The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: The Word (page 1 of 30)


I’ve found plenty to read recently about suffering as a Christian—not so much about miraculous deliverance.  Got to admit, though, the Bible is full of God’s people in pain.  But, God protects his people too.  Take this incident in Paul’s life . . .

Remember: hostile Jews had grabbed Paul in the temple and would have killed him had the Roman military not intervened.  Before soldiers dragged him into the fortress, Paul was given opportunity to address the crowd.  When he mentioned being sent to the Gentiles, the mob exploded again . . .

“As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this” (Acts 22:23,24).

Why had the Jews rioted against Paul?  This the tribune must determine.  He’ll use torture to interrogate him.  (Both NIV and NRSV imply flogging and questioning were separate events.  Rather, the Greek says “examine with lashes”.  In other words, the tribune intended to beat the truth out of the prisoner).

Beating was not new to Paul:  five times by Jews and three by Romans. But flogging would be far worse.  A soldier would lash his stripped back with a whip of thongs studded with pieces of bone or metal secured to a wooden handle. Tied to a pillar, his back stretched and arms secured, Paul couldn’t protect himself at all.  Flogging like this usually caused permanent physical damage, even death.

But God wanted Paul in Rome.  Not just in the city, but inside Caesar’s elite imperial guard (Philippians 1:12,13).  He couldn’t have Paul maimed or killed in Jerusalem.  So, even though author Luke doesn’t mention it, God had preordained Paul be born a Roman citizen.

“As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, ‘Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?’ When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. ‘What are you going to do?’ he asked. ‘This man is a Roman citizen.’ The commander went to Paul and asked, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ ‘Yes, I am,’ he answered. Then the commander said, ‘I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.’ ‘But I was born a citizen,’ Paul replied. Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains” (Acts 22:25-29).

As soldiers stretched Paul’s arms and tied them with thongs, he asked the centurion overseeing the torture.  “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”  Under Roman law, citizens could be flogged who were convicted of a crime, but not before conviction.

The centurion takes Paul’s question to the commander, who nervously asks Paul, “ . . . are you a Roman citizen?”  Paul answers, “ . . . I am”.  The commander admits he had to pay a large sum for his citizenship, maybe a bribe to administrators or a flat-out cash purchase from the government.  In any case, Paul has accomplished what he wanted.  Both men now know that Paul is at least a social-legal equal to the tribune.  And he can’t be flogged.  The soldiers back off.

“The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them” (Acts 22:30).

The Roman commander still wants to learn why Paul was accused by the Jews.  Next day he orders the Jewish court to interrogate him.  Paul will now stand before the Sanhedrin, Israel’s Supreme Council.

* * *

Five decades earlier, Paul had been born in Tarsus (today’s Turkey), a large trading center on the Mediterranean coast.  How his Jewish father gained Roman citizenship isn’t known.  Perhaps success in business earned him that standing.  It was a stature to be prized:  it entitled him to Roman rights and privileges throughout the empire, especially the right to a fair trial and humane treatment. As children of immigrants gain citizenship by birth in the U.S., so Paul gained Roman citizenship by birth to a Roman citizen father.  To Paul, a zealous Jew sent to Jerusalem to study the Mosaic law with Pharisees, it probably meant little.  Until now.

Was it a “lucky break” that Paul could escape flogging?  To the contrary, the psalmist writes, “The LORD has established his throne in the heavens, and his kingdom rules over all”.  Put that together with David’s words in Psalm 139:13, “For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”, and you’ve got a God who is intimately involved in our births.  Not only when but where and to whom.  There are no “lucky breaks”, only a Sovereign God who rules all.

Paul’s rescue from flogging is hardly the kind of miracle that draws curious crowds to revivals.  But Paul’s birthright, which saved him  50 years later, is no less an act of God than if an angel snatched the whip from the soldier’s hand.

God intervenes in our lives (even before our lives) to protect us.  No, it doesn’t mean we’re spared suffering.  But there are times when God says to our pain, “That’s enough.  Go no farther.”






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Defense: Conversion Story

My conversion to Christ was pretty tame.  Hand raised.  Walk to the front with a dozen others.  Prayed over.  Pretty tame, even for a ten-year-old.

Paul’s conversion was anything but–as he soon will tell us.

But, first,  remember he’d been in the temple completing a purification rite with four other Jews.  Rumors were flying:  he rejected Moses, banned circumcision, forsook customs.  Asian Jews spotted him.  Immediately, they grabbed him, shouting for others to help.  The crowd became a mob madly trying to kill him.  Roman soldiers showed up, pulling him from the mob, dragging him up to their fortress.  At the top of the stairway, Paul asks to address the crowd at the bottom.  The tribune assents.   Paul makes his defense:  it’s his conversion story.


“’Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.’ When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Then Paul said: ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of the Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished’” (Acts 22:1-5).

Paul asks the Jews to hear his defense.  They fall silent when Paul speaks their native language.  He tells how he was raised in Jerusalem, thoroughly trained under Rabbi Gamaliel (a Pharisee doctor of the law and recognized leader of the Sanhedrin), and so fervent for God he had “followers of the Way” imprisoned.  He had even been authorized by the Council to arrest “these people” in Syria and bring them back to Jerusalem for punishment.  He thought he was right.

So did I:  raised in a Christian home, regularly attended church, basically obeyed my parents, believed in God, even believed in Jesus.  But I never “received” him, never said “yes” to his “Follow me.”  I thought I was okay.


 “’About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’ ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked. ‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not hear the voice of him who was speaking to me. ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked. ‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.  “A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there.  He stood beside me and said, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very moment I was able to see him. Then he said: ‘The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth.  You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.  And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name’ “ (Acts 22:6-16).

It was near Damascus, Syria, about noon, on the way to arrest “followers of the Way”, when “suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed (periasypapto—lightning-like)”. It knocked him to the ground.  A voice called his name and asked, “Why do you persecute me?”  Paul, trembling, asked who was asking.  The answer was astounding: “I am Jesus of Nazareth”.  Crucified Jesus of Nazareth.  Alive. 

Humbled, fearful Paul asked what he should do.  Jesus told him to get up and go into Damascus.  “There you will be told all you have been assigned to do.”

Paul was blinded. The proud persecutor had to be led by the hand like a child into the city.  His fellow persecutors were left in the dark:  they saw the light but heard no voice.

Paul tells how, in the city, a devout and respected man named Ananias visited him.  He commanded Paul (still called Saul) to receive his sight.  “At that very moment I was able to see him.”  Ananias then explained Paul had been chosen to see and hear “the Righteous One” and to be his witness to all.  So: “Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”

The preacher invited whoever wanted to receive Jesus to raise their hand,  An urging rose in me.  Not because of the speaker; nothing special about him.  The invitation was the same one I’d heard dozens of times before.   And I knew what would come next:  “Stand up and come to the front for prayer”.  I was a shy kid.  Standing up among a few hundred Sunday school students and adults was, well, terrifying.  But now that didn’t matter.   My heart was compelling me.  Looking back, I believe Jesus was calling.  No blinding light.  No knock to the ground.  Just a pull–by Jesus.


“When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. ‘Quick!’ he said to me. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’  ‘Lord,’ I replied, ‘these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you.  And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.’  Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles’.  The crowd listened to Paul until he said this.  Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Rid the earth of him!  He’s not fit to live!'” (Acts 22:17-22).

Paul returns to Jerusalem.  He goes to the temple to pray. There he falls into a trance–(Greek, ekstasia) in which he sees the Lord speaking:  “Quick!  Leave Jerusalem immediately because they will not accept your testimony about me.”  He argues that the Jews’ knowledge of his zealous past persecution will only make his testimony now more credible.  But the Lord said again:  “Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”  “Gentiles”.  The spark re-ignites the riot.  The mob shouts, “Get rid of him!” the mob shouts.  He doesn’t deserve to live!”

Paul’s defense is over.  The Roman tribune orders him brought inside.  What now would happen to his mission to the Gentiles?

I paced our apartment’s kitchen.  I hated my sales job, wasn’t any good at it, didn’t want to go.  For three years I’d bounced from job to job.  I felt trapped.  Suddenly, I felt an urging to study to become a pastor.  It was the same compulsion I felt to raise my hand ten years earlier.  I came to believe the Lord had trapped me, until my only escape was “yes” to a mission.

* * *

Paul’s defense/conversion story raises a probing question:  If I was arrested for spreading the gospel to Muslims, say, what would my defense be?  Hire a lawyer?  Plead ignorance?  Blame my church?  Or, would I tell how Jesus came into my life and changed me and wants me to spread his good news to everyone?

In other words, would Jesus be so real in my life that I “blamed” him?








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Paul did it.  He took James’ advice (Acts 21:23,24).  Went to the temple.  Entered into the rite of purification with four Jewish believers.  Paid for their head-shaving. Hoping this would quiet Jewish rumors that he was anti-Moses.  Hoping this might make peace between Jew and Gentile believers.

It didn’t work . . .

“When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd. They seized him, shouting, ‘Fellow Israelites, help! This is the man who is teaching everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place; more than that, he has actually brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.’ For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian with him in the city, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple” (Acts 21:27-29).

Purification rite day seven.  End in sight.  Suddenly, behind him, Paul hears shouting in the temple. “Men of Israel! Help! This is the man who teaches against our people and tells everybody to disobey the Jewish laws. He speaks against the Temple — and he even defiles it by bringing Gentiles in!” Paul turned to reply.  But they were on him before he could speak.  He tried to pull away, but the angry crowd was growing.  Nowhere to go.

Even as he was attacked, Paul understood.  Earlier, they’d seen Trophimus the Gentile Ephesian with him and assumed Paul had brought him into the inner Court of Israel.  Death to the man who allows Gentiles into Israel’s court.  Jewish purity must be upheld.  Their survival as a people depended on it.

“Then all the city was aroused, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and immediately the doors were shut” (Acts 21:30).

News spreads like wildfire across the city.  More Jews join the fray.  Paul tries to argue back; but the crowd’s noise has become a roar.  Blows to his rib cage knock the breath from him.  He loses his footing.  They grab his clothes and drag him out of the temple.  Behind him he vaguely hears the temple doors slam shut.  He’s dragged further, pummeled more.  A warning thought crosses his mind:  they can legally kill him for these charges.  He’s helpless.  The mob surges like a violent river at flood stage, drowning him in its madness.

“While they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in an uproar. Immediately he took soldiers and centurions and ran down to them. When they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came, arrested him, and ordered him to be bound with two chains; he inquired who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing, some another; and as he could not learn the facts because of the uproar, he ordered him to be brought into the barracks. When Paul came to the steps, the violence of the mob was so great that he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, ‘Away with him!’” (Acts 21:31-36).

Next to the temple stood the Antonia fortress, headquarters of the Roman garrison in Jerusalem.  The Roman tribune, charged with keeping peace, receives word: the whole city is in chaos.  Quickly, he calls his soldiers and centurions.  They follow him, running to the temple.  Suddenly, Paul feels the mob back off.  He hears what must be the Roman tribune arrest him, chain him.  “Who is this man?” he demands.  “And what has he done?”  This sets the crowd shouting–a rush of senseless-sounding charges.  Paul hears the tribune groan, exasperated.  Relief and anxiety fill him as he hears the tribune order his men to carry Paul into the fortress.  Breathless and bruised, he welcomes the rescue.  The voices of the crowd ring in his ears:  “Away with him!”

“Then as Paul was about to be led into the barracks, he said to the commander, ‘May I speak to you?’ He replied, ‘Can you speak Greek? ‘Are you not the Egyptian who some time ago stirred up a rebellion and led the four thousand assassins out into the wilderness?’ But Paul said, ‘I am a Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; and I implore you, permit me to speak to the people.’ So when he had given him permission, Paul stood on the stairs and motioned with his hand to the people. And when there was a great silence, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language, saying . . . “ (Acts 21:37-40).

At the top of the fortress’ stairs, just as Paul is to be dragged inside, he asks to speak to the commander.  The tribune supposes Paul an Egyptian, who three years earlier had appeared as a prophet in Jerusalem.  He had attracted a large band of followers to the Mount of Olives, told them to wait until at his command the city walls would fall, and they should then overtake the Roman garrison and control of the city.  But Procurator Felix sent troops who killed some, took others prisoner, and dispersed the rest.

Paul, still panting from the attack, explains, “I’m a Jew, a citizen of the prominent city of Tarsus.  Please let me speak to the people.”

The tribune relents.  Paul gathers his breath, stands at the stairway top and motions with his hand to quiet the crowd.  When they’re silent, he begins, in Hebrew.

* * *

Paul will spend the next three-plus years in prison awaiting trials and will ultimately be shipped to Rome to stand trial before Caesar.

Why does God allow this?

In Lamentations,  Jews are grieving over their exile from Jerusalem.  Pagan armies have destroyed the city and ravished the temple.  Through it all,they affirm God’s sovereignty . . .

“Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?” (Lamentations 3:38).

God didn’t only allow Jerusalem’s destruction, he sent it.  God didn’t only allow Paul’s arrest, he sent it.

We can’t blame James for bad advice, or Paul for taking it in a futile attempt to appease hostile Jews.  ” . . . both calamities and good things” come from the Most High.

But, why this calamity?  Almost five years later, from Roman house arrest, Paul will explain in writing to the Philippian church . . .

“Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:12-14).

God wanted Paul in Rome.  God wanted Caesar’s elite troops in Rome to hear about Christ.  God wanted the gospel to reach into Caesar’s very household.  God wanted the brothers there to be encouraged to speak God’s word more courageously and fearlessly. So he had James advise the purification rite and Paul to agree.  He had Paul arrested in the temple.  He had Paul imprisoned, tried and finally shipped as a prisoner to Rome.

Paul planned to go to Rome after Jerusalem.  God planned for Paul to go.   God’s way won.

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps” (Proverbs 16:9).

In this case, the Lord answered our “why?” question.  He doesn’t always.   Sometimes the Host High sends calamities without explanation, and gives no reason.  What then?

Read Paul.

And believe the Most High.

Paul’s calamity gives us ammunition for the  fight of faith in our calamity.






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Decisions, Decisions

From some Bible texts lessons fairly leap off the page.  Others are an enigma, leaving us wondering why they’re in the Bible at all.  Acts 21:17-26 is like the latter.

“When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard it, they praised God . . .  “ (21:17-20a).

Paul is relieved to reach Mnason’s house.  It isn’t just the warm reception.  He and his band of about 12 men are carrying the Gentile offering for the poor Jerusalem church.  Besides, he’s looking forward to telling James and the elders what God has done through him.  The next day in a large room in James’ house he does, in great detail, city by city, five years’ worth.  The longer Paul testifies, the louder grows the elders’ praise to God.

But now the atmosphere changes.  Praises die out.  The room falls silent.  Facial expressions turn stern.

“Then they said to him, ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of believers there are among the Jews, and they are all zealous for the law. They have been told about you that you teach all the Jews living among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, and that you tell them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come’” (21:20b-22).

“Now, Paul,” James begins.  He’s near enough to touch Paul, but speaks loudly for all to hear.   “Jewish believers in Christ Jesus number in the thousands.  And they are all eager to keep the law.”

He hesitates, searching for the right words.  “It’s rumored that you teach the Jews living among Gentiles to forsake Moses’ teaching, to not circumcise their children, to not practice Jewish customs.  They’re suspicious of you, Paul.  So what should we do?  It won’t be long, and they’ll know you’re here.”

Paul has preached, “Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The one who is righteous will live by faith’” (Galatians 3:11).  But he manifestly hasn’t taught what the Jews rumored.  Suddenly, Paul feels trapped. But James’ question isn’t really seeking an answer.  He already has one.

 “So do what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow. Join these men, go through the rite of purification with them, and pay for the shaving of their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself observe and guard the law.  But as for the Gentiles who have become believers, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from fornication” (21:23-25).

“Do this, Paul.  Four poor Jews are under a dedication vow.  Join them.  Undergo the purification rite with them.  Pay for their head-shaving.  Then everybody will know that ‘you are living in obedience to the law’.  As for converted Gentiles, we accept them as long as they meet the conditions outlined in our letter.”

“Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having purified himself, he entered the temple with them, making public the completion of the days of purification when the sacrifice would be made for each of them” (21:26).

Paul complied.

* * *

This text raises three questions.  One, what is “the vow”, this “rite of purification”?  Two, did Paul, by participating, play the hypocrite?  And, three, what in the world has this to do with us?

It’s generally thought that the vow was the “Nazarite Vow”.  It was taken by men or women who voluntarily wanted to dedicate themselves to God.  It usually lasted for thirty days, during which time he/she was not to drink any fermented drink, nor drink grape juice or eat grapes or raisins, was not to cut his/her hair for the length of the vow, and was not to go near a dead body.  At vow’s end, he/she was to cut his/her hair and present it at the Jerusalem temple, burning the hair as part of animal and grain sacrifices (Numbers 6:1-21).

Sounds like a Jewish custom to declare devotion to God, sort of a formal way of presenting one’s body as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1,2).  But did the animal sacrifice imply an offering for sin? (Numbers 6:21 specifies “a lamb for a sin offering”. If so, Paul here was a hypocrite.  If not, he was simply trying to make peace, trying to win those under law by becoming like them (1 Corinthians 9:20).

John Stott (Anglican leader of the worldwide evangelical movement) comments on James whose solution this was: “James . . . had a sweet and generous spirit, he has a conciliatory spirit, the solution that he’s advocating is a concession in the area of practice only.”  But James Montgomery Boice (author of the Cambridge Declaration on the Inerrancy of Scripture and founder of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals) writes: “This, what Paul did here, was hypocrisy. It was compromise. He was going to offer a sacrifice? In front of the very priests who had killed, who had crucified Jesus? It is a turning of his back on the sufficiency of Christ.”  Many commentators, however, suggest we don’t have enough knowledge about the situation to judge.  Many commentators claim we simply aren’t given enough evidence to decide.

Now:  what has this to do with us?  I think Luke intends us to understand Paul did all he could to forestall a riot by the Jews (it happened anyway–Acts 21:27 and following).  So, one lesson for us is our best peace-making intentions don’t always produce peace.  A second lesson for us is the Christian life presents us with tough choices.  Everything isn’t always black-and-white.

Take divorce, for instance.  You, dear wife, made a vow before God.  But your husband has been verbally abusive and having sexual relationships with other women for years.  Instead of improving, he’s getting worse.  Should you hold to your vow, despite his vow-breaking, and trust the Lord to take care of you?  Or should you break a marriage covenant he’s already broken?

The best we can do in some situations is to find applicable principles in God’s Word, pray, trust the Holy Spirit to guide us—then, without a clear biblical text and a definitive word from the Spirit, decide. 

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God,
who gives generously to all without finding fault,
and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).



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Going Where Trouble Waits

Our story continues–the last leg of Paul’s journey from Miletus to Jerusalem . . .

“When we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. When we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail. We came in sight of Cyprus; and leaving it on our left, we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there” (Acts 21:1-3).

The ship plowed through the Aegean. Miletus’ harbor and the Ephesian elders  were behind.  Paul nursed warm memories–memories mingled with sadness of the final farewell.  He turned his thoughts to Jerusalem.  This last leg of the journey would brimg him home.  “To what?” he wondered.

Favorable winds blew the coastal-trader to Cos in a day, Rhodes the nex day, then Patara.  Paul and company would need a larger ship for the eastern Mediterranean.  Patara’s fine harbor had them.  They scouted the choices, found one bound for Phoenicia, Syria’s province, and boarded.  The trader would take them 400 miles. One day, Cyprus, the island Paul had preached through on his first journey, appeared on the left.  Then, over the eastern Mediterranean’s favorable seas, Tyre rose on the horizon.  There, the ship would unload its cargo, Paul and company included.  Jerusalem awaited 300 miles to the south.  Damascus stood 100 miles to the east.

Paul's Third Missionary Journey Map

“We looked up the disciples and stayed there for seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When our days there were ended, we left and proceeded on our journey; and all of them, with wives and children, escorted us outside the city. There we knelt down on the beach and prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home” (Acts 21:4-6).

A church had been planted in Tyre–Jews dispersed from the persecution that rose with Stephen’s martyrdom (Acts 11:19).  Paul and company searched for them.  They stayed with the disciples a whole week while their ship was unloaded and readied to sail.   The familiar warning came again. Paul had told the Ephesian elders ” . . . the Holy Spirit testifies in every city saying that chains and tribulations await me” (Acts 20:22,23).  Now again, through the Tyre disciples the Spirit warns.  “Don’t go to Jerusalem!” the disciples urge.  But Paul is determined.  The same Spirit who warns of persecution  compels him to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20:21).  Reluctantly, they walk Paul to the beach.  There they pray and say goodbye.

“When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and we greeted the believers and stayed with them for one day. The next day we left and came to Caesarea; and we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy. While we were staying there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea.  He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, “This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, ‘What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, ‘The Lord’s will be done'” (Acts 21:7-14).

 Paul’s ship sails south 27 miles to Ptolemais–a fine harbor, a prosperous metropolis, and a Roman colony.  Evangelized at the same time as Tyre, it offers Paul and company Christian fellowship for a day.  The next day another 30 miles brings them to Caesarea in northern Israel.  The city is a Roman administrative center, the Roman capital of Judea Province,  and also a center for Christianity in its early years.  Philip lives there with his four unmarried daughters.  Philip had been one of the seven chosen to distribute food to Jerusalem widows (Acts 6:1-5), had preached powerfully in Samaria  (Acts 8:5-12), and had led the Ethiopian eunuch to faith in Christ on a desert road (Acts 8:25-36).

Several days later, another prophet, Agabus, arrives from Jerusalem.  Without a word, he grabs Paul’s long cloth belt, wraps it around his body and announces, “The Holy Spirit says the Jerusalem Jews will do this to the man who owns this belt and give him to the Gentiles.”  Agabus’ warning is so dramatic, everyone, including Paul’s companions, urge him not to go.  But Paul answers:  “Why are you crying and breaking my heart?  I’m ready to be bound.  I’m even ready to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

They can’t change Paul’s mind, so finally they say nothing, only resignedly, “Let the Lord’s will be done.”

“After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came along and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay” (Acts 21:15,16).

So they get ready and start for Jerusalem.  Some of the Caesarea disciples come along and accompany Paul 64 miles to the home of Mnason of Cyprus, a man who came to Christ through Pentecost (Acts 2).  Mnason’s home will be their home during their days in Jerusalem.

So the stage is set.  Paul, the primary player, is in place.  He’s been warned, multiple times.  Still, he’s come, the Spirit testifying to prison and persecution waiting.  The image of bound Agabus lurking in his mind.  And, all the while, the Spirit drives him on.

* * *

Paul walking into hostile Jerusalem reminds me of missionaries today who  serve in gospel-hostile countries.  They know the dangers.  If found out, they could be expelled, or worse, arrested, imprisoned, abused.  Like Paul, they go because the Spirit compels them.  They go where the gospel is silent.  According to Joshua Project, 6900 of 16,500 people groups in the world remain unreached.  Countries most dangerous for Christians  include Afghanistan, Somalia, Pakistan, Iraq, Iran, India, Syria, Vietnam and over forty more.

So here I sit at my computer in the safety of my house, while good friends serve in a gospel-hostile country reaching people previously unreached.  Well, that’s their mission, right?  Wrong!   It’s my mission too. When the offering plate passes, whatever bit of cash I happen to have in my pocket is not enough.  When I pray for my health and my family, to forget to pray for them is to go AWOL on duty.  Paul  walked into danger for the gospel’s sake.  Many missionaries do, too.

They mustn’t go alone.


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The Farewell

“From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him” (Acts 20:17).

Paul's Third Missionary Journey Map

Paul has been long “on the road.”  Five years almost for this missionary trip.  He wants to be back in Jerusalem for Pentecost.  His coastal-trader ship sailing down the west coast of Asia seems to lay over at every port.  In his hurry, he doesn’t stop at Ephesus.  Thirty miles south the ship harbors briefly at Miletus.  Paul can’t help himself.  Almost three years of teaching at Ephesus  allowed deep bonds to form with the elders.  Paul sends one of his associates to bring the elders to him.  It will be, he expects, their last meeting.

They assemble outside in an open area often used for trade.  About a dozen men.  Young and old.  Paul greets each with a hug and broad smile.  Late winter winds are blustery, swirling leaves and debris over trampled grass pockmarked with holes of dirt.  The Aegean, less than a hundred yards away, has turned choppy.  Some elders squat, others stand, eager to hear what Paul has to say on this late winter day.


“When they came to him, he said to them: ‘You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia,  serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.  I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house,  as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus'” (Acts 20:18-21).

He remembers with them.  Knowing Jews will malign him to them, he reminds them how he conducted himself.  Humbly in all things.  Tears spilled over the unrepentant.  Trials endured from the Jews’ plots against him.  Through it all, in public and in house, he never surrendered to attacks.  Incessantly he proclaimed “repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.”  Heads nodded in agreement.  Smiles appeared at mention of Paul’s perseverance.

But the future would likely not be as bright . .


“’And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me.  But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace.  And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again. Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God’” (Acts 20:22-27).

Though he loves Jerusalem, the city won’t be a friendly place.  He goes to it because the Spirit compels him.  And, though he doesn’t know what will happen to him, the same Spirit tells him prison and persecution await in every city.  Darker storm clouds are gathering.

Elders’ faces have turned solemn.  Several warn Paul not to go.  He’ll hear none of it.   “I don’t consider my life worth anything to me.  I’m determined to finish this race and complete the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus.  I will testify to the good news of God’s grace!”

Paul’s stern determination softens.  His hands, raised defiantly against enemies, fall to his side.  “I know none of you, among whom I’ve proclaimed God’s kingdom in Christ, will ever see me again.”  This is what the elders feared:  a final farewell from the man they loved, a man God used to bring them into the kingdom.  Especially now, Paul takes his responsibility with utmost seriousness.  He has proclaimed God’s whole purpose to them:  he’s not responsible for their blood.

 But he does have a warning,  Because just as his future sounds ominous, so, in fact, does theirs . . .


“’Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock.  Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them.  Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified.  I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20:28-35). 

They listen, Paul’s words worrying them, then birthing determination.  They must live like vigilant shepherds, keeping watch over the flock.  They are Holy Spirit-made overseers; he will be their resource.  Their calling isn’t casual.  The flock of believers in the city isn’t theirs.  It’s a flock “bought with the blood of [God’s] own Son.”  The elders hear the gravity in Paul’s charge–a charge made most solemn, because the price paid for the people is most precious to God.

And they have a model to emulate.  Paul reminds them how unceasingly, with tears streaming down his face, he had warned everyone of God’s wrath and the need to repent.  They must do the same.  For this great work, Paul commends them to God and the word of his grace that can build them up.  Nor must they think their leadership, however weighty, is a means to financial gain.  Paul, holding out a workman’s hands to them, had striven to support himself and help the needy.  They must follow his example.

With urgency.  Because after he leaves, Paul warns, men like savage wolves will come (some from within the church!) making perverse claims and trying to entice the believers to follow them in their lies.  They must stay on alert; the matter for the church is one of life or death.

“When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed.  There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again. Then they brought him to the ship” (Acts 20:36-38).

Paul falls silent.  The wind blusters.  The only sounds anyone hears now are of the sea.  Then, without a word, Paul kneels, stiffly on weary legs and hard ground.  Paul’s prayer for them bring tears, which flow freely, unashamedly, as Paul’s “Amen” brings them all to their feet hugging and kissing Paul.  Their sorrow weighs heavy as they escort him–for the last time–to his ship.

* * *

No apostles among my readers.  But, leaders, nevertheless.  Worship leaders, small group leaders, parents who lead families, the primary Christian witness among co-workers.  Think of it:  most of us exercise some form of leadership among others.

I used to as a pastor.  My congregation has shrunk.  Now it’s my family (and that in limited way due to my illness)–and you, to some extent, who regularly read my blog.  I say all that just to include myself in the “most of us exercise some form of leadership among others” group.

Let’s suppose we’re meeting with our small group or family or co-workers for the final time.  Will we be able to remember with them how we tried to humbly serve the Lord and speak his Word among them?  Will we be able to say our life is worth little, except to finish our course of ministry for the Lord, no matter the cost?  Will we be able to urge them to keep watch over one another, so they’re not led astray into lies?  Will we naturally pray with them and for them?

If we want to be able to have that kind of farewell, today’s a good day to start getting ready.  Because someday that goodbye will come.


{Note:  Personal, “colorful” touches my addition.)



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A travelogue is a ” movie, book, or illustrated lecture about the places visited and experiences encountered by a traveler.”  Here author Luke gives us a travelogue of the end of Paul’s third missionary journey.


 Image result for map Paul's 3rd missionary journey


“After the uproar [in Ephesus] had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia.  When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers much encouragement, he came to Greece, where he stayed for three months. He was about to set sail for Syria when a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, by Gaius from Derbe, and by Timothy, as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia. They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas; but we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them in Troas, where we stayed for seven days” (Acts 20:1-6).

Inspiring, no?  Well . . . no.  Makes you wonder why author Luke wrote it.  Some ideas.  First, Luke was giving us a sense of Paul’s travels as his third missionary journey ends.  They took him westward to Macedonia and Greece.  Luke tells us three months in Macedonia, but says nothing about Greece time.  Commentators suppose a year.

Second, Luke is telling us Paul encouraged the believers to persevere in the faith.  Living as a Christian meant opposition could explode any minute, as it did at Ephesus.  The Greek is parakaleo—literally, “to call alongside”, often translated “to encourage/exhort”.  Paul calls the disciples and he “comes alongside” them to give them support and confidence and hope.  The apostle didn’t just plant churches, he pastored them.  Although each church had its own elders, Paul could never think of, pray for, or write to any of these churches without thinking of them as “his own”.

Third, Luke is telling us that Paul’s ministry was dangerous.  Here, as he’s about to sail for Syria, he learns of a Jewish plot against him.  To kill him?  To raise false charges against him to the Roman authorities?  Whatever, Paul saw it as a real threat and changed his plans.

Fourth, Luke is telling us Paul didn’t travel alone.  The men named are Gentiles.  Probably representatives of the churches taking their offering for the poor Jerusalem church.  The “we” and “us” indicate author Luke  rejoined the party at Philippi.


“On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead.  But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’ Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted” (Acts 20:7-12).

This is the first clear evidence we have of Christians meeting on Sunday for worship.  Luke only notes they met “to break bread”; but almost certainly their worship contained more.  The central part  was Paul’s “discussion”.  Since he was leaving the next day, he had much to say.  The late hour, the darkness, and the smoky lamps were too much for young Eutychus (“young” suggests 8-12 years old).  The longer Paul talked the deeper the window-sitting Eutychus slept.  Until he fell out.  Three floors down.  He was“picked up dead”.  Paul “took him in his arms”, in a manner reminiscent of Elijah and Elisha, who both lay down on a dead child and were instrumental in raising both back to life (1 Kings 17:21; 2 Kings 4:34-37) and announced, ” . . . his life is in him”.

Luke gives us a bare-bones account.  Certainly Paul’s audience panicked.  Certainly they all rushed downstairs.  Certainly they grieved noisily according to Oriental custom.  Certainly there were ooohs and aaahs when Eutychus revived and stood.  Certainly the crowd was amazed.  But Paul performed no theatrics.  He had faith the Lord Jesus would raise the young boy and simply acted accordingly.


“We went ahead to the ship and set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there; for he had made this arrangement, intending to go by land himself. When he met us in Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. We sailed from there, and on the following day we arrived opposite Chios. The next day we touched at Samos, and the day after that we came to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:13-16).

Paul had sent the others ahead by boat to Assos.  He walked the 20 miles and joined them there.  They sailed 44 miles to Mitylene, a chief city of the island of Lesbos and a resort for Roman aristocrats.

They set sail the next day and arrived at Kios—twelve miles from Smyrna and five from the mainland.  The following day they crossed over to Samos, which lay at the mouth of the Bay of Ephesus.  The city was known for its works of art and also for its manufacture of pottery made of smooth clay with a deep red color.

The next day they put in at Miletus.  It was a prosperous city with beautiful architecture and significant religiously.  The temple of Apollo stood nearby.

This island-hopping was necessary, because on the Aegean summer winds blew  during daylight hours.  Sailing ships could make no headway at night. Furthermore, narrow channels along Asia Minor’s west coast were dotted with small islands.  Night navigation was dangerous.

Again:  why did Luke include this itinerary?  Perhaps he’s giving his readers a taste of the travel challenges Paul endured to preach the gospel and encourage “his” believers.  Also Luke tells us why Paul by-passed Ephesus:  he was eager to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

* * *

In the movie, “Breathe”, Robin and his wife, Claire, are a young adventurous couple, until Robin is suddenly stricken with polio.  He’s paralyzed from neck down and dependent on a respirator.  But, with the help of skilled friends, Claire devises a respirator-carrying wheelchair.  Robin is freed from the hospital.  He’s back in the outside world.  But, after fifteen-plus years, the respirator has irritated his lungs.  He’ll drown in his own blood.  “It’s time,” he announces.  The movie ends sadly with Claire and their son saying goodbye to Robin, who has been euthanized by a doctor friend.  “Breathe” makes death a noble relief from suffering.  The Bible calls death an enemy to ultimately be destroyed.  When Christ resurrects the believing dead, death will be swallowed up in victory.  I understand raised-from-the-dead Eutychus to be a foretaste.

And in a text that started with Paul encouraging believers, Eutychus alive and well is great encouragement for us all!









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Demetrius Was Right

I used to think the story of Demetrius was  just about money.  Nope. It was about a culture war brought on by the Kingdom.

By “the Kingdom” I mean God’s sovereign, saving reign through Jesus Christ who is Lord.  God isn’t just forgiving sinners; he’s creating knew creatures in Christ, who, even now, live under Christ’s authority, anticipating God’s new, righteous creation.

What happens when that Kingdom invades an alien culture.


“Now after these things had been accomplished, Paul resolved in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem. He said, ‘After I have gone there, I must also see Rome’.  So he sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he himself stayed for some time longer in Asia” (Acts 19:21,22).

Paul invested two years in Ephesus contending.  As a result,  the Lord’s Word spread mightily through all Asia (Acts 19:1-20).  Now Paul prepares to cross the Aegean for Macedonia and Achaia, then east to Jerusalem, and finally, he hopes, Rome.

Map of Paul the Apostle's Third Missionary Journey in the New Testament


With those plans in mind, preparing to leave Ephesus . . .

“About that time no little disturbance broke out concerning the Way” (Acts 19:23).

“ . . . no little disturbance”– the inevitable consequences of “the Way” invading a culture of another “way”.


“A man named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the artisans. These he gathered together, with the workers of the same trade, and said, ‘Men, you know that we get our wealth from this business. You also see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost the whole of Asia this Paul has persuaded and drawn away a considerable number of people by saying that gods made with hands are not gods.  And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be scorned, and she will be deprived of her majesty that brought all Asia and the world to worship her’”  (Acts 19:24-27).

He’s a silversmith.  He makes silver shrines of the goddess Artemis.  Plaques, actually.  Metal sheets. Dedicate them in  the Great Temple of Artemis, and they become charms of protection against evil and danger.  The New York Metropolitan Museum of Art displays a statuette of the goddess.

Bronze statuette of Artemis, Bronze, Greek

The business was a money-making machine for the craftsmen.  But this stranger, this Jew preaching Messiah, claims handmade gods are no gods at all.  Demetrius is afraid  business may suffer.  The Artemis-trade may fall into disrepute.  Artemis’ temple may be disgraced.  She may topple from  majesty.  Worldwide worship may go silent.

So the preaching of the Kingdom (“Jesus is Lord”) threatens the city’s economy . . . the religion of the city—indeed of all Asia . . . the worldview of hundreds of thousands . . . potentially opens the population to the powers of evil.

No exaggeration.

Artemis is mother goddess, fertility goddess and nature goddess.  She holds power over animals and can deliver her worshippers from fear.  She wields unsurpassed cosmic power.  She was called Savior, Lord, Queen of the Cosmos and Heavenly Goddess.  Each March or April Ephesus hosted a month-long festival in her honor.  Worshippers flocked from all over the Roman Empire for offerings at her sacred grove, athletics, plays, concerts and banquets.

The Artemis cult produced Asia’s worldview, which in turn created certain social structures and lifestyles.  Now, “the Way” threatens that culture to its core. Ephesus is in an uproar.


“When they heard this, they were enraged and shouted, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ The city was filled with the confusion; and people rushed together to the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s travel companions.  Paul wished to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him;  even some officials of the province of Asia, who were friendly to him, sent him a message urging him not to venture into the theater. Meanwhile, some were shouting one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. Some of the crowd gave instructions to Alexander, whom the Jews had pushed forward. And Alexander motioned for silence and tried to make a defense before the people.  But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours all of them shouted in unison, ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” (Acts 19:28-34).

The city’s theater holds anywhere from 12,000 to 24,000 (historical estimates), an arena for various citizens’ gatherings.  Today it holds chaos.  Confusion.  Two of Paul’s men are grabbed and dragged in.  Think TV video of Middle East riots.  Even though author Luke tells us “Paul wanted to go into the crowd, but the disciples would not let him”, many think this is what Paul referred to in 2 Corinthians 1:8,9 when he wrote . . .

“We do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death so that we would rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead”. 


“But when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, ‘Citizens of Ephesus, who is there that does not know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple keeper of the great Artemis and of the statue that fell from heaven?   Since these things cannot be denied, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash.  You have brought these men here who are neither temple robbers nor blasphemers of our goddess.  If therefore Demetrius and the artisans with him have a complaint against anyone, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges there against one another.  If there is anything further you want to know, it must be settled in the regular assembly.  For we are in danger of being charged with rioting today, since there is no cause that we can give to justify this commotion.’  When he had said this, he dismissed the assembly” (Acts 19:35-42).

The city clerk is the administrative assistant to the magistrates and liaison to the Roman authorities.  He’s the cool head stepping into the crowd’s fury.  And he succeeds.  Not only is he able to quiet the crowd so he can speak.  He dismisses them–and they apparently disperse.  Anti-climactic.  We can assume the Artemis cult continued, as did the Kingdom through the church

* * *

Demetrius was right.  The gospel of the kingdom (Jesus is Lord!) Paul preached did inevitability threaten Ephesian economy, religion and worldview.  Demetrius was no theologian.  But he saw the sweeping consequences of “Jesus is Lord”.

Do we?

Do we realize “Jesus is Lord” affects how we manage our money?  What kind of work we do?  (Nothing demanding dishonesty, for example.)  How we practice religion?  (We can’t compartmentalize it into “Sunday only”.)  What worldview we choose?  (It must be one that reverences Jesus as Lord over everything, from history to future outlook, to how we treat our husband/wife.)  How and what we worship?  (As important as it is, we can’t love money–or regard anyone or anything as valuable as Christ.)

“Lord” is an archaic term (except in Great Britain).  So, when we say, “Jesus is Lord”, it sounds like religious jargon.  If we said, “Jesus is President” or “Jesus is Premier” we’d be edging closer to “Lord’s” impact.  Even better is to check out the English definition:  “a person who has authority, power or control over others.”  Except in Jesus’ case, the authority, power and control is absolute.

“Jesus is Lord!”  Therefore, every knee will bow.  And everything out of harmony with his reign will fall.

Demetrius was right.  Can I hear an “Amen”?





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Not Quite Christians

June 25, 2017.  That’s the last time we were in Acts.  So you’re forgiven if you’ve forgotten my plan to walk through Acts, stopping where Paul wrote a letter.  So, finished with Romans, back to Acts.

 Paul has begun his 3rd missionary journey . . .

 When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.  After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.  (Acts 18:22,23).

“While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul passed through the interior regions and came to Ephesus, where he found some disciples. He said to them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you became believers?’ They replied, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ Then he said, ‘Into what then were you baptized?’ They answered, ‘Into John’s baptism'” (Acts 19:1-3).

Map of Paul the Apostle's Third Missionary Journey in the New Testament


Ephesus was 400,000-citizens large.  But Paul focused on twelve “disciples” he found. Given that Apollos had preached only the baptism of John the Baptist earlier in the city (, Paul’s question is understandable.  It’s also a reminder that in the early years of the church (Acts),  the mark of a believer was the Holy Spirit.  Anything less constituted a deficient Christianity.  However, that they “had not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit” is mystifying.   John the Baptist announced one to come “who will baptize with the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 3:11). If Apollo taught something akin to John, how could the twelve not know about “a Holy Spirit”? 

In any case, these men were not regenerate.  Whatever they believed, they weren’t  Christians.  Because no one becomes a Christian without the regenerating work of the Spirit.  So Paul corrected them  . . .

“Paul said, ‘John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, in Jesus.’  On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied — altogether there were about twelve of them” (Acts 19:4-7).

As at Pentecost (Acts 2:4) and with Gentile Cornelius and his household (Acts 10:46), the regenerating presence of the Holy Spirit came with tongues and prophesy.

Is this to be normative?  I would contend, along with many others, these signs came when the gospel reached to unreached peoples.  The Holy Spirit must come to birth a Christian.  But outward signs are the province of the Lord.

Paul had briefly visited Ephesus at the end of his second missionary journey (Acts 18:17-21).  On his return, he will plant a church, beginning with these twelve.

“He entered the synagogue and for three months spoke out boldly, and argued persuasively about the kingdom of God. When some stubbornly refused to believe and spoke evil of the Way before the congregation, he left them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord” (Acts 19:8-10).

Following his pattern in other cities and keeping his promise to the Jews from a previous visit (Acts 18:21), Paul preaches the gospel in the Ephesus synagogue for three months, arguing “persuasively about the kingdom of God.”  But some Jews were obstinate.  They “refused to believe” and publicly maligned “the Way”.  So Paul left, taking “disciples” with him and “argued daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus”.  Some ancient authorities claim he taught daily from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.  For two years he taught.  The result?  Author Luke claims “all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.”

Years later when Paul wrote his prison letters, they were addressed to churches planted as a result of his preaching these two years in Ephesus.  When he wrote two letters to Timothy, he was writing to a young man at the Ephesus church.  And when John wrote Revelation, he was writing to churches started from Paul’s ministry in  Ephesus.

Luke writes that Paul “argued persuasively about the kingdom of God.”  ” . . . argued” is the Greek word dialegomai.  Paul didn’t preach sermons.  He conducted discussions and contended for the gospel.  Significantly, Luke says Paul’s topic was “the kingdom of God.”  Paul was claiming that the reign of God had broken into this world in the person of Jesus Christ.  God was “taking over”–and the extraordinary miracles Luke reports on next is part of that “take-over”/

“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul,  so that when the handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, their diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.  Then some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.”  Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit said to them in reply, “Jesus I know, and Paul I know; but who are you?”  Then the man with the evil spirit leaped on them, mastered them all, and so overpowered them that they fled out of the house naked and wounded.  When this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, everyone was awestruck; and the name of the Lord Jesus was praised.  Also many of those who became believers confessed and disclosed their practices.  A number of those who practiced magic collected their books and burned them publicly; when the value of these books  was calculated, it was found to come to fifty thousand silver coins. So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed” (Acts 19:11-20).

Ephesus, home of the pagan goddess Artemis, welcome magicians and sorcerers.  Indeed, metal symbols of the goddess were used to manipulate evil spirits for one’s own benefit.  Whether God did “extraordinary miracles” to counter this sorcery, or just to authenticate Paul’s preaching, we have no way of knowing.  But he did them, so that handkerchiefs (actually “sweatbands”) or aprons (perhaps better “belts”) that had touched him touched the sick, and they were healed and demons fled.

Skeptics may mock.  Mimics may copy.  But miracles were an inherent part of Paul’s ministry.  And to offer “prayer cloths” for an offering is to turn miracle into profiteering magic.

Surprisingly, Jews often were involved in mediating the magic of the East to the Greek-Roman world (Leviticus 20:6,27; Deuteronomy 18:10,11; Josephus Jewish Antiquities).  So, it’s not surprising that “some itinerant Jewish exorcists tried to use the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits . . . ”  The outcome wasn’t what they’d hoped.  Manhandled by the evil spirit “they fled out of the house naked and wounded”.  This only further exalted the Lord’s name and resulted in many conversions and costly repentance.  Luke sums up Paul’s two years in Ephesus:  “So the word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”

* * *

When you put your faith in Christ, were you baptized?  And, when you were baptized, did you receive the Holy Spirit?  Let me qualify that last question, because the Spirit doesn’t always reveal his presence in tongues and prophecy.  So, were you taught to pray to receive the Spirit?  And did you consciously pray to receive him?

Paul wrote, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ” (Romans 8:9).  Christianity, then, isn’t only believing certain doctrines or practicing a certain morality.  It’s a miracle-faith in which God the Holy Spirit actually comes to live in and reveal himself through the believer.

So, if you’ve not been baptized,  plan to be.  And when you are, ask the Holy Spirit to come into your heart.

Otherwise, you’re “not quite a Christian.”








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Theology to Doxology

The word “doxology” means a word of glory to God.  That’s what theology aims to lead us to–doxology.  Not only deeper thinking about gospel doctrines, but also higher praise to the God of the gospel through Jesus Christ.  Paul will take us there.  But he’s got a warning about divisions and a list of hellos from friends first .  . .


“I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them.  For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil. The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus be with you” (16:17-20).

Judaizers are Jewish (professed) Christians who insist Gentiles be circumcised to be justified.  They often trouble Paul’s churches.  Are they whom he warns Romans to watch out for?  Whether they or others, Paul sees their division-causing and obstacle-putting as the work of Satan.  Soon, Paul promises, the “God of peace will . . . crush Satan under your feet”.  Soon when?  Either Paul expects this particular Satanic attack will end soon or he is promising God’s eschatological Judgment Day to dawn shortly.  Having disarmed Satan at the cross (“And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross”–Colossians 2:16), at the end, the Lord will throw him into hell (“And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

Paul could be describing some TV evangelists, who pervert the plain truths of the gospel.  On the other hand, denominations, as well as “independent” churches, have been birthed over doctrinal differences.  And, sadly, churches have split over secondary issues or because slanderous tongues sliced up fellow believers.  After 2000 years, we are still struggling to be one in Christ.


Having greeted friends in Rome (16:3-16), Paul now sends greeting from friends with him . . .

“Timothy, my fellow worker, sends his greetings to you, as do Lucius, Jason and Sosipater, my relatives. I, Tertius, who wrote down this letter, greet you in the Lord. Gaius, whose hospitality I and the whole church here enjoy, sends you his greetings. Erastus, who is the city’s director of public works, and our brother Quartus send you their greetings. May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with all of you. Amen” (16:21-24).

“Timothy” was probably Paul’s closest associate in ministry.  We know him best from the two New Testament letters that bear his name.  “Lucius” may be a variant on Luke or he may be the Antioch prophets and teachers mentioned in Acts 13:1. “Jason” is probably the Jason who hosted Paul in Thessalonica and got beat up for it (Acts 17:5-9).  And “Sosipater” is likely the Sosipater who accompanied Paul from Berea (Acts 20:5).  Why does Paul call the last three men “my relatives”?  Probably because they were fellow Jews, perhaps from Gentile churches, traveling with Paul to deliver the offering for the poor Jewish Christian church in Jerusalem.

“Tertius” is a scribe.  As was customary then, Paul dictated, Tertius wrote (and said hello).  “Gaius” is probably the Gaius Paul baptized in Corinth (1 Corinthians 1:14) and who is now hosting him.  “Erastus” is likely the man Paul sent with Timothy from Ephesus to Macedonia (Acts 19:22).  He is also Corinth’s “director of public works”.  “Quartus” is a mystery man mentioned nowhere else in Scripture.

After the family grace prayer-wish and the final “So be it (“Amen”), comes the concluding . . .


“Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him–to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen” (16:25-27).

Thus Paul expresses glory to God—“Now to him . . . be glory forever through Jesus Christ!”  Between beginning and end come a catalogue of reasons for giving glory to God  . . .

He “is able”; that is, he has the power . . .

“to establish you”; that is, to fix you so you cannot be moved . . .

“by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ; that is, the good news proclaimed throughout this letter is the means God will powerfully use to fix you immovable . . .

“according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past through the prophetic writings”; that is, this gospel lines up with the “mysterious” words of the prophets and it comes . . .

“by the command of the eternal God”; that is, the gospel has been long hidden by the decree of the God who has no beginning or ending . . .

“so all nations might believe and obey him”; that is, God’s purpose in the gospel proclaimed is that, not only Jews, but from among all Gentile nations, might come a people who will believe and obey him . . .

“to the only wise God”; that is, the only God whose judgments are unsearchable, whose ways can’t be traced out, who needs no counselor. “For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever!” (11:36).

To this God be glory forever through Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

* * *

I’ve often thought that our Sunday service order is backwards.  Theology (preaching of God’s Word as Paul did in Romans) should lead to doxology (glorifying God for his Word).  I tried the reverse once or twice.  It didn’t seem to “work”.  So back to backwards.   I think we needed more time, repeated reversals, to “flow” with theology to doxology, preaching to worship.

Doxology is where Romans should bring us.  Well and good to dig deeper into the doctrines.  But when we finally reach the end of such theologically rich writing, we should be driven to our knees with hands lifted to heaven and our lips singing glory to God . . .


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