Sunday July 28th
As we come to the end of our study of the Book of Acts, I think of it as crossing the finish line. And that made me think of these quotes about running:
"Life is short. But jogging makes it seem longer."
"The trouble with jogging is that by the time you realize you're not in shape, it's too far to walk back."
"I go running when I have to. Like when the ice cream truck is driving away."
"Running won't solve all your problems. But then again, neither will housework."
And my favorite one from a runner's T-shirt:
"If found on ground, please drag to finish line."
The Apostle Paul near the end of his life, wrote these words to his young apprentice, Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
Today, as we look at the final chapter of the book of Acts, we’ll see Paul continuing to fight the good fight and continuing to run the race.
When chapter 27 ended, Paul, along with all of his shipmates, had been washed ashore after a storm had destroyed their ship on the way to Rome.
Now, as chapter 28 begins, they look around to try to figure out where they’ve landed:
1When they had been brought safely through, then we found out that the island was called Malta.
2The natives showed us extraordinary kindness; for because of the rain that had set in and because of the cold, they kindled a fire and received us all.
3But when Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and laid them on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself on his hand.
4When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they began saying to one another, "Undoubtedly this man is a murderer, and though he has been saved from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live."
5However he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm.
6But they were expecting that he was about to swell up or suddenly fall down dead. But after they had waited a long time and had seen nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and began to say that he was a god.
Charismatics are sometimes accused not only of such things as prophesying and speaking in tongues, but also of handling snakes. Of course we don’t do that here at Praise, but there are some churches, mostly in the deep South, that make snake-handling a regular part of their worship services.
They get the idea of handling snakes from Mark 16:17-18 where Jesus said that certain signs would follow those who believe:
And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."
When this scripture says we will “take up” serpents, it’s not talking about bringing a box of snakes to church or wrapping them around your neck. The Greek words for “take up” actually mean picking them up to “do away” with them or “cast them away”, like we might “Pick up” the trash to take it to the curb!
As Christians we’re called to cast away Satan and his works!
1 John 3:8
For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.
So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
Here in Acts 28 the natives built a fire to warm up the ship-wrecked travelers, and it stirred up a poisonous snake that had been hiding within some old branches. And this snake didn’t just bite Paul, it attached itself to his hand!
The natives thought that Paul was going to die! They had obviously seen this kind of snake bite someone before!
And knowing that he was a prisoner, they assumed that he must’ve been a murderer, and that God was punishing him with death even though he survived that shipwreck.
But Paul doesn’t die; he simply shakes the serpent off into the fire!
Strangely enough, these same islanders who had assumed Paul was a killer now decide that he must be a GOD because he survived the poisonous snake-bite. They’re actually somewhat correct, because the power OF God is what’s operating within Paul. And they continue to see that same power manifested, as Paul becomes a vessel of God’s healing on their island:
7Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us courteously three days.
8And it happened that the father of Publius was lying in bed afflicted with recurrent fever and dysentery; and Paul went in to see him and after he had prayed, he laid his hands on him and healed him.
9After this had happened, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases were coming to him and getting cured.
10They also honored us with many marks of respect; and when we were setting sail, they supplied us with all we needed.
11At the end of three months we set sail on an Alexandrian ship which had wintered at the island, and which had the Twin Brothers for its figurehead.
12After we put in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days.
13From there we sailed around and arrived at Rhegium, and a day later a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli.
14There we found some brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days; and thus we came to Rome.
15And the brethren, when they heard about us, came from there as far as the Market of Appius and Three Inns to meet us; and when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.
Since their original ship had been destroyed by the storm, all of the passengers and prisoners go aboard a new ship. They make a few stops along the way then they finally arrive near Rome. When news of Paul’s arrival reaches them, Christians from as far away as 50 miles travel to meet him, greatly encouraging Paul after his many hardships on the journey. This display of support, along with the fact that God had kept every one of Paul traveling companions alive, as prophesied, seems to have impressed the centurion to some extent, because instead of placing Paul into prison he puts him under house arrest. Paul uses this opportunity to witness to his guards, his visitors, and once again to the Jewish community in Rome:
16When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.
17After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, "Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans.
18And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death.
19But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation against my nation.
20For this reason, therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel."
21They said to him, "We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you.
22But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere."
Just as he had done in the past, Paul tries to point out to his fellow Jews that what he’s preaching isn’t contrary to the Jewish faith, it FULFILS God’s promises to Israel! Apparently the people who had been making these false accusations against Paul hadn’t been able to get word to their Roman counterparts about their issues with Paul, because these Roman Jewish leaders said, "We have neither received letters from Judea concerning you, nor have any of the brethren come here and reported or spoken anything bad about you.” But they do indicate that they’ve heard bad things about Christianity, and that they’d like to hear Paul’s version of things:
23When they had set a day for Paul, they came to him at his lodging in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening.
24Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.
25And when they did not agree with one another, they began leaving after Paul had spoken one parting word, "The Holy Spirit rightly spoke through Isaiah the prophet to your fathers, 26 saying,
'GO TO THIS PEOPLE AND SAY,
"YOU WILL KEEP ON HEARING, BUT WILL NOT UNDERSTAND;
AND YOU WILL KEEP ON SEEING, BUT WILL NOT PERCEIVE;
27FOR THE HEART OF THIS PEOPLE HAS BECOME DULL,
AND WITH THEIR EARS THEY SCARCELY HEAR,
AND THEY HAVE CLOSED THEIR EYES;
OTHERWISE THEY MIGHT SEE WITH THEIR EYES,
AND HEAR WITH THEIR EARS,
AND UNDERSTAND WITH THEIR HEART AND RETURN,
AND I WOULD HEAL THEM."'
28"Therefore let it be known to you that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will also listen."
29When he had spoken these words, the Jews departed, having a great dispute among themselves.
30And he stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him,
31preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered.
You have to admire Paul for continuing to try to reach out to his fellow Jews. His success rate was pretty low, but he didn’t stop witnessing to the Jewish community in every city that he traveled to. The end result is usually the same, as we saw in verse 24: “Some were persuaded by the things (Paul had) spoken, but others would not believe.” And Paul recognizes that God had already spoken through the prophets that the nation of Israel would for the most part refuse to hear the Gospel; that the gentiles would come to faith in Christ and THEN the Jewish people would receive their messiah.
But as the book of Acts comes to a close, at the very last verse, we find Paul doing the very thing that he’s been called to do since he first encountered Jesus: “…preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ.” He’ll continue to tell of God’s love and of forgiveness through faith in Christ until he takes his last breath. And his faithfulness to the message of the gospel will ultimately cost Paul his life, as the Romans would finally execute him in 67 AD, by beheading him. So why does the book of Acts end here, with Paul still preaching, rather than with his death? One reason is that the book isn’t called the Acts of Paul, it’s called the Acts of the Apostles, but it could more accurately be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit hasn’t stopped ACTING! Long after Paul and Peter died, long after Luke, who wrote the book of Acts died, the Holy Spirit has continued to Act through the lives of others, including us!
The record of Paul’s ministry ends in Chapter 28, but our lives are part of chapter 29 and chapter 30, and chapter 31! And when we’re gone, the Holy Spirit will use our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren yet to come to complete the work.
Paul’s last letter that he wrote from his Roman prison was 2nd Timothy. And in it he tells young Timothy “For this reason, I endure all things; for the sake of those who are chosen, that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ, Jesus, and with it eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:10)
Paul understood what it was to leave a legacy.
Another man who understood the value of leaving a legacy was Louis Pasteur, the famous scientist.
He lived at a time when thousands of people died each year from rabies. Pasteur had worked for years on a vaccine to prevent these deaths, but he had never tested it. And just as he was about to begin experimenting on himself, a nine-year-old boy, Joseph Meister, was bitten by a dog that had rabies. The boy’s mother begged Pasteur to try the vaccine on her son. Pasteur injected Joseph with the medicine - and the boy lived.
Ten years later Pasteur himself died at the age of 72. Of all the things Pasteur could have had etched on his tombstone, he asked for these three words:
Joseph Meister Lived.
Louis Pasteur understood that the things we do here on earth have eternal consequences. His son-in-law wrote this about Pasteur: “Absolute faith in God and in Eternity, and a conviction that the power for good given to us in this world will be continued beyond it, were feelings which pervaded his whole life.”
“the power for good given to us in this world will be continued beyond it!” Paul understood that, Louis Pasteur understood that, and we need to understand that. Our greatest legacy will be those who live eternally because we were faithful to use our power for good to change their eternal destiny!
Paul goes from a trial in court to a trial in the Seas. On his way to Rome as a prisoner, Paul is treated with favor by the commander in charge but when he gives warning that they will be shipwrecked and die if they continue, the crew disregards and continues ahead.
Many of the trials we face in life as believers are not our own doing. Some disasters cannot be avoided because the people close to us will not heed our warnings. The one thing we can trust is that no matter what we go through the Lord will be with us. We can stand on the promises God has given us that though they tarry due to the disobedience of others as long as we remain faithful God will make a way to bring them to pass.
As storms hit, and the ship was battered, the crew finally admits that Paul was right but at this point, they are in the middle of the Sea and there is no turning back. Paul tells them that the ship will go under, but none of them will lose their lives. For an angel of the Lord had appeared to Paul telling him to take courage, be not afraid, for he must appear before Caesar. After Paul gave them that word, they were encouraged and ate food so they could gain the strength needed to endure the storm, shipwreck, and survival to reach land.
God gives mercy, though disaster may come, as long as we turn to Him what we go through does not have to be devastating. We can avoid so much if we obey from the beginning but even after we get ourselves in a jam if we can just cry out to God, He will reach out His hand and give mercy. We will still suffer from the consequences of our choice to be independent but the suffering will be reduced when we do finally humble ourselves and seek Him.
It was a custom that prisoners would be killed in a situation like this because if they escaped then the guards would be killed. Yet, Paul had favor with the commander and the prisoners were spared, they all made it to land safely, as Paul had spoken it was done.
As long as we walk with the Lord even when everyone seems to be against us the Lord will grant favor to us with someone that will be used to keep us safe and help us along the way towards the fulfillment of His will. No matter the degree of the storm and the shipwreck that follows as long as we trust in the Lord we will survive it.
Sunday July 14th - Acts 26
I heard a story about two brothers who walked into a Walgreen’s. One of the boys was 7, the other was 5.
They walked around the pharmacy for about twenty minutes, going up and down every aisle very carefully, looking for one specific item. Eventually the boys found what they were looking for and headed for the counter.
The cashier was a bit surprised to see that the boys were buying a box of feminine hygiene products.
"Are you getting those for your mother?" he asked.
"No, they are for my little brother, he's only 5." the 7 year old answered.
"Why would you buy those for your little brother?" the cashier asked.
"Well, we saw a commercial on T.V. yesterday, and it said you could ride a bike or swim if you were wearing these, and my little brother can't do either right now."
I want to tell the story of Acts chapter 26 today by placing it between the stories of two famous brothers. These two stories will be book-ends for the significant truth that we’ll see in chapter 26.
The first story is told by the former pastor of First Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas. He said this:
“We missed him. Our chance to change things came and passed and we did not know it was there.
A dark-skinned little boy sat through Sunday school classes for three years at our Church, but somehow we missed him. His name was Sirhan Sirhan.”
In case you don’t recognize that name, at age 24 Sirhan Sirhan shot and killed Robert Kennedy.
That’s a really sad story isn’t it? To know that a Baptist church had the opportunity to reach that infamous assassin with the love of Jesus while he was still a little boy, but somehow he slipped through the cracks. Would Sirhan’s Sunday School teachers have tried harder to reach him if they knew where his future was headed? Would it have changed anything? Why is it that some people hear the Gospel and receive it while others hear it and ignore it?
We’re going to see those same questions facing the Apostle Paul as he tries to make the most of his chance to reach Governor Festus and King Agrippa with the message of salvation through faith in Jesus (verse 1):
Agrippa said to Paul, "You are permitted to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense:
2"In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today;
3especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
4So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem;
5since they have known about me for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.
6And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers;
7the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly serve God night and day And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by Jews.
8Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?
Paul opens up his presentation with a little flattery toward the king, acknowledging that Agrippa was considered an expert in Jewish laws and customs. Then Paul points out that he too was considered an expert in all things pertaining to the Jewish faith, having been one of the strictest of Pharisees in his younger years. In verses 6-8 he points out to Agrippa that the thing that the Jews keep accusing him of doesn’t really make any sense, because the belief in the resurrection is a central part of the Jewish religion. In the next few verses Paul shows Agrippa how he himself was once confused about this issue, even to the point of hostility toward those who claimed that Jesus had been resurrected:
9"So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.
10And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them.
11And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and being furiously enraged at them, I kept pursuing them even to foreign cities.
12While so engaged as I was journeying to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests,
13at midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me.
14And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.'
15And I said, 'Who are You, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.
16But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you;
17rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you,
18to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.'
19"So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision,
20but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.
21For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death.
22So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place;
23that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles."
So Paul repeats his testimony again, having spoken it already to Felix and then to Festus, and probably to many others. He points out one crucial truth; that the only thing that changed his mind about the truth of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead was having a direct encounter with the risen Lord! Apparently this is too much for Festus to comprehend:
24While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad."
Festus sums up his viewpoint very simply, “Paul…you’re nuts!” Isn’t that the way that some people react to our faith?
One commentary puts it this way: “You know, the world can put up with many church members with no problem at all. If you don’t make waves with your faith the world will tolerate you. You can go to church once in a while. That doesn’t bother anybody. And you can be nice to other people and that doesn’t bother anybody, either. But if you get serious about Christianity - If you start coming to church even on rainy days or Sunday evenings - if you read your Bible and pray regularly - if you begin to change the way you think and speak and live - if you start tithing - if you do a few fanatical things like that, the world really has trouble understanding what that’s all about. They start to say things like, "You’re insane. You’ve let this Christianity thing go too far. All of your Bible learning is driving you mad."
Paul realizes that Festus isn’t listening to the truth, so he turns his attention to Agrippa.
25But Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth.
26For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner.
27"King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do."
28Agrippa replied to Paul, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian."
29And Paul said, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains."
30The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them,
31and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, "This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment."
32And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar."
Paul is sure that Agrippa has already heard of Jesus of Nazareth, heard about his miracles, heard about his crucifixion, AND heard that his tomb was found empty! Then he presses Agrippa even harder with the reality that is right in front of him. He asks, "King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets?" Why does he ask that?
Because anyone who is familiar with the prophecies of the Old Testament would know that more than 300 prophecies in the OT that were fulfilled in the life of Jesus Christ. Agrippa would know that hundreds of years before Jesus was born prophets said that the messiah would be born in Bethlehem of a virgin and that He would be crucified on a cross (and this was before the world had ever heard about crucifixion) - that His side would be pierced - that He would be buried in a borrowed tomb and on the third day be raised from the dead.
So how does Agrippa react when presented with such overwhelming evidence? He says, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian."
Agrippa seems to be both drawn to the truth that he’s hearing and resisting it at the same time. He doesn’t say, “Paul, you’re nuts!” because he realizes that what Paul is saying does line up with the facts, and with the scriptures. Agrippa is saying something more like, “Slow down, Paul! I’m not ready to make that kind of decision!”
Festus and Agrippa represent two types of people that you might encounter when you try to explain the gospel to someone. Some will say, “You’re Nuts!” and some will say, “I’m not ready yet”, but we can’t let either of those responses discourage us, because the cost of someone NOT hearing the gospel is an eternal cost.
I told you at the beginning of this message that I was placing this chapter between the bookends of two famous brothers. Since the first brother was Robert Kennedy, I suppose you can guess who the second brother is.
In his autobiography, “Just as I Am”, Billy Graham tells about a conversation he had with John F. Kennedy shortly after his election as president of the United States. He says, “On the way back to the Kennedy house, the president-elect stopped the car and turned to me. ‘Do you believe in the Second Coming of Jesus Christ?’ he asked. ‘I most certainly do.’ Graham replied. ‘Well, does my church believe it?’ (John F. Kennedy was a Roman Catholic) ‘They have it in their creeds.’ was Billy Graham’s answer. ‘They don’t preach it,’ Kennedy said. ‘They don’t tell us much about it. I’d like to know what you think.’ Then Billy Graham says, “I explained what the Bible said about Christ coming the first time, dying on the Cross, rising from the dead, and then promising that he would come back again. ‘Only then,’ I said, ‘are we going to have permanent world peace.’ ‘Very interesting,’ Kennedy said, looking away. ‘We’ll have to talk more about that someday.’ And he drove on. Several years later, the two met again, at the 1963 National Prayer Breakfast. “I had the flu,” Graham remembers. “After I gave my short talk, and he gave his, we walked out of the hotel to his car together, as was always our custom. At the curb, he turned to me. ‘Billy, could you ride back to the White House with me? I’d like to see you for a minute.’ ‘Mr. President, I’ve got a fever,’ I protested. ‘Not only am I weak, but I don’t want to give you this thing. Couldn’t we wait and talk some other time?’ Graham said, “It was a cold, snowy day, and I was freezing as I stood there without my overcoat”. ‘Of course,’ John Kennedy said graciously.” But the two would never meet again. Later that year, Kennedy was shot dead. Graham comments, “His hesitation at the car door, and his request, haunt me still. What was on his mind? Should I have gone with him? It was an irrecoverable moment.”
What does it take to bring someone to Christ? How many chances do we get before it’s too late? What will we do when people reject our message?
When King Agrippa told the Apostle Paul that he wasn’t ready to become a Christian in such a short time, Paul replied, "I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am…”
Whether it takes a short time or a long time, our hearts should wish for that same thing - that everyone who hears us, everyone who knows us, might come to know the same saving grace and endless love that we have found through the mercy and forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
I think the pastor of the First Baptist Church of San Antonio Texas wishes that he had a longer time to reach young Sirhan Sirhan. And it sounded like Billy Graham wished that he had been able to spend a little more time sharing the Gospel with President John F Kennedy.
Let’s make good use of the time that we have. You never know when someone’s time is going to run out.
Revelations 12:10 describes Satan as the "accuser of the brethren." The ministry of the Lord is reconciliation the ministry of Satan is accusation. So when we say as Joshua said "as for me and my house we will serve the Lord," we are saying we will not join Satan in speaking judgment and condemnation towards our fellow Christians but rather do everything in our power to reconcile them to God.
Paul was constantly facing accusations by the Chief Priests and Jewish leaders, which is the theme of Acts 25. They brought their case to the newly elected governor Festus, they tried to trick him to send Paul to Jerusalem in which they would set an ambush to kill him. Festus told them no you all can accuse him in Caesarea. Paul defended himself, claiming he had done no wrong. Festus wanted to do the Jews a favor so he asked Paul if he was willing to defend himself in Jerusalem. Paul knew his fate if he did and said, "no, I appeal to Ceasar." So the case would now go to the highest court. King Agrippa and Bernice visited Festus in which he asked them for advice because he found no fault with Paul and didn't know how to even address the appeal to Ceasar. They now wanted to hear from Paul themselves.
When we have discerned the will of God then we now can walk in wisdom regarding the battles we face in between the fulfillment. Being prudent is gaining the grace to know what to say and when to say it. We can trust God that He will grant us favor and protect us from our enemies if we just stay on His path. The enemy will do everything he can to prevent us from reaching our destination so we must assure we do not abort the process, but fearlessly proceed forward, cautiously, but confidently, like Jesus, confessing, "not my will, but yours, Oh Lord!
Paul knew his purpose was to speak before Ceasar and so each governor or king was a stepping stone to the ultimate audience of the highest position in the known world. He spoke whatever was necessary, he wasn't trying to gain his freedom, he was already free within, his focus was God's will, and he knew that no matter what others had planned for him, God would intervene and make a way for him to complete His final assignment.
Sunday June 23rd
You probably know that our daughter Jessica lives in California, in the area called Silicon Valley. Jessica is still a Jersey girl at heart but she has several “Valley Girl” friends. So when we went out to visit her in California, we got to meet one of the “Valley Girl” friends, and it just so happened that this girl had recently purchased two cute little dogs. When my wife asked her what their names were, the “Valley Girl” (her name is Tiffany) responded by saying that one dog was named Rolex and the other one was named Timex.
I said, "Those are some unique names. What kind of dogs are they?"
She looked at me like I was from Mars. Then she kind of made this gesture at me and said,
"HELLLOOOOOOO......! Obviously they're watch
Speaking of Valleys, Joel 3:14 says that there are “Multitudes, multitudes in the valley of decision! For the day of the LORD is near in the valley of decision.”
Maybe you’re in the valley of decision. Or maybe you know someone who’s in the place where they need to make some life-changing decisions. Today we’re going to look at the story of Felix the governor and the decision that he faced, or more accurately, the decision that he refused to face.
As Acts 24 begins, we see that after leaving Jerusalem under an armed guard, Paul was escorted to Caesarea where he was to be arraigned before Felix, the governor of the province. Verse one says,
1After five days the high priest Ananias came down with some elders, with an attorney named Tertullus, and they brought charges to the governor against Paul.
2After Paul had been summoned, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying to the governor, "Since we have through you attained much peace, and since by your providence reforms are being carried out for this nation,
3we acknowledge this in every way and everywhere, most excellent Felix, with all thankfulness.
4But, that I may not weary you any further, I beg you to grant us, by your kindness, a brief hearing.”
Tertullus doesn’t immediately begin making any charges against Paul, but instead he begins with a bunch of obvious flattery of the governor.
None of what he said was actually true by the way. Felix had brought neither peace nor prosperity. Actually there was constant turmoil throughout his governorship. But that doesn’t matter to Tertullus, because he’s just trying to butter up the Governor!
Now, using a mixture of outright lies and some half-truths, Tertullus begins to accuse Paul:
5"For we have found this man a real pest and a fellow who stirs up dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.
6And he even tried to desecrate the temple; and then we arrested him. We wanted to judge him according to our own Law.
7But Lysias the commander came along, and with much violence took him out of our hands,
8ordering his accusers to come before you. By examining him yourself concerning all these matters you will be able to ascertain the things of which we accuse him.”
9The Jews also joined in the attack, asserting that these things were so.
So the charges being brought against Paul were;
(1) He was a real pest
(2) He stirred up dissension among the Jews.
(3) He was a ringleader of the “sect of the Nazarene.”
Notice Tertullus’ choice of words; he defines Christianity as a “sect”, which is like a cult, and he uses the term “Nazarene” to avoid using Jesus’ name.
(4) He tried to desecrate the Jewish temple by taking a Gentile in there (that wasn’t true, but they had seen Paul near the temple with a Gentile from Ephesus and assumed that he took the man into the temple)
Tertullus claimed that Paul was in the process of being judged properly by their laws when the Roman centurion had intervened. But the truth is that they were actually trying to KILL Paul when the Romans got there!
Paul’s defense is recorded in verses 10-21:
When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded: "Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense,
11since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship.
12Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot.
13 Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me.
14But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets;
15having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.
16In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.
17Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings;
18in which they found me occupied in the temple, having been purified, without any crowd or uproar But there were some Jews from Asia--
19who ought to have been present before you and to make accusation, if they should have anything against me.
20"Or else let these men themselves tell what misdeed they found when I stood before the Council,
21other than for this one statement which I shouted out while standing among them, 'For the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you today.'"
Paul argues beginning in verse fourteen that the charges against him are religious, not criminal. “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.” Essentially Paul is saying, “I am guilty in their eyes of believing that the long-awaited Jewish Messiah has come. It’s true. I do believe that. His name is Jesus, and He’s been resurrected”
This statement puts Felix in the valley of decision. Not just regarding Paul’s guilt, but also regarding his own response to the truth that he’s just heard. But rather than making a decision, Felix procrastinates:
22But Felix, having a more exact knowledge about the Way, put them off, saying, "When Lysias the commander comes down, I will decide your case."
23Then he gave orders to the centurion for him to be kept in custody and yet have some freedom, and not to prevent any of his friends from ministering to him.
Felix postpones his decision, about Paul and Jesus, even though he knows what he needs to do. Verse 22 says that Felix had a “more accurate knowledge of the Way,” which means that Felix knew what Paul was saying was true and he knew that Tertullus’ charges against Paul were utter nonsense. Felix certainly couldn’t find Paul guilty of any offense against any Roman laws. He should have released him, but by postponing a verdict he hoped to both pacify the Jews who hated Paul, and perhaps get a bribe from Paul or his friends.
According to verse 24 there is another encounter,
“some days later Felix arrived with Drusilla, his wife who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.”
Drusilla was a sixteen year old girl who Felix stole away from her first husband and made his third wife. Felix was a Gentile, but Drusilla had been raised as a Jew, even though she didn’t practice her faith. It seems as though Felix wanted her to listen to Paul and then tell him what she thought of his message.
But Verse 25 says that as Paul,
… was discussing righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present, and when I find time I will summon you."
Paul lays out the key elements that we all face in the valley of decision, “righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come.”
One commentary says this was “undoubtedly was not what this couple in an illicit relationship wanted to hear. Paul first preached to them about righteousness, which could only be found through Christ. He also spoke them about self-control, something Felix was clearly lacking in.
Finally he emphasized the “judgment to come,” warning them that they would not escape divine accountability for the way that they were living their lives.”
Jesus had said in John 16:8 that when the Holy Spirit comes, “He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment…”
And here, the Holy Spirit is speaking through Paul.
But did Felix respond to the voice of the Holy Spirit speaking through Paul? No, he was simply afraid of the truth that he was hearing, and answered, “That’s enough for now! When I want to hear more, I’ll send for you!”
Felix didn’t say that he never wanted to hear the Gospel again; he just kept putting off his decision.
That’s what many people try to do.
Plus, we’re told in verse 26 that:
“At the same time too, he was hoping that money would be given him by Paul; therefore he also used to send for him quite often and converse with him.”
So although Felix sent for Paul, “quite often” it was in the hope “that money would be given him by Paul” not because he was ready receive Christ. How long did this procrastination go on?
Verse 27 tells us.
“But after two years Porcius Festus succeeded Felix; and Felix, wanting to do the Jews a favor, left Paul bound.”
Think about that - two years had gone by and Felix still hadn’t made a decision about releasing Paul or accepting Jesus!
Let’s compare Felix’s lack of a decision with the Philippian jailer that we saw back in Acts 16. When the earthquake came and opened the prison doors, his first thought was to kill himself, rather than risking punishment from the Romans for letting the prisoners escape. But when he realized that Paul and Silas were still there, “…he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
That’s the only question that needs to be answered in the Valley of Decision – How can I get saved?
Some people want to stay forever in the valley of decision. Others see the choice that is in front of them and realize that now is the time to decide.
Thank God that those of us here today are folks who went into the valley of decision and came out saying, “I have decided to follow Jesus!”
Sunday June 9th
I heard about a Baptist preacher and his wife who decided to get a new dog. But because of their denominational beliefs they wanted to make sure that the dog was a Baptist too. Finally, they found a kennel owner who assured them that he had just the dog they wanted. The pastor asked, “How can we be sure that he’s a Baptist?” “Watch this” the kennel owner said.
“Fetch the Bible,” he commanded. And the dog ran over to the bookshelf, scanned the books, located the Bible, and brought it to the owner. “Now find Psalm 23,” he commanded. The dog placed the Bible on the floor and turned the pages, pointing to the 23rd Psalm with his paw. The pastor and his wife were very impressed and asked the kennel owner, “Can he do regular tricks, too?”
“Sure he can” the kennel owner replied. He pointed his finger at the dog and commanded “HEEL!”
The dog jumped up on a chair, placed his paw on the pastor’s forehead and began to howl.
The pastor looked at his wife in shock and said, “Oh dear Lord! He’s a Pentecostal!!!”
I chose that joke for 2 reasons. First, because today is Pentecost Sunday, and second, because we have been fasting and praying about repentance for the past 21 days and I knew I would need to repent for telling that joke!
I heard someone say that repentance can ultimately be summed up by these six words: “I was, I am, I will.” These words represent our past life, our present situation, and our future choices.
The word repent is often confused with the word sorrow, and they are related, but they aren’t the same.
2 Corinthians 7:10 tells us that:
“sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death.”
So the right kind of sorrow over our sinful past can lead us to a place of repentance, but sorrow itself isn’t repentance. Repentance literally means “turning around” to head in the opposite direction, and “turning away” from our past lifestyle.
Some people don’t think they’ll ever be able to overcome their past, no matter how hard they try. And truthfully, without the Lord, no one can overcome their past!
But each of us must be set free from the past in order to reach the future that God has prepared for us.
The goal of our fasting and repenting wasn’t to make us hungry and sad, it was to allow God to take us to a deeper place in our walk with Him.
Acts 3:19 shows us the end result of repentance when it says:
Therefore repent and return, so that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord
The point is that we don’t move ahead by looking in the rear view mirror. We must learn from the past but not live in the past.
As we will see in today’s chapter, the Apostle Paul was able to use these three elements, his past, his present, and his future, to share the testimony of his repentance with unbelievers, by declaring the difference that Jesus had made in his life.
Let’s look at Acts chapter 22 to see how Paul uses his past to show his listeners how Christ can give them a new future: (starting with the final verse of Chapter 21)
40When he had given him permission, Paul, standing on the stairs, motioned to the people with his hand; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect, saying,
1"Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you."
2And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said,
3"I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.
4"I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons,
5as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.
Someone once said that the secret to effective evangelism is to speak, “as a dying man to other dying men!"
In other words, we need to let people know that we are not different from them in the sense of being better than them, we are only different because of Christ. In order to encourage others to repent, we must also acknowledge that we too needed to repent.
Paul emphasizes to these Jewish listeners that he has much in common with them, especially who he once was. He shows this in several ways:
But repentance is not about living in the past, it’s about leaving the past behind. So Paul is about to take these listeners in a new direction. He has told them “that’s who I Was” but now he’ll show them “this is who I AM”
6"But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me,
7and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?'
8"And I answered, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said to me, 'I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.'
9"And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me.
10"And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.'
11"But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.
12"A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there,
13came to me, and standing near said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very time I looked up at him.
14"And he said, 'The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth.
15 'For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard.
16 'Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.'
Paul summarizes for these listeners everything that happened to him back in chapter 9. He’s saying, “I told you who I Was, but now let me tell you what Jesus did for me to make me who I Am today!”
His encounter with Jesus was an absolute turning point in Paul’s life. Everything that he believed, everything that he valued before Christ was gone. It really didn’t matter anymore. Jesus had offered Paul a brand new start of repentance and Paul took it!
He says, “I surrendered to the call of Jesus, I put my faith in him and what he did on the cross!” For Paul, the happiest moment of his life was when he surrendered to Christ in faith and obedience. Paul asked the Lord, "What do you want me to do?" He was told, "Get up and you’ll be told what to do."
Paul admits that he had to surrender to Christ’s power in order to receive forgiveness and redemption. When we call on the name of the Lord we’re admitting that we’re lost and in need of forgiveness. That’s the first step in repentance. There’s no such thing as accepting the benefits of salvation without allowing Christ to do a redemptive work in our lives. Paul is making it clear that becoming a Christian isn’t just saying a prayer, it’s a life-changing commitment. It’s turning from the past towards a whole new direction in life!
Next, Paul tells them about his future. He tells them, “because of what Christ has done for me, this is what I Will do from now on to serve him.”
17"It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance,
18and I saw Him saying to me, 'Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.'
19"And I said, 'Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You.
20 'And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.'
21"And He said to me, 'Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'"
Notice that Paul’s “I Will” statement is directly based on Jesus’ “I Will” statement. Jesus says, “Go! For I WILL send you to the Gentiles.” And Paul says “If that’s what you want, then I will GO”.
If we want our future to have any value or purpose, our will MUST line up with God’s will!
One benefit of lining up our will with God’s will is that we can leave the ultimate results of our actions up to Him. If we do what He tells us to do, then what happens is His responsibility, not ours. Paul spoke the words that God gave him to speak, and it really didn’t matter what happened next. In fact, in the short run the people reacted very negatively:
22They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!"
23And as they were crying out and throwing off their cloaks and tossing dust into the air,
24the commander ordered him to be brought into the barracks, stating that he should be examined by scourging so that he might find out the reason why they were shouting against him that way.
25But when they stretched him out with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman and uncondemned?"
26When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and told him, saying, "What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman."
27The commander came and said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman?" And he said, "Yes."
28The commander answered, "I acquired this citizenship with a large sum of money." And Paul said, "But I was actually born a citizen."
29Therefore those who were about to examine him immediately let go of him; and the commander also was afraid when he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had put him in chains.
30But on the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Council to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them.
Paul was probably getting used to this type of rejection by now, but he continued to try to preach Christ, not because the people WANTED to hear about salvation, but because they NEEDED to hear about salvation. This group of Jews, like so many others before them, wanted to kill Paul. And the Romans stepped in and were ready to give Paul another whipping until they find out that he was a Roman citizen as well as a Jew!
Roman citizenship gave a person certain rights that the average person didn’t have. For example, the standard practice of Roman soldiers in handling someone accused of a crime was to beat them first and ask questions later! But they weren’t allowed to beat a fellow Roman. Since they were in Jerusalem, they assumed that Paul was an Israeli Jew.
But although Paul was raised in Jerusalem, he was born in Tarsus, which was a Roman city. So he was both Jewish and Roman. When he points this out to the soldiers, they back off right away, knowing that they could face serious consequences for whipping another Roman.
The leader of the Roman guard is curious as to how Paul could be a Roman citizen and a Jew. He tells Paul that he, the commander, wasn’t born Roman, but paid a lot of money to purchase Roman citizenship. The going rate for that privilege was around $50,000! Paul surprises him by saying, “But I was actually BORN a Roman citizen!”
Think about this; you are a citizen of heaven! That’s what Philippians 2:20 says, “our citizenship is in heaven” And you didn’t have to BUY that citizenship, in fact you CAN’T buy it, not for $50, 000 or for $50,000,000,000! You are BORN-AGAIN into heavenly citizenship when you receive forgiveness through faith in Jesus Christ!
And that’s why our testimony says “I Was, I Am, I Will”
I was a sinner with no hope of eternal life. I was destined for a miserable existence on this earth.
I was destined for eternal separation from God. But God in His mercy showed me a better way, a better plan for my life. So I repented, I turned away from my old life and surrendered my future to God.
I am now saved by the free gift of grace and mercy that God provided for me, and I will now live for Him and serve him with my whole heart, soul, mind, and strength!
That was Paul’s testimony. What’s your testimony?
How has God set you free from your past and given you a new future?
What part did repentance play in your story?
And is God showing you something more that He has in store for you if you would be willing to enter into a greater level of repentance?
If you’ve gained some insight over these past 21 days of fasting and seeking the Lord, then I would encourage you to come to the altar as we close the service today, not in sorrow, but in true repentance, ready and willing to turn away from whatever has been holding you back, and turn towards the future that God has in store for you!
Paul, as we saw at the end of chapter 20, felt compelled to get to Jerusalem sensing that his time was coming to an end for great suffering was awaiting him. Now here in chapter 21, we see Paul traveling quickly from place to place. While at Tyre, they found some disciples who through the Spirit warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem, then in Caesarea, they stayed at Philip the evangelist who had four daughters who prophesied. While there, a prophet named Agabus came and did a demonstration to Paul of how he was going to be bound and delivered into Gentile hands if he went up to Jerusalem. Paul, told them all, what are you doing? I am ready to die for the Lord, don't make this any more difficult.
What do we do when prophecy contradicts the direction the Lord has given us?
It is always good to examine first to assure that we did hear from the Lord. Second, we understand that people prophesy in part, sometimes they add their own interpretation to what they saw, so we need to rightfully discern it. Keep that which we know is of God and throw out that which is not. Third, God's will is often not easy and what He tells us privately few people would be able to believe it themselves. Somethings we just got to keep to ourselves and within a small circle of those who truly grasp the call of God on our lives.
Prophesy helps us advance it gives us clarity to push us forward, it helps us discern the timing of God. But, we must be cautious to hear from God for ourselves first and not become prophesy junkies. There are those who go from one prophetic meeting to the next hoping to get a word from God. Most prophetic words have a bit of the individual's interpretation involved and if we don't know God's will for ourselves we will be all over the place, lost in confusion, hope deferred, spiritually sick. People mean well but as we see with Paul they thought there was no way that it was God's will for Paul to suffer and die and yet it was. They saw the suffering but interpreted it as a warning to not go to Jerusalem. People see in part, prophecy in part, but it is our duty to take the part and hear from God in order to fill in the blanks.
Paul finally reaches Jerusalem, and at first, he was welcomed warmly. Paul shared about all that God had done among the Gentiles, then the Jewish leaders starting bragging about the thousands of Jews who were now believers and were zealous for the law. Then, they started questioning Paul since they had heard he was telling Jews in his travels that they didn't have to abide by the law. The council years ago had agreed the Gentiles only had to follow a much-condensed version but that decision didn't include the Jews. Paul the next day, responded to their accusations by his men and him going through the custom purification. But, Jews from Asia saw him and seized him shouting accusations, they dragged him out of the temple and were about to kill him, when Roman soldiers stepped in and took Paul into custody. The Commander thought Paul was an Egyptian who raised a rebellion after Paul cleared his name, he was given permission to address the mob who had gathered.
Have you ever been welcomed one moment and then insulted the next? Brought into a heated situation and things seem to go okay initially and then all Hell breaks out. Being misunderstood and then given little room to explain anything. How should one respond? Sometimes there is nothing we can say or do all we can hope for is that God intervenes. The Bible says we overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony. Sometimes silence is the best way to defend ourselves other times as the bible says "we overcome by the blood of the lamb and the word of our testimony." Debating theology to the hard of heart will not end well but speaking what God has done experientially cannot be denied. People may not believe us but one cannot argue with what another has experienced.
Americans live in a land that celebrates freedom of religion what we face in opposition is nothing compared to those in religious oppressive countries such as North Korea, Iran, etc. We should be thankful for the freedom we enjoy and be in prayer and look to support however we can the persecuted church, yet the enemies of God will oppose the advancement of the Kingdom no matter where we live, so we got to be on guard at all times, ready to respond to any situation in the power of God.
Sunday May 26th
Psalm 32:2 says that a man who God declares innocent is blessed! And in Acts chapter 20 we will find the Apostle Paul making the case for his own innocence.
Verse 1 begins right where chapter 19 left off, after the big riot in Ephesus that was started by the silversmiths:
1After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left to go to Macedonia.
2When he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece.
These worshippers of the goddess Diana certainly didn’t consider Paul to be innocent. They felt that he was turning people away from their goddess to this new thing called Christianity. And if spreading the gospel was a crime, then Paul actually WAS guilty. But if it’s a crime to spread the good news about having our sins forgiven through our faith in Jesus, then we ALL should be guilty of that! Paul escaped from Ephesus unharmed, and he continued to preach all throughout Greece. But his enemies were hot on his trail:
3And there he spent three months, and when a plot was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.
4And he was accompanied by Sopater of Berea, the son of Pyrrhus, and by Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians, and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia.
5But these had gone on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas.
6We sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days; and there we stayed seven days.
Paul finds out that the Jews who have been following him around persecuting him are planning to kill him when he arrives by boat in Syria. So he foils their plot by sending the rest of his team ahead by boat while he secretly travels by land. When they all arrive safely, he continues his preaching at a town called Troas.
7On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.
8There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together.
It’s interesting to note two things about this gathering:
9And there was a young man named Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor and was picked up dead.
10But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, "Do not be troubled, for his life is in him."
11When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left.
12They took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted.
Paul’s long-winded sermon puts this poor boy to sleep and he falls out a third story window! By the way, this boy’s name, Eutychus, means “fortunate”, or “lucky”!
Falling from three floors up doesn’t sound very lucky for him OR for Paul, who might get blamed for being too long-winded! But Paul says, “I’m innocent! I was just preaching the gospel. It’s not my fault that he fell asleep. And besides, he’s not really dead.” Then Paul picks the boy up and brings life back into him, and just goes right back to preaching until daybreak!
After this episode, Luke and the others travel ahead by boat again, waiting for Paul to join them by land:
13But we, going ahead to the ship, set sail for Assos, intending from there to take Paul on board; for so he had arranged it, intending himself to go by land.
14And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene.
15Sailing from there, we arrived the following day opposite Chios; and the next day we crossed over to Samos; and the day following we came to Miletus.
16For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.
17From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church.
Paul really wanted to be in Israel to celebrate Pentecost, so instead of making a side-trip to Ephesus, he asked the elders from the Ephesus to meet him in Miletus. And when they arrived, Paul began to make his case for his innocence before God:
18And when they had come to him, he said to them, "You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time,
19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews;
20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house,
21solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Paul’s first point in proclaiming his innocence is to remind them that he only had one priority, one focus, and that was proclaiming salvation through faith in Jesus. Paul said the same thing to the Corinthian church in 1st Corinthians 2:2 “For I determined to know nothing among you except Christ, and Him crucified.”
Paul points out that it wasn’t easy carrying out his mission, and that he brought his message, “with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews.” Then he tells them that he knows that the cost of his mission is about to get even higher:
22"And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there,
23except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me.
24"But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God.
Paul has been receiving prophetic warnings as he travels from city to city, heading closer and closer to Jerusalem. They’ve been telling him that “bonds and afflictions” are in store for him once he reaches Jerusalem. We’re going to see a specific example of one of these prophecies in chapter 21. But Paul isn’t swayed by these warnings, he plans to finish the course and fulfill the mission that he’s been given. How certain is he that this trip will end with severe consequences?
Look at what he tells them next:
25"And now, behold, I know that all of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will no longer see my face.”
And then Paul makes this powerful statement:
26"Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men.
27"For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God.
There is a very specific Old Testament reference that Paul is making here in proclaiming his innocence. It’s found in two places, both in the book of Ezekiel:
17"Son of man, I have appointed you a watchman to the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from My mouth, warn them from Me.
18"When I say to the wicked, 'You will surely die,' and you do not warn him or speak out to warn the wicked from his wicked way that he may live, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.
19"Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.
And again in Ezekiel 33:8-9
8"When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require from your hand.
9"But if you on your part warn a wicked man to turn from his way and he does not turn from his way, he will die in his iniquity, but you have delivered your life.
Paul is making the point to these elders from Ephesus that he has fulfilled God’s command in Ezekiel; he has called out a warning like the watchman on the tower, crying out to sinners to turn from their wicked ways and receive forgiveness through Jesus Christ. Paul says, “I have blown the trumpet of the Gospel for all to hear. Some have listened and some haven’t listened, but those who have rejected the truth bear their own guilt. They can’t say that they weren’t warned. That’s why I can proclaim my innocence today!”
And then Paul gives a warning to these elders, because they are also responsible before God for protecting their flock. He says:
28"Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.
29"I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock;
30and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them.
31"Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears.
Paul reminds them that they too must answer to God for the lives of the believers that He has entrusted to them. And these believers will need protection, Paul says, from attacks from the outside AND from the inside! The outside attackers Paul calls “savage wolves”. That probably included the Judaizers, those who were trying to put new Christian believers back under legalistic submission to the Old Testament laws. Those who might rise up from within the church Paul says will speak “perverse things”.
Here’s what he means by this: Legalism is a problem, but the opposite problem is something called license. Our freedom in Christ doesn’t give us a license to sin! But Paul says that these folks will “draw away” some disciples. Why? Because some people want to say that they are Christians but still continue their sinful lifestyles. If they can find a leader who tells them that it’s okay to live like that, they’ll follow that leader rather than following what the Bible says!
Paul finishes up the defense of his innocence with one more point:
32"And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
33"I have coveted no one's silver or gold or clothes.
34"You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my own needs and to the men who were with me.
35"In everything I showed you that by working hard in this manner you must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He Himself said, 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'"
36When he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all.
37And they began to weep aloud and embraced Paul, and repeatedly kissed him,
38grieving especially over the word which he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they were accompanying him to the ship.
Paul’s last statement of his innocence has to do with money. He reminds them that he didn’t get rich from preaching the gospel. He wasn’t like some TV evangelist who has several mansions, Rolls Royce, and a private jet! In fact, he worked as a tent-maker while he was with them so that he could help to meet the needs of the poor.
Ultimately, the only real innocence that we have when we stand before God comes from having our sins forgiven and our souls cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. The day that we put our faith in Him, and His death on the cross, God pardoned our sins and declared us innocent, because Jesus paid the price for the things that we were guilty of!
But at the same time, God is calling us to live pure, holy, and innocent lives once we are saved, by the power of the Holy Spirit working within us.
That’s why we as a church have taken the time to enter into this season a fasting and repentance. And we, just like Paul, are headed towards Pentecost.
In these next couple of weeks, leading up to Pentecost Sunday, let’s be sure that we are standing before God with willing and open hearts to receive correction from Him in any area of our lives where we are not living according to His standards. We should all be aware, like Paul was, that one day we will stand before the judgment seat of Christ, and we will all give an account of the things that we have done with our lives.
Paul wanted to stand before God not only innocent because of Christ’s forgiveness, but also innocent because of how he chose to LIVE in response to that forgiveness. That’s the challenge that stands before each one of us.
While in Ephesus, Paul began engaging the Jews in discussion at a synagogue for three months. This was a long period compared to other places before things got heated between him and the Jewish religious leaders. These leaders began slandering Paul and so he moved on and began conducting discussions at a Lecture Hall each day between 11am - 4pm. Ephesus was a city of the night so most of its residents rested during the day and so Paul took advantage of using the space. These lectures went on for two years to where all inhabitants in Asia both Jew and Greek heard the message of the Lord. Many of Paul's key disciples were formed during this time and later sent out to other territories to advance the Kingdom.
What may seem like defeat often leads to victory to those who trust in the Lord! We can actually fail forward, meaning one door closing can lead to a bigger door opening. We have lessons to learn in every situation and just because there seems little success outwardly doesn't mean the internal work within makes it not for nothing. If we are faithful over the little given we will be given more. If we can endure being rejected then we can handle stronger opposition.
Paul was initially prohibited by the Holy Spirit to enter Asia but this time around he was allowed and as we see in Acts 19 had great success. He needed to multiply himself so that greater kingdom advancement would transpire and so he held a two-year Bible training school where many other Apostles and mature disciples were formed. One of the reasons Paul was probably held back previously was the degree of demonic onslaught he needed to be able to endure. Ephesus was the capital of the known world in the areas of magic, witchcraft, and the occult. Also, Ephesus was the chief capital for devotion to the god Diana (Artemis). It wasn't just a religious practice, devotion to Diana influenced all parts of the society. Paul was having success but the territorial spirits that held these people in bondage for centuries weren't going to go down without a fight.
In verse 11 it says "God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul's hands so that even facecloths and aprons that touched Paul's skin were brought to the sick, and diseases left them, and evil spirits were driven out." Then it talks about the seven sons of Sceva who tried to mimic Paul by driving evil spirits out in Jesus name, and these spirits beat these guys up saying, "Jesus and Paul we know, but who are you?"
People can use the name of God but if they have not been given authority by God the acts they do will not be backed up. The name of Jesus has power to those who are in Christ anyone who attempts to oppose evil in the name of Jesus without the person of Jesus will end up like the sons of Sceva, all beat up. There are those who want the benefits of Jesus without truly submitting to Him. When we are one with Christ then even our pores are full of His presence so like Paul if someone just touches our skin, healing and deliverance will manifest. There are those who sell handkerchiefs, cloths, etc. with the idea that it will release healing to others but their motive is all wrong, the person's faith may bring healing, but those who use God for their own gain will be judged severely.
People witnessing this power grew in fear of God and came confessing their evil practices, bringing their books of magic to be burned. The calculated value of these books was 50,000 pieces of silver which in today's standards would be over 4 million dollars. Now, this is when opposition arose in Ephesus because now the economy was being affected by this movement. People are fine when religion is kept behind closed doors but when it affects the god of this world, money, then there is a problem.
A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who profited from people's obsession with idols gathered fellow craftsmen to bring this issue up at the public square. He spoke the truth, that their business was being discredited because Paul had persuaded the masses of people to turn from their gods made by man and now even the great goddess Diana is being despised which was one of the main attractions to this city. Their livelihood was in jeopardy and this movement needed to be stopped immediately. The people responded by chanting for two hours "Great is Diana of the Ephesian." The mayor spoke up, quieting the crowd, saying that there is no credible charge here, this matter needs to be settled in the courts, and the assembly was dismissed.
Ephesians 6:10 says "For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places." Paul wrote this from his experience in Ephesus. Paul became a mighty warrior in the spirit. He learned that the way to defeat darkness was by continually speaking truth, the sword of the spirit. Lies and deception believed for generations were exposed and people confessed their sins, removing the dark things from their lives so that the light could come in and transform them. If we just remain faithful to God the word will not come back void. No matter what comes at us if we don't change our confession and agree with the enemy, the truth will prevail, people will eventually respond, and the enemies of God will be driven out. The battles we face are won or lost depending on whether we fight them in the flesh or the spirit! It is time we take the higher ground and enter into Spiritual War!
Warriors rise! Transformation come! Heaven manifest in our land.