No matter where you live in this world as long as you are advancing the Kingdom of God you will be opposed. So, if you want it easy, be religious, keep your faith to yourself, have a shallow relationship with God, don't apply truth, and remain deceived. Sadly, the church in America overall faces minimal opposition, not because of our freedom to worship but rather we have compromised and chosen lukewarm, complacent, institutional Christianity.
Paul was now before the Sanhedrin, and it was an uproar. Paul wisely knowing the division between the two parties of the Sadducees and Pharisees, set them up to fight amongst themselves rather than be united against him. He reminded them that he was a Pharisee and that he was on trial regarding the resurrection of the dead. Since that was the dividing issue between these two religious sects they started arguing and now the Pharisees turned from being against Paul to now speaking favorably of him.
The enemies of God have a difficult time being united because they are selfish and egocentric, so it is easy to say something that will turn them against each other which gives time to come up with a strategy to escape a difficult situation.
The Roman commander took Paul before they tore him apart and placed him in the barracks. In verse eleven it says at night the Lord stood by Paul and said, "have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you also must testify in Rome."
40 Jews went on a hunger strike conspiring to kill Paul. A nephew of Paul found out and reported it and so Paul was taken at night armed with 200 soldiers to speak before the governor Felix, in which he was now placed in a safe place until his accusers could come and speak against him in the set boundaries of a trial.
Take courage if you are in God's will you are in the safest place you can be. No matter how many are against you God will deliver you. If He has revealed His will and you are set on fulfilling it, nothing can stop you. Every test is for the purpose of being able to testify. When you need support He will show up, Himself and speak life to help you remain focused on your divine purpose.
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.
Sunday May 12th
One of the jobs of a pastor is helping people straighten out their wrong ideas, sometimes referred to as “stinking thinking”.
A lady recently asked me to talk to her husband because he had developed this strange habit of drinking brake fluid whenever he was out working on his car. He assured her that it was non-toxic, but she was really worried about him drinking it.
So I met with him and I told him that it seemed to me like he was getting addicted to drinking brake fluid and he really needed to cut it out, because it was actually very bad for him.
But he told me, “I’m fine Pastor, I can stop anytime.”
Speaking of correcting someone’s thinking:
Back in verse 18 of chapter 18 we saw that Paul left for Syria, traveling with Aquila and Priscilla. Then he kept on traveling while they stayed behind in Ephesus. And it seems as though God had a very specific reason for keeping Aquila and Priscilla in Ephesus. They were going to be used by God to help correct a rising young teacher named Apollos.
24Now a Jew named Apollos, an Alexandrian by birth, an eloquent man, came to Ephesus; and he was mighty in the Scriptures.
25This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately the things concerning Jesus, being acquainted only with the baptism of John;
26and he began to speak out boldly in the synagogue. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.
27And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace,
28for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.
Apollos was well versed in the Old Testament Scriptures, and verse 25 states that he “had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and…spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord.”
So why does verse 26 say,
“when Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately”?
Why was it so important for Priscilla and Aquila to correct Apollos’ understanding about baptism? Because it says he was “acquainted only with the baptism of John”.
Was there something wrong with the baptism of John? No, but there was another kind of baptism available now. Apollos’ knowledge of baptism needed to be updated.
John the Baptist had said this himself in John 1:33. “He who sent me to baptize in water said to me, ‘He upon whom you see the Spirit descending and remaining upon Him, this is the one who baptizes in the Holy Spirit.” Apollos needed to be taught about the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Does some little doctrinal detail like that really matter? I mean, Apollos was teaching about Jesus, wasn’t he? And it seemed like he was doing a pretty good job. So why even bother to correct him? Shouldn’t Aquila and Priscilla just cut him some slack?
Well, if we look at the first 7 verses of the next chapter, we can begin to see why Apollos’ understanding of the full meaning of baptism needed to be addressed:
It happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus, and found some disciples. 2 He said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said to him, “No, we have not even heard whether there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” And they said, “Into John’s baptism.” 4 Paul said, “John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus.” 5 When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking with tongues and prophesying. 7 There were in all about twelve men.
Now do you see why Priscilla and Aquila “took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately”?
The baptism of John the Baptist was good, but it was incomplete. Baptism in water is a wonderful thing, and we have some folks that will be participating in that today, but there is also the baptism of the Holy Spirit.
So just like the husband and wife team of Priscilla and Aquila worked together to help Apollos understand the two types of baptism, Laurie and I are going to work together today to do the same thing.
Let’s start with water baptism.
Here are several key things to know about water baptism:
John 4:24 God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and truth
Mark 6:7 Jesus gave them power over unclean spirits
Luke 1:15 John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother's womb
Luke 1:40 Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit when Mary came and greeted her and baby John leapt in her womb
Luke 1:67 Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied he prophesied his son's Destiny to prepare the way before Jesus Christ Luke 4:1 Jesus being full of the Holy Spirit was led into the desert
Luke 4:14 Jesus return from his fast in the power of the spirit
John 1:33 John was speaking about Jesus and said He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit
1 Corinthians 2:4 Paul demonstrated the gospel in the Spirit and Power
2 Corinthians 1:22 the Holy Spirit is the Seal of guarantee on our hearts
James 1:21 holy people were moved by the Spirit to speak in the OT
Ephesians 5:17-18 we can only understand God's Will by the power of the Holy Spirit and we are told to be full of the Holy Spirit
Romans 12:1-2 says that we are present our bodies a Living Sacrifice Holy and acceptable to God by being transformed by the renewing of our mind, we can only do that through the power of the Holy Spirit
John 14:17 the spirit of truth will be in you
We cannot impact everyone but we can impact someone, we cannot advance the kingdom everywhere but we can somewhere. As we go forth daily as vehicles of God we must remember who is at the wheel. When we let Him lead us it will bring much better results than when we lead and then ask Him to help us.
Paul and his team traveled from Macedonia to Thessalonica but they passed right by two major cities, not yet evangelized, why? These two cities had no Jewish synagogue. See, Paul had a strategy and that is what he would stick to unless the Holy Spirit said differently. His role was to establish a church in a territory and then move on to the next, Jews and Gentile God-Fearers already had knowledge of God. So when Paul would explain through prophecy in the old covenant that Jesus is their long-awaited Messiah since they already had a foundation it would be much easier for them to accept and be quickly rooted in faith. Most of the Jews because of religious pride had a hard time but the God-fearers were the ones that accepted the message with open hearts.
In Thessalonica, it says some of the Jews and many of the God-fearers were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas. As usual, the Jews that rejected the message got jealous and stirred up trouble where a mob was formed and they dragged out Jason who was hosting Paul and Silas, saying "these trouble makers are here to turn this city upside down, acting contrary to Caesar's decrees, turning people to another King named Jesus!" The result was Paul and Silas had for their lives to a quieter less noticeable city called Berea.
The biggest enemy to the move of God is the spirit of legalism. Those who have been under legalism gain their worth and identity from their religious works. To say these things are unnecessary and that there is a better way is a direct attack against all that they have held dear. Most people when they learn that there is an easier, less burdensome way to follow God, will choose it. Those who are heavily invested in their religion though will feel threatened as they lose crowds which also means money and their prestigious positions in society. Those who are threatened respond with hostility.
Religious hostility is not just between Christianity and other religions it also can develop within. God is a builder and He is building from one generation to the next, it is all part of the restoration of the earth. He builds through Truth, so each move of God has certain truths that are highlighted for a period of time. These truths will bring changes. People don't like change and they become proud of what they accomplished. As Kingdom citizens, all glory should go to God, and we should be willing to move with God as He moves, no matter what changes come about. We should celebrate with each generation and support them as God does a new work in and through them to continue to build on what we have helped establish.
Sunday April 14th
Some questions in life seem to have easy answers, until we find out that life doesn’t always go as easy as we had hoped.
For instance, a man got a text message at work from his wife that said “windows frozen”.
So he texted back an easy answer to her problem, “pour some hot water on windows”.
Then he got back this reply – “Now computer doesn’t work at all.”
Even in the Bible there were times when things seemed easy and times when things seemed hard.
For example, in the first three verses of chapter 16 Paul picks up a helper who will be of great value to him on his missionary journeys:
1Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. And a disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek, 2and he was well spoken of by the brethren who were in Lystra and Iconium. 3Paul wanted this man to go with him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those parts, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
Easy, right? Since Timothy was half Jewish and half gentile, Paul made sure that Timothy got circumcised so that he could relate to the Jews as well as the gentiles. (Well, maybe that part wasn’t so easy for Timothy!) But now, as Paul and Timothy start on their journey, we see that even WHERE they are going is not necessarily going to be an easy decision:
4Now while they were passing through the cities, they were delivering the decrees which had been decided upon by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem, for them to observe.
5So the churches were being strengthened in the faith, and were increasing in number daily.
6They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia;
7and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not permit them;
8and passing by Mysia, they came down to Troas.
Paul and Timothy probably would’ve gone right into Asia to preach the gospel but the Holy Spirit FORBID them to speak the word there! And when they tried to go into Bithynia, Jesus wouldn’t permit them! Why not? Why is this process so hard?
Because God not only has a perfect will and a perfect plan for our lives, He also has perfect TIMING. Did God want to reach Asia and Bithynia with the Gospel? I’m sure that He did. But where did God want Paul and Timothy right now? That’s the important question. We find out in verse 9:
9A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."
10When he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
So God’s perfect plan for that moment was to take the gospel to Macedonia! We can’t be sure what would have happened if Paul had disobeyed God and tried to preach in Asia or Bithynia. It might have been okay or it might have been a disaster! What we CAN be sure of is that by obeying God’s voice and going to Macedonia, their team was certain to see God’s grace on their ministry.
11So putting out to sea from Troas, we ran a straight course to Samothrace, and on the day following to Neapolis;
12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony; and we were staying in this city for some days.
13And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we were supposing that there would be a place of prayer; and we sat down and began speaking to the women who had assembled.
14A woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple fabrics, a worshiper of God, was listening; and the Lord opened her heart to respond to the things spoken by Paul.
15And when she and her household had been baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.
So, after obeying the Holy Spirit’s leading, Paul goes to the riverside and meets this woman, Lydia, who will end up being the starting point of the church in Philippi, and the Philippian church would end up being one of his greatest success stories. It’s easy to win people to Christ, right?
Sometimes, but immediately after this encounter comes an example of winning souls the hard way!
16It happened that as we were going to the place of prayer, a slave-girl having a spirit of divination met us, who was bringing her masters much profit by fortune-telling.
17Following after Paul and us, she kept crying out, saying, "These men are bond-servants of the Most High God, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation."
I think it’s interesting to note that what this demon-possessed girl is saying is actually true! "These men ARE bond-servants of the Most High God, who ARE proclaiming to you the way of salvation."
Sometimes things that are demonic and cultish can have a thread of truth woven into them. That’s why we always need to examine the spirit behind something before we align ourselves with it.
But Paul is only going to listen to this for so long:
18She continued doing this for many days. But Paul was greatly annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!" And it came out at that very moment.
Notice that Paul doesn’t belabor this or get into a big dialogue with the evil spirit, he just commands it to “come out” in the name of Jesus! We can’t be sure whether this girl ended up accepting Christ as her savior, but she was clearly delivered from demonic possession but the power of Jesus’ name. Easy, right?
19But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the authorities,
20and when they had brought them to the chief magistrates, they said, "These men are throwing our city into confusion, being Jews,
21and are proclaiming customs which it is not lawful for us to accept or to observe, being Romans."
22The crowd rose up together against them, and the chief magistrates tore their robes off them and proceeded to order them to be beaten with rods.
23When they had struck them with many blows, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to guard them securely;
24and he, having received such a command, threw them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
Hmmm, not so easy now, is it? But Paul and Silas continue to act as though life is still easy-breezy:
25But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them;
Wait, they were doing what? After being beaten and locked up in prison they were singing what?
Think about this question: When is God worthy of our praise? Is it when everything is going our way and our prayers are getting answered just the way we wanted them to?
God is worthy of our praise at all times. And look what happens when God’s people praise him in the midst of their trials and tribulations:
26and suddenly there came a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison house were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened.
That’s an unexpected turn of events, don’t you think? But it came as a direct result of God’s name being exalted, despite their circumstances!
Now, keep in mind that Paul’s ultimate goal is to save souls, and watch what happens next:
27When the jailer awoke and saw the prison doors opened, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped.
28But Paul cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!"
29And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas,
30and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
31They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
Would you say that the jailor’s salvation came easily? I mean think about it, this guy was practically begging to be saved!
But his salvation came at the price of the hardship that Paul and Silas had endured. If they weren’t beaten and imprisoned, then this man doesn’t get saved. Was it worth it for one man’s salvation?
Yes it was, but God had even more in store:
32And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.
33And he took them that very hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his household.
34And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.
I want you to take note of this important truth. If the beating and the jailing of Paul and Silas had only resulted in one man’s salvation, it would have been worth it!
But often times, the salvation of one person becomes the starting point for the salvation of others, whether they are family members, friends, or associates. We saw that when Cornelius’ whole household got saved, spirit-filled and baptized, and we see it again here with this jailer’s family, his whole household.
You’ve probably never heard of a man named Edward Kimball. He was just a Sunday School teacher in a small town. But one of the young boys in his Sunday School class was named Dwight Moody. Edward Kimball introduced Dwight to Jesus and then Dwight, or D. L. Moody as he became known, preached the gospel to a man named Wilber Chapman, and Wilber Chapman preached the gospel to a man known as Billy Sunday.
Through Billy Sunday’s preaching, a man by the name of Mordecai Ham got saved. Then Mordecai Ham went to Charlotte, North Carolina and a high school boy by the name of Billy Graham heard him preach to good news of salvation and he received Jesus as his savior. Of course you know where the story goes from there.
Here’s the bottom line – If Edward Kimball isn’t faithful to teach his Sunday School class about Jesus, then how does Billy Graham get saved? And if Billy Graham doesn’t get saved, what happens to the 215 million people that Billy Graham reached through his crusades?
It kind of makes you want to teach Sunday School, doesn’t it? Well, let us know, we can sure use you!
In the final verses of this chapter, Paul has a few words for the folks that allowed him to be beaten and imprisoned:
35Now when day came, the chief magistrates sent their policemen, saying, "Release those men."
36And the jailer reported these words to Paul, saying, "The chief magistrates have sent to release you. Therefore come out now and go in peace."
37But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us in public without trial, men who are Romans, and have thrown us into prison; and now are they sending us away secretly? No indeed! But let them come themselves and bring us out."
38The policemen reported these words to the chief magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that they were Romans,
39and they came and appealed to them, and when they had brought them out, they kept begging them to leave the city.
40They went out of the prison and entered the house of Lydia, and when they saw the brethren, they encouraged them and departed.
When Paul got saved back in Chapter 9, Jesus spoke over him, saying that Paul would be given the opportunity to speak before kings and other leaders. This episode is just one example of that.
You and I may never get the chance to speak to kings or magistrates. We may not get to share the gospel with the next Billy Graham. But we can share our faith in Christ with someone. It might be easy sometimes or it might be hard other times. But I promise you it will be worth it!