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!
As long as you are trying to advance forward those who are not will try to keep you back. To advance means progress; development, improvement. Each generation is called by God to build on the previous generation, the problem that creates is the former often gets offended at the latter because of the changes made that seem to negate the work they established. Each level of a building goes higher and so instead of becoming jealous or offended, we should celebrate what the next generation is doing. They also must build with appreciation and respect because what they are doing wouldn't be possible if the previous generation didn't do their part. In order to advance generations must work through conflict or the restoration work of the Kingdom will be halted.
The theme of Acts 15 is conflict resolution. The issues between the Jewish and Gentile believers come to a head. We are going to see group conflict resolution and individual resolution. We will see that sometimes issues are resolved other times some people's personality differences are just too sharp and that it is best they move forward apart.
We have been seeing a pattern that when Paul would finish preaching and establishing the church in a territory that certain Jewish leaders would come and add that they must also follow the Jewish customs and laws. While back at their home base in Antioch some men from Judea came and taught that you must be circumcised to be saved. This is work based theology the opposite of what Paul had been teaching regarding being saved by grace. This is why Paul wrote the book of Galatians to refute this false teaching. Here it says Paul and Barnabus got in a serious argument and it was arranged for them to go to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders to settle this debate.
We see that the council at Jerusalem were the ones allowing these leaders to follow the work of Paul in these foreign territories, so they themselves were not in agreement with what Paul had been teaching. Initially, it says they were welcomed by the church when they arrived in Jerusalem but some from the party of the Pharisees said, "it is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses!" So, they were now accepting Christianity, they probably had no choice since it had grown numerically, and they feared to lose their jobs. Yet, they were only going to go so far! The sacrifices they had made in obedience to their traditions must be followed by all who call on the name of God or they would oppose them.
Pride, blinds! People cannot hear the truth when it contradicts what they are proud of. People will accept Christ as Savior but not make Him Lord if it means rejecting cultural and religious traditions. If Jesus is Lord then everything must be brought to His feet in surrender. We must follow Him in all of His ways. Not that all we do is completely wrong but we must be willing to make necessary adjustments. All work oriented religious traditions must be nailed to the cross. Our standard must be the Word of God, not the traditions that have passed down to us. Some traditions God has allowed for a season but in the process of advancement, He will eventually say "let it go!"
The Jerusalem Council began and after much debate, Peter stood up and defended the work done amongst the Gentiles. Peter was called to the Jews and had wrestled previously with the idea of Gentile conversion. God had intervened through giving Peter a vision and having him witness Cornelius and his household baptized of the Holy Spirit. He was the most highly respected of the Apostles and so was key to favorable development of Jews towards Gentiles. Peter silenced the group and now they gave their ears to Paul and Barnabus as they shared the testimonies of their first missionary journey to Galatia. He spoke of the promise from Amos 9:11-12 and Isaiah 45:21 of the promise that God made that Gentiles will seek the Lord. He wisely mixed experience with scripture to verify that God was the one working through Him.
The best method of conflict resolution when differences arise regarding church practices is does it line up with scripture? It is sad that the church is so divided about issues that are scripturally based. We should be in agreement regarding the things of the world not being practiced in the church but sadly most disagreements come from how we interpret scripture, such as with grace and the law.
The Apostles and elders that were so divided suddenly through the hand of God became united and they decided that the only requirements for Gentiles would be that they did not eat meat offered to idols and abstained from sexual immoralities. The hundreds of Jewish laws were brought down to two. These two were what was highlighted because of the pagan idolatrous practices that would be offensive to God who is a jealous God and hates idolatry.
The focus for Gentiles would not be what not to do but what Christ has done. The complexity of the law was not required they could now just enjoy the simplicity of relationship with Jesus who through faith in Him changes us supernaturally from the inside out.
The apostles and elders then selected leaders to accompany Paul and Barnabus to support the work they were doing and witness it firsthand. Letters were written by the council to take with them to have read at the Gentile churches of what they established so that the people would no longer be deceived. As the churches received this message they rejoiced of the freedom they could now enjoy.
The chapter ends with additional conflict that we will deal with in the next devotion.
Sunday March 24th
I heard about a police officer who saw a car speeding down the highway, so he started chasing after the speeder.
When he got close to the car, he saw that it was an old lady behind the wheel, and she was knitting while she was driving.
The cop pulled up alongside her, motioned to her, and yelled, "Pull over!"
But the lady just shook her head and shouted back, "No, it's a cardigan!"
Speaking of getting chased, you might recall from last week that Paul and Barnabas got chased out of a town called Antioch by some Jewish leaders who were jealous of the numbers of people who had started following Jesus through Paul’s preaching. So as chapter 14 starts, they are in a new town, but they are going to get chased from there to! Here’s how chapter 14 begins:
In Iconium they entered the synagogue of the Jews together, and spoke in such a manner that a large number of people believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. 2 But the Jews who disbelieved stirred up the minds of the Gentiles and embittered them against the brethren.
Paul and Barnabas had traveled eighty miles southeast from Antioch to Iconium, but the persecution just followed them from one city to another. However, they didn’t let that stop them from preaching the Gospel!
3 Therefore they spent a long time there speaking boldly with reliance upon the Lord, who was testifying to the word of His grace, granting that signs and wonders be done by their hands. 4 But the people of the city were divided; and some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles.
For the first time here at the end of verse 4, the term apostle is used to include men like Barnabas in addition to the original 12 apostles chosen by Jesus
5 And when an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and the Jews with their rulers, to mistreat and to stone them, 6 they became aware of it and fled to the cities of Lycaonia, Lystra and Derbe, and the surrounding region; 7 and there they continued to preach the gospel.
So now, Paul and Barnabas have to flee again, and they head for the towns of Lystra and Derbe. One interesting thing to note is that these two cities, along with Iconium, made up the Roman province of Galatia. So when Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians, it was to the people in the churches of this region. And here we see a powerful miracle occur, which gives testimony to the power of the words that they were preaching:
8 At Lystra a man was sitting who had no strength in his feet, lame from his mother’s womb, who had never walked. 9 This man was listening to Paul as he spoke, who, when he had fixed his gaze on him and had seen that he had faith to be made well, 10 said with a loud voice, “Stand upright on your feet.” And he leaped up and began to walk.
The healing of this lame man has many features in common with Peter’s healing of Aeneas in chapter 9 and with the healing the lame man at the temple gate in chapter 3. This man had been lame from his birth, and when Paul saw that he had the faith to be cured, he commanded him to stand up on his feet. Just like the man at the Beautiful Gate, this man leaped up and walked about when he was healed.
11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they raised their voice, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have become like men and have come down to us.” 12 And they began calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds.
To help us understand this extreme reaction, we need to know that an ancient legend circulated around Lystra that the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes once disguised themselves as men and came to earth, seeking hospitality.
Only one couple welcomed them, and their cottage was changed into a temple with a golden roof and marble columns. But those who had refused to help the gods were destroyed. These people may have been thinking of that legend when they worshiped Barnabas and Paul and prepared to sacrifice oxen to honor them. Paul and Barnabas weren’t exactly thrilled with this hospitality:
14 But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out 15 and saying, “Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. 16 In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways; 17 and yet He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”18 Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.
Paul uses this misunderstanding as an opportunity to preach a sermon. But since this sermon is addressed to a pagan crowd who wouldn’t understand the Old Testament Scriptures, Paul instead stresses God’s role as the creator, provider, and sustainer of their lives. (More on the later)
Meanwhile, the enemies of the gospel weren’t far behind:
19 But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead. 20 But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe.
You just can’t keep a good man down! Not only does Paul get back up after being stoned and left for dead, he then gets up the next morning and travels sixty-five miles south to preach in another town!
21 After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” 23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
If anyone had the right to proclaim that the Kingdom of God is entered through tribulation, Paul had definitely earned that right! And his courage strengthened the new believers in each of these towns.
24 They passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. 25 When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished. 27 When they had arrived and gathered the church together, they began to report all things that God had done with them and how He had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they spent a long time with the disciples.
Paul and Barnabas had traveled many miles, suffered many hardships, and had many testimonies to share when they arrived back home – testimonies of God’s power and faithfulness.
Here are three quick takeaways from this chapter that we can use in our own lives, especially as it relates to sharing the Gospel:
1. PEOPLE ARE EASILY DECEIVED
When the people saw the miraculous healing of a crippled man they immediately jumped to wrong conclusions. They assumed that Paul and Barnabas were Zeus and Hermes. What other explanation could there be?
Without the light of the Gospel, people are easily deceived because they have no solid point of reference. They don’t have the Bible to help them discern truth from error. That’s why there are so many strange, bizarre cults in this world. Satan has blinded the spiritual eyes of so many people and deceived them.
Paul put it this way in 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 – “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.”
Jesus said in John 8:44 that the devil “is a liar, and the father of lies.”
Satan’s greatest weapon has ALWAYS been deception. We see a greater departure from the truth and the things of God now than at any time in the history of the world. There’s never been a time when so many people in so many places have been deceived by so many deceptions. Paul tells us this in 2 Timothy 3:13 “…evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.”
Don’t be surprised how many people are being duped by the enemy of our souls…
Those who believe that God will not judge sin in the Great Judgment; or that there is another way to God besides through Jesus Christ, or that their good deeds are sufficient to save them - they are all simply deceived.
Satan can even deceive Christians to believe that they can be a follower of Christ and live any way they want to without any consequences for their choices.
He tries to deceive us into believing that a certain type of sin isn’t really so bad after all.
He tries to deceive us into believing that we can handle our problems on our own or run our own lives, without God’s help.
He tries to deceive us into believing that we should live by how we feel instead of what God commands us to do.
ANYTHING that is contrary to God’s Word is a lie. We need to take God at His Word and believe the TRUTH, not Satan’s lies.
2nd - MOST PEOPLE RESENT THE EXPOSURE OF THEIR CHERISHED DECEPTIONS – In verse 18 we saw that after Paul had preached to them – “Even saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.”
Isn’t this amazing? Paul and Barnabas told these people the clear truth of the Gospel, and they could still barely restrain the people from worshiping them.
Why do you think they responded this way? Well, because people don’t like to have their cherished deceptions exposed. It’s upsetting, unsettling, threatening. These people wanted to believe that Paul and Barnabas were Gods because it fit with their preconceived beliefs. Often times people resent exposure of their deceptions.
They would rather stick with their wrong beliefs than hear the real truth.
So we shouldn’t get discouraged if we run into people who would rather keep their false beliefs when they are offered the chance to know the truth.
And that’s our 3rd and final point today - TRUTH IS THE ONLY ANTIDOTE TO DECEPTION
How did Paul respond to all this confusion and persecution? Paul started preaching the truth to them.
First, he said that God is THE LIVING GOD Verse 15 – “We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God.”
The idols and gods they worshiped were not living because they did not, in fact, truly exist. They were just images of stone and wood, but there was nothing truly behind their idols, and the gods they worshipped were merely myths. God, however, is, always was, and always will be alive and active on earth. He is the LIVING God!
The second truth Paul told them was that God is the CREATOR OF ALL THINGS – He goes on to say in the rest of verse 15 that He is the living God… who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.”
The Greeks believed in the myth of the creation of the world by the god Chaos. Paul was trying to tell them about the true God, the creator of ALL things—the heavens above, the land, the sea, and everything in the land and sea.
The last thing Paul told them was that God is GOOD – Verse 17 – “He did not leave Himself without witness, in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”
It was important for them to know that the living God is good and benevolent. The Greek gods were often cruel and vindictive and vain and selfish and they committed the worst possible evils and atrocities imaginable— they were, evil, vindictive, hateful, proud, and predatory.
But, Paul said, the true God is always good, kind, merciful and loving. He does good things for mankind to cause us to turn to Him for salvation.
Unfortunately, in this situation, Paul wasn’t able to finish his sermon and get to the most important part.
Verses 18-19 says that the angry crowd took Paul outside the city and stoned him and left him for dead.
Had he been able to continue his sermon, he would have told them that the ultimate way God showed love –
by sending His Son Jesus to die for their sins, and that if they would put their faith in Jesus, God would forgive their sins, and give them eternal life.
Do you know those truths today?
Do you know the God who is ALIVE and working to bring about His perfect will for your life?
Do you know the God who is the CREATOR OF ALL THINGS—the God who is powerful and can do WONDERS in your life if you’ll follow Him?
Do you know the God who is so GOOD and KIND that even the BAD things in your life can turn out good?
Romans 8:28 says “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
If you have never put your faith and trust in Jesus Christ to save you from your sin and give you eternal life, let me tell you, He’s a GOOD God. Jesus has never let me down, never failed me, and He’s always been there to help and encourage and strengthen and lift me up when I have been down. I’ve never met a follower of Jesus who regretted giving his or her life to God. Come to Jesus this morning; ask Him to save you; put your life in His hands.