For the last half of Acts we will be spending most of our study on the efforts of Paul and a few others. The church is growing all over the Mediterranean landscape and the persecution against the church is growing in equal measure. Now that Paul has succeeded in changing rules for the Gentiles joining the church, he is ready to press on with his missions.
Paul is such a unique figure and we sometimes understate his passion and faith in the Lord. I also love that Paul was not afraid to challenge convention in his efforts to bring souls to Jesus Christ. I think we could use more of that passion in the restored church. There are so many people whose lives would be changed with the gospel at their foundation.
As we study these next two weeks remember that we are approaching the end of the narrative portion of the New Testament. After Acts we can only rely on other histories, legends, and inferences from the remaining books of the New Testament that act more as epistles and instruction written to the church to piece together the narrative.
CHAPTERS FOR STUDY WEEK 29 – Acts 16-21
– Each one of us is the direct offspring of God, making us like Him and making Him like us.
– Growing the church and adding disciples is done only through opposition and with faith that God will provide a way to bring the gospel to His children.
– Faith in Jesus Christ is meant to inspire us to repent, or change our path, and come into harmony with God’s will.
Context and Timeline:
– Luke appears to be a companion to Paul’s missions starting in Acts 16 when the narrative switches to the first person account.
– AD 50-56 is the time frame for the 2nd and 3rd missions of Paul.
– Timothy is the same Timothy of later epistles and the reason it was necessary for him to be circumcised, despite the recent changes in church policy, was because Timothy’s mother was Jewish and so he was a natural born Jew and must be circumcised to be a member of the church.
– Paul was a Roman citizen and so it would have been illegal for him to be beaten without having a trial first.
– Epicureans believed pleasure was the purpose of life and that it was obtained through modest living, knowledge and limiting one’s desires. Stoics believed that happiness was found in denying pleasure or fear of pain and that virtue was the purpose of life, obtained through working together and treating people fairly and justly.
– Areopagus (Ares’ Rock) is a large rock formation near the Acropolis in Athens, Greece. It was historically the site of trials since the God’s were to judge the people from this place.
– The Temple of the Unknown God was a location in Athen’s where the temple had an inscription dedicated to the Unknown God. Some of the people in Athens at the time of Paul’s sermon may have believed that the Christian God was the Unknown God.
– Claudius became Emperor of Rome, when his nephew Caligula was assassinated in 41 AD. It is not clear when he expelled the Jews from Rome. He was one of the only Emperors to affirm the rights of Jews in Italy as well.
– Gallio was a close friend of Claudius who was made proconsul over a new province called Achaea around 51 AD. He was only proconsul for a short time and later committed suicide in 65 AD.
– Nazarites were highly devout Israelites who made an additional vow to become closer to the Lord. Their vow included abstaining from alcohol, cutting the hair on their head, and remain ritually pure (avoid corpses, graves, and other sexual improprieties).
– Confessing can be translated as making an oath, which to me is appropriate as repentance and change comes through recommitting to Jesus Christ.
– Artemis was the goddess of the hunt, the moon, and chastity. Her temple in Ephesus was one of the original Seven Wonders of the World.
– It was not until many years after the New Testament books were written that the Lord’s Day became the same day as Sabbath Day and observed on Sunday.
– Overseer is the same word that will later be used as Bishop. So Bishop’s are overseers.
– Since James the brother of John is beheaded, the remaining accounts of James are recounting the activities of Jame the brother of Jesus.
– Sicarii were a group of Jewish Zealots who opposed Roman occupation and were the first organized group of assassins. They predated Hashishins and Ninjas by centuries.
Paul’s 2nd mission begins with a visit back to Lystra and Derbe where the church is flourishing. He meets Timothy there and is so impressed that he asks Timothy to accompany him on his travels. Timothy must be circumcised as a son of a Jewish mother, but he agrees and they head further toward Greece.
On the journey Paul has a vision that instructs him to go to Macedonia (mainland Greece) and to preach the gospel there. When he arrives a very wealthy woman named Lydia, and her household, is converted to the gospel and invites Paul and his companions to her home. On the journey they are followed by an enslaved woman who was used as a fortune teller by her owners. Eventually Paul gets annoyed with the situation and commands the evil spirit in her to depart. When this happens the girl is no longer able to serve her owner’s purpose and so they complain to the local magistrates that Paul and his companions are causing trouble in the city.
Paul and his companions are arrested and ordered to be beaten by these magistrates. While they are in prison the men are singing and praying and a large earthquake comes that allows them to leave the prison. However, rather than flee they remain. The jailer, however, thinks they have fled and is prepared to kill himself before Paul stops him. The jailer feels the spirit of the Lord and he and his entire household are baptized.
After realizing that they had made a mistake by beating Paul and his companions (they were official Roman citizens), the magistrates send officers to release them. Paul however, asks for the magistrates to come and apologize themselves so that it is clear to everyone that Paul and his companions are accepted in the city.
They next travel to Thesselonica and while they convert a small group, the people there are more hardened to the message and so they move on to Beroea where they have a lot of success in bringing people the Lord.
After Beroea, they travel to Athens and Paul delivers one of his most famous sermons at the Temple of the Unknown God. There are many people there who mock him, but also many who want to hear more about their message. It appears that he leaves some of his companions in Athens to continue preaching and Paul sets out to Corinth.
While in Corinth, Paul baptizes a couple named Aquila and Priscilla who had been cast out of Rome along with all Jews by Claudius. Paul continues preaching and baptizing when Timothy and Silas arrive from Athens and assist in teaching and baptizing many people in Corinth. Paul became concerned that their success was going to lead to problems, but the Lord promised Paul in a dream that he would be protected and to continue preaching.
Shortly after that, Paul is attacked and accused by a Jewish mob. (As an aside, think of how easy it may have been to question God telling Paul he would be protected in this moment.) However, Gallio was a reasonable new proconsul in Achaea and he dismissed the Jew’s claims and allows Paul to continue teaching among them.
Paul feels that it is time for him to return to Antioch and so they begin their journey back with a stop in Ephesus. The people there asked him to stay, but he declines and says he will return if it is the will of God. He makes another stop to the church in Caesarea before regrouping in Antioch.
Paul’s Third Mission begins with him returning to Galatia and Phrygia to strengthen the church there. While he is there a man named Apollos is preaching in Ephesus about Jesus Christ. He had not been taught the entire message of the gospel, but was strengthening the members of the church there with his testimony of Jesus Christ and baptism. Priscilla and Aquila hear Apollos message and afterward teach him more of the gospel before he sets out to strengthen more disciples and followers in the area.
When Apollos arrives in Corinth, Paul arrives in Ephesus where Apollos had planted the seeds of the gospel. Paul then baptizes all these believers and gives them the gift of the Holy Ghost by laying hands on them. We learn that Paul’s faith increased and many miracles were happening because of his and other’s faith.
An interesting thing happens because of all the excitement around these miracles. Seven sons of a Jewish High Priest named Sceva decide that they can do the same thing as Paul and Jesus. They try to heal people, but while trying to cast out an evil spirit, the spirit rejects their authority as unlike Paul and Jesus’s authority. The possessed man attacks the sons and this story spread around the world only increasing the fame of Jesus and Paul.
Just before Paul was leaving Ephesus, there began to be a problem related to merchants selling smaller icons of the Temple of Artemis. With Paul preaching that there was no god in the temple or in the smaller icons, the business of these merchants was in jeopardy. An argument about this problem started with a merchant named Demetrius and a disciple named Gaius and escalated to the point where a mob took hostage some of the companions of Paul. A few different people tried to calm the crowd, but eventually a Greek city clerk is able to calm the crowd down so the disciples can go on their way.
Paul asks a few of his travelling companions to return to Ephesus and continue ministering there while he travels to Macedonia. While in Macedonia Paul begins to teach to a group of disciples, and apparently he goes on for a long time and a young man falls asleep during the lecture and falls out of the third story window. The people all think the boy is dead, but Paul goes down and lets them know that the boy will live. They finish breaking bread and teaching each other.
Sometime after that Paul heads to Assos to meet up with his traveling companions. From there Paul decides that he needs to return to Jerusalem and that he does not have time to stop back into Ephesus. He sends a letter to the saints in Ephesus asking them to meet him in Miletus for a farewell gathering.
One of the most touching scenes of the New Testament is in Acts 20 when Paul shares his final testimony with the church members of Ephesus and begs them to remember the spirit they felt and to continue in the faith. They cry and embrace each other knowing that they will likely never see Paul again.
As the missionary group travels back to Jerusalem they stop in many places and it seems in each place there are people warning Paul not to return to Jerusalem because he is danger if he returns there. Despite the warnings Paul continues on the journey. When he arrives he meets up with James, the brother of Jesus, and James brings him up to speed with the changes related to Gentiles joining the church and then assists Paul in completing the ritual purification process so he can enter the temple and worship the Lord.
Shortly before the 7 days necessary for purification are over, there are Jews in the temple who recognize Paul and they stir up the crowd so that Paul will be killed. The crowd grabs Paul, but before they can kill him a Roman officer stops the commotion and takes Paul from their midst and arrests him. On the way to the prison barracks Paul asks if he can talk to the officer, and the man asks if Paul is the Egyptian assassin that he was searching for. Paul explains that he is not that man but a Jew from Tarsus and asks for the right to speak to his accusers.
We end this week with the cliffhanger of Paul preparing to address his accusers.
Why is missionary work such an important facet of being a disciple? In what ways can you be a missionary in your own life?
How important is it to stay close to those who find the gospel through your efforts? What ways can you reach out, or stay close with, those who you have found the gospel with?
What does it mean to you to be the offspring of Deity? Does it change how you see yourself or others? What does it mean for our potential?
Key Moment or Scripture: Acts 17:22-31
22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious.
23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.
24 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.
25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.
26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands.
27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us.
28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’
29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill.
30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.
31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
The doctrine that Paul teaches in this sermon is the most important foundation for our faith in God. That we are literal offspring of God, with seeds of His divinity in our souls, makes our interactions with each other so much more meaningful. We are children of a Parent who is seeking to help us become something more than we are now, not dissimilar to what we try to do with our own children.
I love this quote from CS Lewis,
“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which,if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Believing that God views our mortality as a means to a greater end helps us answer some of the most difficult questions of life and it also helps us interact with God more personally. I wish more people could see themselves in this light and I think if we all did the world would be much more full of love and compassion.
I think it is important to remember that even though the second half of Acts focuses on the efforts of Paul and a few other missionaries, that the church was growing substantially through the efforts of thousands of people at this point in time. There were entire villages and communities being converted. The difficulty of creating unity was overwhelming to the apostles and leaders of the church. They did not benefit from instantaneous communication like we do, or the printed word that could be mass distributed. I honor these men who did so much to establish the foundations of Christianity. I think we could accomplish so much as disciples if we had the passion and conviction that they possessed. I think that is the message we should take from these events. Let’s increase our passion for the Lord and for His gospel.