The Old Preacher

Viewing the World through God's Word

Category: The Word (page 2 of 32)

But God

A dear, sweet little (growing up girl!) friend recently sent a piece of personal art.  I stood it against my desk lamp where its 6 x 8 inch blue and black and white-sparkled message shouts to me every day: “BUT GOD”

After painting this dark description of humanity . . .

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

Paul interjects the two weighty words: But God . . . “.  We were dead to God in our transgressions and sin, energized by Satan, sin-nature-cravings captivating our desires, destined to deserving wrath, “But God . . . “.

The popular  NIV translates it, “But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy . . . ” (Ephesians 2:4)—thus losing the impact of Paul’s sentence.  The Greek begins, “de theos”–“But God”.  That comes first.  This is God the rescuer, God the first (and only) responder.

Before explaining what God did, Paul explains why God did it . . .

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us . . . “ (Ephesians 2:4, ESV).

In his being, God abounds in mercy.  Mercy is “compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s power to (rightly) punish.”  Look in God’s vault.  No gold.  But more mercy than the safe can hold.

Henry’s well supplied water for generations.  It never ran dry.  Not in the worst draught when even neighbors’ wells dried up.  Henry often invited thirsty neighbors to come and drink.  God’s love is like that.

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus . . . “ (Ephesians 2:4-6, ESV).

Now Paul tells us what God did.  First and most importantly, God united us with Christ.  In Ephesians 1 Paul writes of “the working of [God’s] mighty strength, which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come”. Here in Ephesians he proclaims that God “made us alive together with Christ and . . . raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places . . .”.

God has united us with Christ in being made alive, being raised and being seated in the heavenlies.  It’s a spiritual (or, in the Spirit) union.  Note how often Paul writes of that here . . .

“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:4-10, ESV).

God “raised us up with [Christ] and seated us with him in the heavenlies . . . “.  The Greek, epouranios, refers to the heavenly place where God reigns.  The word emphasizes not a location “out there somewhere”, but rather a realm that is pressing in on us—a reality occurring right now.

At the same time, this mystical, in-the-Spirit union points to a future fulfillment.  God has made our spirit alive to himself, anticipating the day our body will be.  God has  “raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus”, so that now we have authority over Satan looking forward to the day when that will be complete.

I’m intrigued by the implications of our union with Christ.  “Made alive” I understand.  Instead of being “dead” to God in our transgressions and sins, we’re now “alive” to him.  But in what sense have we been “raised” with Christ and “seated” with him in heavenly places?

Much has been written about “a theology of suffering.”  Good.  We need that, because Christians suffer.  Much has also been written about our being “made alive” with Christ.  Spiritual rebirth.  Regeneration.  Good, but familiar now.  What, though, about our union with Christ in his ascension and session (being seated in heavenly places)?  Do we have authority over the evil one we don’t use?  Are dark powers not subject to us because we don’t understand our spiritual position with Christ?

I wonder.

But about how God did what he did there’s no wonder. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created  for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10, ESV).

By grace.  By God’s favor toward us which we don’t deserve.  About that Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) says this:

“You were hell-deserving rebels who had no claim on anything in Me other than to be the recipients and objects of eternal wrath. I did this for you not because you were a treasure or because of anything in you; indeed it was in spite of what was in you. I did this for you solely because of what was in Me, namely, sovereign and free and gracious love for those who deserved only to be hated.”

By grace through faith.  Through trusting that this gospel is true.  Which means this salvation (and maybe also this faith) is God’s gift, not our doing.  Not by means of our efforts, so we have nothing to brag about.  We are his workmanship, newly created (out of “death”) by him.

* * *

BUT GOD changes everything.  His gracious intervention is huge.  This text calls us to ponder what God has done.  Skim?  No!  Read prayerfully.  Slowly.  Thoughtfully.  Letting the saving, transforming words take our breath away.  Sink into the depressing darkness of 2:1-3.  Then let the next two words hit you the way this art-piece does me on my desk:  BUT GOD . . .


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The Walking Dead

Based on a comic book series, the TV program “The Walking Dead”  portrays life in the aftermath of “a zombie apocalypse”.  A sheriff’s deputy falls into a coma after being shot, then awakens to a dangerous new world overrun by “the undead”.  Pressure to survive drives the deputy and others to the depths of human cruelty.

From Paul in the Holy Scriptures . . .

 “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient.  All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-4).

The words hit like a sudden slap in the face.  Paul’s just finished bursting out praise for God’s goodness in Christ, thanking God for the faith and love of his readers, and interceding for their enlightenment.  Suddenly, he turns: “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins . . . “  A condition not unlike The Walking Dead.

For a year, I owned a carpet-cleaning franchise (!).  We were encouraged to always sell the customer an “add-on”.  If she hired us to clean three rooms of carpets, we might offer  a fourth at a reduced price “since we’re here”.  She didn’t need that fourth room cleaned; but she’d probably feel a little better about her house if it was.  Unless we let Ephesians 2:1-4 “slap us in the face”, we may think of Jesus as little more than an “add-on” to us basically good people.

With “you”, Paul’s addressing Gentile Christians in the church.  With “All of us” and “we”, he includes believing Jews.  “Like the rest”  includes us all.  The description is dark—walking dead dark.

  • “Transgressions” means we overstepped God-set moral boundaries. (Pick any of the Ten Commandments!).  That we were “dead” implies walking “off limits” was our way of life.
  • “Sins” means we fell short or missed the mark the holy God, our Creator, demanded.
  • In what way were we “dead”? Not physically, mentally or emotionally.    Dead to God.  Unresponsive to him.  George Whitefield (“Christianity Today” calls him “probably the most famous religious figure of the eighteenth century”)–  said:

“Come, ye dead, Christless, unconverted sinners, come and see the place where they laid the body of the deceased Lazarus; behold him laid out, bound hand and foot with grave-cloaths, locked up and stinking in a dark cave, with a great stone placed on the top of it. View him again and again; go nearer to him; be not afraid; smell him. Ah! How he stinketh. Stop there now, pause a while; and whilst thou art gazing upon the corpse of Lazarus, give me leave to tell thee with great plainness, but greater love, that this dead, bound entombed, stinking carcase, is but a faint representation of thy poor soul in its natural state: for, whether thou believest or not, thy spirit which thou bearest about with thee, sepulchred in flesh and blood, is as literally dead to God, and as truly dead in trespasses and sins, as the body of Lazarus was in the cave. Was he bound hand and foot with grave-cloaths? So art thou bound hand and foot with thy corruptions: and as a stone was laid on the sepulchre, so is there a stone of unbelief upon thy stupid heart. Perhaps thou hast lain in this state, not only four days, but many years, stinking in God’s nostrils. And, what is still more effecting thou art as unable to raise thyself out of this loathsome, dead state, to a life of righteousness and true holiness, as ever Lazarus was to raise himself from the cave in which he lay so long. Thou mayest try the power of thy own boasted free-will, and the force and energy of moral persuasion and rational arguments (which, without all doubt, have their proper place in religion); but all thy efforts, exerted with never so much vigour, will prove quite fruitless and abortive, till that same Jesus, who said ‘Take away the stone’, and cried, ‘Lazarus, come forth’ also quicken you (quoted in John Gerstner, A Predestination Primer).

  • Once we followed the world’s ways. Our behavior was determined by society’s attitudes and habits, which are alien to God.
  • Once we followed “the ruler of the kingdom of the air”.  Paul is referring to “the rulers . . . the authorities . . . the cosmic powers of this present darkness . . . the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
  • ” . . . the spirit . . . now at work in those who are disobedient”.  Not only did we follow this spirit; but this spirit was actually working in us.
  • We lived to gratify the cravings of our sinful nature, however “good” we might have appeared outwardly.
  • ” . . . by nature children of wrath”.   God’s wrath is his righteous hostility toward every thing unholy.  God loves purity and so reacts in anger toward anything or anyone who defiles it.  By nature (not merely by acts or thoughts, but by nature) we were “children of [God’s] wrath”.   J.I. Packer (Christian theologian) explains: “Would a God who took as much pleasure in evil as He did in good be a good God? Would a God who did not react adversely to evil in His world be morally perfect? Surely not. But it is precisely this adverse reaction to evil, which is a necessary part of moral perfection, that the Bible has in view when it speaks of God’s wrath” (Knowing God, 136-37).

+ + +

Honestly, this is hard to swallow.  Sure, school shootings, terrorism, gang violence and Middle East wars make the world a brutal place.  And some people are jerks.  But most seem “normal”, ordinary folks doing their jobs and raising their families–not to mention the “heroes” like good cops, medical researches seeking cures, and all the doctors sincerely trying to improve or save human lives.

Then there’s me.  I was 10 when I trusted my life to Christ.  Up to that moment, I was an ordinary “good” kid–riding my bike, playing with friends, fighting imaginary fights with my little rubber cowboys.

Was I–are these “good guys” noted above–really “dead in trespasses and sins”? 

Hard to believe.  But believe we must, because this is Paul’s Spirit-inspired diagnosis.  And it’s what makes the next words “But God . . . ” all the more breathtaking:  “The Walking Dead” become the risen and ascended in Christ!




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Praying for an Enlightened Heart

Are my prayers tiny?  Too temporal?  Next to Paul’s, they seem almost trifling.

After greeting the Ephesians and west Asia churches, Paul bursts into unparalleled praise to God for giving in Christ every spiritual blessing in the heavenlies (1:1-14).

Even imprisoned in Rome, he’s received good reports about the churches, so he tells them how he thanks God for them . . .

“Therefore I also, knowing the faith in the Lord Jesus and the love to all the saints that is among you, do not cease giving thanks on behalf of you, making mention in my prayers . . . “ (Ephesians 1:15,16).

Let’s not miss the implication here.  While Paul is grateful for his readers’ faith and love, he knows that ultimately that faith and love are given by the God whom he thanks.

Calvin comments . . .

“Now, with all this, he shows that faith and love are the very gifts of God and do not come from ourselves, as men always imagine through a devilish pride. . . If every man was able to believe and have faith of his own accord or could get it by some power of his own, the praise for it ought not to be given to God. For it would be but mockery to acknowledge ourselves indebted to him for what we have obtained, not from him, but from elsewhere. But here St. Paul blesses God’s name for enlightening the Ephesians in the faith and for framing their hearts to make them loving. It is to be concluded, therefore that everything comes from God.”

“ . . . in order that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in a full knowledge of him . . . (Ephesians 1:17).

Many versions (NIV, NRS, NKJV, ESV) translate pneuma with a small “s”.  They suggest Paul is asking God to give the Ephesians a quality or disposition of wisdom and revelation.

But I think Dr. Gordon Fee’s reasoning prevails. He says, first, Paul’s words seem to derive from Isaiah 11:2 where the prophet declares:  “ . . . the Spirit of the LORD will rest on [Messiah]– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding . . . “.  Paul is praying for that same Spirit for the Ephesians.  Second, Paul here emphasizes “revelation”.  That’s the Spirit’s work.  Third, one might have a “wise spirit” or “wise disposition”; but how can one have a “revelation spirit” or a “revelation disposition”?

Two additional points should be made.  First, Paul’s readers already know God.  Paul prays that they might enjoy a fuller knowledge of him.  Two, Paul’s readers already have the Spirit.  As believers, they are his “temple”.  But the Spirit’s work goes on, often in ways we don’t perceive.  So Paul prays that the Spirit might do a deeper work, or a “fresh” work, or an increasing work in them.

I grew up in a Pentecostal church that preached “the baptism in the Spirit” as an experience subsequent to salvation.  Once one “had it”, there was little more to “have”.  But the Spirit’s work should be ongoing, like a wind that may change direction and decrease or increase, but never dies out.

 “ . . . having the eyes of your heart enlightened, that you should know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the excelling greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Ephesians 1:17-19a).

The Spirit enlightens the “eyes” of the heart.  Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City) says the heart is “the core of both the spiritual and mental life of a person, including emotions and will.”

Specifically Paul prays for the Spirit to give understanding and insight regarding their future.  That they should know “what is the hope of his calling”.   “Hope” doesn’t mean “when I wish upon a star”.  It means “the expectation of a God-provided future to which he has called us”.

Paul wants the church to know “what are the riches of his inheritance in the saints”.  If this means what I think, it’s staggering.  We are God’s inheritance—redeemed, sanctified, glorified. (For the concept of our being God’s inheritance, see Deut. 4:20; 9:26,29; 2 Sam. 21:3; 1 Kings 8:51,53; Ps. 28:9; 33:12; 78:62,71; 106:5,40; Isa. 19:25; 47:6; 63:17; Jer. 10:16; 51:19).

Finally, Paul wants the church to know “what is the excelling greatness of his power toward us who believe”.  Hostile powers oppose them, but even now God’s power is theirs—now and on into eternity.

“ . . . according to the working of his mighty strength, which he has worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavenlies far above all rule and authority and power and lordship and every name being named not only in this age but also in the coming one; and all things are subjected under his feet, and he was given to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him which is filling all things” (Ephesians 1:19b-23).

This “excelling greatness of his power” proclaims “the working of his mighty strength” with which he raised Christ from the dead and exalted him with power and authority to reign over the entire universe forever.

Paul declares that the exalted Christ is both the church’s head and the Father’s gift to the church.

By the “fullness” of Christ,  Paul is probably referring to the glorious revelation of Christ’s presence and power.  The church embodies Christ’s presence to the world.

Christ’s sovereign reign (his “fullness”) pervades all humanity, the angelic realm and the evil powers, bringing all to their God-appointed end.

So Paul’s prayer-report to his readers trails off into his ecstasy over God’s power revealed in Christ–a power that is for us who believe.

* * *

O God, our Father and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, how small my prayers seem compared to Paul’s!  Yet my small prayers reveal my heart’s concerns–for me, for Lois and for my family.  When I pray for their salvation and my healing, I know I’m asking for big things, things I think are in line with your will. Still,  I want to pray like Paul. 

Since retiring, I’ve seldomly thanked you for the church.  But today I give you thanks for your church all over the world–for their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and their love for one another.  I thank you how together they embody Christ in the world, however imperfectly. 

I intercede for them.  Give them (and me), O God, the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so we will know you fully.  Enlighten the eyes of our  hearts so we may know the certainty and glory of the hope you’ve called us to.  So we may know the wonder of how you are making us your inheritance.  And so we may know the excellent greatness of your power toward us who believe.  May we not only know Christ’s resurrection as a glorious historical event; may we know the same power that raised and exalted Christ to reign, is for us now and fully forever.

This prayer glorifies you because it centers in what only you could have done and will yet do.  But this prayer is also good for me.   It lifts my heart’s eyes from temporal trivialities to the eternal significant acts of your grace.  It reminds me I have a future that you’ve called me to.  It reminds me I’m part of a group of justified sinners who will one day be glorified and become (how can this be?) your inheritance.  And it reminds me in my abject weakness of your power toward us, the power of the Spirit in me that will explode and raise my body from the dead to live in eternal wholeness!

I pray this in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, risen and exalted.  Amen.”



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More Feast

Full from the first feast (–Ephesians 1:3-6)?  There’s more coming.  We’re not only chosen in Christ.  Not only adopted in Christ.  But . . .

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding(Ephesians 1:7,8).

“In [Christ] . . . ”  Paul uses that phrase (or some form of it) 10 times in 12 verses.  Every spiritual blessing that God has given is “in Christ”. They are not in whatever we believe God to be.  They’re not dropped from heaven by angels.  They don’t come through our sincerity or religious practices.  They are in Christ.

In him we have redemption through his blood . . . ”   In the movies, a man “redeems” himself by righting a past wrong.  Real redemption, though, runs deeper. The Greek word Paul uses is apolutrosin–“release from slavery by a ransom payment”.

Harmonizing with redemption is “the forgiveness of sins”.  Whoa!  Sin is an archaic non-issue, right?  We admit to “not being perfect”.  But we’re certainly not slaves to sin—slavery from which we need a Savior to ransom us!  Forgiveness, like redemption, is God’s work, for we all have sinned against him—and couldn’t stop if we tried.  We need Christ to release us from sin’s slavery by paying the ransom for us ”through his blood”.  Even God couldn’t just pronounce us forgiven.  Justice demanded a ransom be paid.  We have that “through [Christ’s] blood.”

This, Paul explains, is in accordance with “the riches of [God’s] grace [unmerited favor] that he made abound (Greek, perisseuo—“gave excessively, bestowed in extravagant quantities”) toward us.”

Lois loves to give Christmas gifts, especially to our grandchildren.  So when the family gathers to celebrate, she has presents piled under the tree and, not all fitting there, stacked around the room.  That’s how God is with his grace in Christ—lavish.

And, writes Paul to the church, God made his grace abound to us “in all wisdom and prudence”.  This is the manner God gave us his grace—wisely and prudently.

“And he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment– to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:9,10).

“[M]ystery (Greek, mustayrion)” refers to something long hidden, but finally God-revealed. This mystery of God’s will is God’s purpose or plan “in Christ”.  And, writes Paul, God was delighted to make this mystery of his will known.

What is this “mystery of his will”?  It is “ . . . to bring all things together under one head, even Christ”.                      “ . . . bring” translates the Greek anakephalieo-o.  It means “to gather everything together under the control of one person, unify, make into one”.  Thus the NLT says, “At the right time he will bring everything together under the authority of Christ as head, everything in the heavens and everything on earth”.

But revelation of God’s will isn’t execution of God’s will.  Only “when the times will have reached their fulfillment” will God put this mystery into effect.  F.F. Bruce comments:  “ . . . when the time is ripe for ‘the consummation of his purpose’, in his providential overruling of the course of the world, that consummation will be realized.”

Paul is telling the church that God is in charge of human history.  He’s orchestrating and administering events and direction to fulfill his purpose. And his purpose is to unite all things under the control of Christ.

Herman Bavinck (19th century Dutch Reformed theologian) wrote . . .

“’Round about us we observe so many facts which seem to be unreasonable, so much undeserved suffering [such as child abuse], so many unaccountable calamities, such an uneven and inexplicable distribution of destiny, and such an enormous contrast between the extremes of joy and sorrow, that anyone reflecting on these things is forced to choose between viewing this universe as if it were governed by the blind will of an unbenign deity, as is done by pessimism, or, upon the basis of Scripture and by faith, to rest in the absolute and sovereign, yet however incomprehensible wise and holy will of him who will one day cause the full light of heaven to dawn upon these mysteries of life.”

“In him we were also chosen, {Or were made heirs} having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:11,12).

We have been chosen in Christ.  We have been made heirs of an eternal inheritance in Christ.  Though both are true, the Greek in this sentence is unclear.  Whichever Paul meant we were “predestined” for it.

And this predestination is “according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will”.  This is a breathtaking clause.  God has a plan (Greek prothesis—purpose, design).  According to that plan, God works out all things “in conformity”(Greek, Boulay—counsel, resolve) with his will/purpose.  It’s an echo of Romans 8:28,29 . . .

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”

God is sovereignty.  And his sovereign purpose is clear:  “in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.”  By “we, who were the first to hope in Christ” Paul means Jews who believe in Messiah Jesus.

“And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession– to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13,14).

Consequently, “you also were included in Christ” refers to Gentiles who “heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation”.   Gentiles “believed [and] were marked in [Christ] with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit . . . ”  The “seal” is the “Holy Spirit” who identifies believers as belonging to Christ.  Furthermore, the Spirit “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession . . . ” 

As a “deposit”, the Holy Spirit, who lives in believers, is a portion of the total purchase price paid in advance, a promise that the full payment will come in due time.  When Lois and I bought our house, we deposited 20% of the total price—the balance (plus interest) was to be fully paid in 30 years (we did it!).

John Eadie, 19th century Scottish theologian comments . . .

“The earnest (deposit) , though it differ in degree, is the same in kind with the prospective inheritance. The earnest is not withdrawn, nor a totally new circle of possessions substituted. Heaven is but an addition to present enjoyments. Knowledge in heaven is but a development of what is enjoyed on earth; its holiness is but the purity of time elevated and perfected; and its happiness is no new fountain opened in the sanctified bosom, but only the expansion and refinement of those susceptibilities which were first awakened on earth by confidence in the Divine redeemer. The earnest, in short, is the ‘inheritance’ in miniature, and it is also a pledge that the inheritance shall be ultimately and fully enjoyed.”

Paul here writes of “redemption” as our future experience, as he does in Roman 8:23 . . .

“Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.”

The fullness of the inheritance will certainly bring great joy to us.  But God’s ultimate purpose is “the praise of his glory”.

* * *

The heavenlies hold blessings belonging to God the Holy Spirit.  They’ve come to us in Messiah Jesus.  How foolish that sounds to unbelieving ears!  How narrow!  God’s blessings fall from heaven like snowflakes on everyone who needs them!  No, they’ve “fallen” in Christ.

We, who believe, who know these blessings have come in Christ, don’t appreciate the feast we have.  That’s why we have to prayerfully, thoughtfully read this gospel again and again.  It’s like studying how the feast was prepared–so that, when we sit down to “eat”, we don’t presume it’s cheap fast food.








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When our family celebrated Easter, all the women contributed food.  Which meant our dishes were overflowing.  I think of that when I read Ephesians 1—so much blessing, it overflows.  Taste after taste of delicious gospel truth.  Hard not to make a meal of each sentence.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3).

Paul begins by nearly exploding with praise—long praise (one sentence, verses 3-14, 202 words in the Greek text!)  “Worthy of praise (meaning in context of the Greek eulogaytos) is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ”.

What has God done to deserve such praise?  God “has blessed us (graciously lavished his favor on us—meaning of euloyaytos in context) with every spiritual blessing (a blessing coming from the Holy Spirit) in the heavenly places (literally, in the “heavenlies”).

According to Sam Storms (pastor, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City), “‘the heavenlies’ are where Christ is, where we are (in spiritual union with him), where demons are, and where God is revealed! In other words, ‘heavenly realms’ does not refer to a physical location but to a spiritual reality, God’s world, in which believers have a share and which evil forces still seek to attack . . . It is a way of saying that this world is not the only reality”.  From that spiritual reality, Christ came to open the way for believers to be blessed by God with every spiritual blessing in Christ.

Note:  These spiritual blessings in the heavenlies that come to us are “in Christ”.  Just as God is not whomever we make him to be but the God who is “Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” so God’s blessings can be found in only one source—Messiah Jesus.

 Nor are “spiritual blessings” vague or merely emotional.  Paul lists them, beginning with what theologians call “election” . . .

“For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight” (Ephesians 1:4a).

 God chose (Greek, eklego) us in Christ before the creation (Greek, katabolays—“foundation”) of the world “that we should be holy and blameless in his sight”. 

Since God chose us before creation, no created thing or person had any bearing on God’s choice.  No merit, no circumstances affected God’s choice. He  didn’t choose those who now believe because we merit it or because circumstances demand it.  Storms writes, “We must still believe in Jesus, but our belief is itself the historical and experiential fruit or effect of God’s pre-temporal elective decree (see Eph. 2:8). The religious implications of this are profound, for either a person thanks himself for his faith, because it resulted in his election, or he thanks God for his election, because it resulted in his faith.”

God’s choice came with purpose: “that we would be holy and blameless in his sight.” 

Paul may be thinking of the present as the Spirit progressively sanctifies.  But Ephesians 5:25b-27 suggests his purpose will ultimately be fulfilled at the end of the age . . .

 Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”

“In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—” (Ephesians 1:4b,5).

Having chosen us believers before the world’s creation, God destined us “to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ”. Adopted”—a powerful, emotional, life-changing experience.  And God adopted us “[i]n love.  Adoption is especially staggering given that by nature we were “sons of disobedience” and “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:2,3).

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God–children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12,13).

 Paul explains that God not only desired (“will”) to adopt us, but it was “his good pleasure”.  As a father is delighted to bring a hurting child into his family, so God was delighted to destine us for adoption.

 “ . . .  to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Ephesians 1:6).

Here stands God’s ultimate purpose in choosing us sinners to be made his holy and blameless children:  that the glory of his grace might be revealed, and revealed, praised.

Note: God freely gave the glory of his grace “in the One he loves”—that is, in Christ.

Just last night we watched a TV show where a wayward young lady was convinced she was going to burn in hell for the wrong she’d done.  The minister’s wife in the story assured her, “God’s not like that.  He’ll forgive you.”  But God is only “not like that” in Christ.  We can’t trust God to forgive us, only God in Christ.

* * *

So we believers  sit at a feast.  A table filled to overflowing with every blessing of the Spirit in Christ.  Chosen by God before anything else existed, so that corrupting, killing sin would be undone by holiness and blamelessness.  Can we wrap our minds around that?  Before we were born God chose us.  Did he look down a mental list of names and check us off?  (By the way, our faith in Christ Jesus is proof of our election.)

Then he was delighted to predestine us for adoption as his children (not everybody’s a child of God).  God’s not only God, but our Father.  Among other things that means we’re joint-heirs with Jesus of an eternal inheritance in a new creation with new immortal bodies.

Illness now leaves me feeling impoverished, a beggar without a crust of bread.

But when I read Ephesians1:3-6, I realize God has welcomed me into a table heavy with a lavish feast fit for a child of the King.



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Dear . . .

“Dear Reverend. Dear Allan.”  Letters or emails, I always gloss over the salutation.  We do the same over New Testament letters’ salutations, too.  On to important stuff—the letter’s body!   But, wait!  The salutation’s important, too.  Look . . .

“Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God . . . “ (Ephesians 1:1a).

Paul identifies himself as “an apostle of Christ Jesus . . .” An apostle (Greek, apostolos) is a “sent one”, a “messenger”, an “envoy”, a “commissioned representative”.  In the New Testament, the apostle represents Christ and is charged with planting and establishing churches.

The New Testament uses apostolos of the Twelve (11 plus Mathias replacing Judas)–a unique, closed group.  It also uses it of Barnabas (Acts 14:4,14), James the brother of Jesus (Galatians 1:19), Andronicus (Romans 16:7), Junias (Romans 16:7), as well, of course, of Paul.

By what authority does Paul claim to be an apostle?  Victor Furnish (Professor Emeritus of New Testament at Southern Methodist University) explains . . .

“When he describes himself as ‘an apostle by the will of God,’ he is not emphasizing his own obedience or response to a divine call. He is, instead, emphasizing the call itself, God’s sovereign initiative in establishing him in an office to which he was destined even before his birth (Gal. 1:15) and for which, apart from the grace of God, he is in no way qualified. The apostolic authority about which he reminds his readers is based not in any personal merit of his own but solely in the grace of God which had been given to him.”

John Stott (20th century English Anglican priest and acknowledged leader of the worldwide evangelical movement) commented on “by the will of God”:  it means we “must listen to the message of Ephesians with appropriate attention and humility. For we must regard its author neither as a private individual who is ventilating his personal opinions, nor as a gifted but fallible human teacher, nor even as the church’s greatest missionary hero, but as ‘an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God’, and therefore as a teacher whose authority is precisely the authority of Jesus Christ himself, in whose name and by whose inspiration he writes”.

“To the saints who are in Ephesus and are faithful in Christ Jesus . . . “ (Ephesians 1:1b).

As he describes all believers, not just an elite few, Paul addresses his readers as “saints” (Greek, hagiois)–“holy ones”.

And he calls them “faithful”, meaning not that his readers are reliable, but that they are full of faith.

They are saints and faithful “in Christ Jesus”.   I view “in Christ Jesus” to be the realm in which Paul’s readers are both “saints” and “faithful”.  He is the power in which they are transformed.  His Spirit, his character, his purposes shape their lives just as being “in sin” once shaped their lives .  Here’s what Paul wrote later in this letter about in- sin lives . . .

“You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient.  All of us once lived among them in the passions of our flesh, following the desires of flesh and senses, and we were by nature children of wrath, like everyone else” (Ephesians 2:1-3).

But we who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are no longer “in sin”.  The realm of our life is “in Christ”.

Now, a point about manuscript. A manuscript is a handwritten copy of a portion of a Bible text.  The New Testament boasts over 5,800 complete or fragmented Greek manuscripts, far more than any other ancient work.   The point?  “in Ephesus” doesn’t appear in the best manusripts.  This has led to the general consensus that  Paul is writing an “encyclical”—a letter he wants shared with all western Asia Minor churches.   Of course, now in God’s providence, it has gone global.

 “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Ephesians 1:2).

Paul’s greetings are more than form.  “Grace to you . . . ” is Paul’s sincere prayer for “God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” to pour out favor and power into the lives of his readers.  Listen to John Piper’s comment . . .

“Grace is about to flow ‘from God’ through Paul’s writing to the Christians. So he says, ‘Grace to you.’ That is, grace is now active and is about to flow from God through my inspired writing to you as you read — ‘grace [be] to you.’”

“ . . . peace” reminds Paul’s Jewish readers of the Hebrew “shalom”, an inner sense of wholeness and tranquility.”  Again Paul is praying for his letter to be the conduit of peace to his readers “from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

 *  *  *

Much is in a salutation, if we pause to look!  But, what shall we do with it?  Pray . . .

God our Father I pray that as we read this letter you will pour grace upon us.  May we hear Paul’s words as Christ’s.  May your unmerited favor be lavished on us through this letter.  And may the peace that passes understanding guard our hearts and minds in the Lord Jesus Christ.  In his name and for his glory I ask, amen.


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Take a Look at This Beauty!

You visit a dealership to buy a car.  You’re welcomed (accosted?)  by a salesman who leads you to a shiny new vehicle and  points out the car’s best features.  That’s what we’ll do today with Paul’s letter to the Ephesians—introduce it by pointing out just a few important features .

We left Paul in his rented house in Rome chained to a Roman guard around the clock awaiting his trial before Caesar.  While there, Paul wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon (60-62 A.D.)

Paul had evangelized in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-20:1) fall 52 A.D. to spring 55 A.D.  In that city, he received the most violent opposition yet (Acts 18:23-41; 2 Corinthians 1:8-10).  But among a population  of at least 250,000 he planted several house churches, with more in villages not far from the city and larger churches in Asia Minor cities like Laodicea, Pergamum and Sardis.  Scholars generally agree Paul intended Ephesians to be circulated among all those churches—a considerably large body of believers.

Ephesus, though, was the recognized center of religious and political life in the area of the Roman empire.  The imperial cult was everywhere present in the city—temples of Claudius, Hadrian, Julius Caesar, and Augustus for Romans to pay homage to their emperors.

The temple of Diana (or Artemis) stood as the largest building in the region and the city’s primary religious site. The platform on which it was built measured more than 100,000 square feet, the temple itself was 425 feet long by 220 feet wide by 60 feet high. Made entirely of marble with pillars overlaid with gold and jewels, it was considered one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World.

Not surprisingly, Ephesus was a center for magical arts and various occult practice, the chief of which was “Ephesian Letters” (Ephesiagrammata), six magical terms said to possess power to ward off evil spirits.

One popular story told of an Ephesian wrestler unbeaten in the ancient Olympics because he wore the “Ephesian Letters” on his ankles.  Officials discovered and removed them—the wrestler then lost three consecutive matches.

Among Diana’s attributes was power over demons of the dead.  Her followers invoked her authority to raise the dead, heal the sick and protect the city.

Perhaps the presence of pagan temples and belief in a goddess like Diana led Paul to write that well-known text, “For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 6:12).

Paul explains our “struggle” (Greek–palay, “wrestling, conflict, fight”) is against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”  What struggle?  The fight of faith, the fight of obedience, the fight of living a life worthy of our calling, even the fight of living a moral life as an unbeliever.  We are opposed and that by spiritual powers of evil.  “Bad things” can’t be ultimately caused by “bad people.”  More than human wrongdoing accounts for “wrong” in the world.  We might say there are ghosts under our beds.  And only Christ can defeat them.

During and after Paul’s ministry in Ephesus Gentiles joined the Jews in the house churches.  Coming from popular pagan religions, they needed grounding in the gospel and in Christian living. The influx of Gentiles also created tension in the churches, especially since Gentiles didn’t particularly value the Jewish heritage of the faith and Jews treated them as outsiders.

That situation likely prompted Paul’s powerful words . . .

“So then, remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by those who are called ‘the circumcision’ — a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands — remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.  So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:12-22).

Racism remains a cancer in America. Paul announces it can overcome (Jew/Gemtile; black/white; etc.P not by educatio, or protests, or government programs, but by Christ’s transforming work that makes all believers “one new humanity . . . thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”  The local church should be the body where all races find unity in their new Christ-identity.

John Piper has called Romans “the greatest letter ever written.”  If so, Ephesians is a close second.  It’s been called “the crown of St. Paul’s writings” and “Pound for Pound . . . may well be the most influential document ever written.”  Sounds like we’re in for a mind-stretching, soul-feeding, Christ-exalting walk through a breathtaking letter.

With that in mind, the most excellent way to end this brief introduction  is by praying one of Paul’s magnificent Ephesians prayers–a prayer I pray God will answer in part through our study . . .

I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power” (1:17-19).


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The Christian & the Slave

Racism remains rampant in the U.S.  November 2015 CNN poll: 49% of Americans call racism (belief that one race is superior to another) “a big problem”.  Surprisingly, the Bible doesn’t openly condemn racism–not even slavery.  But it does attack slavery in an unusual way.

Paul has arrived in Rome.  He’s now under what we might call “house arrest”, chained to a Roman guard, while awaiting his trial before Caesar.  He writes a letter to a friend–Philemon.

“Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus, and Timothy our brother, To Philemon our dear friend and fellow worker, to Apphia our sister, to Archippus our fellow soldier and to the church that meets in your home:  Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philemon 1-3).

Paul calls himself “a prisoner of Christ Jesus”, not of Rome, nor of Caesar.  He believes Christ Jesus has captured him and sent him to this “prison”.  “Philemon” is Paul’s “dear friend and fellow worker”, a member of the Colossae church.  Philemon is a slave owner.  Paul addresses his letter not just to Philemon, but also to Apphia and Archippus and “the church that meets in your home”.  Paul mentions Christ twice in this greeting—signifacant because Christ is the “hidden star” of this letter.

“I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints.  I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints” (Philemon 4-7).

Paul tells Philemon how he always thanks God for him, hearing of his faith in Christ and love for all believers.  Paul tells him, too, how he prays for Philemon—that Philemon may actively share his faith, so that he may have “a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ”.  (Sharing the faith deepens our understanding of Christ!).  Philemon is known for “[refreshing] the hearts of the saints”, and this love encourages Paul and gives him great joy.

“Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I appeal to you on the basis of love. I then, as Paul– an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus–I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains.  Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me.  I am sending him– who is my very heart– back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel.  But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced.  Perhaps the reason he was separated from you for a little while was that you might have him back for good–no longer as a slave, but better than a slave, as a dear brother. He is very dear to me but even dearer to you, both as a man and as a brother in the Lord” (Philemon 8-16).

Onesimus.  His name means “useful”, this one who became a useless slave to Philemon by stealing from his master and running away.  But he  has providentially found his way to Paul’s house.  Paul has led the slave to faith in Christ Jesus.  He now is  sending him, with this letter, back to his master.

Paul writes persuasively.  Since Onesimus has become a Christian, Philemon should welcome the slave back as his “dear brother in Christ”.  Paul could command Philemon.  After all, Philemon “owes” Paul.  It was the apostle who led him to Christ.

Instead, he “appeals” to him “on the basis of love”.  In other words, Paul wants this not to be a law-matter, but a heart-matter.

“So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.  I, Paul, am writing this with my own hand. I will pay it back– not to mention that you owe me your very self. I do wish, brother, that I may have some benefit from you in the Lord; refresh my heart in Christ. Confident of your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I ask” (Philemon 17-21).

How can Philemon refuse?  Paul urges him to “welcome him as you would welcome me”.  He promises to personally pay Philemon back anything Onesimus owes him.  Paul even tells Philemon he’s confident he’ll exceed his requests.

“And one thing more: Prepare a guest room for me, because I hope to be restored to you in answer to your prayers. Epaphras, my fellow prisoner in Christ Jesus, sends you greetings. And so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas and Luke, my fellow workers. The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit” (Philemon 22-25).

How to understand Paul’s request for a guest room?  Did he really expect the Lord to answer Philemon’s prayers, so he’d be freed?  Or was he “warning” Philemon he’ll soon show up and know how he’s treating Onesimus?

Paul sends greetings from five men  with him.  But is what most compelling is what Paul doesn’t write at the end of this letter . .

What did Philemon do when Onesimus returned?

* * *

The same question can be asked of us.  Now that we know what Paul wrote to Philemon, what can we do about the scourge of racism?  I’m not suggesting that any of our “doing” will wipe out racism, any more than what Paul wanted Philemon to do would wipe out slavery.

I am suggesting we can make a small difference, especially in our churches. (Yes, we find it even there.)  If there is someone in our church of a different ethnicity, or someone we might discriminate against (a poor person, an unkempt person, etc.) . . .

Now that we know what Paul wrote to Philemon,
what can–what will– we do
about racism, about discrimination?









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Acts Unfinished

Acts finishes unfinished.

“For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house
and welcomed all who came to see him.
Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God
and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ”
(Acts 28:30,31).

That’s it?  No details of that time?  No what happened to Paul afterward?  Did the statute of limitations run out?  Does he appear before Caesar?  Was he freed?  Executed?

Luke’s ending implies Acts’ story is meant to continu–fto be ongoing– generation after generation, century after century.  We are “writing” the current chapter.

Dr. Gordon Fee suggests Acts shows us that God’s intent for his church is “a triumphant, joyful, forward-moving expansion of the Gospel, empowered by the Holy Spirit, resulting in changed lives and local communities” (How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 93).

That was the story of Acts.  First in Jerusalem through Peter.  The Holy Spirit is mightily outpoured.  Peter preached his Pentecost sermon.  3000 Jews from all over the Roman Empire (in Jerusalem for Passover) repent, believe and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Within months, that number grows to 5000.  Almost immediately Jewish authorities turn hostile.  But the gospel advances through the apostles’ preaching and the Holy Spirit’s signs and wonders.

Persecution intensifies.  Stephen is martyred.  Believers scatter from Jerusaleminto Judea and Samaria, gossiping the gospel wherever they go.  Meanwhile, Saul of Tarsus, a young rabbi, has followers of “The Way” jailed.  He travels to Damascus, Syria to drag wayward Jews back to Jerusalem and punishment.  But on the road, the risen Christ appears, blinding him and converting him.  From now on, he takes center stage in the Gospel’s forward-moving expansion.

But he is not alone.  Peter finds himself led by the Spirit to a Gentile house.  He preaches to Cornelius and his household, and the Spirit is poured out on them as at Pentecost.  The Jewish Christian church is becoming Gentile–especially as persecuted believers scatter to Antioch, Syria and plant a strong Gentile church there.  From Antioch, eventually the Spirit sends Saul (soon to be known as Paul) on three missionary journeys through western Asia and ultimately eastern Europe.  At every step, Jews oppose.  But at every step, as the Spirit empowers, the Gospel advances.

Finally, in the Jerusalem temple, a Jewish mob grabs Paul.  His life is spared only because Roman troops rush in to restore peace.  But he spends the next two-plus years imprisoned before being shipped to Rome to stand before Caesar. In Rome, in his own rented house,  Paul is chained to rotating guards who repeatedly hear the gospel.  Jews reject it.  But Gentiles come to listen and be saved.

Acts ends without an ending.  That will come only when Jesus does.  The book, then, is not just history; it’s a paradigm for the church in every generation.

Again, as Dr. Fee writes, Acts shows us that God’s intent for his church is “a triumphant, joyful, forward-moving expansion of the Gospel, empowered by the Holy Spirit, resulting in changed lives and local communities” (How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth, p. 93).

Historically the Gospel hasn’t advanced on a straight incline.  Periods of expansion have been interrupted by periods of halting.  That seems to be so in America now.   Statistics are a mixed bag.  I’ve read 8-10 studies.  The Pew Research Center says in 2008, 80% of Americans considered themselves Christian.  (Whether they were or not remains another story.)  By 2017 that number fell to 75%.  Evangelicals from 2007 to 2014 fell from 26.3% to 25.4% (Pew Research Center).  Another study claims evangelicals have slightly increased.  Another says, “Okay, church attendance is declining; but it’s really just clarifying who the real Christians are.”

The polls are dizzying.  But I’ve deduced this:  we Christians in America are probably declining a bit in number.  But even if we’re holding steady, nothing in any research I’ve read suggests that the Gospel is not triumphantly and joyfully moving forward.  In other words, if God intends the church in Acts to be roughly replicated in each generation, it’s not happening here and now.

So the non-ending end of Acts gives us something to pray for and work toward:  a church through which the Gospel is triumphantly, joyfully moving forward with an expansion of the Gospel, despite opposition, empowered by the Holy Spirit, resulting in changed lives and local communities.






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Rome Finally

Years ago our young family vacationed at Hilton Head Island, South Carolina.  It was this N.J. boy’s first trip to the South.  I was fascinated and excited to arrive.  In today’s text, the apostle Paul arrives in Rome–the city he long hoped to visit, albeit not as a prisoner.

Three months later we set sail on a ship that had wintered at the island, an Alexandrian ship with the Twin Brothers as its figurehead. We put in at Syracuse and stayed there for three days; then we weighed anchor and came to Rhegium. After one day there a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli.  There we found believers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. And so we came to Rome (Acts 28:11-14).Three winter months on Malta, when sea travel was treacherous. They embark early February on a grain ship.  After a day’s sail, they reach Syracuse on the east coast of Sicily.  They spend three days there, then set sail again, docking at Rhegium on Italy’s toe.  There they wait one day for a south wind to blow, taking them 180 miles in two days to Puteoloi, the principal port of southern Italy.

Image result for map of paul 4th missionary journey

In Puteolois they find a community of Christians.  While the centurion conducts week-long business, Paul is permitted to visit them.

“And so we came to Rome.”  But, author Luke will backtrack to tell of an important meeting.

The believers from there, when they heard of us, came as far as the Forum of Appius and Three Taverns to meet us. On seeing them, Paul thanked God and took courage (Acts 28:15).

A few miles north of Puteoloi, they reach the Appian Way.  News of Paul’s approach has reached the capital city, so believers from there travel south.  Some walk 33 miles to Three Taverns.  Others travel 10 miles further to meet the apostle at the market town of Appius.  Paul thanks God for their encouraging presence.  Three years have passed since he wrote the Rome church, and he must have wondered how they received it.  Now his long desire to visit Rome (thoughunder different circumstances) is being realized, and their welcome lifts his spirits.

When we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him. Three days later he called together the local leaders of the Jews. When they had assembled, he said to them, “Brothers, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, yet I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. When they had examined me, the Romans wanted to release me, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case.  But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to the emperor — even though I had no charge to bring against my nation. For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is for the sake of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.” They replied, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken anything evil about you. But we would like to hear from you what you think, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against” (Acts 28:16-22).

Paul is allowed a measure of freedom awaiting his trial.  He lives in a private house, lightly chained by his wrist to a Roman soldier.  (Interesting to speculate on Paul’s conversations with these guards, who change every four hours.  They, of course, hear everything Paul teaches his visitors.)

After three days Paul makes contact with the leaders of the Jews, inviting them to come to him.  He insists he did nothing against “our people” or against “the customs of our ancestors”.  Nevertheless, he was arrested and handed over to the Romans who wanted to free him.  But the Jews objected, forcing him to prove his innocence by appealing to Caesar.  He is a prisoner, he says, “for the sake of the hope of Israel”; that is, for the fulfillment of that hope in Messiah Jesus.

The Jews deny knowledge of Paul’s case (they want little to do with Paul and his Christianity).  All they know is Paul’s Christianity is everywhere-opposed by the Jews.  But they’re willing “to hear from you what you think”.

 After they had set a day to meet with him, they came to him at his lodgings in great numbers. From morning until evening he explained the matter to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets.  Some were convinced by what he had said, while others refused to believe.  So they disagreed with each other; and as they were leaving, Paul made one further statement: “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your ancestors through the prophet Isaiah,  ‘Go to this people and say, You will indeed listen, but never understand, and you will indeed look, but never perceive.  For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are hard of hearing, and they have shut their eyes; so that they might not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and understand with their heart and turn — and I would heal them.’  Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen” (Acts28:23-28).

They come together again, this time more Jews than before.  Paul labors long “to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets”.  They  disagree with each other, some convinced, the majority refusing to believe.  The bulk of the Jewish community, then, stands opposed to Messiah Jesus.

Paul pronounces the Holy Spirit’s words through the prophet.  Isaiah 6:9,10 stands in judgment against them, a solemn last word in Acts. If Romans 9-11 is any indication, Paul spoke these words with sorrow.  But Jewish disbelief means riches for the Gentiles.  “ . . . they will listen”. 

For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. Boldly and without hindrance he preached the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 28:30,31).

W.M Ramsay (19th & 20th century New Testament scholar) suggests the two years was “the statutory period within which the prosecution might state its case”.  If the Romans did or not, we don’t know.  Many scholars argue that Paul was later released and traveled again.  In any case, for those two years, the gospel spread.

There, in a house unknown to us Paul received visitors.  And with courage and without hindrance he preached the fulfillment of God’s saving reign in the Lord Jesus Christ. Certainly the Romans knew—and allowed it. So there, in the heart of the empire, Luke shows Acts 1:8 being fulfilled:  the Lord Jesus Christ is made known “in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 * * *

Since Acts closes in “unfinished” fashion, I believe Paul’s (crazy) route to Rome is a paradigm for today.  I’m thinking of men and women who cross language and culture lines (missionaries) with the gospel.  I have a friend who ministers in a country officially “closed” to the gospel among a little-known people group.  Families are coming to faith in Christ.  God still gets his servants where he wants them to make his good news known.

One important reason to faithfully support our missionaries in prayer and finances.

 And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations,
and then the end will come
(Jesus, Mat
thew 24:14).






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