Monday, April 30, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 90, Governor Festus Consults King Agrippa II About Paul's Case

King Agrippa II, of Jewish heritage, comes to Caesarea in our passage today to pay his respects to Festus who has been appointed governor of Judea. Though the former governor Felix was Agrippa's brother-in-law (being married to Agrippa's sister Drusilla) it is politically expedient for him to establish a good relationship with the current governor. Agrippa is merely a vassal king who holds the title at the pleasure of Rome, while Festus is a Roman citizen appointed to a position of power by the emperor. In this case a governor actually outranks a king, but the two of them need to work together to keep the peace in Judea.

Agrippa II is the descendant of the wicked Herod the Great who ordered the male babies of Bethlehem killed around the time of Jesus' birth, and he is the son of the violent Agrippa I who ordered the execution of the Apostle James and who imprisoned the Apostle Peter with plans to execute him as well. In our text today Agrippa II travels to Caesarea with his sister Bernice upon whom he has bestowed the title of "queen" and with whom ancient historians such as Flavius Josephus claim he was living as husband and wife rather than as brother and sister. Though they are Jews, the sympathies of Agrippa and Bernice lie with Rome, and during the Jewish revolt of the late 60s AD these two will side wholeheartedly with Rome against the Jews and will send 2,000 men to support Rome in the fight. After Agrippa's death Drusilla will become the mistress of Titus, the son of Emperor Vespasian, Emperor Nero's successor. This is the same Titus who laid siege to Jerusalem and caused the fall of the city and the temple in 70 AD. Whether Drusilla was in an incestuous relationship with her brother we can't say for certain, but she certainly felt no qualms about sleeping with the enemy by taking up with Titus under whose command over a million of her own people died either by sword and famine, and under whose command tens of thousands of her own people were sold into slavery or dragged into the arenas of Rome to be torn apart by lions.

Luke tells us that the royal couple arrives in town shortly after Festus hears Paul's case. "A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to pay their respects to Festus. Since they were spending many days there, Festus discussed Paul's case with the king. He said: 'There is a man here whom Felix left as a prisoner. When I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews brought charges against him and asked that he be condemned.'" (Acts 25:13-15) Agrippa has no authority or jurisdiction over Paul's case, but he does know Jewish laws and customs. Festus wants his opinion on the strife between Paul and the religious leaders from Jerusalem. Being a Roman, Festus fails to grasp why these men find Paul's doctrine so offensive.

"I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges. When they came here with me, I did not delay the case, but convened the court the next day and ordered the man to be brought in." (Acts 25:16-17) In asking Festus to hand Paul over, these men were asking him to let them take matters into their own hands. They intended to put Paul to death without him having had a fair trial before Festus and without him ever having been convicted of any crime.

Festus tells Agrippa that he expected the Apostle Paul to be accused of horrible acts against society, so he was quite surprised to hear the actual accusations. "When his accusers got up to speak, they did not charge him with any of the crimes I had expected. Instead, they had some points of dispute with him about their own religion and about a dead man named Jesus who Paul claimed was alive." (Acts 25:18-19) Festus declares, "This is the strangest trial I've ever presided over! I thought this man named Paul had committed murder or sedition. The hatred of the men from Jerusalem was so great against him that I was expecting them to provide proof that it isn't safe to let him go on living. Instead I heard a garbled account about some preacher from Nazareth named Jesus who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and buried in a tomb. The priests and elders claim this Jesus is still dead, though they don't know where his body is, and Paul claims there is no body because Jesus rose from the dead. Paul says he met this same Jesus on the road to Damascus some years after the crucifixion. The men from Jerusalem are clamoring for Paul's execution because they say that according to their laws he is worthy of death for insisting people should worship Jesus in place of God, while Paul asserts that Jesus is God."

Without meaning to, Paul's enemies from Jerusalem related the gospel message to Festus when they explained that Paul was preaching that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God who was crucified and buried but rose from the dead. Festus is thoroughly confused with the information he has received. He doesn't know whether Paul's preaching is violating Jewish religious laws or not. He doesn't know if it matters, since Rome isn't concerned with such things unless an uprising ensues. "I was at a loss how to investigate such matters; so I asked if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and stand trial there on these charges. But when Paul made his appeal to be held over for the Emperor's decision, I ordered him held until I could send him to Caesar." (Acts 25:20-21)

Living in Judea, Agrippa would have heard a great deal about Christianity. He is interested in meeting one of Christianity's most famous preachers. "Then Agrippa said to Festus, 'I would like to hear this man myself.' He replied, 'Tomorrow you will hear him.'" (Acts 25:22)

"The next day Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the audience room with with the high-ranking military officers and the prominent men of the city." (Acts 25:23a) The word translated "pomp" is "phantasia" from which we get our word "fantasy". In their own minds Agrippa and Bernice are a really big deal. For political purposes, the Romans treat them as if they are a really big deal. But where is the Herodian dynasty now? Where is the Roman Empire now? Where has all their glory gone? Where are all these golden-crowned kings today? As King David once observed on the short lifespan of man, "They are like a breath; their days are like a fleeting shadow." (Psalm 144:4) These ancient kings have crumbled into dust, but the King of kings is alive and well and His kingdom will never end. This is the King and the kingdom Paul preached about. The pomp of Agrippa and Bernice was like a short-lived fantasy; it has disappeared as though it never was. But the glory of our God is eternal.

"At the command of Festus, Paul was brought in. Festus said: 'King Agrippa, and all who are present with us, you see this man! The whole Jewish community has petitioned me about him in Jerusalem and here in Caesarea, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. I found he had done nothing deserving of death, but because he made his appeal to the Emperor I decided to send him to Rome. But I have nothing definite to write to His Majesty about him. Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that as a result of this investigation I may have something to write. For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him.'" (Acts 25:23b-27) Festus needs advice because he needs a good reason for sending Paul before the Emperor. What can Paul be charged with? Is there anything Paul can be charged with? How is Festus going to explain to Nero why the Jewish religious leaders are in such an uproar over Paul's message? The Roman Empire believes in allowing religious freedom for its subjects. If Paul wants to believe a man named Jesus rose from the dead, he has the right to do so. Likewise, the Jews have a right to worship the God they say brought them out of slavery in Egypt. Festus doesn't see why they can't all just get along.

In our own times we can make all the references to God that we want and, though our listeners may not believe in Him, they can usually shrug their shoulders with the attitude that we have the right to believe in a deity if we want to. But if we speak the name of Jesus to this same group, all of a sudden they aren't as willing to live and let live. Bitterness and anger are stirred up when those who refuse to accept the gospel of Christ hear His name. This name plays on their prejudices and fears. This name reminds them that they are not living according to the values Jesus taught. This name troubles them because the gospel of Jesus Christ says that they are sinners who need a Savior. The gospel of Jesus Christ delivers news they find unwelcome: the fact that there is a holy God whose laws we have all violated and a righteous Judge before whom we will all someday stand. Jesus warned His followers that they would be hated, arrested, beaten, and put on trial before governors and kings because of the gospel message. In Paul's day these things are already coming true, but Paul will consider it an honor to stand before a king and a governor as a prisoner if it means he can tell them about the Savior of the world.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 89, Governor Festus Hears Paul's Case

When we closed yesterday Governor Felix lost his post at Caesarea and was called back to Rome because of his excessively vicious handling of disputes between the Jews and the Syrians. His successor as the governor of Judea is Porcius Festus who was promoted to the position in about 62 AD. Felix, contrary to Roman law, allowed Paul to languish in prison for two year without rendering a verdict. He left Paul there when he was called back to Rome. Now the problem of Paul and his accusers falls into Festus's hands.

"Three days after arriving in the province, Festus went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem, where the chief priests and the Jewish leaders appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul." (Acts 25:1-2) Paul's enemies pounce on Festus before he can even get settled in. Felix disappointed them by failing to settle Paul's case, and they hope this new governor who knows far less about the Jewish religion than Felix will agree to a request to have Paul transferred back into their custody. Not understanding the intense hatred the Sanhedrin harbors for Christianity, and not having previously witnessed the murderous rage they feel toward the Apostle Paul, the newcomer Festus becomes a target for their deceit. Paul's enemies are going to wear innocent expressions while asking that he be placed in their custody. They are going to speak in reasonable tones when explaining that Paul's case involves matters of Jewish religious law which should be decided by those who know Jewish religious law best. They are going to try to appear helpful when they offer to relieve Festus of the problem of Paul.

Festus refuses their request at this time. He hasn't had a chance to evaluate the situation himself and it is not proper for him to release a Roman prisoner (who is a Roman citizen) into their custody until he has heard Paul's side of the story. "They requested Festus, as a favor to them, to have Paul transferred. to Jerusalem, for they were preparing an ambush to kill him along the way. Festus answered, 'Paul is being held at Caesarea, and I myself am going there soon. Let some of your leaders come with me, and if the man has done anything wrong, they can press charges against him there.'" (Acts 25:3-5)

"After spending eight or ten days with them, Festus went down to Caesarea. The next day he convened the court and ordered that Paul be brought before him. When Paul came in, the Jews who had come down from Jerusalem stood around him. They brought many serious charges against him, but they could not prove them." (Acts 25:6-7) Festus is treated to the same charade as was Felix. All sorts of accusations are made against Paul but his enemies can't back any of them up.

"Then Paul made his defense: 'I have done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or against the temple or against Caesar.'" (Acts 25:8) As in our courts today, the prosecution must prove the defendant's guilt; the defendant is not required to prove his innocence. The band of men from Jerusalem fail to prove their case that Paul has broken any Roman laws. Festus can see he has no grounds for continuing to hold him as a prisoner. However, he is not very well-versed in Jewish laws. He is still unclear as to whether Paul has broken any of those. Being new to his position he wants to make a good impression on the Jews in order to keep the peace, so he is going to suggest moving the trial to Jerusalem if Paul is willing to go. "Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, 'Are you willing to go up to Jerusalem and stand trial before me there on these charges?'" (Acts 25:9)

Festus is completely in the dark about a plot to kill Paul. Where the religious elite are concerned, he has no idea who he is dealing with. He doesn't understand the culture of Judea, and more specifically the culture of the Sanhedrin. He doesn't understand the current religious or political climate of Jerusalem. It never enters his mind that a plot is afoot to assassinate a man who is not violent and who has not been convicted of any crime. The murderous opposition of the Sanhedrin against Paul and against all things Christian is something Festus is completely unaware of. It never enters his mind that assassins are lurking in the hill country on the way back to Jerusalem. If he knew this, he would never dream of putting a man in his custody into such danger, especially since that man is a citizen of Rome.

Paul asserts his rights as a Roman citizen. "Paul answered: 'I am now standing before Caesar's court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!'" (Acts 25:10-11) Although Festus knows little about religious laws, Paul points out that he can plainly see that the men from Jerusalem have not proven their case. He says, in essence, "As a Roman citizen I should be tried in a Roman court of law. It is clear that these men have not been able to prove any of their accusations. You are wise enough to see through their lies. If I had committed any crime worthy of death I would be willing to face my punishment, but I have not broken any laws worthy of death or otherwise. As a Roman citizen I have the right to refuse being handed over to these men from Jerusalem. As a Roman citizen I have the right to appeal to the highest court in the kingdom. I want my case heard by Emperor Nero."

Nero succeeded Claudius as emperor of Rome in 54 AD. When Nero first came to power his prejudice against Christians had either not yet formed or had not yet been made evident. Nero will eventually become as sadistic and barbaric toward Christians as Adolf Hitler was to the Jews, but in the year Paul makes his appeal to Nero there is no indication that the emperor will descend into madness. Paul thinks he has a good chance of receiving a fair trial in the courtroom of the man who will, in fact, be the one to order his execution sometime between 64 AD and 68 AD. But on this day as Paul stands before Festus it is not his time to die. If he had not been a Roman citizen his fate would have been sealed now, for he would have been handed over to his enemies and assassinated on his way back to Jerusalem. Instead he will live to fight the good fight until it is God's will for him to leave this earth and be with the Savior forevermore. Upon hearing Paul assert his rights as a Roman citizen, Festus lawfully agrees with his request. "After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: 'You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!'" (Acts 25:12)

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 88, The Trial Before Felix, Part Two: The Real Reason Paul Stands Accused

The lawyer Tertullus has accused Paul before Felix of things he did not do. Now it's Paul's turn to tell his side of the story. As always he includes the message of the resurrection---the only message that gives mankind any hope.

"When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: 'I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense.'" (Acts 24:10) In contrast to Tertullus, Paul doesn't begin his remarks by heaping a bunch of false flattery on the governor. He just says, "You are a man with a great deal of experience who knows the law inside out. Because I believe I will receive a fair trial in your courtroom, I have confidence while making my defense before you."

He continues, "You can easily verify that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship." (Acts 24:11) Paul points out, "These men have accused me of many illegal acts, acts I wasn't even in Jerusalem long enough to carry out if I had been of the mind to carry such things out."

"My accusers did not find me arguing with anyone at the temple, or stirring up a crowd in the synagogues or anywhere else in the city. And they cannot prove to you the charges they are now making against me." (Acts 24:12-13) It won't take much investigative work by Felix to find out there is no basis for the charges against Paul.

In a minute we will arrive at the heart of the matter. He is hated and falsely accused because he preaches the resurrection of the dead. This is a doctrine accepted by most of his countrymen with the exception of the Sadducees, but the problem is that Paul is preaching the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. Paul is preaching that Jesus is God's Son and should be worshiped as God. According to Jewish law (see the entire chapter of Deuteronomy 13) it would be a capital offense to entice people to worship anyone other than the God of Israel. In the minds of his enemies this is just what Paul is doing when he preaches about Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus were not the Son of God then Paul would be guilty. But Paul believes, as do all the apostles, in the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. He is not inciting the people to abandon the God of Israel but is encouraging them to accept the sacrifice God's own Son made on their behalf.

Paul wants his listeners to know that he values the laws of God and that nothing he is preaching is in contradiction to those laws. "However, I admit that I worship the God of our ancestors as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man." (Acts 24:14-16)

"After an absence of several years, I came to Jerusalem to bring my people gifts for the poor and to present offerings. I was ceremonially clean when they found me in the temple courts doing this. There was no crowd with me, nor was I involved in any disturbance. But there are some Jews from the province of Asia, who ought to be here before you and bring charges if they have anything against me. Or those who are here should state what crime they found in me when I stood before the Sanhedrin---unless it was this one thing I shouted as I stood in their presence: 'It is concerning the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial before you today.'" (Acts 24:17-21) Paul's rights have been violated all along the way. He has a right to face his accusers in court but the Jews from Asia Minor who stirred this mess up in the first place aren't there. The Sanhedrin didn't hand down a verdict against him. He should never have been beaten, arrested, chained, or held in custody by anyone.

"Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings. 'When Lysias the commander comes,' he said, 'I will decide your case.' He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs." (Acts 24:22-23) Living in Caesarea where the Christian church is growing by leaps and bounds, Felix is quite familiar with what the Christians believe. It's not a crime under Roman law for Paul or anyone else to worship Christ. Rome allows religious liberty in all the territories it has conquered as long as the citizens conduct themselves peacefully. Felix has not seen or heard anything during Paul's trial that would warrant him declaring the apostle guilty of a crime. But he hasn't heard the testimony of Commander Lysias yet, so he wants to wait and see what he has to say. He puts a centurion in charge of Paul because he is still a prisoner, and also because if he were not under guard his enemies might manage to assassinate him. But Paul is allowed more freedom than an ordinary prisoner and his friends are allowed to visit with him anytime they please.

The Bible never mentions Lysias again. We don't know whether he was ever sent for. We don't know whether he ever arrived. Felix is a greedy man and, contrary to Paul's opinion of him, he is a man willing to pervert justice if it brings him monetary or political gain. We will see in a moment exactly why Felix keeps holding Paul in custody. "Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul talked about righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, 'That's enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.' At the same time he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him. When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favor to the Jews, he left Paul in prison." (Acts 24:24-27)

Felix is bothered by the idea of his own unrighteousness and his own lack of self-control and the coming judgment. He is currently married to his third wife who was already married when he met her, but he seduced her away from her husband. He is definitely a man lacking in self-control where women and sex are concerned.

Felix is also a man lacking in righteousness, for he's greedy enough to be willing to overlook the laws of Rome by hoping Paul will offer him a bribe for his freedom. It would appear that had Paul or his friends raised enough money, Paul could have had his freedom, but it's vital that Paul maintains his integrity as a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Felix is also a man lacking in compassion and human decency. According to Roman law no prisoner could be held in custody for more than two years unless sentence had been passed against him, but by that time Felix was in serious political trouble with both Romans and Jews. In quelling an outbreak of strife between the Jews and Gentiles, he treated the Jews involved with such murderous violence that his prejudice against them was made clear. Being married to the Jewish descendant of Herod the Great does not mean he held the Jews in high regard. Ancient historians attest to the stunning beauty of Drusilla and by that we know Felix married her because he lusted for her so much he had to have her. But being married to a Jewess did nothing to make him care about Jews in general. Because he was under the censure of Rome and because he was despised by the Jews for his harsh treatment of them, he tried to make amends by leaving Paul in custody.

Paul is at the mercy of a man who shows him little mercy. But at the same time Paul is the servant of a merciful God who plans to use his status as a prisoner to reach people with the gospel who would not have heard it if Paul had remained a free man.

Friday, April 27, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 87, The Trial Before Felix, Part One: Flattery And Lies

The Apostle Paul is being held at Herod's palace in Caesarea until his accusers can arrive from Jerusalem to present their case against him in front of Governor Felix.

"Five days later the high priest Ananias went down to Caesarea with some of the elders and a lawyer named Tertullus, and they brought their charges against Paul before the governor." (Acts 24:1) A legal "dream team" is sent to accuse Paul, not the rabble rousers from Asia Minor who stirred up the mob at Jerusalem, and not the forty-plus men who took a vow to remove Paul from the earth. Only the best and brightest are sent to Caesarea to make a good impression on the governor. Tertullus the lawyer has a Roman name, and it is believed that he is a Jewish proselyte who is thoroughly acquainted with the laws and customs of both the Romans and the Jews. This makes him the perfect choice to appear before a Roman governor to accuse Paul of violations of Jewish law.

"When Paul was called in, Tertullus presented his case before Felix: 'We have enjoyed a long period of peace under you, and your foresight has brought about reforms in this nation. Everywhere and in every way, most excellent Felix, we acknowledge this with profound gratitude. But in order not to weary you further, I would request that you be kind enough to hear us briefly.'" (Acts 24:2-4) The flattery that Tertullus heaps upon Felix is sickening. It's true Felix enforced the peace as much as possible with military might, but he was also known by ancient historians as a cruel and heartless man. The historian Josephus accuses him of having the high priest Jonathan executed. The men who are standing before Felix with Tertullus do not consider him their friend and they do not enjoy being under his authority or under the authority of Rome. But I imagine they manage to keep straight faces and to nod in agreement as Tertullus praises the governor.

The lawyer brings up Felix's success in keeping the peace because he intends to present Paul as one who constantly disrupts the peace. Tertullus now commits perjury in Felix's court. "We have found this man to be a troublemaker, stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world. He is a ringleader of the Nazarene sect and even tried to desecrate the temple; so we seized him." (Acts 24:5-6)

Paul never once incited a riot. Wherever he takes the gospel, riots tend to ensue, but this is never his desire or intention. Wherever the gospel goes, Satan goes along to try to keep the hearers of the gospel from taking it to heart. Wherever the gospel goes, the devil tries to stir up disagreement. He knows that pitting people against each other will take their minds off Christ. The Lord is using Paul in such a mighty way to spread the gospel that Satan has decided he must have the apostle put to death if at all possible. The Apostle Paul has human enemies, but he realizes that the one who stirs up hatred against him is the devil himself, which is why Paul will say in his letter to the church at Ephesus, "Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." (Ephesians 6:12) The religious leaders from Jerusalem are pawns in the devil's game. He is playing on their prejudices and fears to make them feel that the Apostle Paul is the most dangerous man on earth.

Tertullus ends his argument on a weak note, for although he invites Felix to question Paul himself to find out if these things are true, he offers no evidence to support the charges against Paul. "'By examining him yourself you will be able to learn the truth about all these charges we are bringing against him.' The other Jews joined in the accusation, asserting that these things were true." (Acts 24:8-9)

If Paul has indeed stirred up riots, Tertullus should provide details of how Paul managed to stir them up and where and when he stirred them up. Tertullus refers to Christianity as "the Nazarene sect". By calling Christianity a "sect" his intention is to strip the religion of all validity and respect. People can respect a major mainstream religion even if they don't agree with it, but a sect conjures up the image of a cult or heretic movement. The lawyer provides no explanation for exactly how Paul intended to desecrate the temple. The mob at Jerusalem accused him of bringing a Gentile into the inner court, which he did not do, but Felix isn't told any of this. To a Gentile like Felix the idea of desecration is more along the lines of vandalizing or attempting to destroy a house of worship. This makes Paul sound like a violent man.

In tomorrow's study Paul will present the truth of the matter to Governor Felix and in doing so will preach the gospel of the risen Christ. Felix will dismiss Paul without rendering a judgment at that time, so overcome is he with fear and guilt when he realizes he is living an unrighteous life. It is not believed that Felix ever converted, but it won't be because the Lord didn't deal with his heart.

Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 86, The Roman Commander Transfers Paul To Governor Felix At Caesarea

For his own safety the Apostle Paul has to be gotten out of Jerusalem. A plot is afoot to assassinate him. The Roman commander in charge of the barracks where Paul is being held arranges for him to be transferred to Caesarea into the custody of Governor Felix.

"Then he called two of his centurions and ordered them, 'Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight. Provide horses for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix.'" (Acts 23:23-24) Felix was a procurator appointed by Emperor Claudius in about 52 AD-53 AD. The ancient historian Tacitus states he was a tyrannical, greedy, and immoral ruler. Seutonius claims he was married three times. Josephus mentions that Felix was quite successful at stamping out riots and uprisings and that he was the governor who put a stop to the revolt of the "Egyptian prophet" and "false Messiah", the same Egyptian the Roman commander first thought Paul to be. (Acts 21:38)

The commander asks for horses (plural) to be provided for Paul. This could be so the horses can be switched out periodically on the way, or it could be that the extra horses are used to carry Paul's belongings or supplies, or these extra horses could be intended for the guards who are most closely appointed to see to his safety and his needs on the journey.

Finally we learn the name of the Roman commander when Luke relates the contents of a letter he writes to Felix. "He wrote a letter as follows: 'Claudius Lysias, To His Excellency, Governor Felix: Greetings.'" (Acts 23:25-26)

Commander Lysius now takes several liberties with the truth. "This man was seized by the Jews and they were about to kill him, but I came with my troops and rescued him, for I had learned that he is a Roman citizen. I wanted to know why they were accusing him, so I brought him to their Sanhedrin. I found that the accusation had to do with questions about their law, but there was no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment. When I was informed of a plot to be carried out against the man, I sent him to you at once. I also ordered his accusers to present to you their case against him.'" (Acts 23:27-30)

He had no idea Paul was a Roman citizen when he sent his troops into the fray to rescue Paul from the mob that was beating him outside the temple gates. Lysius believed Paul was the Egyptian prophet who has been at large ever since his uprising was quelled by Felix and his soldiers. He conveniently leaves out the information that he illegally arrested and bound a Roman citizen without any charges having been brought against him. He is especially careful to leave out the fact that he was about to have a Roman citizen scourged in order to torture from him the reason some of the Jews wanted him dead. Claudius Lysias makes himself look quite honorable in his letter to Felix. Nevertheless, we still must credit him with saving Paul's life on several occasions: first from the mob that was beating him outside the temple, then from the same mob who began to riot outside the barracks, then from the Sanhedrin, and now at last from the forty-plus men who have formed a conspiracy to assassinate him.

"So the soldiers, carrying out their orders, took Paul with them during the night and brought him as far as Antipatras. The next day they let the cavalry go on with him, while they returned to the barracks." (Acts 23:31-32) The terrain between Jerusalem and Antipatris would have provided a number of good ambush points, but between Antipatris and Caesarea the land was too flat and open to conceal a band of conspirators. The entire company escorts Paul to Antipatris, but then only the cavalry accompanies him on to Caesarea, the worst of the danger being behind them now.

"When the cavalry arrived in Caesarea, they delivered the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him. The governor read the letter and asked what province he was from. Learning that he was from Cilicia, he said, 'I will hear your case when your accusers get here.' Then he ordered that Paul be kept under guard in Herod's palace." (Acts 23:33-35) Felix wants to determine whether he is the proper judge to hear Paul's case. Upon hearing that Paul is from Cilicia, Felix agrees that the case falls under his jurisdiction. Because Paul is a Roman citizen who has not been charged with any violation of Roman law, he is housed at the Praetorium rather than in a prison dungeon. Felix is following the law by waiting for Paul's accusers to arrive from Jerusalem before hearing the case. He will listen to the problem from all sides before rendering a decision, as he should. In the meantime, a number of commentators believe Paul was accorded the respect due to a Roman citizen who is obviously not a dangerous criminal and who does not appear to have violated any laws Rome would be concerned with. Felix, like Lysius, is holding him until the reasons for the hatred and the murderous plot can be determined.

Paul is going to have the opportunity to speak of the gospel to Governor Felix who, convicted in his heart but unwilling to give up his immoral lifestyle, is going to put off making a decision for Christ.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 85, A Plot At Jerusalem To Kill Paul

The Roman commander had to have some of his men forcefully drag Paul from the council because the Sanhedrin is in such an uproar he fears they will kill Paul. Paul is lodged at the barracks until something can be done about his situation.

"The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, 'Take courage! As you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." (Acts 23:11) Luke previously told us that it was Paul's plan to visit Rome after visiting Jerusalem, "Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. 'After I have been there,' he said, 'I must visit Rome also.'" (Acts 19:21)

During the long and lonely night in the Roman barracks, Paul begins to feel that his plans to visit Rome are hopeless. He can't even go outside without being either torn to pieces or stoned to death. He doesn't know how he's going to make it out of Jerusalem, much less make it to Rome. I think Paul feels about as deeply discouraged as he has ever felt. The Lord wouldn't make a personal appearance to urge him to take courage if he wasn't discouraged. The Lord wouldn't assure him his heart's desire to visit Rome is going to be fulfilled if Paul wasn't overwhelmed with doubts about ever being able to preach the gospel there. Paul will indeed go to Rome, though not as a free man. On the way he will have the opportunity to preach the gospel to Governor Felix at Caesarea and to his successor, Governor Festus. He will also preach the gospel to King Agrippa and his wife Bernice at Caesarea before appealing to Caesar himself, at which point he is placed on a ship with other prisoners who are bound for Rome, prisoners with whom he will be able to share the gospel. He will be shipwrecked and snakebitten on the island of Malta and will have the opportunity to preach the gospel and heal the sick there. Paul will indeed go to Rome, but not in the way he intended. He will go in the way God intended, and along the journey he will preach the gospel to those who would not have heard it if God had sent him as a free man to Rome.

"The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. More than forty men were involved in this plot." (Acts 23:12-13) We don't know the identity of these forty-plus men. Some scholars believe they belong to the group known as the Zealots, a group which attracted violent men who thought nothing of carrying out assassinations whenever it suited their political purposes.

"They went to the chief priests and the elders and said, 'We have taken a solemn oath not to eat anything until we have killed Paul. Now then, you and the Sanhedrin petition the commander to bring him before you on the pretext of wanting more information about his case. We are ready to kill him before he gets here.'" (Acts 23:14-15) This plot shows us how corrupt the priests and elders have become. The men who hatched the conspiracy feel confident they will have their full support. The religious leaders who should be setting a godly example for the nation are willing to take part in the assassination of a man who has committed no crime.

"But when the son of Paul's sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul. Then Paul called one of the centurions and said, 'Take this young man to the commander; he has something to tell him.' So he took him to the commander. The centurion said, 'Paul, the prisoner, sent for me and asked me to bring this young man to you because he has something to tell you.' The commander took the young man by the hand, drew him aside and asked, 'What is it you want to tell me?'" (Acts 23:16-19) To the centurion Paul is known as "the prisoner". This is a title Paul will proudly take for himself, only he will add something to it, calling himself "the prisoner of Christ Jesus". (Ephesians 3:1, Philemon 1:1, Philemon 1:9) Paul will consider it an honor to be held in custody by kings and governments for the sake of the gospel because this is the method the Lord Jesus chooses for Paul to preach the gospel to those who wouldn't have heard it otherwise.

Paul's nephew is almost certainly quite young. The commander would be unlikely to take a grown man by the hand and to use such a gentle manner when speaking with him. The Bible refers to him as a "young man", but according to Jewish law he could rightly be called a "young man" at the age of thirteen. I think he is in his early to mid teens. I don't want us to miss the amount of courage it must have taken for him to go into a Roman barracks. It must have been quite intimidating to stand face to face with a Gentile soldier like the Roman commander who is decked out in a sharp-looking military uniform and wearing an impressive number of medals on his cloak. But a life is at stake and the young man does what needs to be done.

"He said: 'Some Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul before the Sanhedrin tomorrow on the pretext of wanting more accurate information about him. Don't give in to them, because more than forty of them are waiting in ambush for him. They have taken an oath not to eat or drink until they have killed him. They are ready now, waiting for your consent to their request.' The commander dismissed the young man with this warning: 'Don't tell anyone that you have reported this to me.'" (Acts 23:20-22) The life of the young man, and the lives of his family members, might be in danger if word gets out that they know about and have reported the plot to kill Paul. In addition, the commander doesn't want it known ahead of time that he is going to transfer Paul under guard to Caesarea. As we will study tomorrow, he plans to hold Paul safely in the barracks all day and then send him with two hundred soldiers to Caesarea by dark of night. The conspirators mustn't find this out or else they will lie in wait to attack Paul and the company of soldiers after dark.

It must be terrifying for Paul to know that a band of men wants him dead. He already knows most of the members of the Sanhedrin want him dead. He knows the mob that assaulted him at the temple wants him dead. He is probably beginning to believe he will die at Jerusalem. He thinks this is the end of the road for him. No wonder the Lord encouraged him in the night! How many times has the Lord encouraged you in the night? How many times have you felt like it was the end of the road, or like a situation was completely hopeless, or like things would never get any better? We go through dark nights and even dark days in this fallen world, but thanks be to our gracious God for His strength and encouragement and love!

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 84, The Sanhedrin Behaving Badly

The Roman commander has delivered Paul to the council for questioning. He seems to sense Paul has not done anything to break Roman law but that he must have done something to offend his own people on religious matters. He thinks the council will help him get to the bottom of the problem.

"Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, 'My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.'" (Acts 23:1) Paul's enemies have accused him of things he hasn't done, so he is quick to assert his innocence on these matters. He has not blasphemed the name of God. He has not spoken against the law. He has not defiled the temple. While he lived according to the strict sect of the Pharisees he diligently obeyed the laws of God as well as he was humanly able, while always keeping in mind his imperfection and his need to bring the appropriate sacrifices before God. Since coming to know Jesus Christ as his Redeemer he has done everything possible to make God's plan of salvation known to everyone he encounters. When Paul says his conscience is clear he isn't claiming to be sinless. He's claiming to know the One who is sinless. He's saying that his salvation is based not on his own works or on his own righteousness, but on the righteousness of Christ who is the mediator between God and man.

The Apostle Paul is a man with the blood of Christian martyrs on his hands. How can he declare to the council that his conscience is good before God? Only because of Christ! It is only because of Christ that any of us can ever legitimately say we are in good standing with our God. We are all guilty of sin, we are all lawbreakers, and we all deserved condemnation. But the Lord Jesus Christ, the perfect and spotless Lamb of God, shed His blood for us so that we too can be spotless in the sight of God.

The high priest doesn't take Paul's assertion of good conscience in the spirit in which it was intended. "At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, 'God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by ordering that I be struck!'" (Acts 23:2-3) Paul shouts, "You hypocrite! You unrighteous judge! You are like a dirty wall that someone has tried to disguise with whitewash. You look righteous on the outside but on the inside you are filthy." The Lord Jesus said something similar to the self-righteous religious elite, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean." (Matthew 23:27)

"Those who were standing near Paul said, 'How dare you insult God's high priest!' Paul replied: 'Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.'" (Acts 23:4-5) Although Ananias was in the wrong for commanding someone to strike Paul, Paul apologizes for his remarks. Some scholars believe Paul truly did not know Ananias was the high priest; apparently he suffered from poor eyesight. For example: he picks up a snake thinking it is a stick in Acts 28, and in Galatians 6:11 he points out what large letters he has to write with when he composes a letter himself instead of dictating it. Other scholars suggest he was being sarcastic when he said he did not know Ananias was the high priest, since Ananias fails to display the character the high priest should have. I tend to agree with the first explanation, that Paul did not recognize Ananias as the high priest, especially since he quotes Exodus 22:28 in his apology. In our own times we would do well to obey Exodus 22:28, "Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people." When we are unhappy with our church leadership or with our nation's leadership, God is the appropriate audience for our concerns and complaints. We shouldn't talk about our pastor behind his back. We shouldn't rant about our president or other leaders of our government. We should lift their names up to the Most High God. He is the only one capable of changing their hearts.

"Then Paul, knowing some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, 'My brothers, I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees. I stand on trial because of the hope of the resurrection of the dead.' When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadduccees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees believe all these things.)" (Acts 23:6-8)

The Sadducees and Pharisees are normally at odds with each other except when they come together as enemies of the gospel. Perhaps you've heard the saying, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." These two groups only join together when it suits their interests---when they have a common enemy. They joined together to persecute Jesus of Nazareth and up til now they have been in agreement about persecuting Paul of Tarsus. Seeing that his personal safety and perhaps his very life is in danger, Paul sets them at odds with each other by bringing up the resurrection, knowing they will disagree fiercely about this doctrine. He speaks the truth when he states that he is on trial for preaching the resurrection of the dead, because the reason he has any enemies at all is because he is telling the world that Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead. Paul has been preaching that salvation is found not in the law, and not in good works, but in Christ alone. So yes, all his troubles have come about because of the doctrine of resurrection, and more specifically because of the doctrine of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Paul's listeners know what he means when he brings up the resurrection. They know what the gospel message is. He doesn't have to preach a long sermon on the subject because as soon as he says the word "resurrection" they know he is referring to the resurrection of Jesus Christ and to the eternal life of the soul and to the need for the soul to be made right with a holy God. In merely saying the word "resurrection" Paul preaches the gospel to the council. Knowing they won't allow him to say much else, he says what he can. Knowing they would like to put him to death, he does the only thing he can do, which is to try and turn their anger away from himself and toward each other.

"There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. 'We find nothing wrong with this man,' they said. 'What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?'" (Acts 23:9) In truth the Pharisees find a lot wrong with Paul, but they deliberately goad the Sadducees into a rage by mentioning spirits and angels. They know the Sadducees don't believe in spirits or angels, much less in a resurrection of the dead, so their comment is intended to stir the pot.

A brawl now breaks out among the men who should represent the very best of their nation. They should be the kind of men who set an example for others. They should be moral, honorable, and respectful. Instead the scene descends into the type of chaos one might expect to see inside a barroom. "The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks." (Acts 23:10) The pagan Roman commander is the only authority figure in today's passage who behaves with any dignity.

Sometimes we think we have to give a long and eloquent testimony when sharing the gospel, but Paul shared it simply by allowing the word "resurrection" to fall from his lips. When we hear this word do we really ever think of any religion other than Christianity? Does the word really conjure up any image other than that of Christ rising from the dead on the Sunday morning after the crucifixion? When we say we believe in the resurrection, our listeners know we believe in Christ. They know we believe that the One who rose from the dead is the Son of God. They know we believe He is the only way to the Father. They know we believe salvation is only obtained through Him. We don't have to be especially good with words or be brave enough to stand before a large assembly in order to share the gospel. The one word "resurrection" is a wonderful starting point for a conversation about religion, about the eternal existence of the soul, and about the One who rose from the dead.

Monday, April 23, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 83, The Roman Commander Delivers Paul To The Sanhedrin For Questioning

The Apostle Paul has been addressing a crowd at Jerusalem from the steps of a Roman garrison near the temple mount. He related to them that God told him in a vision that his own people would reject his message about Christ. God told him that instead he would be sent far away to preach to the Gentiles.

The mob has been listening silently until he mentions the Gentiles, but these particular enemies of Paul also harbor an intense hatred for the Gentiles. They are enraged by the very idea that God would have anything at all to say to people they consider unclean and unworthy of salvation. "The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, 'Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!'" (Acts 22:22)

This mob's attitude doesn't represent the attitude of everyone present in Jerusalem. The mob was begun by the men from Asia Minor who previously caused Paul trouble there. They stirred up the anger of men who were already prejudiced against Christians and Gentiles. There are thousands of extra people in the city because of Pentecost, and in a crowd that large anywhere there are going to be troublemakers. It wasn't that difficult for Paul's enemies from Asia Minor to incite a riot.

"As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks." (Acts 22:23-24a) The men are likely flinging their cloaks off in preparation to stoning Paul to death, just as men flung their cloaks off to stone Stephen to death. The commander quickly orders Paul to be brought inside.

"He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, 'Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?'" (Acts 22:24b-25) Rome's legal system was very clear about the enormous amount of rights granted to its citizens. The commander has already broken the law by binding and arresting a Roman citizen. Flogging him without a trial and conviction would be a very serious crime, a crime for which the commander could face the loss of his job or something even worse.

"When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. 'What are you going to do?' he asked. 'This man is a Roman citizen.' The commander went to Paul and asked, 'Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?' 'Yes, I am,' he answered. 'Then the commander said, 'I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.' 'But I was born a citizen,' Paul replied." (Acts 22:26-28) Before Claudius became the emperor it cost a large sum for anyone not born free to obtain Roman citizenship. The commander must have bought his citizenship under a previous emperor if it cost him a great deal of money. Some Bible scholars believe Paul was automatically a citizen because he was born in the free Roman territory of Tarsus. Others dispute the claim that a Jew would have been granted automatic citizenship no matter where he was born in the Roman Empire, so they assert that citizenship was bestowed upon either Paul's father or grandfather under either Emperor Tiberius or Emperor Caligula for some valuable service rendered to Rome.

The men who were about to beat and interrogate Paul are ready to split the scene at the news that he is a Roman citizen. "Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains." (Acts 22:29)

The commander wants to get to the bottom of this problem. Why do some of the Jews hate Paul so much? Why do they want him dead? Paul is a Roman citizen but also a Jew, so the commander decides to hand him over to the Sanhedrin for questioning. Paul is held at the barracks overnight for his own safety, but it is not legal for the commander to continue holding a Roman citizen indefinitely without any charges having been brought against him, so he solves the problem by placing Paul into the hands of the Jewish religious leaders. The council will be able to interrogate Paul and perhaps then the commander will learn what all the commotion is about. "The commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews. So the next day he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the members of the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them." (Acts 22:30)

In tomorrow's study we find Paul presented with an opportunity to preach the gospel to the Sanhedrin. He dearly wants to be an apostle to his own people, and although God has already made it very clear that He has chosen Paul to be an apostle to the Gentiles instead, God will allow Paul to preach the gospel to the religious leaders before fulfilling His word that He will send the apostle "far away to the Gentiles". (Acts 22:21)

It could be that Paul, deep in his heart, hasn't yet fully accepted that he isn't called to be an apostle to his own people. The Lord is going to use the meeting of the Sanhedrin to prove to Paul that His plan is right for him. The meeting will not be a success and the commander will have to drag the apostle from the assembly in order to keep him from being torn limb from limb. If Paul needed a clear sign that he is not God's choice to be an apostle to the Jews, this is it. God is so gracious, isn't He? He knows we are weak and doubtful creatures. He knows we have trouble letting go of ideas that are dear to us. Sometimes He mercifully grants us a little taste of what we thought we wanted in order to prove to us it isn't right for us. Paul is called to lead the Gentiles to Christ. This is not what he would have chosen for himself, but this is what God has chosen for him, and when he leaves Jerusalem he will spend the rest of his life preaching the awesome salvation of Christ to people of other nations and tongues. He will stop fighting against his calling and will consider it the greatest honor to be known as the apostle to the Gentiles.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 82, Paul Tries To Argue With The Lord's Plans For Him

The Apostle Paul is standing on the steps of a Roman garrison in Jerusalem, telling the crowd about his conversion on the road to Damascus. When we concluded yesterday he had just finished relating his conversation with Ananias. Today we begin with the story of his return to Jerusalem after the Damascus road experience, which we know from his own words in Galatians 1:15-18 wasn't until three years later. "When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me, 'Quick!' He said. 'Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about Me." (Acts 22:17-18) Not everyone at Jerusalem in those days was Paul's enemy, but he had enough enemies for a plot to form against his life. This may be the same incident we studied in Acts 9 when the Hellenistic Jews intended to kill him. Luke didn't tell us in Acts 9 how their plot was discovered, but it could have been revealed to Paul in the vision of verses 17 and 18. Upon learning of this the believers escorted Paul safely down to Caesarea and sent him by boat back to Tarsus.

The Lord told Paul to depart from Jerusalem and now Paul lets us in on a little secret: he tried to argue with the Lord. I've tried to argue with the Lord, haven't you? I've tried to talk Him into things, or talk Him out of things, or explain to Him why I think my own plan for myself is the best. It comforts me to know that a great apostle of the Lord also tried to argue with the One who knows best. Paul tells us what he said to the Lord, "'Lord,' I replied, 'these people know that I went from synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in You. And when the blood of Your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.'" (Acts 22:19-20)

Paul is saying something like, "But, Lord, I'm the perfect choice to tell my fellow countrymen about Jesus! A miraculous conversion story like mine is bound to have a huge impact on them. They know how much I hated the Christians. They know I'm responsible for having Christians beaten, imprisoned, and even killed. But now, after meeting the risen Christ on the Damascus road, I myself am a Christian. I used to be a man filled with hatred and pride and selfish ambition, but now the only thing I want is to lead others to Christ and to help build His church. I love all my fellow human beings now. I want them all to have what I have in Christ. Surely a story like mine will change hearts!"

Looking at the situation from a human standpoint, Paul does seem to be the perfect person to preach Christ to his own people, but God knows the future. He knows that the same influential religious leaders who hated Christ and had Him put to death will also hate Paul and want to put him to death. The strict Pharisees who once were Paul's friends are now his enemies. In their minds he has either deserted the true faith or he has gone mad---either way they want him stopped. The Lord doesn't waste time arguing with Paul; He simply restates His instructions. "Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'" (Acts 22:21)

Today's passage is especially meaningful to me. I'm going through a season in life when important decisions need to be made and they need to be made according to God's will. I don't know yet what His answers will be, and I don't know whether they will be what I want to hear, but I'm listening. I hope I won't try to argue with Him or try to persuade Him that my plans are better than His. I hope that I will have the faith to say "yes" to His instructions. I desire your prayers that His will would be made clear to me and that I will have the faith to follow Him wherever He leads. The Apostle Paul sets an example for us in such situations. Although he did briefly try to persuade God to change His mind, when God said "Go!" Paul said "Yes".

Saturday, April 21, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 81, Paul Makes His Defense To The Angry Crowd, Part Two

The Apostle Paul is about to tell his conversion story to the angry mob at Jerusalem. When we left off yesterday he was talking about the journey he took to Damascus with letters that gave him permission to arrest Christians and drag them back to Jerusalem for punishment. This is where we pick up today.

"About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, 'Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute Me?'" (Acts 22:6-7) Jesus takes persecution of Christians personally. The one who ridicules, despises, or mistreats Christians is ridiculing, despising, and mistreating Christ Himself. Paul thought he was doing God a favor by attempting to wipe out Christianity, but in reality he was fighting against the One whose honor he sought to defend.

As Paul lies in the dust on the road to Damascus, hands plastered tightly over his eyes because of the great light, shaking uncontrollably in fear, he asks the only question he can think to ask, "'Who are You, Lord?' I asked." (Acts 22:8a) Who is this whose glory shines like a thousand suns? Who is this whose voice shakes the heavens? Who is this whose gospel is turning the world upside down? We have to ask ourselves the same question. Who is Jesus to us? Do we believe that He is Lord and Savior and God?

The voice answers Paul, "'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' He replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of Him who was speaking to me." (Acts 22:8b) We can all sit in the same church and hear the same message, but unless our hearts are open and willing, we won't all understand what Jesus has to say. Paul's companions are no doubt frightened. They see the same bright light. They hear the same thundering voice. But unlike Paul they are not shaken to their very souls. Something inside them has not opened itself up to the miraculous event that is taking place. As they journey on toward Damascus, only one man in their group arrives there changed forever.

Confronted with the terrible truth of his sins, Paul's only concern is how he can be made right with the Lord. In one shining moment, his hatred toward Christians and the Christian faith has blown away on the wind. He has been consumed with the task of eradicating Christianity and now he is left without a purpose in life. He doesn't know where to go or what to do. "What shall I do, Lord?' I asked. 'Get up,' the Lord said, 'and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.' My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me. A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him." (Acts 22:10-13) The Lord gives Paul a new purpose in life. The man who once zealously persecuted the church now zealously wants to build it up.

He relates the words of Ananias. "Then he said: 'The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from His mouth. You will be His witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on His name.'" (Acts 22:14-16) Paul wants the angry crowd to realize that a devout and well-respected Jew like Ananias believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord did a miracle through this man when He enabled Ananias to give Paul his sight back. The Lord gave Ananias a prophetic vision of all the things Paul would do for the church. If a man like Ananias who loves and respects the God of Israel and who honors His law is willing to extend the hand of friendship to Paul, shouldn't they be willing to do the same?

But in tomorrow's study we will find that they are quite unwilling. They will riot in the streets again as they scream for his execution. The troubles of Paul will lead to the furtherance of the gospel in the Gentile world. King David prophetically foresaw the word of God going out to the world, and he said, "I will speak of Your statutes before kings and will not be put to shame, for I delight in Your commands because I love them." (Psalm 119:46-47) The Lord Jesus Christ spoke similar words to His followers, "Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. On My account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles." (Matthew 10:17-18) The Apostle Paul will be handed over to the local council. He will endure beatings by his own people. He will share the gospel with Gentile governors and kings. Like David, Paul asserts that he will never be put to shame no matter what comes his way, "For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile." (Romans 1:16)

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 80, Paul Makes His Defense To The Angry Crowd, Part One

In yesterday's study we found Paul seized at the temple and beaten outside its gates by an angry mob. His life was saved only by the arrival of a Roman commander who took him into custody. Today Paul makes his defense to those who are calling for his execution.

"As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, 'May I say something to you?' 'Do you speak Greek?' he replied. 'Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the wilderness some time ago?'" (Acts 21:37-38) The ancient historian Flavius Josephus tells of an "Egyptian false prophet" who gathered an army together and went up on the Mount of Olives, promising to make the walls of Jerusalem fall before their very eyes. They were then to rush into the city and take control of Jerusalem. (Josephus credits the Egyptian with far more followers than the four thousand the Roman commander credits him with, but Josephus is known to exaggerate from time to time.) Governor Felix came against the false prophet and his men with a large group of soldiers on foot and on horseback. Many of the rebels were killed and a large number were captured, but the Egyptian escaped. The Roman commander in our passage today evidently thinks, and hopes, this Egyptian is who he currently has in his custody.

"Paul answered, 'I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.' After receiving the commander's permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd." (Acts 21:39-40a) Paul is a Jew but also a Roman citizen. Upon realizing he has a Roman citizen in his custody the commander grants Paul's request.

"When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic: 'Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.' When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic they became very quiet. Then Paul said: 'I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today." (Acts 21:40b-Acts 22:1-3) Luke told us yesterday that the crowd was so confused that they were shouting conflicting things. Like the members of the mob at Ephesus, the majority of them don't know who Paul is or what he is accused of. When they hear him speaking in their own tongue they become quiet.

Paul is quick to point out that he is one of their countrymen. He is just as Jewish as any of them. He studied under the highly respected Rabbi Gamaliel. He once was a member of the strict religious sect of the Pharisees. He respects the Lord, the law, the temple, and the holy city of Jerusalem. He has not done any of the things of which he stands accused, such as blaspheming the name of the Lord or speaking against the temple or against the law or against the city. He has not brought Gentiles into the inner court of the temple where they are not allowed, as the men from Asia Minor claim. The only thing he is guilty of, and the thing he is most hated for, is preaching that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah and Son of God, and that Jesus gave His life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind, and that He was buried in a tomb, and that He rose from the dead, and that salvation is found only in Him.

Paul goes on, "I persecuted the followers of the Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as the high priest and all the Council themselves can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their associates in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished." (Acts 22:4-5) Paul is saying to the crowd, "I was once just like you! I thought if I persecuted the Christians I was defending the name of my God. I didn't know that by persecuting Christians I was persecuting God---because Jesus is God."

When we continue our look at Paul's defense tomorrow he will relate the account of his conversion on the Damascus road. As far as we can tell, his testimony doesn't convert anyone in the crowd, but he faithfully gives his testimony anyway. We may or may not ever convert a single soul with our testimony about how we came to Christ, but we are to be obedient to the great commission anyway. Then we can say to the world, like Paul said to the Ephesians, "I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God." (Acts 20:26-27) When we meet our Lord face to face we can know we have fulfilled our duty in sharing the gospel, whether anyone took our words to heart or not. Jesus Himself did not convert everyone who heard Him speak and we shouldn't expect to have more success than He did, so let's not become discouraged. Let's do what He told us to do and then, when we enter His presence, He will say, "Well done, good and faithful servant!" (Matthew 25:23)

Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 79, A Prophecy Fulfilled When The Apostle Paul Is Arrested

The Apostle Paul, just as predicted, is arrested at Jerusalem. He's arrested on false charges and beaten before Roman soldiers rush in and take custody of him to prevent him from being killed.

We recall from yesterday's study that Paul had agreed to sponsor four men who had taken a vow. Upon the completion of the days of their vow he was to provide the sacrifices and offerings they would be required to bring to the temple. But trouble breaks out before the days are completed. "When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple." (Acts 21:27a) Paul suffered persecution from some of the Jews of Asia Minor when he took the gospel to various cities, and now it would appear that some of these same men have come up to Jerusalem for Pentecost. They recognize him. They know he is the man who preaches that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God, who states that the Messiah is a man who hung on a tree like a criminal, and who declares that salvation can only be found in this Jesus who rose from the dead. Such an idea goes against everything these particular men believe the Messiah should be, so they fly into a rage when they see Paul at the temple. His presence there is ruining the festival for them.

We want to always remember that when Luke tells us "the Jews" do this or that, he is not speaking of the entire nation. A large number of the Jews accepted the gospel of Christ. An even larger number of the Jews didn't accept Christ, but that didn't keep them from being able to live peacefully with the Christians in their midst. The average citizens were just going about their daily lives as usual, unconcerned with whatever the Apostle Paul was doing, and not troubled by the fact that he was at Jerusalem for the feast. But because it's Pentecost there are people pouring into the city from all the surrounding areas, and some of them are enemies of the gospel. When these enemies of the gospel from out of town manage to stir up the faction at Jerusalem that is against the gospel, Paul is seized and assaulted.

"They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, 'Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.' (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)" (Acts 21:27b-29) These are all bald-faced lies. Paul has never done anything to stir up the Christians against the Jews. He has not spoken against the law or against Jerusalem. He certainly hasn't brought Gentiles into the inner court of the temple where they are not allowed. He's been busy trying to prove that he respects his people, the temple, and the law by sponsoring the four men who have taken a vow. The last thing he would do is insult his own people by defiling the temple.

"The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut." (Acts 21:30) People come running from all directions to see what the commotion is about. Upon hearing the lie that Paul has defiled the temple, a mob of angry men who aren't fans of Paul anyway grab him and drag him outside. They shut the gates, likely meaning the gates to the outer courtyard where Gentiles were allowed, perhaps to prevent friends and supporters of Paul from rushing outside to his aid.

Aid comes from an unexpected source: Rome. "While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul." (Acts 21:31-32) There was a Roman garrison located near the northwest corner of the temple complex and news of the riot travels quickly to the commander stationed there. The Roman soldiers are always especially concerned with keeping the peace in Jerusalem during high feasts like Pentecost, so the last thing this commander wants is to be reprimanded by his superiors for allowing a riot to break out under his watch.

The commander doesn't know what Paul has done or whether he has done anything at all. Until he can determine what's going on, and in order to keep Paul from being killed, the commander arrests him. "The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, 'Get rid of him!'" (Acts 21:33-36) The rabid anger focused on the Apostle Paul is like that which was focused on the Lord Jesus when His enemies cried out, "Crucify Him!"

The Apostle Paul will speak many times in his letters about the ways he has suffered for Christ. He considers it an honor to be counted worthy of suffering the same type of hatred and persecution that Christ suffered. As he is carried up the steps with the shouts of the angry mob behind him, I think he feels very close to the Lord Jesus. I think he understands, in part, how Jesus felt when the shouts of "Crucify Him!" rang in His ears.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 78, The Mission Team Arrives At Jerusalem

We learned yesterday that Paul and his companions have been lodging with believers at Caesarea for a while. A prophet named Agabus came down from Judea and prophesied that Paul would be arrested at Jerusalem. At this news the believers at Caesarea and even the members of the mission team try to dissuade Paul from going, but he is determined to go.

"After this, we started on our way up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples." (Acts 21:15-16) We know very little about this disciple except that he is a generous host to the mission team. He must have had a big home, a big food pantry, and a big heart.

"When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters received us warmly. The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry." (Acts 21:17-19) This James is the Lord's brother James. An early Christian writer, Hegesippus, identifies James as the head (bishop) of the church at Jerusalem. Clement of Alexandria states that James was elected as the leader of the church at Jerusalem by the apostles. Because James holds the highest office in the church at Jerusalem, he is the only one Luke mentions by name, telling us James and all the elders are present at the meeting.

"When they heard this, they praised God." (Acts 21:20a) The men praise the name of the Lord for all the great works He has wrought among the Gentiles. However, there is a problem regarding the Gentiles and Paul's close relationship with them. Many of the Christian Jews in the early church are still observing the law and they are disturbed that Paul is telling both Jews and Gentiles that they are not saved by observing the rite of circumcision or by trying to keep the law.

"Then they said to Paul: 'You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs." (Acts 21:20b-21) Paul has simply been preaching that salvation is by faith and not by works. He has not slandered the law of Moses or commanded his Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ not to circumcise their sons. But now that Christ has died and risen again, they are to trust in Him for their salvation and not in their imperfect efforts to keep the law. No one other that Jesus Christ ever perfectly kept the law. He did for them what they could not do for themselves, so they are to put their faith in Him to make them righteous in the eyes of a holy God. The proof that God accepted Christ's sacrifice is that He raised Him from the dead. Will God not therefore also, for the sake of His Son, accept all of us who have placed our trust in Him and in what He accomplished for us on the cross?

The elders are concerned about how to deal with the problem of what some people are saying about Paul. They propose a solution that they feel will smooth things over. "What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everyone will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law." (Acts 21:22-24)

Earlier in our study of the book of Acts we discussed the Nazirite vow when Paul fulfilled one himself after leaving Corinth. The elders ask Paul to take on the cost of the required sacrifices and offerings that must be made when the four men complete their vow (a year old male lamb for a burnt offering, a year old ewe lamb for a sin offering, a ram for a peace offering, a basket of unleavened cakes made of fine flour mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, a grain offering, and a drink offering). Sponsoring just one man would have been quite expensive; Paul is being asked to sponsor four men. In order to keep the peace, he agrees. His agreement in no way compromises what he stands for. Paul too is a Jew and has been known to make and fulfill a vow to the Lord. He has no problem with such a custom so long as no one trusts in vows, or in the law, for salvation. He still maintains his stance that Gentiles do not need to learn the law and keep it, and that Gentiles do not need to make vows or observe rituals, and that Gentile Christians are not to be treated as "less than" Jewish Christians because they don't follow the law of Moses.

James and the elders assure Paul that they don't expect the Gentiles to observe the law and that they have only asked them to refrain from eating the foods their Jewish brothers and sisters find most offensive and to refrain from living in sexual immorality, "As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them." (Acts 21:26)

Paul's respect for the Nazirite vow likely pacifies the Jewish Christians, but in tomorrow's study we find enemies of the gospel arriving from Asia Minor before the days of the vow are completed. They do not want to make peace with Paul, or with the gospel message, or with Christ. They will stir up the Jewish religious leaders (those who have not accepted Christ) against Paul. The prophecy of Agabus will come true. He will be bound hand and foot and taken into custody by Roman soldiers, fulfilling what the prophet said, "The Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will hand him over to the Gentiles."

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 77, A Prophet Named Agabus Predicts Imprisonment For Paul

The mission team has just said goodbye to the elders from Ephesus at Miletus and now they continue on toward Jerusalem.

"After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Kos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara." (Acts 21:1) You may have heard of the Colossus of Rhodes, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. The people of Rhodes commissioned the 110 foot tall statue of the sun god Helios to commemorate their military victory over the ruler of Cyprus. The statue did not stand for long; it was destroyed by an earthquake about fifty years after its construction. This happening is over two hundred years in the past as the Apostle Paul stops at the port of Rhodes. The statue of the sun god, a god who never lived at all, no longer exists as Paul and his companions take the gospel of the Son of God, who lives forever, to the world.

"We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo." (Acts 21:2-3) The men have to wait several days at Tyre while the freighter unloads its cargo, so they decide to make the most of their time there. "We sought out the disciples there and stayed with them seven days." (Acts 21:4a) We don't know who took the gospel to Tyre but the mission team finds believers there. This was foretold by the author of Psalm 87 who mentions Tyre as one of the cities where there will be found those who acknowledge the Lord's name. (Psalm 87:4)

The disciples at Tyre have the same sense of foreboding that Paul has. Something is going to happen to him at Jerusalem. They don't want anything to happen to him so they try to convince him not to go. "Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem." (Acts 21:4b) I don't think the Holy Spirit is telling Paul not to go but that the disciples don't want him to go because they care for him. I don't think Paul would have gone up to Jerusalem if it had not been God's will for him to go. At the same time I don't believe the Holy Spirit wanted him to be ignorant of the risk he was taking. The Lord Jesus spoke of the cost of being His disciple (Luke 14:25-33) and He advised His followers to first count the cost of being a disciple before making the commitment. The Holy Spirit reveals to Paul that it is God's will for him to go to Jerusalem but that he will pay a price for his obedience. Paul is given the opportunity to count the cost of discipleship. After counting the cost, he decides Christ is worth it. He decides Christ is worth everything. He will someday say from a Philippian jail that he counts everything garbage that he lost for the sake of Christ, Christ being more precious to him than anyone or anything else ever could be. (Philippians 3:7-11)

When the ship is ready to set sail the mission team gets on board. "When it was time to leave, we left and continued on our way. All of them, including wives and children, accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. After saying goodbye to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home." (Acts 21:5-6) What a beautiful picture this makes in my mind, all these believers kneeling together in the sand, perhaps as the sun comes up over the ocean. The disciples haven't been able to persuade Paul to avoid Jerusalem so they send him on his way with their blessing as they pray earnestly for his safety.

"We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day." (Acts 21:7) Ptolemais was a seaport in the territory of Galilee. The believers there show hospitality to the mission team and everyone enjoys a day of fellowship and mutual encouragement.

"Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied." (Acts 21:8-9) In Acts 6 we find a list of the Seven who were chosen to assist the Greek widows; the martyred Stephen being one of them. Following the stoning death of Stephen many of the believers fled Jerusalem for safer regions, but they took the gospel with them. Philip evidently settled in Caesarea and preached the gospel there. Luke specifically takes time to mention the gifts of prophecy that Philip's daughters have, and it could be because they too predict that trouble awaits Paul at Jerusalem, but if so Luke doesn't provide us with the details.

"After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, 'The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.' When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem." (Acts 21:10-12) Did Agabus come down from Judea solely to deliver this message? That could be the case. It may be that the Holy Spirit was saying to Paul through Agabus, "Here is what is going to happen at Jerusalem. Knowing this, are you still all in? Are you still ready to risk everything for Christ?" The believers urge Paul not to go, but he is all in. He is ready to risk everything for Christ.

"Then Paul answered, 'Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.' When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, 'The Lord's will be done.'" (Acts 21:13-14) Luke himself is one of those who tries to keep Paul from going to Jerusalem, but when he and the others see that Paul's mind is made up, they resign themselves to whatever is coming. It is the Lord's will for Paul to go. It is the Lord's will for him to be arrested. They don't know why these things are the Lord's will, but they are willing to trust Him.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 76, Paul Addresses the Ephesian Elders, Part Two

The Apostle Paul says farewell to the elders from the church at Ephesus. He knows trouble awaits him at Jerusalem and he knows he will never see these dear friends again.

"Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God." (Acts 20:25-27) Paul shared the gospel with the Ephesians. He fulfilled his mission and now it is up to the hearers to accept or reject the word of God. This is all any of us can do. We are called to carry out the great commission, but it is up to the hearers of the gospel to accept or reject it.

"Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which He bought with His own blood." (Acts 20:28) The word translated "overseers" here is the same word which is translated "bishops" elsewhere in the Bible. These leaders of the church are always to keep in mind that the Lord Jesus shed His precious and holy blood for the church. He paid a high price to save the souls of mankind. Keeping this in mind will enable the elders to love and care for the church as Christ loves and cares for it.

"I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears." (Acts 20:29-31) The enemies of the church don't always come from outside; sometimes they arise from within. These are the most dangerous type of enemies. They know enough Scripture to twist and pervert it and still sound like they are telling the truth. They look enough like a Christian to deceive others into trusting their counsel. They are wolves in sheep's clothing. When the gospel was first being preached, most of the opposition came from outside the church. But Paul knows that as churches become established and begin to grow and prosper that the most insidious type of opposition will come from within. Paul foresees that Satan won't be able to stop the church by heaping persecution on it, so that old deceiver is going to change his tactics. He's going to attack it with complacency, prosperity, and worldliness. By the time the Apostle John receives the revelation of Christ on the Isle of Patmos, such things will already have crept into the Ephesian church, for Christ will say to them, "You have forsaken the love you had at first." (Revelation 2:4)

"Now I commit you to God and to the word of His grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified." (Acts 20:32) The church needs to hold fast to "the word of His grace". Everything must be founded on the Scriptures. False doctrines can't creep in if everything is held up to the light of God's word. No one will be able to deceive God's people if every sermon and every teaching is tested by the Scriptures. Anything that does not line up with the word of God should be rejected.

"I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus Himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than receive.'" (Acts 20:33-35) Luke has already told us earlier in Acts that Paul was a tentmaker. He didn't rely on the people at Ephesus to support him. The gospel should be free to anyone who wants to hear it, so Paul didn't want to be a burden to anyone while he taught the people about Christ. The Bible doesn't record Jesus saying, "It is more blessed to give than receive," but it must have been an oft-repeated proverb of His. I can well imagine Jesus saying such a thing because He also said, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:28, Mark 10:45) If the holy and perfect Son of God, King of kings and Lord of lords, though it more blessed to give than to receive, we should certainly follow His example.

"When Paul finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship." (Acts 20:36-38) They go with Paul as far as they can go. They watch him board the ship and sail out of sight, weeping as they wave goodbye. He leaves an honorable legacy behind as he sails away. There is no better legacy anyone can leave than to have it said, "We loved this precious friend dearly. He shared the gospel with us. He never thought he was better than anyone else but worked as hard as any of us. He not only talked the talk, he walked the walk. He set an example for us to follow. What a great loss it is to us that we will see him no more."

Sunday, April 15, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 75, Paul Addresses The Ephesian Elders, Part One

Luke tells us that he and the other missionaries board a ship and are going to meet up with Paul at Assos. "We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Chios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus." (Acts 20:13-15) The men are probably traveling on a trading vessel that stops at a different port each day. We are not told whether Paul shared the gospel at each stop, but I believe he did if he had the time and opportunity.

"Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost." (Acts 20:16) It's not that Paul doesn't want to visit with the believers in Asia, but he knows doing so will delay his arrival at Jerusalem. As a compromise he intends to send for the elders from Ephesus to meet him at one of his stops.

"From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: 'You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears and in the midst of severe testing by the plots of my Jewish opponents. You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.'" (Acts 20:17-21) I don't think Paul is bragging on himself. I think he is using himself as an example that the elders from Ephesus can follow. He worked hard among their people; they must work hard too. He persevered under trial; they must persevere as well. He told the truth in his preaching because only the truth about Jesus Christ can save souls they must also be bold in sharing the truth.

Paul has a sense of foreboding about his journey to Jerusalem but, like Jesus, he is determined to go anyway, no matter what is going to happen there. "And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me." (Acts 20:22-23) He has faced enemies in every city where he has preached the gospel, and nowhere are his enemies more powerful than among the religious elite at Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit has told him to go to Jerusalem and he is going to obey. The Holy Spirit has warned him that if he obeys he faces persecution. After counting the cost, he considers Christ and His gospel worth any personal sacrifice. "However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me---the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace." (Acts 20:24)

The Apostle Paul is the man who will someday declare joyfully from a prison cell, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21) For Paul there is nothing but Christ. As long as he lives he will preach Christ, no matter the cost. If he loses his life for the gospel, he will enter the presence of Christ. Either way he sees himself as a winner because no one who knows the Lord Jesus Christ can ever be a loser.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Acts Of The Apostles. Day 74, A New Journey/A Man Raised From The Dead

The riot at Ephesus has been calmed and now Paul sets out on his next journey.

"When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye and set out for Macedonia." (Acts 20:1) In yesterday's study Luke told us that Paul was already planning to go up to Jerusalem and to pass through Maceonia and Achaia on his way. Before he departs from Ephesus he calls for the believers there and speaks words of encouragement to them.

"He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, where he stayed three months. Because some Jews had plotted against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia." (Acts 20:2-3) He learns of a plot against his life and changes his travel plans. His enemies either bought passage on the same ship or hired assassins to be on board the same ship. The plan was to kill him and dispose of his body at sea.

"He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. But we sailed from Philippi after the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days." (Acts 20:4-6) Luke speaks in the first person to remind us he is with Paul and that he is an eyewitness to many of the things that happen in the book of Acts. Luke spends Passover week with Paul at Philippi before they join the other men at Troas.

"On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting." (Acts 20:7-8) Everyone's stomach is full, the room is stuffy because of all the lighted lamps, and the hour is growing late. One young man evidently begins to feel overheated and drowsy, so he decides to sit on the window sill in the hope that fresh air will make him feel more alert.

"Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on." (Acts 20:9a) We've all been someplace where a speaker talked on and on, causing us to have difficulty staying awake. Isn't it nice to know that even Paul, gifted speaker though he was, couldn't always keep everyone in his audience awake? This should encourage us not to feel hurt when it seems like others aren't paying much attention to what we're saying. There could be other factors at work other than disinterest. Eutychus wouldn't be present at the assembly if he wasn't interested in what Paul was saying, but it's late and he's tired and the room is too warm. He simply can't hold his eyes open.

Eutychus' choice of seating proves to be unwise. "When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead." (Acts 20:9b) Imagine the horror everyone in the room experiences as they see Eutychus fall from the window. Part of the crowd likely rushes to the window to shine lanterns down while the other part, including Luke, rushes down the stairs to see if anything can be done for the young man. Now we see why Dr. Luke was so careful to tell us he is with Paul at this point. He wants us to understand there is no doubt whatsoever that Eutychus is dead. Luke knows a dead man when he sees him. Eutychus is not breathing and he has no heartbeat. His death occurred as soon as he hit the ground, quite possibly from a massive brain injury. Even if this happened in our own times I doubt CPR or skilled surgery could do anything to revive him.

Paul runs to the scene of the accident, but as soon as he sees the face of Dr. Luke and the faces of the others gathered around the body he knows that the young man is dead. He knows Eutychus is dead--- but he makes a statement to the contrary. "Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. 'Don't be alarmed,' he said. 'He's alive!'" (Acts 20:10) Is Paul disputing the expert opinion of Dr. Luke? Is he denying what the crowd can see with their own eyes? No, when Paul throws himself down he is doing the same thing the prophets Elijah and Elisha once did. Elijah raised a child from the dead in 1 Kings 17:17-24 and Elisha raised a child from the dead in 2 Kings 4:32-37. In both cases we find the prophets lying down on the bodies and asking the Lord to bring life back into them. I think this is what the Apostle Paul does when he throws himself down onto the body of Eutychus. When he stands up from the ground, the young man stands up with him. Then the entire group goes back inside.

"Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted." (Acts 20:11-12) Dr. Luke saw the young man fall from the window. He pronounced him dead at the scene, then he heard Paul pronounce him alive through the power of Jesus Christ. Luke witnessed the young man walking back up the stairs to the upper room where everyone ate an early morning meal together. Then, as the mission group departed, Luke was there when the young man walked back home with his friends. There is no doubt he was dead and there is no doubt he was fully restored to life. Eutychus, who previously lay broken and lifeless on the ground, is able to walk and talk and eat just as if he never fell from the window in the first place. Luke knows a miracle when he sees one. He knows that the recovery of this young man was accomplished not through any medical skill but through the power of the living Savior.