Acts

Acts Chapter 28

All roads lead back to Rome.  Looking back over Paul’s life, it is interesting to me how Rome has such a central role in his story.  That doesn’t just include the fact he visited and preached there, but also that he was a Roman citizen.  Several times he used the fact he was a Roman citizen as leverage to avoid being jailed or killed so that he could continue to preach the gospel.  In fact, in Acts 28 he is under guard, but allowed to reach a large number of people and continue to preach.  

Many Christians often focus on the heavenly kingdom we are called to be a part of and want to withdraw from the world.  Paul’s example suggests the opposite.  We should be engaged in our world, reaching out to all that will listen in order to preach the good news.  I love how the chapter finishes – “He welcomed all who visited him boldly proclaiming the Kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ.  And no one tried to stop him.”  The author of Acts feels compelled to give this point at the end of the chapter to show the contrasting experience of being allowed to preach without constant threat of danger.  This does not suggest in any way that as Christians we will always be able to safely preach the gospel.  It just reminds us that we are called to preach it – no matter what the situation.

Acts Chapter 27

Wow. What an exciting chapter! I pulled up a map to get a sense of the places Luke writes about: departing from Sidon, sailing north of Cyprus to Crete and being blown all the way to Malta (which looks dinky in the vast blue sea). I’m immersed in the action by all the details—the decision to sail for a better winter harbor, the difficulty of hoisting the lifeboat aboard, the tactics of putting out sea anchors and jettisoning cargo. I can’t imagine the terror of enduring this for two weeks—too frightened (and probably too sick) to even eat. 

How good God is to reassure Paul that not only he would survive, but so would all 276 people on board! I’m not sure I would have found the promise of standing trial before Caesar to be a comfort, exactly—though perhaps it would seem a lot better (and less immediate) than being pitched into a cold, roiling sea. 

I’m struck by how focused on his mission Paul is. Being ordered to stand trial before Caesar sounds terrifying, but Paul is possibly acutely aware of what a platform this will be to share the gospel. Literally come hell or high water, he is focused. He comes across as almost serene. And his faith and special mission means that not only is he protected, but all aboard. How good of God to appear in dreams and provide prophecy to reveal himself to the cross-section of sailors, soldiers, and prisoners aboard. How much more weight would God’s provision and protection have carried because of enduring this horrible situation than if they’d all hunkered down in a harbor somewhere for the winter. Yes, that old chestnut: it is so often in the terrifying, rocking, sideways motion of the difficult things in life where we see God most clearly.

Lord, teach me to see you, to listen to your direction. Help me to be obedient beforethe storms of life knock some sense into me. 

Acts Chapter 26

How will we be seen by non believers when we give a testimony? Will we be labeled “crazy” as Paul was called by Festus, the governor? 

In Acts 26, Paul speaks at a pretrial query in front of King Agrippa II and other dignitaries on the charges that he disobeyed Roman and Jewish laws. Paul was innocent but, because of politics, the Roman governors Felix and Festus did not let him go free.

Paul explains his Jewish credentials as a Pharisee and how he persecuted Christians. He goes on to explain how he was met by Jesus on the road to Damascus. Paul’s new mission as instructed by the Lord was to go to the Gentiles and “Open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light” (26:18). In Acts 26:20, Paul explains that all must repent of their sins and turn to God, and prove they have changed by the good things they do. 

Like most of the Jews of Paul’s day, Agrippa did not accept Jesus as the Messiah and His resurrection. He could accept the words of the prophets who spoke of a coming Messiah, but accepting  Jesus required major life changes.  

When talking to non believers about our Savior, do we worry how we will appear to them and are we concerned how being a believer will affect our status? My mind definitely goes there. Do we typically only share our faith with known believers? Does fear silence us?

Paul’s example of speaking out for God’s purposes can illustrate how faith changes people.  Here was Paul chained, having been held in jail for two years, standing in front of pompous skeptics that mocked him and all he needed to be freed was say what they wanted to hear. Yet he spoke the truth about his beliefs. 

Should we risk our reputations by sharing our faith with others? “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel , by the power of God.” (2 Timothy 7-8)

Acts Chapter 25

Paul has been diligently proclaiming the Gospel throughout his many travels.  I saw somewhere that Paul logged land and sea travel to something  equivalent to 13,000 air miles.  In another time, he would have qualified for free checked baggage and priority boarding.

Amazing to me that the chief priests and Jewish leaders were so upset with their status quo and their ruthless administration of their many laws being challenged  that they would go to any extent to get rid of Paul.  They drum up bogus charges against him and even plot to get him sent to Jerusalem so they can ambush and kill him on the way.

It was fortunate for Paul that the Roman governor (Festus) realized Paul’s rights as a Roman citizen and did not go along with the Jewish leaders’ requests.

Paul was convicted in the work he was doing in spreading the Gospel and was not intimidated by the Jewish leaders, the Roman governor , King Agrippa or his wife.  Paul was not afraid to die (verse 11) but insisted that he had done nothing wrong and demanded that he be treated fairly by the Roman officials. Paul challenged the charges against him and left Festus in a quandary about how to send Paul to Rome without a specific set of charges to write up about him.

Paul knew he was doing God’s work and charged ahead fearlessly in spite of the forces at work against him and the threats against his continued existence.   It would be incredible to be able to stand your ground in such a definitive fashion regardless of the opposition you are facing.  There are times when I hesitate to get into a Bible discussion with people who I know are “professional arguers”  and are looking for an opportunity to get into a verbal debate. So, I dodge that debate.  Coward’s way out, I guess.  All the more reason to go forward well-armed and prepared to defend my faith.  Reading about Paul’s ministry convinces me that I have more reading, studying and understanding to do.

Acts Chapter 24

Acts 24 finds Paul detained, listening to the charges brought against him by Tertullus, a lawyer. I find it laughable yet smart as Tertullus begins his rant with praise for the judge by giving compliments referring to his reign.  Guess you could call it priming the pump among other things. The charges were, stirring up trouble and starting riots among the Jews.  When Paul was allowed to address the court, he spent the time proving that he was not guilty of what was said about him.  He gave specific accounts that could be verified where the charges against him could not. And so it goes today when we try to give testimony to others about the love of Jesus, God and the Holy Spirit.  It so scares others at times, so they start to share their beliefs which are contrary to the truth of who Jesus was and still is.  Felix must have been curious about Paul's testimony because he brought his wife in to listen to Paul as well.  Felix also kept bringing Paul to him to hear his words again and again.  Sounds as if Paul plead  his case well enough to plant a seed possibly in Felix???  Can we be as faithful to Christ when we are asked to explain our joy and belief in our faith?  I pray that we all show our love and loyalty for Jesus as we become spiritual seed planters as well.

Acts Chapter 23

I imagine the scene of Paul at the Sanhedrin surrounded by a large group of Sadducees and Pharisees must have been a bit overwhelming for him because at first, he seems friendly calling them "My Brothers",  but then he went to a place of trying to justify himself in their sight by saying "I have fulfilled my duty to GOD in all good conscience to this day". He was brought by the commander to face those accusing him and it didn't go the way he expected.  He was assaulted in a place that he thought he would be treated better.  This was his nation of people and he expected to be treated with fair and equal justice like we have today.......Innocent until proven Guilty.

A riot was created when he said "I stand on trial because of my hopes in the resurrection of the dead" which riled up the two parties who had differing views about the existence of the afterlife.

So the Commander had him taken safely away for his own protection, but can you imagine how Paul must have felt that night?  He was probably sitting in his protective room thinking "What just happened?" He had this opportunity to preach to a large crowd who generally were in agreement in their united opposition against Jesus and with all that went down, he pretty much blew the chances to preach to them the Gospel that he was so committed to spreading by creating a diversion,  angering the two parties and thereby essentially saving himself that night from being "torn to pieces" because the Commander ordered him to be removed before things escalated.

I wonder what Paul must have been thinking about that night after he was whisked away to safety to those barracks?  I know when I miss opportunity after opportunity to spread the Good News of Jesus by standing firm in my faith and belief that GOD will be by my side no matter the circumstances, I feel as if I've let him down.  And then one begins to have self doubt about not being worthy of GOD's love because of being weak in the moment.  It's an awful feeling of shame when that weakness takes over, but in Paul's case, even if he was feeling that way in his darkest hour, Jesus appeared before him and said "Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome".  What an encouraging thing to happen after he thought he had let Jesus down!

What I was left with after reading this chapter is that even though Paul may have thought he was alone in the barracks that night feeling so isolated and ashamed and by himself...... he wasn't alone.  Jesus came to him where he was.....in the middle of what was basically a jail cell. Isn't it interesting how we so many times pray to our loving GOD to release us from our circumstances (like being in a jail cell) when all he wants, is to meet us IN the circumstance. We often times think we are surrendering to GOD when really, we are only looking for an escape....for him to help us escape the circumstance, but more than anything, what GOD wants, is to meet us in middle of what we are facing.  Our surrender to him is far more pleasing to him than to escape the circumstance which we think will solve everything because ultimately, GOD knows that if we believe in his promise that all will be well for those who love GOD because he will always protect us, no matter what.  He knows what is best for us and we can find comfort in knowing that his promise will sustain us.

Acts Chapter 22

In Acts 22, Paul speaks to the crowd in Jerusalem after his return from his third missionary journey where he had been sent by God to preach to Gentiles throughout Greece and Macedonia.  Paul had been warned by the prophet Agabas that at his return to Jerusalem, Paul would be bound and turned over by Jewish leaders to Gentiles.  Yet Paul continued to speak out boldly.  

Indeed, in Acts 22, as prophesied, Paul was held by the commander of the Roman regiment in Jerusalem but allowed to speak to a mob that had tried to kill him.  Paul addressed the crowd in their native language Aramaic so they could clearly understand. 

What struck me was even though forewarned and attacked, Paul remained faithful and bold in his witness for Christ to the angry crowd that just tried to kill him.  He was clear and transparent in explaining how by grace, God had chosen him even though he was a sinner and had committed deeds resulting in the death of followers of the Way (Christians).  Paul explained that God let him see the Righteous One (Jesus) and hear Jesus speak (verse 14).  This had all occurred in spite of Paul’s earlier persecution of Christians.  The crowd was willing to listen to a point until Paul explained God’s mission for him to preach to the Gentiles and then the mob turned on Paul again.  

Just as Paul was ready to give the reason for his ministry to the Gentiles and for the hope he had in Jesus Christ, so I and all of us need to be ready to give a reason for our hope and joy in Christ to an increasingly hostile, uninterested and distracted world that desperately needs Christ’s love.    As in Paul’s example of ministry, we too will need to speak boldly, plainly and be transparent about our need for Christ and his forgiveness in order to be heard by others.   According to verse 16, “What are we waiting for?” We may find ourselves on the internet or face-to-face with angry or disinterested listeners.  But we have been forgiven and transformed by God’s grace.  With our faith in Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit, the message of hope will be communicated without distortion.

Acts Chapter 21

“The Lord’s will be done.”

When we face a difficult decision, how do we discern the difference between God’s will for us and just a thoughtful suggestion by a loved one?  Bad advice can come from our best friends.  This is the decision Paul faced in Acts, Chapter 21. Paul knew he would most likely die if he traveled to Jerusalem.  He knew his well-meaning friends did not want him to suffer.  In verse 13 he says, “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.”  

 In this chapter Paul gives us a great example of how to discern God’s will versus suggestions from caring friends.  It wasn’t easy for Paul to say good-bye to these people he loved.  It was a tearful goodbye and Luke describes it at “tearing themselves away”.  Paul informs them that he would not see their faces again because imprisonment and persecutions awaited him in Jerusalem. Their love for each other was deep and genuine. 

When Paul told his friends, “I am ready to die,” he didn’t have a death wish.  It simply revealed his level of commitment to God’s will.  He had a purpose and his conscience was clear.  He knew without a doubt that this was what he was called to do.

What is clear to me is that when someone (Paul) has decided to follow God’s will, (to die for Jesus to fulfill his mission) there will be resistance, sometimes even from those close to us.  However, in the final analysis we must obey God, even when our hearts are breaking. When Paul insisted on going to Jerusalem, all of those who had sought to dissuade him from going ceased their resistance with the words, “The Lord’s will be done” (Acts 21:14). He knew his path.

 

Wow! It is an amazing lesson to see how amidst all the pushback --Paul kept his eye on the Lord and His will.  My hope is that we all be in prayer daily to obey God’s leading and path for us and our lives.  This requires a personal decision each one of us must make.  This is a call for all of us to follow the example of Paul, keeping our eyes on Jesus and devoting our lives to Him.

Acts Chapter 20

Dr. Luke’s bird’s-eye view of Paul’s third missionary journey continues in Acts 20, which includes important details of people, places, days and times. I get excited about the connection of biblical content to historical events, and even physical places which can be visited today – this attests to the historicity of the events described and often allows for a better understanding of the context of the times. Grounding the Scripture in this way is important to me, perhaps because what I find “safe” are things that are logical and demonstrable. 

Initially, this chapter settled me into my comfort zone – put on my old favorite sweatshirt, plop down in my slouchy couch with a cup of coffee, and enjoy the show. However, upon closer analysis, this text poured a bucket of ice-cold water on my previously-relaxed self. Acts 20:22–24 follows:

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

Paul was in tune with the Holy Spirit, who was guiding his movements. Paul was “bound” (or compelled or constrained) by the Spirit to go. Even with the expectation of suffering ahead, he still went. 

For me, it is one thing to understand managing through suffering when it is encountered; it is entirely another thing to proceed knowingly into suffering. Vibrantly illustrating this point is perhaps my most frequent, recurring prayer. Fundamentally, it is a heart-felt, fearful prayer for protection. 

Although God’s protection isn’t a bad thing to pray for (it is often covered in Psalms), protection must not be the obsessive focus. Aligning with God’s will for my life may not result in the kind of protection I think I need for me and my family. This is a difficult truth for me to accept, yet the fact that I have even started this sentence in this way demonstrates I’m very much a work-in-progress.

While I will keep praying for protection, my simple desire is to listen more and follow more closely the leading of the Holy Spirit. I am strengthened, encouraged, and challenged by Paul’s perspective in verse 24 – I have been assigned work by Jesus, and I better get on with the business of finishing it!

What work has the Lord Jesus assigned to you? Are you making progress?

Acts Chapter 19

The riot in Ephesus struck a note in me as I thought about where we are in today’s attitudes in regards to our society’s business practices. Demetrius’ business in idol making was threatened by the Gospel being preached because the goddess Artemis was not a true god.  Money, success, power are driving forces for business here in Silicon Valley as evidenced by the high prices and wages in our valley.  The cost of living are so high that most families have both father and mother working long hours just to keep up with mortgages, utilities and food. Dare we speak to our society about these values being false gods?  I remember when most businesses were closed on Sundays.  Today, most businesses are open on Sundays and it being one of the most profitable day of the week.  What if a “Paul” would speak out against these business practices?  However, what about those services that are absolutely necessary 24-7 like hospitals, police, fire…?  Are restaurants, retail stores, gas stations, recreational activities also necessary?  Can our society function without these services?  Perhaps the core message of this passage is whether or not these practices are just a cover for economic concerns.  Are they open purely for opportunities for more profit ?  Are we encouraging these businesses by patronizing them by taking friends out for breakfast, lunch or dinner on Sunday? Shopping?  How do we interpret Jesus’ statement that the “Sabbath was made for man and not the man for the Sabbath “  and “…the Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27).  The main idea I get is that it is the intent rather than the letter of the law.  The intent is that we love God and man, and not necessarily the letter of the law. Maybe we need to discern what is necessary and what is want or convenience.  Can a Christian stay in a business that  opens on Sundays for better profits?  How can the church accommodate those who have to work on Sundays? Saturday services?  Small groups or house churches that meet on week nights? Let’s begin to think of what the church is placed on Earth for.  What does God want His people to be?