confusion. In fact, most of them didn’t even know why they were there. 33 The Jews in the crowd pushed Alexander forward and told him to explain the situation. He motioned for silence and tried to speak. 34 But when the crowd realized he was a Jew, they started shouting again and kept it up for two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians! Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

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Music:

Imagine the racket!  The chanting could no doubt be heard all over the city.  HERE  is a song to answer them:  Chris Tomlin’s “How Great Is Our God.”  Go ahead, turn up the volume and let it ring!

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35 At last the mayor was able to quiet them down enough to speak. “Citizens of Ephesus,” he said. “Everyone knows that Ephesus is the official guardian of the temple of the great Artemis, whose image fell down to us from heaven. 36 Since this is an undeniable fact, you should stay calm and not do anything rash. 37 You have brought these men here, but they have stolen nothing from the temple and have not spoken against our goddess.

38 “If Demetrius and the craftsmen have a case against them, the courts are in session and the officials can hear the case at once. Let them make formal charges. 39 And if there are complaints about other matters, they can be settled in a legal assembly. 40 I am afraid we are in danger of being charged with rioting by the Roman government, since there is no cause for all this commotion. And if Rome demands an explanation, we won’t know what to say.” 41 Then he dismissed them, and they dispersed.

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Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.
Images courtesy of:
Temple of Artemis (ruins).   http://www.bibleplaces.com/images/Ephesus_Temple_of_Artemis_ruins2_tb_n010500.jpg
Ephesus, main street.    http://picasaweb.google.com/lh/photo/9iSDwVnyykxRJKX70vpwug
papyrus.    http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/classics/science-and-empire/prescriptions.shtml
Le Sueur.    http://www.oceansbridge.com/oil-paintings/product/74749/thesermonofstpaulatephesus1649
Artemis.   https://dwellingintheword.files.wordpress.com/2011/01/2de70-diana2.jpeg
Temple of Artemis (reproduction).    http://www.eltourismo.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/06/Temple-of-Artemis.jpg
Great Theater of Ephesus.    http://www.bibleplaces.com/images/Ephesus_theater_from_west,_tbn010501.jpg

453.) Acts 18

January 26, 2011

This NASA map clearly shows Corinth’s land bridge and double harbors.

Acts 18 (New Living Translation)

Paul Meets Priscilla and Aquila in Corinth

1 Then Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.

Corinth!  A city known for travel and trade, for indulgences of every kind, for widespread immorality.  It possessed two large harbors, so many commercial goods were unloaded here and shipped out to places throughout the Roman Empire.  The Temple of Venus was located here, with a thousand temple prostitutes available there for the “worshipers.”  A “Corinthian girl” was code for a prostitute.  Et cetera.  An ancient “Sin City.”

2 There he became acquainted with a Jew named Aquila, born in Pontus, who had recently arrived from Italy with his wife, Priscilla. They had left Italy when Claudius Caesar deported all Jews from Rome (some scholars place the deportation at about AD 49). 3 Paul lived and worked with them, for they were tentmakers just as he was.

Even today, if a missionary has an outside job to support himself or herself on the mission field, it is called tentmaking.

4 Each Sabbath found Paul at the synagogue, trying to convince the Jews and Greeks alike. 5 And after Silas and Timothy came down from Macedonia,

They came bringing good news to Paul from Thessalonica:

1 Thessalonians 3:6-10 (New Living Translation)

But now Timothy has just returned, bringing us good news about your faith and love. He reports that you always remember our visit with joy and that you want to see us as much as we want to see you. So we have been greatly encouraged in the midst of our troubles and suffering, dear brothers and sisters, because you have remained strong in your faith.  It gives us new life to know that you are standing firm in the Lord.

How we thank God for you! Because of you we have great joy as we enter God’s presence.  Night and day we pray earnestly for you, asking God to let us see you again to fill the gaps in your faith.

Paul spent all his time preaching the word. He testified to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. 6 But when they opposed and insulted him, Paul shook the dust from his clothes and said, “Your blood is upon your own heads—I am innocent. From now on I will go preach to the Gentiles.”

Paul rejects their rejection!  How much better it would be for us if we followed Paul’s example in such cases, to turn our faces and go forward to the next thing God directs, instead of feeling sorry for ourselves or angry at those who rejected us.  My mother would call such behavior of bearing no grudges “keeping short accounts.”

7 Then he left and went to the home of Titius Justus, a Gentile who worshiped God and lived next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, and everyone in his household believed in the Lord. Many others in Corinth also heard Paul, became believers, and were baptized.

9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision and told him, “Don’t be afraid! Speak out! Don’t be silent! 10 For I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for many people in this city belong to me.” 11 So Paul stayed there for the next year and a half, teaching the word of God.

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Music:

How often we, like Paul, need an encouraging word from the Lord!  Consider the words of this song addressed directly to YOU today!  Don Moen’s “Be Strong and Take Courage.”

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12 But when Gallio became governor of Achaia, some Jews rose up together against Paul and brought him before the governor for judgment. 13 They accused Paul of “persuading people to worship God in ways that are contrary to our law.”

14 But just as Paul started to make his defense, Gallio turned to Paul’s accusers and said, “Listen, you Jews, if this were a case involving some wrongdoing or a serious crime, I would have a reason to accept your case. 15 But since it is merely a question of words and names and your Jewish law, take care of it yourselves. I refuse to judge such matters.” 16 And he threw them out of the courtroom.

17 The crowd then grabbed Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him right there in the courtroom. But Gallio paid no attention.

By refusing to get involved in strictly religious matters, Gallio does right — and effectively gives legal protection to Christianity.

Paul Returns to Antioch of Syria

18 Paul stayed in Corinth for some time after that, then said good-bye to the brothers and sisters and went to nearby Cenchrea. There he shaved his head according to Jewish custom, marking the end of a vow.

The vow was probably the vow of a Nazirite (Numbers 6).  Usually, the vow of a Nazirite was taken for a certain period of time, and when completed, the hair (which had been allowed to freely grow) was cut off and offered to the Lord at a special ceremony at the temple in Jerusalem.

Then he set sail for Syria, taking Priscilla and Aquila with him.

19 They stopped first at the port of Ephesus, where Paul left the others behind. While he was there, he went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews. 20 They asked him to stay longer, but he declined. 21 As he left, however, he said, “I will come back later, God willing.” Then he set sail from Ephesus. 22 The next stop was at the port of Caesarea. From there he went up and visited the church at Jerusalem and then went back to Antioch.

23 After spending some time in Antioch, Paul went back through Galatia and Phrygia, visiting and strengthening all the believers.

Apollos Instructed at Ephesus

24 Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos, an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well, had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. 25 He had been taught the way of the Lord, and he taught others about Jesus with an enthusiastic spirit and with accuracy. However, he knew only about John’s baptism. 26 When Priscilla and Aquila heard him preaching boldly in the synagogue, they took him aside and explained the way of God even more accurately.

27 Apollos had been thinking about going to Achaia, and the brothers and sisters in Ephesus encouraged him to go. They wrote to the believers in Achaia, asking them to welcome him. When he arrived there, he proved to be of great benefit to those who, by God’s grace, had believed. 28 He refuted the Jews with powerful arguments in public debate. Using the Scriptures, he explained to them that Jesus was the Messiah.

Apollos turned out to be a valuable helper to Paul in carrying out his work in Corinth and Ephesus.

1 Corinthians 3:6 (New International Version, ©2010)

“I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow.”

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Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
NASA map of Corinth.    http://www.ebibleteacher.com/imagehtml/images/800×600/Corinth%20Athens%20800.JPG
tentmakers.    http://nornirn.files.wordpress.com/2010/05/priscilla_aquila.gif
not my problem.    http://secretvespers.com/notmyproblemboysmall.jpg
watering little plants.    http://www.canadiangardening.com/img/photos/biz/CanadianGardening/march2010/seed-water.jpg

452.) Acts 17

January 25, 2011

Thessaloniki, with its beautiful White Tower, is the second-largest city in Greece.

Acts 17 (New Living Translation)

Paul Preaches in Thessalonica

The Via Egnatia was a road built by the Romans in the second century BCE.   It went west from the Bosphorus across Greece (Macedonia, Thrace) to the Adriatic, some 700 miles.  Like other major Roman roads, it was nearly 20 feet wide, surfaced with large slabs of carefully fitted stones.  It linked Neapolis, Philippi, and Thessalonica.  Paul would have walked this very road.

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1 Paul and Silas then traveled through the towns of Amphipolis and Apollonia and came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As was Paul’s custom, he went to the synagogue service, and for three Sabbaths in a row he used the Scriptures to reason with the people. 3 He explained the prophecies and proved that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead. He said, “This Jesus I’m telling you about is the Messiah.” 4 Some of the Jews who listened were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, along with many God-fearing Greek men and quite a few prominent women.

Part of the credit here goes to the believers Paul had left behind in Philipi:

Philippians 4:15-16 (New Living Translation)

As you know, you Philippians were the only ones who gave me financial help when I first brought you the Good News and then traveled on from Macedonia. No other church did this.  Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once.

_________________________

5 But some of the Jews were jealous, so they gathered some troublemakers from the marketplace to form a mob and start a riot.

Doesn’t this sound familiar?  Paul encountered the same envious reaction to his successful ministry during his first missionary journey in Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13: 45 and 50), in Iconium (Acts 14:2 and 5), and in Lystra (Acts 14:19).

They attacked the home of Jason, searching for Paul and Silas so they could drag them out to the crowd. 6 Not finding them there, they dragged out Jason and some of the other believers instead and took them before the city council. “Paul and Silas have caused trouble all over the world,” they shouted, “and now they are here disturbing our city, too. 7 And Jason has welcomed them into his home. They are all guilty of treason against Caesar, for they profess allegiance to another king, named Jesus.”

Any talk of a rival to the Emperor was strictly forbidden by Rome.

8 The people of the city, as well as the city council, were thrown into turmoil by these reports. 9 So the officials forced Jason and the other believers to post bond, and then they released them.

Paul and Silas in Berea

Mosaic of “Paul Preaching to the Noble Bereans” from the Altar of St. Paul in Veria (Berea), Greece.

10 That very night the believers sent Paul and Silas to Berea.

The believers sent Paul to a safe place.  Cicero calls Berea an “out-of-the-way town.”  Here Paul and his friends can stay until things settle down in Thessalonica.

When they arrived there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. 11 And the people of Berea were more open-minded than those in Thessalonica, and they listened eagerly to Paul’s message. They searched the Scriptures day after day to see if Paul and Silas were teaching the truth. 12 As a result, many Jews believed, as did many of the prominent Greek women and men.

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Music:

I want to be a Berean! — searching the Scriptures to know what the Lord says is true and right!  Here is Henry Purcell’s “Thy Word Is a Lantern,”  sung by the Choir of the Kings Consort, directed by Robert King.

Thy word is a lantern unto my feet, and a light unto my path.
I have sworn, and am steadfastly purposed to keep thy righteous judgements.
I am troubled above measure: Quicken me, O Lord, according to thy word.
Let the freewill offerings of my mouth please thee O Lord, and teach me thy judgements.
The ungodly have laid a snare for me, but yet I swerved not from thy commandments.
Thy testimonies have I claimd as mine heritage for ever:
And why? They are the very joy of my heart. Alleluia.

Psalm 119: 105-108 and 110-111

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13 But when some Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God in Berea, they went there and stirred up trouble. 14 The believers acted at once, sending Paul on to the coast, while Silas and Timothy remained behind. 15 Those escorting Paul went with him all the way to Athens; then they returned to Berea with instructions for Silas and Timothy to hurry and join him.

Paul Preaches in Athens

The Parthenon, on the Acropolis, was already over 400 years old when Paul arrived in Athens.

16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply troubled by all the idols he saw everywhere in the city. 17 He went to the synagogue to reason with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles, and he spoke daily in the public square to all who happened to be there.

Athens was an old city by the time Paul came, and its glory days were behind it.  But it was still the intellectual center of the Roman Empire, a city known for its culture and education and philosophy.

18 He also had a debate with some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. When he told them about Jesus and his resurrection, they said, “What’s this babbler trying to say with these strange ideas he’s picked up?” Others said, “He seems to be preaching about some foreign gods.”

To over-simplify:  Epicureans, believing in chance and indifferent to the gods, lived for pleasure, which was best produced by virtue — while Stoics were pantheists who fostered an indifference to pain and pleasure, since each came from the gods.  Both philosophies were popular in the Roman era.

19 Then they took him to the high council of the city. “Come and tell us about this new teaching,” they said. 20 “You are saying some rather strange things, and we want to know what it’s all about.” 21 (It should be explained that all the Athenians as well as the foreigners in Athens seemed to spend all their time discussing the latest ideas.)

22 So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows:

“St. Paul Preaching in Athens,” by Raphael, 1515 (Victoria and Albert Museum, London)

“Men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, 23 for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an Unknown God.’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.

24 “He is the God who made the world and everything in it. Since he is Lord of heaven and earth, he doesn’t live in man-made temples, 25 and human hands can’t serve his needs—for he has no needs. He himself gives life and breath to everything, and he satisfies every need. 26 From one man he created all the nations throughout the whole earth. He decided beforehand when they should rise and fall, and he determined their boundaries.

Paul starts not with an overview of Hebrew history, as he often did in Jewish synagogues.  Instead, he begins with God as Creator, distinct from His creation, and mindful of the people He had created.  This is a very different philosophy from the Epicureans, who believed the gods had little to do with people, and from the Stoics, who saw gods in everything.

27 “His purpose was for the nations to seek after God and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him—though he is not far from any one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and exist. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’ 29 And since this is true, we shouldn’t think of God as an idol designed by craftsmen from gold or silver or stone.

This altar is located on Palatine Hill, Rome, where once stood the palaces of the Caesars. It dates from about 100 B.C. and has the inscription, ´To the unknown God.´

First Paul uses “the unknown god” as a bridge to his audience.  Then he takes a similarly sympathetic approach by quoting from Aratus, a Stoic poet:

Zeus fills the streets, the marts,
Zeus fills the seas, the shores, the rivers!
Everywhere our need is Zeus!
We also are his offspring!

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30 “God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31 For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”

32 When they heard Paul speak about the resurrection of the dead, some laughed in contempt, but others said, “We want to hear more about this later.”

Greeks believed in the immortality of the soul.  But they believed the body was material and inherently evil; the idea of a glorified, resurrected body made no sense to them.

33 That ended Paul’s discussion with them, 34 but some joined him and became believers. Among them were Dionysius, a member of the council, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.

_________________________

 

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
Thessaloniki.     http://www.sunislandtours.com.au/uploads/images/17349f8b166bd3625a5941020412a8e2.jpg
Via Egnatia.    http://www.esiweb.org/balkanexpress/images/albania/viaegnatia.jpg
Thank you note.     http://www.greekshares.com/uploaded/files/good_bye_and_thank_you.jpg
Paul preaching in Berea.    http://www.padfield.com/greece/berea/images/berea-greece-03.jpg
Acropolis.    http://www.iho-ohi.org/wp-content/athens-greece.jpg
Raphael.    http://www.abcgallery.com/R/raphael/raphael52.html
altar to an unknown god.     http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_hKPbvbwYcqE/SBOXaZB-2uI/AAAAAAAABTQ/kiQdk99E8Tc/s400/Unknown+God.bmp

451.) Acts 16

January 24, 2011

If you click on this map, it will come up more clearly for you to read more easily.

Acts 16 (New Living Translation)

Paul’s Second Missionary Journey

Click  HERE for a preview of Paul’s second missionary journey!

1 Paul went first to Derbe and then to Lystra, where there was a young disciple named Timothy. His mother was a Jewish believer, but his father was a Greek.

Remember Lystra?  First, the people there thought Paul was a god and tried to offer sacrifices to him.  Then they tried to stone him to death.  Had Timothy and his mother seen Paul’s strong witness for Christ in those very events?  Timothy will become one of Paul’s close co-workers and the recipient of two of Paul’s letters.

2 Timothy was well thought of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium, 3 so Paul wanted him to join them on their journey.

Barnabas and John Mark had just left Paul — and God provided another companion for him in Timothy.  When God calls people to his work, he also provides for their needs in that work.  “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

In deference to the Jews of the area, he arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left, for everyone knew that his father was a Greek.

Paul has Timothy circumcised not for his salvation, but for the sake of ministering unhindered among the Jews.

4 Then they went from town to town, instructing the believers to follow the decisions made by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in their faith and grew larger every day.

A Call from Macedonia

6 Next Paul and Silas traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, because the Holy Spirit had prevented them from preaching the word in the province of Asia at that time.

Asia in New Testament times does not mean China and Japan!  It means the Roman province of Asia Minor, which is present-day Turkey.

7 Then coming to the borders of Mysia, they headed north for the province of Bithynia, but again the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to go there. 8 So instead, they went on through Mysia to the seaport of Troas.

Paul is being guided by hindrance.  The Holy Spirit often guides as much by the closing of doors as He does by the opening of doors.
—David Guzik

9 That night Paul had a vision: A man from Macedonia in northern Greece was standing there, pleading with him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 So we decided to leave for Macedonia at once, having concluded that God was calling us to preach the Good News there.

Notice the shift in pronouns, from they in verse 8 to we in verse 10?  Perhaps here is where Luke joined Paul on the trip.

Modern mosaic, “Vision Telling Paul to Come over to Macedonia,” in Veroia (ancient Berea), Greece

Lydia of Philippi Believes in Jesus

11 We boarded a boat at Troas and sailed straight across to the island of Samothrace,

“The ferocious sea god, Poseidon, is portrayed in Homer’s Iliad as sitting on a mountain crag of Samothrace watching two armies clash on the mainland, watching Troy fall.

“Samothrace is a small, mountainous island.  One of its peaks soars well over 5,000 feet into the air.  Paul caught a good wind to make the island in a day.”

–Mark Link, S.J.

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and the next day we landed at Neapolis. 12 From there we reached Philippi, a major city of that district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. And we stayed there several days.

Paul had had in mind more cities for Christ, but God wanted a whole continent!  So Paul brought the gospel to Europe.  It started in Greece and went on to Rome.  Eventually the Good News made it all the way to Norway, where my ancestors learned they could leave their sins at the foot of the cross and walk through life with Jesus.  I am so grateful to Paul for paving the way for the gospel to come to my family!

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13 On the Sabbath we went a little way outside the city to a riverbank, where we thought people would be meeting for prayer, and we sat down to speak with some women who had gathered there.

This is a small Jewish community, for had there been ten men, they would have had a synagogue.

14 One of them was Lydia from Thyatira, a merchant of expensive purple cloth, who worshiped God.

Purple cloth was a luxurious, high-end product, and Thyatira was a center for the dye and the cloth.  Later a church was established at Thyatira, for one of the letters in Revelation is addressed here (Rev. 2:18-29).

As she listened to us, the Lord opened her heart, and she accepted what Paul was saying. 15 She was baptized along with other members of her household, and she asked us to be her guests. “If you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my home.” And she urged us until we agreed.

Such openness of heart towards the Lord led her to open her home to Paul and his group.  Lydia understood the value of hospitality!

Paul and Silas in Prison

16 One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a demon-possessed slave girl. She was a fortune-teller who earned a lot of money for her masters. 17 She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.”

18 This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.

Paul, like Jesus, does not need or want demons testifying on his behalf.  Jesus, also, told demons who were proclaiming His name to be silent (as in Matthew 8:28-34).

19 Her masters’ hopes of wealth were now shattered, so they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them before the authorities at the marketplace. 20 “The whole city is in an uproar because of these Jews!” they shouted to the city officials.

Paul and Silas were Jews, of course.  Luke was Greek, and Timothy only half-Jewish.  It was easy enough to blame “these Jews!”

21 “They are teaching customs that are illegal for us Romans to practice.”

22 A mob quickly formed against Paul and Silas, and the city officials ordered them stripped and beaten with wooden rods. 23 They were severely beaten, and then they were thrown into prison. The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape. 24 So the jailer put them into the inner dungeon and clamped their feet in the stocks.

25 Around midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God,

Given the same situation, would I respond so faithfully?

and the other prisoners were listening. 26 Suddenly, there was a massive earthquake, and the prison was shaken to its foundations. All the doors immediately flew open, and the chains of every prisoner fell off! 27 The jailer woke up to see the prison doors wide open. He assumed the prisoners had escaped, so he drew his sword to kill himself. 28 But Paul shouted to him, “Stop! Don’t kill yourself! We are all here!”

In not escaping, they showed tremendous discernment. The circumstances said, “escape.” But love said, “Stay for the sake of this one soul.” They were not guided merely by circumstances, but by what love compelled.
—David Guzik

29 The jailer called for lights and ran to the dungeon and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household.” 32 And they shared the word of the Lord with him and with all who lived in his household. 33 Even at that hour of the night, the jailer cared for them and washed their wounds. Then he and everyone in his household were immediately baptized. 34 He brought them into his house and set a meal before them, and he and his entire household rejoiced because they all believed in God.

35 The next morning the city officials sent the police to tell the jailer, “Let those men go!” 36 So the jailer told Paul, “The city officials have said you and Silas are free to leave. Go in peace.”

37 But Paul replied, “They have publicly beaten us without a trial and put us in prison—and we are Roman citizens. So now they want us to leave secretly? Certainly not! Let them come themselves to release us!”

Roman citizens had specific and zealously guarded civil rights.  They were entitled to a trial, and were not to be flogged.  Paul did not get a trial, and he was beaten.  He knows this information of his Roman citizenship is game-changing.

38 When the police reported this, the city officials were alarmed to learn that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 39 So they came to the jail and apologized to them. Then they brought them out and begged them to leave the city. 40 When Paul and Silas left the prison, they returned to the home of Lydia. There they met with the believers and encouraged them once more. Then they left town.

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“A Prisoner’s Dream”

Paul prayed with Silas

The earth shook; jail doors opened!

The Lord set them free!

–John Michael Domino

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from Whispers of His Power,
by Amy Carmichael

John 13:7 — Jesus answered and said unto him, What I do thou knowest not now; but thou shalt know hereafter.

Matthew 5:11 — Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for My sake.

In Acts 16 we read how Paul was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go to preach the word in Asia (verse 6) and in Bithynia (verse 7), but had a vision of a man saying, Come over to Macedonia, and help us. And immediately they set out, assuredly gathering that the Lord had called us for to preach the gospel unto them (verse 9-10).

The result was bad trouble; they were beaten, cast into prison, and put in the stocks.  It must have been very perplexing for them.

To the questions that come about things we know the Lord does (verses 6 and 7), the answer of peace is found in John 13:7.  To the opposite kind of question, about things the devil does (verse 20 onwards), we have Matthew 5:11.

This distinction holds good every time.  In this one chapter of Acts we have opportunities for both kinds of questions, exactly as in one short period of life we may find ourselves faced with both.

But there is always peace in these two answers.  They explain nothing, but they still the heart and lead it into quietness.

That is why at midnight Paul and Silas were able to sing praises to God; and we know what happened after that.

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Music:

Charles Wesley’s beloved hymn, “And Can It Be (Amazing Love),” sung by the Altar of Praise Chorale.  With thanks to my friend Carole!

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Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

Images courtesy of:
map of Paul’s second missionary journey.    http://webschoolsolutions.com/nlw/acts/psecond.gif
map of Asia Minor.     http://frmarkdwhite.files.wordpress.com/2009/09/asia-minor.jpg
mosaic of Paul’s vision.    http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_BmgZBuucUjs/SBKhtvjcSXI/AAAAAAAAAZk/3nKRZpNxJXw/s1600-h/modern+mosaic+Vision+Telling+Paul+to+Come+Over+to+Macedonia+Veroia+%28Ancient+Berea%29,+Greece.jpg
Samothrace.    http://cache.virtualtourist.com/3573404-Samothraki_or_Samothrace_Island-Samothraki_Island.jpg
map of Europe.  http://www.travimp.com/images/maps/europe.gif
pineapple, a sign of Southern hospitality.    http://www.stjamesknox.org/Portals/9/Hospitality%20logo.jpg
Philippians 4:7.    http://4catholiceducators.com/graphics/Philippians4_7.jpg

450.) Acts 15

January 21, 2011

Acts 15 (New Living Translation)

The Council at Jerusalem

1 While Paul and Barnabas were at Antioch of Syria, some men from Judea arrived and began to teach the believers: “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 Paul and Barnabas disagreed with them, arguing vehemently. Finally, the church decided to send Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem, accompanied by some local believers, to talk to the apostles and elders about this question. 3 The church sent the delegates to Jerusalem, and they stopped along the way in Phoenicia and Samaria to visit the believers. They told them—much to everyone’s joy—that the Gentiles, too, were being converted.

4 When they arrived in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Paul were welcomed by the whole church, including the apostles and elders. They reported everything God had done through them. 5 But then some of the believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and insisted, “The Gentile converts must be circumcised and required to follow the law of Moses.”

So the question at hand is this:  How are we saved?  — by our good works, or by Christ’s work on the cross, or by a combination of our obedience to the Law and our faith in Christ?  The answer is crucial to the shape of the Christian faith.

6 So the apostles and elders met together to resolve this issue.

15. meeting in progress

from Class Acts:  How Good Manners Create Good Relationships and Good Relationships Create Good Business,by Mary Mitchell

Nobody talks about good meetings; only bad ones.  But I think that if ever there was an opportunity for individuals to shine, it is at meetings.  And if we, as individuals, are dedicated to mining our own talents to contribute to a greater good, a meeting is the place to do it.  Meetings are the proscenium stages for business players.  Meetings are an education about every person who participates in them.

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7 At the meeting, after a long discussion, Peter stood and addressed them as follows: “Brothers, you all know that God chose me from among you some time ago to preach to the Gentiles so that they could hear the Good News and believe. 8 God knows people’s hearts, and he confirmed that he accepts Gentiles by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, for he cleansed their hearts through faith. 10 So why are you now challenging God by burdening the Gentile believers with a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors were able to bear? 11 We believe that we are all saved the same way, by the undeserved grace of the Lord Jesus.”

Peter has obviously spent some time listening to the Holy Spirit and thinking about this issue.  His answer goes straight to his vision, that “I should not call anyone unclean.”  The Law of Moses did not cleanse the hearts of the Gentiles (Cornelius and his household) — rather, they were cleansed by faith!

12 Everyone listened quietly as Barnabas and Paul told about the miraculous signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.

13 When they had finished, James stood and said, “Brothers, listen to me. 14 Peter has told you about the time God first visited the Gentiles to take from them a people for himself. 15 And this conversion of Gentiles is exactly what the prophets predicted. As it is written:

16 ‘Afterward I will return
and restore the fallen house of David.
I will rebuild its ruins
and restore it,
17 so that the rest of humanity might seek the Lord,
including the Gentiles—
all those I have called to be mine.
The Lord has spoken—
18 he who made these things known so long ago.’

19 “And so my judgment is that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead, we should write and tell them to abstain from eating food offered to idols, from sexual immorality, from eating the meat of strangled animals, and from consuming blood. 21 For these laws of Moses have been preached in Jewish synagogues in every city on every Sabbath for many generations.”

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Music:

Thank you, Council at Jerusalem, for settling the question and affirming that salvation from Jesus Christ is by faith and not by works!  “We Can Work It Out,” a Beatles classic from 1965, performed in Madrid, 2004, by Paul McCartney.

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The Letter for Gentile Believers

22 Then the apostles and elders together with the whole church in Jerusalem chose delegates, and they sent them to Antioch of Syria with Paul and Barnabas to report on this decision. The men chosen were two of the church leaders—Judas (also called Barsabbas) and Silas. 23 This is the letter they took with them:

“This letter is from the apostles and elders, your brothers in Jerusalem. It is written to the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia. Greetings!
24 “We understand that some men from here have troubled you and upset you with their teaching, but we did not send them! 25 So we decided, having come to complete agreement, to send you official representatives, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 We are sending Judas and Silas to confirm what we have decided concerning your question.
28 “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: 29 You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.”

In the Good News translation, verse 28 begins, “The Holy Spirit and we have agreed . . . ” I love that!  Don’t we wish every church council meeting, every congregational meeting, every committee meeting, every national assembly, would close with the members saying, “The Holy Spirit and we have agreed!”

30 The messengers went at once to Antioch, where they called a general meeting of the believers and delivered the letter. 31 And there was great joy throughout the church that day as they read this encouraging message.

32 Then Judas and Silas, both being prophets, spoke at length to the believers, encouraging and strengthening their faith. 33 They stayed for a while, and then the believers sent them back to the church in Jerusalem with a blessing of peace. 35 Paul and Barnabas stayed in Antioch. They and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord there.

Paul and Barnabas Separate

36 After some time Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit each city where we previously preached the word of the Lord, to see how the new believers are doing.” 37 Barnabas agreed and wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul disagreed strongly, since John Mark had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in their work. 39 Their disagreement was so sharp that they separated.

from Daily Readings from Luther’s Writings, edited by Barbara Owen:

Paul and Barnabas had been set aside for the ministry of the Gospel among the Gentiles and had traveled through many areas and announced the Gospel.  Yet Luke testified that there came such a sharp disagreement between them that they parted company.  Here there was a fault either in Paul or in Barnabas.  It must have been a very sharp disagreement to separate such close companions, and this is what the text suggests.  Such examples are written for our comfort.  For it is a great comfort for us to hear that even such great saints sin–a comfort which those who say that saints cannot sin would take away from us.

Samson, David and many other celebrated leaders who were full of the Holy Spirit fell in huge sins.  Such errors and sins of the saints are set forth in order that those who are troubled and desperate may find comfort and that those who are proud may be afraid.  No one has ever fallen so grievously as to not have stood up again.  On the other hand, no one has such a sure footing that he or she cannot fall.  If Peter fell, I, too, may fall; if he stood up again, so can I.

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Barnabas took John Mark with him and sailed for Cyprus. 40 Paul chose Silas, and as he left, the believers entrusted him to the Lord’s gracious care. 41 Then he traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches there.

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Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright © 1996, 2004 by Tyndale Charitable Trust. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers.

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