by Ray C. Stedman

The Scripture quotations in this publication are from the Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1946, 1952, and 1971 by the Division of Christian Education, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A., and used by permission. WHEN THE CHURCH WAS YOUNG Copyright (c) 1989 by Ray C. Stedman Published by Discovery Foundation Cover Design by Ernest J. Wester Library of Congress Catalog Numbers: Birth of the Body 74-82549 Growth of the Body 76-47845 Triumph of the Body 79-92270 All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be used in any form without the written permission of the Publishers, except for brief excerpts in reviews. Printed in the United States of America.

Dedication To the elders of Peninsula Bible Church, faithful co-laborers in Christ. 1

"You shall receive a crown of glory." Contents 1 Out of the Shadows (Acts 1:1-14) 2 The Birthday (Acts 1:15-2:4) 3 Beyond Tongues (Acts 2:5-21) 4 Confrontation (Acts 2:22-37) 5 The Essential Ingredients (Acts 2:37-47) 6 The Healing Hand of Jesus (Acts 3:1-10) 7 The Only Solution (Acts 3:11-26) 8 The Threat of the Resurrection (Acts 4:1-12) 9 When Obedience is Wrong (Acts 4:13-31) 10 Great Power, Great Grace, Great Fear (Acts 4:32-5:11) 11 Times of Peril (Acts 5:12-42) 12 Seven Choice Men (Acts 6:1-8) 13 The Issue is Jesus (Acts 6:8-8:1) 14 God Has the Edge (Acts 8:1-24) 15 Have Spirit, Will Travel (Acts 8:25-40) 16 Beloved Enemy (Acts 9:1-19) 17 The Yoke of Christ (Acts 9:19-31) 18 Three Faces of Death (Acts 9:32-10:23) 19 Peter and Cornelius (Acts 10:23-11:18) 20 Recognition of a Church (Acts 11:19-30) 21 Let Us Pray (Acts 12:1-25)

Dr. E.M. Blaiklock, longtime Professor of Classics at the University of New Zealand, has said, "Of all the centuries, the twentieth is most like the first?" Despite the obvious technological differences (which are certainly superficial), the truth of Dr. Blaiklock's statement can be demonstrated in several ways, including the position of the church in the world today. Twentieth-century Christians confront a thoroughly secularized and pagan world, just as the first-century Christians did. Persecution of Christians in the twentieth century is far more widespread and at least as violent as it ever was in the first 2

century. The seeds of restless discontent have been widely sown among the nations in our day, and people everywhere are crying out for relief from the sense of emptiness and despair which a widespread materialism has produced. The major difference between the two centuries is that the virile, growing church of today must contend not only with a secularized society, but also with a secularized church - a vast and torpid body which moves only slowly toward restored vitality. Nevertheless, vitality is returning! In spontaneous upthrusts which are breaking out in many places, the Holy Spirit is restoring the church to the original pattern given in the Scriptures, thereby reviving its pristine power and impact. The changes that have taken place in the church worldwide during the past 15 years is phenomenal. The Congress for World Evangelization that was held in Lausanne, Switzerland reflected many of these changes. At a time like this nothing could be more helpful to the church than to review again the record of the early church's rise and growth. The same principles which produced explosive growth then will do so today. The same pattern of leadership which prevailed then must prevail again in the twentieth century. The same remarkable power which accounted for the church's success then can and must be found today, for Christ's promise has never changed: "I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it." These studies on the Book of Acts have been sent forth with the explicit intention of showing how the church of Acts is designed to be normative Christianity. Certain signs and symbols which were present in Acts (and have been made far too much of today) are not as present in the twentieth-century church to the same degree. But that is as it should be, for the roof of a building does not duplicate exactly the foundation, though it is part of the same building and may use much of the same material. While the Great Architect has proceeded with the construction of His building exactly according to the blueprints which He made available at the beginning, a great many well-meaning friends have sought to help the project by building rooms and lean-tos of their own, all made with shoddy junk materials. Ultimately these side structures will all be torn down as so much scaffolding, and the true building will be revealed just as the Architect planned it. Through the dust and haze of construction it may help to see the emerging building more clearly if we study the blueprints carefully. To this end these studies are presented. They were originally a series of messages on the Book of Acts which were preached the attentive congregation of the Peninsula Bible Church in Palo Alto, California. I am indebted particularly to Mrs. Jean McAllister for their present re-edited form, and to Mr. Paul Winslow for his untiring efforts in bringing them to publication. Ray C. Stedman

Chapter One Out of the Shadows Acts 1:1-14
The Book of Acts unveils one of the most exciting dramas of the Bible. Though the full name of the Book of Acts is The Acts of the Apostles, only Peter, James, John, and Paul appear prominently as apostles. Through the centuries, Christians have shortened this title to simply The Acts. This is an appropriate name, for Acts is truly a book of action, showing God at work through the living body of Christ, the church. One of the nicer things said about today's nominal church is that it is irrelevant. Many people look upon the church as nothing but a collection of colorless religious creeps who come to church to sit with black stares on their faces. The liflessness of today's church may well have stimulated the famous remark by Nietzsche, the pagan philosopher: "If you want me to believe in your Redeemer, you'll have to look a lot more redeemed!" Some people think of the church as a group of religious bureaucrats who are forever issuing pronouncements to which no one pays any attention. Others think of it as a group of plastic hypocrites trying to play waterboy to the game of life; whenever real issues need to be faced, the church stands off to one side and says "Me too." Some people view the church as a group of "good time Charlies" who never entertain a serious thought, never think deeply about life, and never care enough about other people to bother getting their hands dirty. 3

In all honesty we must admit that there is much justification for these charges. But they are true only because the church so easily forgets what it really is. When it operates the way it was intended to, the church is the most important body of people of any era--far above and beyond any other human entity. The church is actually the secret government of earth. As Paul the Apostle says, it is "the pillar and bulwark of the truth" (1 Tim. 3:15), that is, the source and support of all realistic knowledge of life. This is what the church is supposed to be in its day-to-day life on earth. A Building and a Body In our study of the Book of Acts we are privileged eye-witnesses of the birth and growth of this amazing phenomenon, which is still present in the twentieth century. In Paul's Letter to the Ephesians he employs two symbols for the church-two major figures that help us to understand what the church is really like. At the end of the first chapter Paul says that the church is a body. He speaks of "his [Christ's] body, the fulness of him who fills all in all" (Eph. 1:23). So the church is a living organism; it is part of the life of Jesus Christ present on this earth. At the close of the second chapter the Apostle says the church is like a building, "members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets," which grows into a holy temple designed by the Spirit for the habitation of God (Eph. 2:19-22). So in one sense the church is like a building and in another it is like a body. Yet certain things are common to both these ideas. For one thing, both a building and a body are inhabited by a person. The central thing about the church, therefore, is its relationship to a Person. This personal relationship is what we shall see developing in the Book of Acts. There is intense conflict throughout the Book, but the conflict is met by ringing confidence. Acts is a record of power in the midst of persecution, of life and health pouring from a living Christ into a sick society through the channel of obscure men and women very much like you and me. The Book of Acts fills the gap between the Gospels and the Book of Romans, making it possible for us to fully understand the New Testament. At the end of the Gospels we find a handful of Jews gathered in Jerusalem talking about a kingdom that is to come to Israel. In the Book of Romans we find an apostle who is not even mentioned in the Gospels and who was not even one of the twelve; he writes to a band of Christians in the capital city of Rome, talking about his plans to travel to the ends of the earth. The Book of Acts tells us how it happened and why this change occurred. The key to the Book is found in the introduction, where the essential strategy by which Jesus Christ proposes to change the world is revealed--a strategy which is the secret of the revolutionary character of the church when it is operating as it was intended to operate. This strategy is given to us in the first two verses of Acts: In the first book, O Theophilus, I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach, until the day when he was taken up, after he had given commandment through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen (Acts 1:1,2). The writer here is Dr. Luke, that beloved physician who accompanied Paul on his journeys. We do not know how Luke became a Christian, though it was probably through the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Luke was Paul's companion through danger, hardship, trial, and endless difficulty up and down the length and breadth of the Roman Empire. He wrote two books of the New Testament-the Gospel According to Luke and the Book of Acts. Acts is written to a young man named Theophilus, and that is all we know about him. His name indicates that Theophilus was probably a young Greek, perhaps a new convert to Christianity whom Luke met somewhere and to whom he is explaining what Christianity is all about. It may seem strange that Theophilus is not mentioned anywhere else in Scripture, but anyone with a name like Theophilus might well tend to remain hidden most of the time! I had friend whose middle initial was "T", and once at a party a friend of his announced that he had discovered what the "T" stood for: Theophilus, because when the doctor first saw this baby he said, "That's the awful-est baby I ever saw!" The name actually means "loved of God," indicating that this young man was probably a Christian. We are indebted to Theophilus for sharing his letters with us, for otherwise we would not have the Gospel of Luke or the Book of Acts. Dressed in Flesh In is first statement Luke says, "In the first book I have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach..." The Gospel of John says, "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us" (John 1:14). Jesus as a man came to begin something--"to do and to teach"--and record of that beginning is in the Gospels. But Luke clearly implies that this second Book is the continuation of what Jesus began to do. In a very real sense Acts is not the acts of Christians but the continuing acts of 4

Jesus. It is an account of what Jesus continues to do and to teach. In the Gospels He did it in His own physical body, but in the Book of Acts he is doing it through the bodies of men and women who are indwelt by His life. Whether in the Gospels or in Acts, incarnation is the secret strategy by which God changes the world. Whenever God wants to get a message across to men He does not merely send someone to announce it; his final way of driving it home is to dress the message in flesh and blood. God takes a life and aims it in a certain direction, and then by the manifestation of His own life through the blood and flesh of a human being He makes clear what He has to say. That is the strategy of the Book of Acts. It is the record of incarnation--of men and women possessed by Jesus Christ and manifesting His life every day. Anytime you find a Christianity that is not doing this, it is a false Christianity. No matter how much the pseudo-Christianity may adapt the garb and language of true Christianity, if it is not the activity of human beings possessed and indwelt by the life of Jesus Christ, it is not authentic Christianity. The life of the indwelling Christ is the true power of the church, as we see in the Book of Acts. For this reason the Book of Acts is an unfinished book, for it still being written. Acts closes abruptly, with an account of Paul living in a rented house in Rome. It almost sounds as if you could turn the next page and begin another new adventure! The Book of Acts is Volume 1, and we today are writing Volume 20. Ours may well be the last volume in the series. I hope that it is! In this introduction to Acts we learn the historic basis on which the strategy of incarnation rests and the elements that make up the continuous program by which it operates. The first these historic elements is the resurrection of Jesus: To them [the apostles] he presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days and speaking of the kingdom of God. And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem...(Acts 1:3,4). I have already deliberately stopped here to show how Luke stresses the great and central fact of Christian faith: Jesus is alive. That incomparable fact is what thrusts Christianity ten thousand miles ahead of its nearest competitor in the field of religion. There is nothing like it Jesus is alive, risen from the dead! A certain man today who calls himself the Messiah has been announcing that he is the fulfillment of the predictions of the return of the Messiah to earth. He is causing quite a stir among people who are easily influenced by this type of fraud. Whenever I hear of someone like this, my first question is, "Has he risen from the dead?" I'm not interested in a Messiah who hasn't risen from the dead! By Convincing Proofs But Jesus Christ has truly risen from the dead: "He presented himself alive after his passion by many (convincing) proofs." The word Greek word for "proof" here is a word that included the idea of being convincing--"infallible," as the King James Version puts it. Luke gives us three categories of proofs that Jesus Christ is alive, though not in as much detail as in other parts of Scripture. These evidences are important, for from the very day of Christ's resurrection certain enemies of Christianity have claimed that the appearances of Jesus were really nothing but hallucinations in the minds of Christ's followers. "But let me show you," Luke says, "the three categories of proof that he has risen." The first one: he appeared to them for a period of forty days. From this word for "appear" we get our word ophthalmia which means literally "the eyeball." In the modern vernacular, these disciples "eyeballed" Jesus For forty days! They saw Him again and again, not merely once, and each time He looked exactly the same. It's hard for a hallucination to accomplish this! Then too, Christ spoke to them: "speaking of the kingdom of God." "We even remember His subject matter," Luke says; "He talked about the kingdom of God." "We saw Him and hear Him--two experiences of our senses that confirmed to us that this was no fantasy, no hallucination." Finally, the ultimate proof was that "He ate with us." (The word "staying" in verse 4 has a marginal reference which gives "eating" as the actual Greek word used.) Those who were with Jesus saw Him eat. They actually saw the food disappear. It must be terribly hard to get a hallucination to eat! So Luke says, "This is proof; He ate with us, so we know he is alive." This marvelous fact of the resurrection of Jesus is the bedrock upon which all Christian faith ultimately rests. Anytime you are troubled with doubts or are under attack for your faith, come right back to this fundamental fact. The Apostle Paul holds it up for us and says, in effect, to the enemies of Christianity, "Look, if you want to destroy our faith, then 5

disprove this fact. It all rests on this. "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile" (1 Cor. 15:17). Throughout the centuries many attempts have been made to disprove the resurrection of Jesus, but none has ever been successful. In fact, in the attempts may skeptics themselves have become convinced by the evidence and have become Christians. The resurrection is fact number one upon which the strategy of incarnation rests. The second historic fact is referred to here as "the promise of the Father": And while staying with them he charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the promise of the Father, which, he said, "you heard from me, for John baptized with water, but before many days you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit." So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them "It is not for you to know the times or seasons which the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:4-8). This passage contains the fourfold characteristic of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. What Jesus said to these eleven disciples (Judas by now having left them) was literally, "Stick around Jerusalem." That is the Greek expression. "Stick around! Don't go outside the city until the promise of the Father has come upon you." Why? "Because you'll make a mess of it if you try witnessing without this. This is an essential. You can't be an effective Christian if you aren't operating in the power of the Holy Spirit." Every attempt ever made to advance the cause of Christianity which does not arise from this source of power only destroys the message God wants to convey. "Just wait," Jesus says, "for in a few days you will receive the promise of the Father." The Blessing of Abraham What did Jesus mean by "the promise of the Father"? First, he indicates that the coming of the Holy Spirit would not be a ritual, but a reality. John, he said, baptized with water. That is a ritual, a shadow, a picture. But the reality will be the actual Spirit Himself coming to live in you. The promise made to Abraham two thousand years ago will be fulfilled in you. God said to Abraham, "I will bless you, and make your name great...And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed" (Gen. 12:2,3 margin). We are not told in Genesis exactly what that blessing is, but in Paul's Letter to the Galatians he tells us very explicitly what the blessing was: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us--for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who hangs on a tree"--that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith (Gal. 3:13,14). There we learn that God promised Abraham the Spirit and, through him, to give the blessing (that same Spirit) to everyone who believes, even to the Gentile world. Now does this mean that no one ever received the Holy Spirit until the Day of Pentecost, even though the promise was given to Abraham two thousand years before? Well, no Gentile did, unless he had fist become a part of Israel. There is no record of any Gentile believers ever receiving the Holy Spirit until the Day of Pentecost, unless that Gentile first became a Jew. Pictures of the Spirit But in the Old Testament there are several accounts of Israelites who were filled with the Spirit. Abraham himself was so filled, because God had promised "I will bless you," and that blessing Paul says, is the promise of the Spirit. But not only Abraham, but also Moses and Joshua and David and may of the kings of Judah were filled with that same Spirit. And certainly all the prophets were Spirit-filled, for Peter tells us that when these prophets predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glory that would follow, they were speaking by means of the Spirit of Christ which was "within them" (1 Pet. 1:11). They were filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke out of that indwelling. Yet these Old Testament believers came to a realization and experience of the Spirit-filled life only means of a long, drawn-out process of learning, by means of shadows. They were not given this experience first, as we are, to learn its effects later, but they were taught first by means of pictures, shadows, types, and symbols. The Old Testament is full of these. Aaron's rod that budded, which was kept in the Ark of the Covenant, and the candlestick in the Tabernacle were both pictures of the Holy Spirit illuminating the mind and heart. The widow's cruse of oil which never became empty was a picture of the flowing of the oil of the Spirit in a human life (1 Kgs. 17:8-16). The two olive trees of Zechariah which 6

dripped oil from their branches into the bowls of the golden lampstand are also a picture of the Holy Spirit (Zech. 4:1-14). Ezekiel's river that came pouring out from under the throne of God, growing deeper as it went, is a wonderful picture of the flow and power of the Spirit-filled life (Ezek. 47:1-12). These men of old gradually understood through these symbols what it meant to be filled with the Spirit, and then they experienced this filling by faith. The last of these symbols or shadows was the baptism of John the Baptist. Jesus said that John was the last of the prophets. We are told of John the Baptist that he was "filled with the Holy Spirit... from his mother's womb" (Luke 1:15). He experienced this filling in his own life, but he had to teach it by shadows. As he baptized people in water he thereby taught them that the One who was coming would immediately place them into the body of Christ, making them part of His life. Jesus referred to John the Baptist as the greatest man born of women because he was filled with the Spirit from his mother's womb (Matt. 11:11). But now, Jesus says, there will be no more shadows; now there will be immediate reality. Everyone will begin his Christian life on this level. Jesus had said to these eleven men earlier, "The Spirit of truth...dwells with you, and he shall be in you" (John 14:17). As we have seen, this does not mean that no one in the Old Testament was filled with the Holy Spirit; it only means that these men were not yet so filled. Their filling of the Spirit was delayed until it would be available to both Jews and Gentiles. Although they were Jews, they were to be part of a body of both Jews and Gentiles which would be formed by the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Now the Holy Spirit is given to a believer the moment he puts his faith in Jesus. There is no special sign, feeling, or emotional indication of this indwelling. It occurs, as Jesus said it would, when anyone believes in Him. It is the means by which the risen life of Jesus becomes available to us continuously and constantly. All that Jesus is, is made available through all that I am. That is why it is important that the Holy Spirit should come--so that through the Spirit Jesus' life is made available to each of us who trusts in Him. Quiet Power Jesus points out that this indwelling is not a ritual but reality, not a program but power. The eleven disciples said to Jesus, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" They were thinking in terms of timetables, schedules, and programs. And the church throughout its history has often made this same mistake. But the Lord Jesus said, "That is not for you to know. Times, schedules, and programming are all in the Father's authority. Your task is to be the manifestation of power; the Father will put it all together." Now what kind of power is Jesus talking about? This is a most wonderful thing! It is resurrection power. It is the power of a risen Lord--there is no way to overthrow it, no way to stop it. Every obstacle thrown in its path is only turned into an opportunity to advance. You can find many demonstrations of this power in the Gospels and in church history. Every attempt to resist the working of the Holy Spirit simply opens the door wider, for this is Christ's resurrection power at work. It is a glorious kind of power, for it does not need any props or outside help, and it does not borrow anything from the world. It doesn't even need a cup of coffee to get started in the morning! Furthermore, this power works best in a cemetery. It operates most visibly where everything is dull and lifeless. Anyone operating on resurrection power can come in and change the whole scene. Resurrection power changes lives from within rather than from without. It does not start on the outside, with the environment, or the circumstances, or the external situation; it starts within and works outward. It does not separate or divide; it harmonizes, heals, draws people together, and breaks down walls of hostility that have been standing sometimes for centuries. It batters these all down and brings people together in harmony. This totally different kind of power is what you receive when you receive the Holy Spirit. Eyes on the Lord Jesus also says that this power will result not in propaganda but in witnessing. Christians are not to be like salesmen going out to peddle a product, nor are they to be recruiters trying to get people to join a religious club. By doing this the church has become false and has lost its power. In contrast, Christ's power has a personal note about it. Jesus says, "You will talk about Me because you will have experienced Me. You will talk about what I have done for you." The mark of a carnal church is that it loves to talk about itself. These early Christians never witnessed about the church at all; they witnessed about the Lord--what He could do, how He would work, what a fantastic person He was, how amazing His power was, and what He could do in human hearts. The twentieth 7

-century church too often has its eyes focused on itself. But the early church had its eyes focused on its Lord, and for this reason it was an effective witness for Him. Finally, this promise of the Father will not be restricted at all, but it will be universal. It will begin in Jerusalem and Samaria and go to the uttermost parts of the earth. It will include all places and all times, and it will make no distinction between classes, races, or sexes. In Christ there is no East or West, In Him no South no North But one great fellowship of love, Throughout the whole wide earth. An Assured Return The third historic element which Luke stresses, which runs like a thread throughout the rest of the Book of Acts, is the hope of Christ's return: And when he had said this, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven" (Acts 1:9-1l). What an amazing experience this was! As the disciples were standing on the Mount of Olives they saw Jesus suddenly ascend into a cloud, and they never saw Him again. He just disappeared. The cloud received Him out of their sight. Now Jesus had told them this would happen, and that it was necessary. "It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you" (John 16:7). It is by means of the Spirit that Jesus makes His life available to each of us so intimately and personally. Jesus did not go to some distant planet in space. I think of wrong to think of heaven as if it were several billion light-years away. Instead, Jesus simply stepped into a different dimension of existence--the spiritual kingdom which surrounds us on every side, invisibly. He is not far away, and neither is the throne of God and the greatness of his power. But that invisible life imparted to us by the Holy Spirit, who came as a result of Christ's leaving this earth. Because Jesus went, I can have all of Him, and so can you. Now the angels tell us that Christ's return is certain. "This same Jesus," they say, "will come back again." He will come in exactly the same way as they saw Him go. Just as He stepped into invisibility, He will step back again into visibility. Suddenly He will be back. And when He comes, says other Scripture, He will remove the curse from nature. Men are looking today for a solution to the ecological crisis that confronts us. How shall we solve these problems? Well, we shall not. They will get much worse, and the crisis will get so bad that human life will actually be unable to exist any longer on the earth. Jesus said so. He said that the tribulation of those days would be so intense, so terrible, that no flesh would be saved except for the intervention of God. But when Jesus comes again He will remove the curse from nature, and nature will bloom and blossom once again. God will draw back the curtains on the exciting creation He has been working on behind the scenes throughout these twenty centuries--a new humanity. A new kind of man will suddenly be revealed. That is what Paul calls "the revealing of the sons of God" (Rom. 8:19). All the world is looking forward to this event. The hope of Christ's return is part and parcel of the mystery of incarnation, the grand strategy that God employs. The Final Link As the disciples turned away from the Mount of Olives, we read of the last element: Then they returned to Jerusalem from the mount called Olives, which is near Jerusalem, a sabbath day's journey away; and when they had entered, they went up to the upper room, where they were staying, Peter and John and James and Andrew, Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus and Simon the 8

Zealot and Judas the son of James. All these with one accord devoted themselves to prayer, together with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers (Acts 1:12-14). What did they do we they were waiting? Why, the only thing left to them--they prayed! Here were these men deprived of the physical presence of Jesus. The Spirit had not yet been given, so they did not have His indwelling life, but they were still not cut off from God. They were linked to Him by the marvelous communication of prayer. They gave themselves to prayer, waiting for the full revelation of what God had in mind to give them. Prayer is always an essential part of the life of the people of God. It is part of the strategy by which the incarnate Christ touches and changes the world. Here in this introduction we have all the elements that make up the Book of Acts: a risen Lord whose life is made available through the coming of the Spirit, and who will come again in power and great glory, but with whom we are always in instant communication by means of the miracle of prayer. These elements are what enable any group of Christians to have an impact upon and to exercise a vital revolutionary force upon the age in which they live. May God grant that this will become our own experience in day-to-day living!

Chapter Two The Birthday Acts 1:15-2:4
As we consider the last part of Acts I and the first four verses of Chapter 2, it will be helpful to remember the two figures of the church in this section--a building and a body. In the last part of Chapter 1 the foundation is laid for the building, and in the first part of Chapter 2 the body is born. The scene is set for us in these verses: In those days Peter stood up among the brethren (the company of persons was in all about a hundred and twenty), and said, "Brethren, the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke beforehand by the mouth of David, concerning Judas, who was guide to those who arrested Jesus" (Acts 1:15,16). For years I believed that these 120 believers met in the upper room, and that the Holy Spirit came upon them there. But notice that there is a break here. Although the previous paragraph does mention the upper room, (since it is part of the introduction, which ends at verse 14), it is only at verse 15 that Dr. Luke really begins to tell his story. If you link verse 15 with the last verse of the Gospel of Luke, you can see clearly where Luke takes up his narrative again. In the Gospel, Luke tells us that the disciples came back from the Mount of Olives after the ascension of Jesus and continued meeting in the courts of the temple. And that is where the Pentecostal event occurred; 120 people formed much too large a group to meet in an upper room. A Foundation of Twelve Peter's immediate concern is that a replacement be found for Judas in the apostolic band. Judas had fallen from his place as an apostle by his betrayal of the Lord Jesus, and Peter now feels impelled by the Spirit to replace Judas. We have already seen from Paul's Letter to the Ephesians that the church is like a building, "built upon the foundation of the apostles... " (Eph.19). It is therefore not surprising that the first thing we read about in the Book of Acts is the completing of the band of the apostles. In the Book of Revelation John sees the city of God coming down from heaven--a beautiful picture of this magnificent church (Rev. 21:10). There is a wall around it with twelve gates, each bearing the name of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Clearly Israel is linked to this new city. The wall also has twelve foundations, each named for one of the apostles of the Lamb. So there must also be twelve apostles. Some people think the Apostle Paul should be counted among these twelve, although Paul actually apostle, he was not one of the twelve. Peter makes clear that Scriptures had predicted that there would be a replacement of Judas, and he quotes two of the Psalms to prove this. In verse 20 he says: For it is written in the Book of Psalms, "Let his habitation become desolate, and let there be no one to live in it" (Psa. 69:25); and "His office let another take" (Psa. 109:8). 9

During the ten-day period after Jesus ascended into heaven, the disciples poured over the Old Testament to see what was predicted for these days. In the Scriptures they discovered that there must be a replacement for Judas. The Last Payment We are also given a glimpse, in a parenthetical verse, of the tragic end of Judas. We learn how he forfeited his apostolic position: For he was numbered among us, and was allotted his share in this ministry. (Now this man bought a field with the reward of his wickedness; and falling headlong he burst open in the middle and all his bowels gushed out. And it became known to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that the field was called in their language Akeldama, that is, Field of Blood) (Acts 1:17-19). Here is a concise and encapsulated summary of all that happened to Judas in his last moments. When it says that he bought a field with the reward of his wickedness, it does not mean that he took the thirty pieces of silver for which he betrayed the Lord and went out and bought a field. We know from the Gospels that he took those thirty pieces of silver and threw them at the feet of the high priest, refusing to have anything to do with them. Then in what way was this Scripture fulfilled? If we put together all the references to Judas in the Gospels we learn what happened. We are told that Judas was the treasurer of the disciples. He was so appointed by Jesus Himself. John tells us in his Gospel that Judas carried the common treasury, and also that he was a thief, and that he kept stealing money out of this common treasury (John 12:6). What for? Well, evidently Judas had accepted the current Jewish idea that when the Messiah would come he would overthrow the Roman government and establish a kingdom of power and authority, with the nation of Israel at the head. Judas was feathering his nest in anticipation of this event. He had already picked a plot of ground on which he wanted to build a lovely home, and he was buying it little by little with the money which he stole from the bag. Whether he was making payments on the land or simply saving the money in order to give a cash payment at the end, we are not told. But it is likely that this is what he was doing. As Judas realized that Jesus was approaching a crisis, he found he lacked thirty pieces of silver in order to purchase the land. So he made arrangements with the high priest to betray the Lord for those thirty pieces. But when he did the deed and led the soldiers to the Garden of Gethsemane and kissed Jesus to betray him, his eyes were apparently opened to the terrible implications of what he had done, and, wrenched with remorse and agony of conscience, he took the money back to the high priests and threw it at their feet with the words, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood" (Matt. 27:4). Then Judas went out and hanged himself. Hanging there, on the very ground that he had hoped to buy for his home, his body bloated and swelled till the rope broke and he fell headlong, as this Scripture says, and his bowels gushed out. Then the high priests took the thirty pieces of silver and finished paying for the property. They bought it from a potter, finished paying for the property. They bought it from a potter, thus fulfilling Zechariah's prediction that this money for which Jesus would be betrayed (Zechariah had actually predicted that it would be thirty pieces of silver) would be given to the potter. Yet because this property was the scene of the suicide of Judas--a place marked by the blood of a guilty man-the high priests called it "the Field of Blood." To this day you can visit the field in Jerusalem. Judas had to be replaced, then, in order that the church be built upon the apostles. The qualifications necessary to that replacement are given: So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us--one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection (Acts 1:21,22). There were only two qualifications. The man who was chosen must have been with the apostles from the baptism of John, and he must have accompanied Jesus all through His ministry. (Remember that there were many more than twelve disciples who went around with Jesus. He chose twelve of them in order to be in a special relationship to Himself, but there were others who also accompanied Him. It was out of this larger band that a replacement would be chosen.) Not only must the replacement apostle have seen all that Jesus did, but he also must have witnessed the Lord's appearances after the resurrection. He had to give witness to the authenticity of the resurrection. 10

Why such stringent requirements? Well, they underscore what the New Testament is forever telling us-that our faith is not based upon myths or legends; it is based on facts and events which men have seen, felt, heard, and been involved in. This is not a "holy history," as certain theologians like to call it, a kind of pseudo-history which takes place only in the realm of ideas. No, these things actually happened, and our faith rests upon the fact that they really occurred. For this reason the apostle chosen must be able to give witness that these things were actually true. The Lord's Decision The process of choosing happened in an interesting place and in an interesting way: And they put forward two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed and said, "Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles (Acts 1:23-26). Evidently there were only two men out of that band of 120 who met all the qualifications for apostleship. Only two had been with Jesus the whole time and had also seen Him after the resurrection. So Justus and Matthias were put forward. The others had to decide between the two of them, and they did it in the Old Testament way: they cast lots for them. This was very much akin to what we do in flipping a coin. They may have literally used a coin, casting for heads or tails. It came up heads, and Matthias won. Now don't misunderstand this method. It wasn't done in a casino atmosphere; it was a dignified performance. This method was used only when men were otherwise equally qualified. It indicates a recognition that God controls even the smallest things. That's why the Book of Proverbs says, "The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord" (Prov. 16:33). After the lot fell on Matthias he was numbered with the eleven, thereby becoming the new twelfth apostle. A subtle change occurs from here on in Acts. Up to this point the apostles are called "the eleven," but from here on they are again called "the twelve," showing that Matthias was accepted among them as a genuine apostle. The Task of the Twelve With the choosing of Matthias the ground was laid for the church to be built. The foundation was now poured; all the apostles were there. These mighty apostles were men who could witness to the historic foundation of Christianity. The apostles were sent forth with a threefold task. First, they were to be pioneers, going out where the name of Jesus had never been named and planting churches there. Every one of the apostles fulfilled this task. Church history tells us that Thomas went to India, Peter and Paul went to Europe, and others went to North Africa. Second, the apostles were to be proclaimers, uttering what God had revealed. Remember that Jesus had said to His disciples, "I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now" (John 16:12). He never said these "many things" in the days of His flesh; they were revealed only after the Holy Spirit came and taught these men the truths of God. That is why these apostles spoke with authority. When they spoke they did not speak as mere men, but, as Paul says, "When you received the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God" (1 Thes. 2:13). The apostles were proclaimers. Finally, the apostles were patterns. They were intended to be examples of how the Spirit of God operates through men, penetrating a community and moving to change people and transform them. The apostles were to be examples of what a Christian ought to be. They did not live far above us; they were on the same level as we are. We are to live as the apostles lived in every way. It is in this way that these men formed the foundation of the church. A Body is Born As we turn to Acts 2 we find that the figure has changed. Now The church is no longer called a building, but a body. In this exciting chapter we read the account of the birth of the corporate body of Jesus Christ. Here's how the story begins: 11

When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place. And suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting. And there appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2:14). This passage has been subjected to much examination, and also to much abuse and distortion. We need to look at it very carefully. Three things in this passage call for our special attention. In the next chapter we will pursue the study of the subject of tongues, but right now we want to describe three other important points of the passage. Two Loaves Into One First, the day on which this event occurred was the Day of Pentecost. Pentecost is a Greek word which means "fifty," and the day was called that because it occurred fifty days after the Passover feast. Pentecost refers to a Jewish feast which is described in the Old Testament under the title The Feast of Weeks. Seven weeks (49 days) were to be numbered from Passover, and on the fiftieth day the Jewish people were to celebrate the Feast of Weeks, also called the Feast of the Wave Loaves. This feast came at the end of the wheat harvest in Palestine, and they were to take this new wheat, the first-fruits of the harvest, and make two loaves of it. Now these two loaves were symbols of the two bodies from which the church was to be formed--the Jews and the Gentiles. Jesus said He came first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the Jews. But He also said, "I have other sheep, that are not of this fold; I must bring them also So there shall be one flock..." (John 10:16). He was referring to the Gentiles. Here, on the Day of Pentecost, God brought the Jews and Gentiles together and baptized them into one new body, the church. These loaves of the Old Testament were to be baked with leaven. Leaven is yeast, and is a symbol of sin. The wave-loaf offering is the only one in the Old Testament that ever had leaven included in it. Why? Because it was God's wonderful way of telling us that the church is not made up of perfect people. It is made up of saints, but they are sinful saints. It is made up of believers who are in the process of becoming what God wants them, changing them into the image of Christ. For this reason the loaves were baked with leaven. Members of One Another In this beautiful loaf symbolism lies the heart of the church. On the Day of Pentecost, right in line with this Old Testament pattern, the Holy Spirit came upon God's people. And what did He do? He took 120 people who were gathered together in one place, and made one body out of them. Here were 120 isolated individuals who had been living their lives quite separately, held together only by a mutual interest in Jesus Christ. But now they are baptized by the Spirit into one body. That is the fulfillment of Jesus' promise that when the Holy Spirit would come they would be baptized by the Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with any outward demonstration. It is not necessarily associated with tongues, or fire, or wind. These were the incidentals. The essential was the making of a body, one body. This was truly the birthday of the church. When Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, shepherds and wise men came to see Him, and there were angels and a star. But all these things happened only once. They never occurred in conjunction again. Likewise the wind, the fire, and the tongues occur together only once in Scripture. It is foolish to always be craving these incidentals when the Holy Spirit acts today. These are connected only with the beginning of the body. The only time in Scripture that we ever find the phrase "baptized with the Spirit" after this event in Acts is in First Corinthians. There the Apostle Paul says, "For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body" (1 Cor. 12:13). That is the true baptism of the Holy Spirit--"they all became one." And from then on they were part of the life of Jesus Christ and members of one another. What would happen to one would affect the others from then on. They could not be separated, they could not live their lives in isolation any longer; they were truly one body. Certain symbols were associated with this event. There was the sound of the rush of a mighty wind; there was the appearance of tongues of fire dancing on the head of each individual; and there was the strange phenomenon of languages spoken by men who had never learned them--in other words, "tongues." What was the meaning of these symbols? They were the key to the purpose of the body. This was God's pictorial way of telling us what this new body would be like and what it would do. The first symbol was wind: 12

Suddenly a sound came from heaven like the rush of a mighty wind, and it filled all the house where they were sitting (Acts 2:2). Wind is the symbol of invisible power. Remember that Jesus said to Nicodemus that the Spirit is like the wind, which blows wherever it desires, and no one can tell where it comes from or where it will go (John 3:8). It is sovereign, mighty, powerful, irresistible, invincible. But it is also invisible; you can't see the wind. And this is to be a characteristic of the church. It is to be a band of men and women bound together by the life of Jesus Christ, who will accomplish great things through them when they operate in the invisible power of the Spirit. As with the wind, you cannot put your finger on their source of power, but it moves mightily to change and transform lives. The second symbol was fire. Fire is used in two ways in the Old Testament. It is a purifier, burning up dross, garbage, and waste; and it is a symbol for enthusiasm, passion, purpose, and inner hunger. Jeremiah said, "There is in my heart a burning fire" (Jer. 20:9). These two symbols indicate that there is to be within the church a yearning hunger for God which will purify the lives of those who are affected by it. I have been challenged by the story of D. L. Moody walking down a street in New York City and thinking about a sentence he had heard: The world has yet to see what God can do with a man who is wholly yielded to him. There came into Moody's heart a great hunger, and he cried out, "O God, make me that man!" He was so filled with a sense of the overwhelming love of God that he had to go to a friend's house nearby and ask for the use of a room. For an hour or more he was caught up by this passion that had entered his heart when he became converted and which broke out from time to time with tremendous power to cleanse the evils of his life, moving him toward a unifying purpose, a relentless drive to a single goal. That is what Luke is talking about here. When John the Baptist predicted that Jesus would come and baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire, he meant that there would be an unexplainable passion about the church. Every Christian has felt it. We sing of it this way: O Love that wilt not let me go, I rest my weary soul in Thee; I give Thee back the life I owe, That in thine ocean depths its flow May richer, fuller be. Proclamation The third symbol was the use of tongues. Certainly this was not gibberish; these were known languages spoken in that very region as well as in other places of the earth. Those who were there understood the words. The tongues were therefore edifying proclamations; they were intelligent utterances. These men were praising God in languages; the men in the audience heard the apostles telling forth the mighty works of God. Now this is the purpose of the filling of the Spirit. It is always to enable us to speak with boldness, clarity, sincerity, and earnestness, telling forth the mighty works of God in languages that are known. There is a miracle here, no question about it, but the important point is that these men and women were seized by the Holy Spirit and filled with utterance, with proclamation. Several times in the Book of Acts it says that the disciples were filled that the Holy Spirit. But on those occasions they did not speak in their own language. And they were filled that they might speak: "Filled with the Holy Spirit, they spoke..." That is what the filling of the Spirit is for--that Christians might speak with boldness, clarity, and unction--but not always in tongues. This is what the church should be like today. It should be filled with power, passion, and proclamation. It is exciting to see the Lord reviving His church today. All over this country and around the world there are such manifestations breaking out again. They are not spectacular, miraculous demonstrations, but outbreaks of resistless power, like a mighty wind blowing no man knows where, leading out into new ventures, new methods, new approaches, filling men with a passion and hunger for God and a reality which consumes the dross, the garbage, and the waste of our lives--a wind which impels men to speak to others about the glorious reality of a God who 13

lives within, who is mighty and adequate in all that He does. That is the true church, the body of Christ. What an exciting thing to be a member of this living body!

Chapter Three Beyond Tongues Acts 2:5-21
In the phenomenon of Pentecost we see the beginning of the church of Jesus Christ, the body of Christ--in other words, the birthday of the church. Now, in the rest of Acts Chapter 2, we learn the background of the amazing sermon which the Apostle Peter preached on that occasion--a mighty sermon that brought three thousand people to Christ. Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one heard them speaking in his own language. And they were amazed and wondered, saying, "Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians, we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God." And all were amazed and perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others, mocking, said, "They are filled with new wine" (Acts 2:5.13). Luke very carefully describes the onlookers to this amazing miracle of tongues. The tongues were intended for this certain group of people, who are described in a single phrase: Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven (Acts 2:5). The holy time between Passover and Pentecost drew thousands of Jewish pilgrims from all over the earth to Jerusalem. Josephus, the Jewish historian of this time, tells us that the city of Jerusalem (which normally had a population of 50,000) would often be swollen in numbers to well over a million. It was to this multitude that the miracle of Pentecost was directed. God summoned the throngs with the sound of a mighty rushing wind. "At this sound the multitude came together" (Acts 2:6). The "sound" does not refer to the sound of tongues (that would hardly be loud enough to attract the attention of the whole city and countryside!) but to the mighty rush of wind that attracted people from all over the city. It is the same word that occurs in verse 2: "And suddenly a sound came from heaven..." God, as it were, turned on a siren to bring the people together! No Interpreters Needed When the people heard this great sound they came rushing together into the temple, but when they arrived they were still more bewildered, "because each one heard them speaking in his own language." They heard the strange sound of certain men and women, evidently peasants from Galilee, who were speaking in over sixteen different languages. It was quite evident that these people were not educated. And that this was long before the days of the art of linguistics, so it was very difficult to learn a foreign language. You had to live in a country in order to learn its language. Yet these untrained men and women were speaking in languages which were foreign to them. Notice that no special supernatural activity was required to understand the languages. These pilgrims were amazed that they could hear these utterance in their own native tongues. Luke even names the localities and therefore the different languages that were being spoken. Beginning with the East, he lists a group of dialects east of Jerusalem spoken by Parthians, Medes, Elamites, and residents of Mesopotamia. Then he moves north, including Judea (where they were), Cappadocia, Pontus, Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia--Roman provinces of Asia Minor, as we know it today. Then he moves south to Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, in northern Africa, then west to Rome and Crete, and then south again to Arabia.


Although the apostles were speaking in different languages, they were all saying the same things. They were declaring, literally, the "magnificences of God." They were praising God. They were not preaching the gospel; they were speaking of how great God is, worshiping and praising God. That was the phenomenon that arrested the attention of this great multitude as they came pressing into the temple courts. Curiosity and Ridicule In Luke's record of the crowd's reaction, there are two words he uses for astonishment: "amazed" and "bewildered." Twice he indicates that they were amazed. The literal translation from Greek is "to push out of their senses." Or, in the modern phrase, it blew their minds." Linked with that, Luke says, they were bewildered. The word is really one which means they were hit hard, stunned; they were staggered by this amazing thing, especially since they easily recognized the languages they heard. Then we have two more words that indicate puzzlement. They "wondered," and they were "perplexed." Those are suggestive words. "Wondered" means they sought for a solution. "What is behind all this? Why is this happening?" The second word, "perplexed," means literally "thoughts running through their minds." Two more expressions that are recorded of this crowd are especially interesting. When the human mind is confronted with a startling new thing it reacts in one of two ways, as in this case. First, some people began to inquire, representing the group of open minds that are always ready to investigate further before coming to a conclusion. But the other group immediately dismissed the phenomenon with the infantile reaction of mockery and ridicule. They looked at the disciples and said, "They're drunk! That explains it. They've been getting into the new wine!" Explaining Reality All this sets the stage for Peter's explanation, and in the next few verses we have a wonderful message delivered by the Apostle on this occasion: But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them, "Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words. For these men are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day; but this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel" (Acts 2:14-16). Notice how alert Peter was. Led by the Holy Spirit, he immediately began to speak. And he spoke so effectively that he never got a chance to give an altar call (a wonderful thing to have happen!) because he stated the truth in the power of the Spirit. That was Peter's message-a simple explanation of reality. The preaching of the gospel is an explanation of what things are really like. Peter seized this occasion to make clear what lay behind the supernatural events of the Day of Pentecost. His message contained three parts-an explanation of the phenomenon of tongues, a declaration of Jesus of Nazareth, and an application to the crowd. Right now let's discuss Peter's explanation of the phenomenon of tongues. First of all, what Peter said to the crowd when he stood up was not quite what we read in the Revised Standard Version-"For these men are not drunk, as you suppose." What the Greek literally says is, "He stood up and said to them, 'Not as you suppose are these men drunk.'" In other words, they are drunk, but not from new wine; rather, it is what Joel said would happen--the Spirit of God has come upon them. It is true that to be controlled by the Holy Spirit does affect a person somewhat like alcohol does. Paul implies this in Ephesians: "Do not get drunk with wine...but be filled with the Spirit" (Eph. 5:18). But Peter says, "No, it is only nine o'clock in the morning. Everyone knows that hardly anyone drinks before eleven o'clock, so it can't be that they're drunk with new wine; they're drunk with the Holy Spirit!" In the Last Days And then he quotes this amazing passage from the prophet Joel: And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; yea, and on my menservants and my maidservants in those days I will pour out my Spirit; and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heaven above and signs on the earth beneath, blood and fire and vapor of smoke; the sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and manifest day. And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:17-21). 15

Peter's explanation is very simple. Since this is exactly what Joel declared would happen, it is therefore neither unexpected nor unexplained. The key to this passage from Joel is the phrase "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh." If you read the prophecy as it occurs in the second chapter of Joel, you will find that in the words preceding this passage the prophet had predicted that the Lord would visit His people. He would come to them and live in their midst. Then, as the prophet puts it, "afterward" (after this visitation) "I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh." A distinction is made between the visitation of God to Israel and the pouring out of the Spirit upon all peoples everywhere--Gentiles as well as Jews. The emphasis of this section is that now the good news about Jesus Christ is to go out to the Gentiles as well as to the Jews. Now Peter announces that the time has come when God will pour out His Spirit upon all flesh, Jews and Gentiles alike-not only all people everywhere, but all kinds of people: "Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions" (Acts 2:17). Note the emphasis upon youth. God is saying that in this age of the Spirit, leadership, effectiveness, and power will not be limited to gray hairs; young men and women will also speak and lead, will also prophesy and see visions. Even upon servants, obscure people, and insignificant people will God pour out His Spirit, and they too will prophesy. What Peter did not say is as important as what he did say. He did not say, "Thus is fulfilled what was said by the prophet Joel." From other Scriptures we learn that Joel's prophecy has yet to be fulfilled in its ultimate meaning. God will again visit His people at the second return of Jesus Christ. Then, after His return, the Spirit will once more be poured out. When Peter quotes this passage he changes the word "afterward" to the phrase "in the last days." Peter adapts Joel's prediction to the present age of the Spirit, which begins, he says, with the pouring out of the Spirit of God. It is also important to notice that in this quotation of Joel there is no mention at all of tongues; instead, Joel refers to another gift of the Spirit, the gift of prophecy. Prophecy is the ability to declare or tell forth the Word of God in power. Young men and old, servants and obscure people will all be equipped by the Spirit to tell forth the Word of God with power. That will be the mark of the age, Joel says. The emphasis is not upon tongues at all--not even upon gifts--but upon the Spirit who gives the gifts. The last section of the prophecy was not fulfilled on the Day of Pentecost. According to the prophecy of Jesus Himself, this is yet for the future (Matt. 24:29). The day is coming when God will show signs on earth and in the heaven above: blood and fire and vapor of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness and the moon into blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and manifest day (Acts 2:20). Thus Peter gives us the great parenthesis which marks the age of the Spirit in which we live. It began on Pentecost, and it will end after the Great Tribulation, but through it all runs one great unbroken thread: And it shall be that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved (Acts 2:21). It is an age of faith, an age of belief. When men believe what God has said and call upon the name of the Lord, asking Jesus to be Lord of their life, they are filled with the Spirit. There need be no manifestation, no outward signs. It will be just as Jesus Himself said: On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, "If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water'" (John 7:37,38). John immediately adds, Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believe in him were to receive... (John 7:39). From the Day of Pentecost on, the Spirit is given to everyone who believes in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the reason for the manifestations on the Day of Pentecost. Is It the Same Gift? 16

Now the question comes, what about today's manifestation of tongues? Today many people are saying, "We are experiencing a second Pentecost. There is a new outpouring of the Holy Spirit. It is the 'latter rain' that was predicted by Joel to follow the 'early rain' of Pentecost." But no one seems to have noticed that Joel says that the latter rain will occur only after the second return of Jesus Christ--not before. Well, then, what about this modern experience of "speaking in tongues"? How should we evaluate it? The great question that needs to be answered is whether or not the modern phenomenon is the same gift as that recorded in the Bible. We are exhorted by John to "test the spirits, to see whether they are of God" (1 John 4:1). The only way we can know for sure is to understand exactly what the marks of the Biblical gift are and then to compare these with what we see today. Whenever the true gift of tongues is manifested it will always be characterized in four ways. The Holy Spirit always moves in line with the Word of God. First, as we have clearly seen, the Biblical gift of tongues always consists of known languages, spoken somewhere on earth. They may be unknown to the immediate audience hearing them (as in the fourteenth chapter of First Corinthians), but they are spoken somewhere. Second, Biblical tongues are addressed to God as praise and worship. The early Christians did not preach the gospel in tongues; they praised and worshiped God in these strange languages. Paul confirms this with these words: "For one who speaks in a tongue speaks not to men but to God" (1 Cor. 14:2). The third mark of true Biblical tongues is very clear in this Pentecostal incident. The gift of tongues is intended to be manifested publicly--never privately. Again Paul confirms this when he says, "To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good" (1 Cor. 12:7). The gifts are not for private blessing; they are for the common good. In First Corinthians 14 Paul insists that if tongues are nevertheless exercised in the church, they must be interpreted, lest they be of no value whatsoever. Tongues were never intended for the benefit of the speaker, but for the edifying of the hearers. The miracle at Pentecost occurred for the benefit of the thousands of Jews who had gathered at Jerusalem from the four corners of the earth. This leads to the last mark of Biblical tongues, which is also clearly evident at Pentecost and which is definitely referred to by Paul in First Corinthians 14. The Biblical gift of tongues is a sign to unbelievers, and not to believers. Paul quotes an old Testament prophet, the prophet Isaiah, who predicted that one day God would send to Israel men who spoke in strange tongues (Isa. 28:11,12). "And," says Isaiah, "when you hear these you will know that the hour has struck when God will send His message out to all peoples everywhere." The tongues of Pentecost were therefore a sign to unbelievers that the gospel was now going out to the whole Gentile world. Wherever you find tongues occurring in the New Testament you always find unbelievers present, because tongues were a sign to them rather than to the believers. The Need for Warning That is what the Biblical gift of tongues was like. In my judgment, the present-day manifestation is definitely not the same thing, since it doesn't meet the Biblical standard at all. Furthermore, we need to recognize that the utterance of strange syllables is a very common thing in other religions, occurring frequently in Hinduism and several African cults. Long before Plato and the early Greek philosophers discussed the phenomenon of speaking in strange syllables under religious ecstasy. But in my opinion this has nothing to do with the Biblical gift of languages; it is something else. At best, it is a psychological response, fulfilling an overpowering desire to have something that will mark a person as unusually favored in God's sight. This is almost always the explanation behind the hunger of those who seek this gift. The false gift often appears in connection with a genuine moving of the Holy Spirit, and sometimes it is hard to separate the true from the false. This false gift is often a seed planted by the enemy in the midst of a genuine moving of the Spirit, and much of the blessing that comes from the genuine awakening is unthinkingly attributed to tongues. But it is clear to me that the results of yielding to this false gift of tongues is frequently spiritual derailment. Many who have begun well, who have begun to walk in the Spirit, are derailed--shunted into a dead-end street which never goes anywhere. It ultimately results in divisiveness, in separation of Christian from Christian, as well as in prolonged barrenness in the spiritual life. That is why there is need for a warning: the true gift of God will always be in line with the Biblical picture.


We need to take special heed to Peter's final word in this section, that in this age of the Spirit all that the Spirit of God has for us is given to whomever calls on the name of the Lord. As Paul says in the opening words of his Letter to the Ephesians, "Blessed be the God and Father...who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places" (Eph. 1:3). And Peter adds, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3). We need nothing further, no new provision or supply; we only need to claim by faith what is already ours in Christ Jesus.

Chapter Four Confrontation Acts 2:22-37
Peter said that the age of the Spirit would begin with proclamation and end with tribulation. We are two thousand years away from the beginning of that age, and therefore two thousand years closer to the end. In fact, it may well be that the end has already begun. Twenty-five years ago, many people would not have believed that the Book of Revelation could be literally fulfilled, exactly as written. But the Apostle Peter said that throughout this whole age the good news would be that whoever would call upon the name of the Lord would be saved; they would be free from everything that keeps them from being the kind of men and women they were intended to be. Salvation is a restoration to what God intended when he made man in the first place. And the way they will he saved, Peter says, is to call upon the name of the Lord. But having said that, he is ready to spring a bomb on these people. The Lord upon whom men must call, Peter now announces, is none other than the Prophet who was crucified fifty days ago right here in the city of Jerusalem: Jesus of Nazareth. This stunning announcement fell upon the ears of these people with fantastic power. Peter set before them a threefold argument that began with the humanity of Jesus and ended with a clear proclamation of His deity. Peter moved with such precision and such irrefutable proofs that, when he arrived at his conclusion, three thousand people arrived with him. The first movement is the foundation of facts: Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with mighty works and wonders and signs which God did through him in your midst, as you yourselves know--this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it (Acts 2:22-24). These are the great events in history upon which our Christian faith rests: the life and the death and the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. These are historical events which would have been recorded in any daily newspaper of the time. If these events did not occur, Christianity is nothing but a hoax--a bad joke. It is upon the historicity of these events that our faith must rest. If they had not occurred, who would know better than Peter's audience? These people had been in Jerusalem throughout the time that these events took place. They had been in the city when it was so stirred with the arrest and trial and death of Jesus. Of all people in the world, Peter's listeners would have been best able to contradict the Apostle if any of these events were legend or myth. But the Apostle simply sets forth these facts as conclusive evidence and indisputable proofs to support the claims of the Christian faith. The Standard Man Each of these events is designed to teach mankind some important truth. The first is the pattern of normal humanity which Jesus set before us. He was a man, says Peter; he was not a specter or a phantom, nor was He a superman. He was a normal man, authenticated and approved by God as a standard of humanity. When you see Jesus you see what God intended man to be. God's method of authentication was by "mighty works and wonders and signs," the miracles of Jesus. These amazing miracles of changing water to wine, of stilling the winds and the waves, of multiplying the loaves and fishes, of healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead are simply manifestations of man's intended control over nature. These signs were not done by Jesus because He was God. They were done by a man who was yielded to the indwelling power 18

and life of God within. And by means of that power Jesus did these great miracles. That is the normal pattern of humanity, the means by which the life of God the Father was made available to the Man Jesus. Jesus was indeed God--there is no question about that--but that was not the secret of His ministry. The secret of Jesus' ministry was that He was a Man through whom God worked. God wants to communicate to us through the life of Jesus in the Gospels, to tell us to act and think and react as Jesus did, for He is the pattern of normal humanity. Putting Evil to Death The second step in Peter's argument is to focus on the death of Jesus, in which is revealed the purpose of God in history: This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men (Acts 2:23). The death of Jesus was accomplished, Peter said, by you Jews at the hands of Roman Gentiles, who were lawless in regard to the observance of God's law. Although you did this, Peter continued, your murder nevertheless fulfilled the determinate program and plan of God. The Cross was no accident in the life of Jesus--it was an essential event, programmed by God the Father from the beginning of time. Peter indicates here that the only way God could deal with the problem of human evil--the basic problem--was by the death of Jesus. It had to happen, and God arranged it. He is the standard man. He pleased God because He was what God wanted men to be. There is no way to deal with this evil within us except by death. We are all capable of putting on a respectable front. But within us all lurks an evil, reactionary nature which responds with all the ugly things that afflict us today. We are all capable of such evil. Even at moments when we want to do good we find this evil nature coming out. This is what God is aiming at destroying. A young man came to see me, a man whom I had not seen for a number of years. He told me about his life, how he had gotten into difficulties and spent a few years in prison. Now he was really sorry for some of the things he had done, and he realized he was miserable and had made a fool of himself, and he wanted to straighten out his life. We talked about what it would take to correct his life, and about the need of a restoration to the love and fellowship of the Lord Jesus. Then we prayed together. Yet that very night this young man went to the place where he worked, cleaned out the till, and took off with $200 of his father's money. The possibilities of evil are in all of us. God says that the only way this sinful nature can be broken is by the death of Jesus; there is no other way out. When Peter speaks about the definite plan and foreknowledge involved of God, he is not saying that the men and women who were involved in the death of Jesus were robots, automatons who could not help themselves; that though they had to put Jesus to death they could hardly be blamed, since they were operating according to the predetermined program of God. What was determined was that, once having made a choice to reject God, they no longer had a choice as to how that rejection would be manifested. It must manifest itself in some deliberate action and attitude against Jesus Christ. Not One Challenge Now Peter moves to the third point--the resurrection: But God raised him up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it (Acts 2:24). The resurrection power of God, a power which man cannot duplicate, is revealed here. The ability to bring life out of death, to correct a situation that is hopeless, to change a person's hardened heart--that is resurrection power. A high school boy was telling me how baffled his father was by his son's conversion. He couldn't understand it; it fit no psychological pattern that he knew of. He couldn't explain why his son was suddenly so different. And because he couldn't explain it, it angered him and he fought it all the way. People who come into contact with the resurrection power of God frequently react this way. Mankind is always dreaming of finding a way to beat death. One of the more ghastly propositions today is to put yourself in a condition of deep-freeze if you have an incurable disease, until science has found a cure, maybe fifty or a hundred 19

years from now. Then doctors will thaw you out, and you will get a chance to go on living. What a miserable thing! What a far cry from resurrection life! This is not what happened to Jesus Christ when He rose from the dead in all the fulness and vitality of His person. The strange and remarkable thing about Peter's sermon is that not a single voice was lifted in protest. To me one of the greatest proofs of the resurrection of Jesus is that Peter could stand up in the city where these events had taken place a little more than a month before and tell these people that Jesus had risen from the dead, with not a single person challenging him. They knew that the authorities could not produce the body of Jesus, though they would have given a king's ransom to be able to do so. The people had heard all the wild rumors of Jesus appearing alive to His own disciples, and now they stand in mute and stricken silence as the Apostle drives home with powerful strokes the sword of the Spirit, convicting them of the truth of his claim. Pointing Toward Jesus The second major movement in Peter's address was to reveal the background of the resurrection prediction. Behind the actual events of the resurrection lay a pattern of prediction which tremendously enhanced the power of the Apostle's argument. He quotes now from David: For David says concerning him, "I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken; therefore my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will dwell in hope. For thou wilt not abandon my soul to Hades, nor let thy Holy One see corruption. Thou hast made known to me the ways of life; thou wilt make me full of gladness with thy presence" (Acts 2:25-28). The point that Peter is making here by quoting from the sixteenth Psalm is not merely that David had predicted that Jesus would rise from the dead, but also that David had declared that the resurrection was absolutely essential in view of the life that Jesus had lived. Peter's whole argument hangs on this "therefore" in verse 26. Before that, David foresaw Jesus as saying, "I saw the Lord always before me, for he is at my right hand that I may not be shaken." His would be a life lived continually in dependence on the power and authority of the Father. "Therefore [because I will rest in trust upon God] my heart was glad, and my tongue rejoiced; moreover my flesh will rest in hope. "For," he goes on, "you will not abandon my soul to Hades, and you will not let my body rot in the grave. Instead, you will make known to me the ways of life, and in your presence will be fullness of gladness and joy." That prediction of David indicates that the kind of life which Jesus lived guaranteed that death would have no power over Him. In the Words of Major Ian Thomas, "He had to be what He was in order to do what He did." And then Major Thomas continues, "He had to do what He did in order that we might have what He is. And we must have what He is in order to be what He was." That is Christianity. The second point that Peter makes here is that David was not talking about himself: Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses (Acts 2:29-32). Skeptics say that these predictive psalms, such as Psalms 16 and 22, reflect only some personal experience that the psalmist was going through, and that it is wrong to read them as pointing forward to Jesus Christ. But notice how Peter denies that argument. He says, "In the sixteenth Psalm David is talking about a man whose body does not rot in the grave. Now that couldn't be David, because David died and was buried. And if you don't believe it, there's his tomb." Peter's third point in his sermon is that death had no effect whatever upon Jesus Christ. Some Christians accept the theory that when Jesus died His soul went to hell, where He preached to the spirits that were in hades and led some of them captive up to heaven. But Jesus did not go to hades; He did not go to hell. As He said when He died, "Father, into thy hands I commit my spirit"(Luke 23:46). The argument of the Apostle was, then, that death had no power over Him--none at all. It could touch neither His soul nor His body. 20

Evidence of Lordship In the last movement of Peter's sermon we see the demonstration of the results: "Being therefore exalted at the right hand of God, and having received from the Father the promise of the Holy Spirit, he has poured out this which you see and hear. For David did not ascend into the heavens; but he himself says, 'The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I make thy enemies a stool for thy feet.' Let all the house of Israel therefore know assuredly that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified." Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:33-37). Once again the Apostle turned his whole audience into witnesses of his claim. He says, "You're just now seeing the proof of what David had predicted would happen." And then he quotes Psalm 110, in which God says to David's Lord, "Sit at my right hand until I make you ruler over all, till I make your enemies your footstool." And Peter says that this has now happened--that the tongues of fire, the sound of the mighty wind, and the utterance of the strange languages were proof that Jesus of Nazareth is Lord and Christ. "Lord" means Ruler of all things, King over all men, the One who holds the key to life and death, heaven and hell. There is no authority or power that exists that does not take its direction and its limitation from Him. "Christ" means Messiah. "Jesus" is His name; "Christ" is His title. Christ means Messiah, the Promised One, the Deliverer, the only hope that mankind has ever had. Suddenly all of this made fantastic sense to the multitude. The full force of Peter's arguments thudded home, and they realized that they were in a very precarious position. This One whom Peter had proved by indisputable evidence to be Lord was the very person they had crucified fifty days before. They were cut to the to the heart, and they cried out, "Brethren, what shall we do?" It is here that Christianity rests its case. Jesus Christ is Lord whether men know it or not. The very forces that control their lives are dependent upon Him. The declaration of Peter on this day was that Jesus is the inevitable Man. There is no way you can avoid Him. He is Lord over all things, and sooner or later you have to deal with Jesus Christ, whether you like it or not; you have no option.

Chapter Five The Essential Ingredients Acts 2:37-47
The response to Peter's message on the Day of Pentecost was similar to the remarkable awakening that recently swept across our country, especially on college campuses. It is an awakening in which the wife of a college president gets up in chapel and confesses her antagonism toward both the school and the town, confessing that she had not enjoyed her years there and had held it against the whole college community. As she confesses, she tells of God's dealing with her and of the warm love and acceptance He has now given her toward both the town and the school. At the end of her testimony, it is like the Day of Pentecost. People swarm to the altar, cut to the heart because of what they have heard. That is exactly what happened two thousand years ago, confirming that we are living in the same age of the Spirit that was begun on the Day of Pentecost. Continuing in Acts 2, we read: Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). To be cut to the heart is to be deeply convicted, to have a sense of personal involvement in what has been said and an awareness of the tremendous impact of revealed truth. These people had had their eyes opened. They began to realize that behind all the normal events of everyday life was the power of God. And now they understood that the Man they had nailed to a cross some fifty days earlier was the very God of power Himself. 21

In fear and perhaps despair the crowd cried out, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" This is the work of the Spirit of God, making men aware of the Lordship of Jesus. Jesus is Lord. By Him all things consist and are held together. When we understand that Jesus is the inescapable One, there comes this deep sense of conviction, of being cut to the heart. Change Your Mind Peter responds by providing a crystal-clear explanation of how to become a Christian: And Peter said to them, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him." And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, "Save your selves from this crooked generation" (Acts 2:38-40). There are two things you need to do, Peter says, and then there is one thing God will do. First you need to repent--a word which is greatly misunderstood. Feeling sorry and crying may go along with repentance, but such emotions do not necessarily mean that you have repented. To repent (Greek mantanoia) means to change your mind. You have been thinking that everything was all right with you--but now you must think again. You have been thinking that Jesus may have been a great teacher, or a great prophet, but that He is not the Son of God--but now you must think again. Peter is saying, "Get in tune with reality, line up with things the way they really are!" A New Beginning The second thing to do is to be baptized. Baptism does not make you magically clean, but it is the outward and symbolic declaration of the change of mind that you have experienced inside. Baptism is an open identification with Jesus Christ. It is a cutting off from the old way of thinking, a beginning of a new life. Among these Jews baptism was a very clearly understood process. When a Gentile became a Jew, his body was washed all over, and that was a symbol that he was beginning a new life, starting all over again. That is what baptism basically means. But perhaps you are saying, "Wait a minute. Peter says, 'Be baptized in the name of Christ for the forgiveness of sins.'" It is often taught that when you are baptized your sins are forgiven. But the Greek construction here can also be translated, "Be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ because of the forgiveness of your sins." A little later in Acts the Apostle Peter says to another crowd of people in the house of Cornelius, "Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name" (Acts 10:43). Baptism is not the important thing here. It is repentance and belief in His name that obtains remission of sins. It is changing your mind about Jesus Christ that enables God to wipe out all your guilt and all the sins of your past. When that happens, Peter says, you will receive the Holy Spirit. That is, God the third Person will come and live inside you. And His work will be to make Jesus Christ visible, real, and close to you--to impart His life to your own. Notice that Peter did not promise these people the gift of tongues, flames of fire, or a sound of rushing wind. The Holy Spirit came with these phenomena as symbols of what the whole age of the Spirit would be like, but they are not promised to every individual. The Spirit of God comes into the human heart without any demonstration or sign at all, on the basis of changed minds. And on this basis these people received the promise of the Father. God's Choice, Our Choice The Apostle goes on to say that this promise is available to everyone: For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him (Acts 2:39). Notice that the promise is to those whom God calls. That remarkable statement indicates that we do not really find God; He finds us. If you have a hunger to know God, and you think it started with you, you are mistaken. It started with God. God the Father is working within you, drawing you, calling you. Yet, as Peter goes on, he links this truth with a decision of the will:


And he testified with many other words and exhorted them, saying, "Save yourselves from this crooked generation" (Acts 2:40). Peter's entire message is not recorded here, but we have this summary: "Save yourselves from this crooked generation." He is saying that you have to do something. The call of God alone is not enough. You have to make a decision to become identified with Jesus Christ. And the minute you do that, God gives you the gift of the Holy Spirit. To Experience Life We see the immediate results of that decision at Pentecost in these verses: So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousands souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:41,42). In this brief paragraph we have the four fundamentals of Christian growth. If you have received Jesus Christ into your heart, the whole of Christian life lies ahead for you to experience. First, be baptized, as these people were. Imagine the effect on the city of Jerusalem when these three thousand people openly identified themselves with the despised Nazarene. No wonder a great awakening broke out in Jerusalem! The second fundamental of the Christian life is teaching: "They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching." These mighty apostles were commissioned by the Lord Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to tell us the truth about life. The only hope we have of working out our problems is to begin to understand the apostles' teaching. And this teaching was the Word of God, the Scriptures. Next, these new followers of Christ devoted themselves to fellowship, which means holding all things in common, sharing together. Here are three thousand people, many of whom had come from other parts of the world into Jerusalem for that occasion, and who did not know each other. But now that they are one in Christ, they begin to love each other, to share their burdens and needs with one another, and to pray together. There was a wonderful sense of community, of common-ness, of belonging to each other. That is the intended life for the body of Christ. God has designed that His life should be manifest through a body. And if the body is not operating, then the power of the life of God is not manifest. Forgiving One Another The Apostle Paul says, "Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God." And then he lists the things that grieve the Spirit! Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph. 4:31,32). If this is not happening, the Spirit of God is grieved. And when He is grieved, He does not act. There is no life. The church becomes dull and sterile, manifesting only a lifeless ritual. Fellowship is not an option for Christians; it is an essential. That is why when the Holy Spirit of God begins to move in any congregation or assembly of Christians He first begins to heal the brokenness of human relationships, getting people to admit to each other their malice, their anger, their frustration, and their grudges--and to forgive one another. That is when life begins to flow once again through the body of the Lord Jesus Christ. The fourth element in a vital Christian experience is worship. The new Christians in Acts broke bread and prayed together. In the breaking of bread Luke is undoubtedly referring not merely to their meals; he is talking about their sharing together in that symbolic testimony to the basis of Christian life, the life and death of the Lord Jesus--in other words, communion. In the breaking of bread and praying together we are related to God; we speak to God and are identified with Him. Fear and Favor In the last paragraph of Acts 2 we have a beautiful picture of the practical effects of Christianity upon the world all around, upon the church within, and even toward God Himself:


And fear came upon every soul; and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:46,47). The first effect, fear, was upon the surrounding world. Why this fear? Well, suddenly everyone who was in that city at this time saw that God was working through these people. The supernatural was very visible, and it baffled them. A power that was more than human was obviously at work, a power that was manifest in wonders and signs--in miracles. Today many people feel that we have to recapture this wonderful age and reproduce these marvelous miracles and signs. But this is where God always begins when He meets with men. Because unregenerate men are by large confined to a world of visible things, believing only what they can see, God in His condescending grace begins at that level. But the things which He does in the realm of the spiritual are actually far greater than those which He does in the realm of the physical. As His church grows, God moves from the physical level into the deepest level of humanity. It is in the spirit of man, rough God's transforming grace, that the mightiest manifestation of His power is found. The second effect of the Spirit's work is within the church: And all who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need (Acts 2:44,45). This passage is not a blueprint for a new government or a new economic system. These believers simply established a common fund, from which the needy among them were helped. To do it, some of them sold some property and gave up some of the things they owned to the fund. And that is Christianity in action--to be always concerned about the needy. The last result of the Spirit's work is the glory that a practical Christianity brings to God: And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (Acts 2:43-47). Here God is obviously at work, being glorified in the midst of His people and being worshipped and praised by them. Christianity lived in this way by the body resulted in a continuous response on the part of the people around them. This is also what we are seeing today, as the Holy Spirit continues to make the Father known to all, Jew and Gentile alike. The same vitality that was evident among the new believers in those days is being seen again today--the vitality that comes only from a life lived in the strength of the Spirit of God.

Chapter Six The Healing Hand of Jesus Acts 3:1-10
We have no complete record of all the wonders and signs that were done through the apostles in the opening period of the new church, but we do have this story of the lame man who was healed at the Beautiful Gate of the temple. Luke evidently selected this healing out of a number of miracles that occurred in order to teach us something very significant. For this reason we should give it our careful attention. Now Peter and John were going up to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a man lame from birth was being carried, whom they laid daily at that gate of the temple which is called Beautiful to ask alms of those who entered the temple. Seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, he asked for alms. And Peter directed his gaze at him, with John, and said, "Look at us." And he fixed his attention upon them, expecting to receive something from them. But Peter said, I have no silver and gold, but I give you what I have; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." And he took him by the right hand and raised him up; and immediately his feet and ankles were made strong. And leaping up he stood and walked and entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God (Acts 3:1-8). 24

As Peter and John went up to the temple according to their custom, they found a lame man there. It is interesting to note that Peter and John were still going to the temple in order to meet with the other believers. Evidently they still gathered in the temple court where Jesus used to teach, and they were meeting there for prayer and study, for fellowship and the breaking of bread. They had not yet forsaken the temple. Later, in the Book of Hebrews, these early Christians were exhorted to leave the temple, since the temple was no longer the significant meeting place of God with man. The temple in Jerusalem was just a building, and already these Christians were learning that God had designed a living temple, and that the temple of stone was merely a symbol of the real temple--the human body--where God intended to meet man. "You are God's temple," Paul wrote, "and God wants to meet you inside of you, where you live, down at the deepest part." But here in Acts there is no immediate breaking off from the symbolic temple. God is patient and understanding with His people, and He knows that we learn slowly. As Peter and John were going up to the temple it was the ninth hour, or three o'clock in the afternoon. This was the usual time of prayer for the Jews, but it also had special significance to the Christians. It was at three o'clock in the afternoon that Jesus had died on the Cross; it was at that hour that He had cried in aloud voice, "It is finished," bowing His head and delivering up His spirit. On their way into the temple the two apostles met this man who had been lame from birth. It has always been a puzzle to me why this man had not been healed by Jesus. He had apparently been brought to the temple regularly for a long, long time, and Jesus must certainly have seen him as he passed into the temple. But He never healed him. I think this indicates that God has His time for great events, and that until that time things sometimes go on pretty much as usual. At any rate, this lame man was waiting at the gate of the temple. The striking thing about this story is that when he asked alms of Peter, Peter stopped and said to him, "Look at us." This is right in line with the method of Jesus. He never just walked up to someone and healed him without first directing his attention to Himself. Like Peter and John here, Jesus always captured the attention of the individual that He wanted to heal, directing him to focus his gaze upon the Savior. Why Look? The reason for Peter's command was to arouse a sense of expectation, to quicken the lame man's faith. This man expected to receive something (probably money) from Peter and John. His faith was quickened by the command of Peter, "Look at us." There are people who go to church for years, yet whose lives show no evidence that God is at work. This is largely because they have never paid attention to Christ's command, Look at me. This is why Jesus always said to the people of His day, He who has ears, let him hear. The minute Peter had the lame man's attention, he did two things that were most interesting. First, he admitted that he was bankrupt. "Silver and gold have I none," he said. "I know that's what you are looking for, but I can't help you there." And then he demonstrated his amazing adequacy in the spiritual realm. In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk. And in that electric moment, as this man was looking at Peter and John and heard these words--at the mention of the name of Jesus-strength came flowing into his ankles, and Peter, sensing it, took him by the right hand and lifted him up. The man stood up and began to shout and leap around, trying out this new-found strength in his legs which he had never known, because he had been lame from birth. No wonder it had such an amazing effect upon the people: And all the people saw him walking and praising God, and recognized him as the one who sat for alms at the Beautiful Gate of the temple; and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him (Acts 3:9,10). The people were immediately convinced, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that God was at work. They heard and saw this healing, and they noted that it was done in the name of Jesus, that name which signifies all that Jesus Christ is. No Magic To other people, everything that you are to them is evoked by your name. Whatever they see in you is what your name means to them. When you sign your name on a check, that check is good up to the value of what you have in the bank. It releases that amount to the person to whom the check is addressed. The name of Jesus here was not a magic formula that Peter used to produce a miracle. Rather, Peter was saying, "This is the power on whom I am depending. I'm not reckoning on silver and gold. In fact, that is not really what you need." Undoubtedly this beggar did have a material need--food and 25

clothing and other things--but that is not what Peter offered him, because he did not have it. He offered him instead the authority and power and resources of the name of Jesus. All that Jesus was, was working through Peter at that time. The Ground for Witness That is exactly what the church is called to do; we are to declare our bankruptcy in the realm of the material. The church is not called to meet the material needs of the world. Now of course it is not wrong to give money. The parable of the good Samaritan keeps us in balance here. But the basic call of the church is to release the life of God, to declare the power of God, and to make available to men in the name of Jesus the things that only God can do. That is what these people saw, and they were convinced that God was at work. This is the basic pattern for witness. If you want to be an effective witness for Jesus you don't just learn a set of facts about Christianity and go out and peddle these as though you were selling magazines and needed so many subscriptions to the Christian faith. Witness always follows this pattern: first God works. God does something. God changes a life--something that only God can do. Man cannot do it at all. And then man explains what God did. The person to whom it happened says what happened to him. That is what witness is. As a result of this cycle God works again, and another ground of witness--and an explanation--is given. This has been the pattern of witness down through the ages of Christianity. Effective witness does not begin with an explanation. The normal pattern is to let God do something, and then as people see what God has done they ask you what happened. That is why Peter says, "Always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence" (1 Pet. 3:15). That is what witnessing is. Let's look more closely now at the event--and the subject--of healing. On the basis of this remarkable miracle in the Book of Acts many people say, "This is what ought to be occurring in the church all the time. People ought to be healed like this every day. Someone should walk up to them and say, 'In the name of Jesus of Nazareth rise and walk.'" Some people say that it is actually wrong for a Christian to be sick, that Jesus died not only for our sins but also for our sicknesses, and that "with his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:5). They claim that Christians who rely on doctors or medicines are revealing a terrible lack of faith, for God has provided physical healing just as much as He has provided redemption. The idea that Jesus bore our sicknesses by His stripes (in that He was beaten for us) is a very popular concept, and it is the basis for the activity of many faith healers, who tell people that God expects them to be well, and that it is only their lack of faith that keeps them from being well. In these meetings people are exhorted to come up and let someone pray for them so that they may be healed immediately. Is this what this account suggests to us? Signs of an Apostle To answer this question, we need to look at the two classes of Scripture passages which deal with the subject of healing. By doing so we will find the two purposes for healing set forth in Scripture. First, certain passages clearly indicate that healing miracles were intended to be authentications of the message of the gospel, and that the healers were really genuine messengers of God. God spoke through them. A passage which is often used as evidence of this purpose in healing is found in Mark, in which Jesus is meeting with His disciples after the resurrection. He tells them, Go into all the world and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned (Mark 16:15,16). And then He says, And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mark 16:17,18). Many movements have been based on the idea that this is the prerogative of every believer. But we need to notice in this passage from Mark's highly condensed account that Jesus first said to all of His disciples, "Go and preach the gospel to every creature," and then He added, "He [singular] who believes the gospel and is baptized will be saved; but he [singular] who does not believe will be condemned." Then Jesus changed back to the plural: "And these signs will accompany those who believe." By this He meant those disciples to whom He was talking, those whom He had just 26

rebuked for their unbelief. Jesus had just finished scolding them because they would not believe that He was risen from the dead, so He added, "And these signs will accompany those [among you] who believe." Believe what? Believe in Christ's resurrection--that Jesus was really alive and that they had seen Him. Then Mark says this about the disciples: And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it (Mark 16:20). These are what Paul calls "the signs of an apostle"--"signs wonders and mighty works" (2 Cor. 12:12). So this promise was given to the disciples simply as an authentication of their initial ministry. It is not to be claimed by anyone and everyone who believes the gospel. This temporary authentication is confirmed by the writer to the Hebrews, who says that the Lord first preached the gospel: And it was attested to us by those who heard him, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles...(Heb. 2:3,4). There is another group of Scripture passages that indicates that God by His grace does heal in any age and at any time, though only according to His divine purpose. God is a gracious Father, and certain verses suggest that we have every right to ask Him to heal us physically, and that He will often choose to do so. In James we are told that if anyone is sick he is to call the elders together and let them pray. God will hear the prayer of faith and raise the sick. It also says, "Confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed" (Jas. 5:16). But God does not categorically promise to heal. In numerous cases in Scripture God definitely chose not to heal, even among those who were strong in faith. When Paul wrote to the Philippians he referred to his dear friend and theirs, Epaphroditus. They had heard that he had been sick, and Paul said, Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow (Phil. 2:27). Here is a clear instance when the Apostle himself, mighty man of God that he was, could not heal a sick friend. But God nevertheless spared Epaphroditus and restored him. Inner Miracles Someone has well said that every miracle is a parable. It is designed not only to demonstrate the power of God--a power that can literally heal instantaneously and completely--but it is also designed to illustrate people's need in symbolic form, and what happens in their inner life. What happens to your body is not nearly as important as what happens inside you. Moment by moment your body is getting older and grayer and stiffer and more difficult to maneuver and manipulate. But what is happening inside? That is the important thing. Paul says, "The outward man perishes, but the inward man is being renewed day by day." These outward miracles are pictures of what happens in the inward life; inside you can be crippled, blinded, or oppressed. All of these physical afflictions have spiritual counterparts. This miracle occurred at the beginning of the age as a parable, to teach us what the age is like. This lame man is a picture of the world, lying at the door of God, asking for help. Here is a sick, lame, crippled society, unable to be the kind of men and women God wants them to be, and looking in vain to the church, to the door of God, for help. They do not know what to ask for; neither did the lame man. They ask largely for material help. But what is needed is what Peter and John gave--not silver and gold, but the name of Jesus, the power of a new life, the impartation of a new strength that results in a lame man becoming whole. When I was at a theological seminary in Denver I met a boy who told me that he was the ping-pong champion of Colorado. He lived for ping-pong. He thought it was tremendous. Ping-pong was his whole life. But after he became champion he said it all turned to dust and ashes in his mouth. He discovered that man is made for bigger things than ping-pong. He found Jesus Christ, and in finding Him he was made whole, and ping-pong meant nothing to him anymore. This incident may sound humorous, but that is the lesson of this miracle. God is offering to heal men and women and make them whole, mature, and grown up-not only physically, but also spiritually. As the healing hand of Jesus Christ is laid again and again on our hearts and our lives we are being made whole, as God intended men and women to be. This is the great message which we need to declare today: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk, and be what God wants you to be. 27

Chapter Seven The Only Solution Acts 3:11-26
As Peter took the lame beggar by the hand and lifted him up, the man's ankles and bones received strength and he began to leap and shout and walk around the temple courts, praising God. Now Luke continues the account with a report of what immediately followed this amazing incident: While he clung to Peter and John, all the people ran together to them in the portico called Solomon's, astounded. And when Peter saw it he addressed the people, "Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this, or why do you stare at us, as though by our own power or piety we had made him walk?" (Acts 3:11,12). Picture the scene in your imagination. This healed cripple, in his unbounded joy, is holding on to Peter and John with both arms. They try to get away, but he won't let them go. In the Greek it means that he clung to them with great strength. The people around, seeing this commotion, rush over to Solomon's porch in the temple and recognize the man who had formerly sat begging at the Beautiful Gate. Then they stare in silent astonishment at what they see. Peter, looking at their faces, notices their astonishment--the fact that they were stunned by what had happened. He also senses a developing reverence for himself and John--a misguided hero worship. This told him that these people, like many today, really did not believe in a God who could act in history. Even though they had previously seen Jesus perform many miracles like this one, they were absolutely astonished at this healing. Peter also noticed that the people were ready to substitute a false explanation. They started attributing the healing to some kind of magical power on the part of Peter and John. This provides the background for Peter's address, in which he explains what happened. The key to this message is in his opening words, "Men of Israel." There is a very definite Hebraic cast to what Peter says now, because he recognizes that the people to whom he is speaking are all Israelites. In his opening question the word you should be underscored: "Men of Israel, why do you wonder at this?,?" "You should know better. You ought to know that God is this kind of God. He has acted many times in your history in this way." I don't think we can fully understand this passage unless we see that Peter has the background of these people well in mind, and that he understands that they know the scriptures and ought to have anticipated something like this. Begin with the Facts The message that Peter gives falls very easily into three divisions, and in each of these divisions Peter says a most startling thing. In the first section he presents a series of facts which could hardly fail to arouse the people's guilt. Psychologists tell us today that the worst thing you can do in trying to help someone is to arouse a sense of guilt--that if you make someone feel guilty you shut the door to any real help to him. But in this message Peter moves without hesitation to a recital of facts that arouses the guilt of these people: The God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered up and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him. But you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead. To this we are witnesses (Acts 3:13-15). Christianity always rests upon facts, and facts are what Peter puts before these people--real events in which these very listeners had been deeply and inextricably involved. Notice the contrast which Peter draws between the acts of God and the acts of men. He says that God, the God of your fathers, the God whom you have worshipped--this God glorified His servant Jesus, but you delivered Him up to be crucified. And furthermore, the man to whom you delivered Him, Pilate, was a pagan, a Gentile ruler who did not have the background of theology and the understanding of God's activity that you have, and yet he was convinced of Christ's innocence and tried to release Him. But you--you denied Him. And third, the One you denied was the Holy and Righteous One. These are terms which these Hebrews would have under stood, 28

because they are Old Testament names applied to Messiah; they are names that recognize His deity--that the One who was coming would be God Himself. And, says Peter, you not only denied the Holy and Righteous One when He came, but you also asked for a murderer, Barabbas, to be granted to you. In other words, you denied the Giver of life and asked instead that a taker of life be delivered up to you. Furthermore, Peter continues, you killed the Author of life--a word that is better translated the Pioneer of life, the first One who had life. This refers to Jesus as the first human being ever to be resurrected--not just restored to physical life but raised to a higher level. Though you killed Him, Peter says, God answered you by raising Him from the dead. All these facts, Peter continues, were attested to by witnesses: "We are witnesses of this." This is another striking confirmation that the Christian faith is not a religion of dreamy ideas or sentimental hopes, but that it rests on facts that can be attested to by witnesses, as in a court of law. The people who were listening to Peter could not deny that these things had happened, and as a result (as on the Day of Pentecost) they were cut to the heart by the conviction of their guilt. To me the joy of Christianity is the way in which God's Word of truth cuts right through all the illusion, fantasy, and dream worlds that we build around ourselves--right through to reality. The conventional idea that Jesus and His apostles were misty-eyed dreamers who went around talking about beautiful worlds and idyllic ideas is exploded when you start reading the Scriptures. There you discover that it is Jesus and His apostles who are the hard-Dosed realists, the ones who are always injecting hard truths into a world ruled by illusion. The Forces of Guilt Why did peter start right out by making these people feel such a terrible load of guilt? Psychologists rightly tell us that guilt is a destructive force in human lives. We cannot live with guilt. Yet the fundamental characteristic of fallen man is that he feels guilty. There is not a person in the world who does not experience guilt. And the disturbing, unhappy feeling of guilt quickly produces other emotions, like fear. Remember when you were little and you did things that displeased your parents, and then you felt guilty? Your immediate reaction was to hide, because you were afraid. Fear is an unpleasant companion to live with. It motivates a person to run and hide, to escape in some form, or else it makes him hostile, resentful, and bitter. Fear that leads to escape soon becomes despair; life soon loses all its color and meaning. Fear that moves to hostility--a feeling of resentment or bitterness--eventually results in violence. And violence destroys the humanity of an individual. So why would Peter want to awaken this negative force of guilt in the hearts of his hearers? The answer is that before the guilt and fear which is awakened by these words can lead to either escape or hostility, Peter moves to his next point-God's answer to the problem of human guilt. Peter beautifully describe a faith which lays hold of the grace of God: And his name, by faith in his name, has made this man strong whom you see and know; and the faith which is through Jesus has given the man this perfect health in the presence of you all (Acts 3:16). Here is a lame man who is part of this guilty nation. Although he was handicapped and incapacitated in himself, he was also part of the nation which had rejected its Messiah and had cried out "Crucify him! Crucify him!" when Pilate had wanted to let Jesus go. The lame man was just as guilty as anyone else in the crowd, yet here he stands in perfect health, restored whole by God's power. The basis of his acceptance before God, says Peter, the only thing that made God do this wonderful thing in his life, was simply his faith in the name of Jesus. In this restoration of physical health God demonstrated how He reacts to human guilt. He reacts in love and grace, on the basis of faith in the name of Jesus. "Don't look at us," says Peter; "We didn't do it. When we spoke the name of Jesus, this man believed in the power and authority of that name. And immediately the strength that his limbs lacked came flowing into his body." Out of Ignorance With exhibit "A" standing right before the eyes of his hearers, Peter now goes on to declare to them what the result can be in their own lives: And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ should suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the 29

Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for establishing all that God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old (Acts 3:17-21). Here Peter declares that God's answer to man's condemnation of His Son and rejection of the Lord of life is a forgiveness and restoration which take into account man's ignorant blindness. God sees what you did, says Peter, not as the deliberate act of a perverted and twisted will trying to strike back against God, but as the blundering act of an ignorant mind that doesn't realize what it is doing. In these words there is perhaps an echo in Peter's memory of the words which Peter heard Jesus Himself speak on the Cross when he prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Here, and perhaps nowhere else as clearly, we see how God sees man. He sees him as ignorant, blind, and stupid, blundering along in his darkness, not knowing what he is doing. In trying to run our world today it is becoming very clear that we don't know what we are doing. So often people say, "Oh, I had no idea what I was doing! I was just trying to do the right thing, but I've just loused everything up!" And that is exactly what God expects of us, what He has been trying to tell us all along. It is only pride that makes him boast about all his achievements while ignoring his weakness and folly. Not only in matters of politics and economics is this true, but it is especially evident in the realm of ecology, where we have poisoned our lakes and loaded our air so heavily with pollutants that we cannot see the mountains a few miles away. Refreshment and Restoration Peter then goes on to announce what God's purpose is. "Repent therefore, and turn again, unto the blotting out of your sins, and two great things will happen: times of refreshing will come from the face of the Father, and He will ultimately send Jesus Christ to you to restore all the things which were spoken of by the prophets." Peter, looking forward through the whole age, says, "Here are the principles by which God is going to operate: wherever there is a turning back to Him, there will be an immediate dealing with the problem of guilt. God blots out sins." For some reason there is nothing harder for people to do than to believe God. Countless Christians are still trying to work out some standing or merit before God, to do something to make themselves acceptable to Him. But Peter says that God arouses guilt only because He has the solution to it, the blotting out of sins in the name of Jesus. When that happens, Peter says, there will come times of refreshing--periods in human history which will be characterized by relative peace, prosperity, order, and joy. After the spiritual awakening through the Wesleys, England was saved from the disaster of revolution which the French had just gone through. The country was turned around and, although there were still many problems, England experienced joy and contentment. The Protestant reformation in Germany, under Martin Luther, was also such a time. Furthermore, says Peter, it will result ultimately in the return of Jesus Christ. This confirms what I had long suspected from the Scriptures: that when Jesus Christ returns He will not come back at a low ebb of faith, but rather at the height of an awakening, when God's people have returned to Him and there is a release of the fullness of the power of the Spirit. The world around will be barren and disconsolate, but there will be a time of life and vitality on the part of the people of God. The Personal Question Now Peter closes with this appeal to act: Moses said, "The Lord God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren, as he raised me up. You shall listen to him in whatever he tells you. And it shall be that every soul that does not listen to the prophet shall be destroyed from the people." And all the prophets who have spoken, from Samuel and those who came afterwards, also proclaimed these days. You are the sons of the prophets and of the covenant which God gave to your fathers, saying to Abraham, "And in your posterity shall all the families of the earth be blessed." God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you in turning every one of you from your wickedness (Acts 3 :22.26). Paul tells us that historically the gospel was to go first to the Jew and then to the Gentile, and that is the program which is followed in the Book of Acts. Soon God will turn to the Gentile world, for in Christ there is neither Jew nor Gentile. But now Peter argues, "Look, you are Jews. You know the prophets; you have been reading them. And your own Scriptures 30

urge you to believe in Jesus." Then Peter drives home the point with a personal emphasis: "God has sent Him to you, to turn you from our wickedness." Perhaps Peter learned his Old Testament application to the Christian life during those 40 days after the resurrection, when Jesus opened the disciples' minds to understand the scriptures: "Beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27). Peter is saying, "Each man of you has to settle this for himself. Will you allow God to turn you from your wickedness? Will you begin at the place where God begins, right at your own heart, with your own problem of guilt, with your own lack of acceptance before God? Will you deal with that before Jesus Christ, and will you in the name of Jesus believe that God loves you and receives you and makes you His own, and that you are privileged to live as His child, His son, right now?" That is all that Peter can do; the rest is up to those who hear. Will they respond? It is their choice.

Chapter Eight The Threat of the Resurrection Acts 4:1-12
As Peter and John stood on the steps of the temple, speaking with mighty power to the assembled crowd, there was a sudden, violent interruption: And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the morrow, for it was already evening. But many of those who heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to about five thousand (Acts 4:14). There was a tremendous popular response to Peter's message that day--We are told that five thousand men believed (women and children weren't counted in those days!). But suddenly there was this display of authoritative, iron-fisted power as the temple guards elbowed their way through the crowd, surrounded Peter and John, arrested them, dragged them off, and put them in jail until the next day. The most remarkable thing about this arrest is the reason. These apostles were not proclaiming the overthrow of the Roman government. If they had been, we might have expected such a reaction from the authorities. Nor were they protesting against some of the social evils of the day. Peter raised not a word of protest against the widespread practice of slavery throughout the empire, even though half the people in the Roman Empire were slaves. Nor did he say anything about the burdens of excessive taxation which the Romans had towered on these people. No, the message which the authorities regarded as too radical to tolerate was the simple proclamation of Jesus and His resurrection from the dead. For this message Peter and John were thrown into jail before they could even finish their speech. Yet because of this proclamation five thousand men in that great crowd in Jerusalem became believers in Jesus Christ. Cause for Alarm Do you think this kind of arrest could take place today? Would today's authorities oppose a message like this? Well, the clear answer of current history is that they would, and they do. There are several large governments on earth today that are so fearful of the message of Jesus that they use every weapon at their command to keep this radical message from penetrating to their people. Even in our own country this message is sometimes opposed. In a recent awakening in our high schools scores of students came to know Jesus Christ. Yet that awakening, that power that turned these kids from drugs and futility, has aroused suspicion in many people. Many people would gladly suppress and stifle this whole affair. What were the elements of Peter's proclamation that were so disturbing to the authorities? What offensive thing did these apostles say when they proclaimed in Jesus the resurrection from the dead? First, of course, they proclaimed the great and exciting fact that Jesus Christ Himself had risen from the dead only seven weeks before the event of Pentecost took place, and that they, along with over a hundred other disciples, were witnesses to this fact. So powerful was their testimony that not a single voice was raised to challenge it. Instead, five thousand people became convinced of its truth, just as three thousand people had been convinced a few days earlier, on the Day of Pentecost. The disciples also preached that Jesus had extended the promise of the resurrection to others as well; He had said, "I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live" (John 11:25). Jesus also said, "Because 31

I live, you shall live also." Out of the open tomb of Jesus has arisen a radiant, flaming hope that has gripped and held the hearts of millions of believers in the face of persecution and death. Even in the midst of the bleak helplessness of watching a loved one die, faith in the resurrection of the dead in Jesus can bring peace--yes, even joy--to an anguished heart. Death Is Death But if this is all that the apostles had had to say, they would not have created quite the stir that they did. This crowd was made up mostly of Jews, and they knew already from the Old Testament Scriptures that there was hope beyond the grave. It was the third dramatic element that Peter proclaimed on this day that made all the difference in the world. He undoubtedly explained to these people that physical death is strangely linked with the death that is at work in our inner lives right now, that death is all one thing. We experience that inner death a thousand ways, sometimes as loneliness, sometimes as bitterness, sometimes as emptiness and despair, sometimes as depression of spirit. Sometimes it is boredom, sometimes hate; sometimes it is malice and resentment and violence. Whatever it may be, it is not what God intended for man; it is an enemy that haunts him every moment. The glorious proclamation of the truth as it is in Jesus is that Jesus Christ did something about this form of death as well; He overcame it by His resurrection. As a result restlessness is replaced by peace, guilt by acceptance, lust by love, and weakness by power. There is joy for mourning, beauty for ashes, hope for despair, and courage for cowardice. So desperate were these people, so tired of emptiness and of sin, that five thousand hearts leaped to believe and turn to Christ, to begin a new life in Him. Wouldn't you think that the authorities would be pleased, that the rulers of the city would be happy that men and women were finding the answer to their lifelong search? Why, then, were they annoyed with this event? Well, it's clear that they sensed a threat; they felt it in their bones. They stopped the whole show until they could put their finger on just what it was that bothered them, as we read in this next section: On the morrow their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, "By what power or by what name did you do this?" Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, "Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a cripple, by what means this man has been healed, be it own to you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well. This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:5-12). You can see how seriously the authorities took all this by Luke's careful listing of those who were present. There was Annas who was the honorary high priest, the father of Caiaphas. Then there was Caiaphas, who was the official high priest, and with them were gathered two of his brothers, John and Alexander. We know from secular history that this family of the high priest constituted a ruling class in Jerusalem, controlling the vast wealth of the temple and certain profitable monopolies connected with the sacrifice. Here was the class that was in power and authority, with great political and economical vested interests throughout the city. They were greatly disturbed, for they sensed a threat to their power. They were so disturbed, in fact, that without realizing what they were doing they gave Peter an open door for testimony. Send Up the Cornerstone! The authorities said to Peter, "Tell us, by what power or what name have you done this thing?" This was just what Peter was waiting for. With delight he tells them, "By the name of the man whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead." What a contrast Peter presents with the disciple who cringed before a maid in the high priest's courtyard a few weeks earlier! On that occasion Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times before the cock crowed. But what a difference now. The bold Apostle is filled with the Holy Spirit as the life of Jesus is being imparted to him. With the boldness of a lion Peter says, By the name Of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified whom God raised from the dead, by him this man is standing before you well (Acts 4:10).


The former lame man was right there with the authorities, standing as undeniable evidence of the power and authority of the name of Jesus Christ. Then, to further drive the point home, Peter quotes from Psalm 118:22: This is the stone which was rejected by you builders, but which has become the head of the corner (Acts 4:11). What Peter and the Psalm are referring to is the occasion of the building of Solomon's temple. The Bible tells us that when Solomon built his temple on the place where the Dome of the Rock now stands in Jerusalem, there was no sound of hammer or saws and no pounding of any kind. The temple was erected in silence. The rocks that formed the temple were taken from a quarry underneath where the temple stands. If you go to Jerusalem, you can go down to what they call Solomon's quarries and see that it is solid rock. And from that rock the temple was built. It was built to such exacting blueprint dimensions that each rock was shaped perfectly before it ever left the quarry, so that when it reached the temple it could be put in place without any hammering or pounding of any kind. According to Jewish tradition, during the building of the temple a great rock was quarried and shaped by the master mason, but when the builders received it they could find no place to put it. It didn't seem to match any of the blueprints they were working from, so they placed it to one side. After awhile, because the rock seemed to be in the way, someone pushed it over the edge of a bank and it rolled down into the Kidron Valley and was lost in the bushes. But when the time came to hoist the cornerstone, the great square rock that held everything else in place, no one could seem to find it. The masons sent word that the cornerstone had already been delivered some time earlier, so the site builders looked around some more for it, but still no one could seem to find it. Then someone remembered the huge "extra" rock that had been pushed over the edge. Down they went to the valley, where they found it lying in the bushes. With great effort the builders returned the rejected stone to the temple site and hoisted it into place, where it fit perfectly as the cornerstone of the temple. That's what Peter meant when he quoted this Psalm. God had planned that Jesus of Nazareth would be the cornerstone of His government on earth, the Rock upon which all human government would rest and from which it would take all its authority. But the builders of the various nations rejected the cornerstone. So Peter thundered the accusation, "You rejected Him when He came! You had the chance to build a government of Jerusalem on the Rock which God ordained, but you rejected the Rock by crucifying God's Son! But God nevertheless raised Him from the dead and made Him the Head of the corner." Then Peter added these amazing words: And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved (Acts 4:12). This is a startling declaration. It says that no one but Jesus can qualify as the cornerstone. There is only One Person who is adequately equipped to be the foundation of all human government, the basis of all human authority. Truth with Power Christians are often accused of being bigoted and intolerant of other faiths. In one sense this accusation is perfectly true. We are intolerant of other faiths in the final analysis. But this doesn't mean that Christians don't recognize certain truths in other religions. Some great religious leaders have uttered certain fine moral teachings and helpful precepts. But there is one thing they have never done: though they can tell us what is right to do, they can never enable us to actually do it. That is the crucial difference between Jesus of Nazareth and any other name that can be named in this world. That is why we can never consent to putting any other name on an equal with Jesus of Nazareth. No other person has solved the problem of death. No other person has broken through this ghastly terror that hangs over the human race except Jesus of Nazareth. Most of us don't need someone to tell us what to do; we already know what we should be doing. As Mark Twain said, "I don't need anyone to tell me what to do. I'm not doing half of what I know to do, now." What we need is someone who will make us want to do what we ought to do--to give us a new heart, a new outlook, a new ability, a new capacity, a new life. That is what Jesus of Nazareth does again and again--and that is political heresy. Whenever this miracle takes place it threatens all oppression and tyranny wherever it may prevail in the world. The life of Jesus Christ is never against government as such, but it is against oppressive government. His life is the foundation of Christian liberties everywhere. There has never been a force more powerful to assure liberation of men and 33

women from oppression than the dramatic power of Christ's resurrection. That is why this event is hated by the totalitarian forces of our day, whoever they may be. But the glorious fact is that this event is hated by the totalitarian forces of our day, whoever they may be. But the glorious fact that this event is what God is going to build His kingdom on, Christ has become the Head of the corner. Behind the scenes of tyranny and heartbreak and tears and anguish all around us God is working out His purposes. He is building a new humanity, inviting men and women everywhere to share in the risen life of Jesus Christ, and to experience now the glory of a life of peace and joy and rest.

Chapter Nine When Obedience is Wrong Acts 4:13-31
The leaders of the powerful ruling class of Jerusalem, confronted with the unassailable fact of a lame man healed, were also being confronted with a far more uncomfortable fact--that Jesus of Nazareth, whom they thought they were rid of, was somehow still alive. Their uneasiness and uncertainty was obvious: Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they wondered; and they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But, seeing the man that had been healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to go aside out of the council, they conferred with one another, saying, "What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is manifest to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it" (Acts 4:13-16). This is a remarkable picture of perversity of human hearts. Surely these men--high priests and rulers of the city--would have prided themselves on being logical, reasonable, consistent men who acted on the basis of facts. We always think of ourselves this way. But this account makes very clear that they were utterly self-deceived. Although they thought they were acting from a rational position, they were actually operating contrary to reason. Luke points out that these men first noted an unexpected boldness in Peter and John, a note of authority in their voice, a certain poise that these rulers were not used to seeing in uneducated men. They had expected to find this kind of authority only in educated men, but they could see from the dress of the apostles that these were untrained, common men. In the language of the New English Bible, the apostles were "untrained laymen," and these Jewish rulers were at a loss to understand this. How could uneducated, common men have such poise and confidence? The conclusion they came to is most remarkable: these men must have been with Jesus! These Jewish rulers had had difficulty with Jesus; nothing they had said or done to Him ever seemed to trouble Him. Now here were men who were reflecting the same spirit. The high priest and the rest of the rulers had apparently become aware of the fact that anyone who had anything to do with Jesus for very long began to act differently, showing an obvious confidence, an air of boldness and quiet authority. So these Jewish rulers were forced to conclude that these men had been with Jesus. The second thing they noticed was the continuous evidence of the man made whole. It was evident that no crime had been committed; it is no crime to heal a sick man! A good deed had been done, and they could hardly deny it. They were therefore at a loss to know what to do with these men, what charge they could level against them. An Illegal Act The third point Luke records is that the rulers admitted to themselves (after the apostles had been sent out) that the nature of this act of healing was a sign. Surely these men--high priests and rulers of the city--would have this act of healing was a sign. These men were acquainted with the meaning and value of signs. They were the rulers of a nation which had a unique relationship to God, a relationship which, throughout the course of Israel's history, had been characterized by the giving of signs. God had frequently manifested His presence in an unmistakable manner and confirmed His message by accompanying signs. Now the reasonable, logical, sensible reaction to this kind of evidence would be to acknowledge that the sign came from God and to support these men in their cause. But notice their conclusion:


"But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name." So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus (Acts 4:17,18). That was exactly contrary to the evidence they had received! But Peter and John answered them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot, but speak of what we have seen and heard." And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people; for all men praised God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old (Acts 4:19-22). The inconsistency of these rulers led to what was basically an illegal act. They were the representatives of God to the nation of Israel, and as such they were ostensibly committed to doing the will and purpose of God. Yet here, in spite of the evidence they had received of what God wanted done, they directly opposed the will and word of God and forbade these apostles to speak in the name of Jesus. The disciples very wisely and courteously declined to obey this command. They pointed out that they had no choice; they could not but "speak the things they had seen and heard." The message they declared was so challenging, so transforming in its implications--both to the nation and to the world--that they could not be silent and still be true to their relationship with God. They therefore respectfully declined to obey what these rulers commanded. The priests could only bluster and threaten the apostles because they feared the people, for the apostles had the support of the populace. Whom to Obey? At this Point the whole question of civil disobedience comes into view. Here is a clear case of it. These apostles were forbidden by the properly constituted authorities (the establishment, we would call them), to preach in the name of Jesus. The apostles told the rulers to their faces that they would not obey their order. This incident has been used many times since then, and especially in our own day, to justify such activities as racial strife, draft evasion, violent demonstration, boycotts, strikes, and so forth. We cannot read this account without the question being raised, and quite properly: Is it right for a Christian to disobey a law because of a conscientious scruple? It is clear from this account that there are times when it is necessary and right to disobey properly constituted authority. The establishment can be wrong as well as right. But it is also important to notice from this account that civil disobedience occurs here only because the conscience of these men rested directly on a clear and unmistakable precept of God which contravened the human law. The issue is so clear here that Peter actually calls on the rulers to be the judges as to what the apostles should do. He says, "Whether it is right in the sight of to listen to you rather than to, you must judge." You are religious men, he implies; you know which is the higher authority. Which should we obey, God or you? God or man? The matter was so clear that the only thing the authorities could say was, "Obey God rather than us." Yet instead they threatened and blustered, hoping to maintain control by the threat of force. They feared the people, who were convinced that this was indeed a remarkable sign from God. Here, then, are the Biblical grounds for civil disobedience. The Scriptures state very clearly that governments are given by God. The Apostle Paul says that governing authorities are the servants of God (Rom. 13:1-7). It is important to note that when Paul wrote these words the supreme governing authority was none other than Nero--a wicked, vile, godless man, one of the worst emperors the Romans ever had. Yet Paul could write that the governing authorities were the servants of God, and that those who resist them are resisting what God has ordained. Paul acknowledges that governments have certain powers, derived not from the people but from God: the power to tax, the power to keep law and order, and the power to punish evildoing, even to the point of death. We must conclude, then, that the human conscience operating alone, unsupported by a word of revelation from God, does not supply the basis for disobeying the law. The law of man, even bad law, is superior to conscience unless that conscience rests upon a direct precept of God. Conscience is not intended to tell us right from wrong. Conscience can be wrong as well as right. In fact, apart from the help of revealed truth, our conscience would only lead us all astray. Let me share a quotation from H. C. Trumbull, a very clear-thinking writer: Conscience is not given to a man to instruct him in the right, but to prompt him to choose the right instead of the wrong when he is instructed as to what is right. It tells a man that he ought to do right, but does not tell him what is right. And if a man made up his mind that a certain wrong course is the right one, the more he follows his 35

conscience the more helpless he is as a wrongdoer. One pretty far gone in an evil way when he serves the devil consciously. It is only when there is a clear-cut case of conflict between the word and will of God and the word and will of man (as in this case) that conscience is superior to law. Everything's Under Control Notice where the apostles go for redress and support: When they were released they went to their friends and reported what the chief priests and the elders had said to them. And when they heard it, they lifted their voices together to God and said, "Sovereign Lord, who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who by the mouth of our father David, thy servant, didst say by the Holy Spirit, 'Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth set themselves in array, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed'---for truly in this city there were gathered together against thy holy servant Jesus, whom thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever thy hand and thy plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:23-28). These apostles did not go out to organize a revolutionary committee to overthrow the Sanhedrin. They did not even try to arouse a popular march or demonstration, even though the people were behind them. The apostles did not rely for even one minute upon political or popular pressure. Instead, they cast themselves wholly upon the sovereign power of God at work in history. The apostles found encouragement in two things. First, they trusted in the sovereignty of God--His overruling control of human events. The very first word of their prayer, "Sovereign Lord," in Greek is the word from which we get our word "despot." "O Mighty Despot (Tyrant, Ruler over men), who didst make the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them." God holds the world in the palm of His hand and is intimately involved in every human event, and in that truth the apostles found great consolation. They openly recognized that God had even predicted the very opposition they faced. They had clearly been doing what Christians ought to do under pressure: they had gone to the Scriptures. There they had found these words: Why did the Gentiles rage, and the peoples imagine vain things? The kings of the earth set themselves in array, and the rulers were gathered together, against the Lord and against his Anointed (Acts 4:25,26). When they read this in the second Psalm they said to themselves, "There, that's exactly what has happened. Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the others, the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, have set themselves against the Lord Jesus. We saw it happen right in this very city. It's exactly what God said would happen." They found great encouragement in the fact that this event was not beyond divine control, that the opposition they were facing was anticipated. d has power to overrule in any situation, so the apostles didn't try to arouse a popular uprising, which would only create violence; instead, they relied on the God who works in strange and unusual ways to change human events without violence. To Carry Out His Plan The apostles were also encouraged by what we might call the mystery of history. You can see it in the last sentence here: "Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel [were gathered together] to do whatever thy hand and thy plan had predestined to take place" (Acts 4:27,28). In other words, the God of history uses His very enemies to accomplish His purposes! God works through the free will of man. These people had opposed the plan of God. They had tried to thwart God's purposes. They had tried to derail His program. But God operates in such a marvelous way that He was able to use even this opposition to accomplish His will. That is the story of the Cross and of the resurrection of Jesus. The principle that these Christians reckoned upon is the most powerful force known to man--a power which the church frequently ignores to its peril. A powerfully poetic expression of the overruling power of God is found in the New English Bible's rendition of Job 12:10-25: In God's hand are the souls of all that live, the spirits of all humankind... 36

Wisdom and might are his; with him are firmness and understanding. If he pulls down, there is no rebuilding; if he imprisons, there is no release. If he holds up the waters, there is drought; if he lets them go, they should turn the land upside down. Strength and success belong to him; deceived and deceiver are his to use. He makes counselors behave like idiots and drives judges mad. He looses the bonds imposed by kings and removes the girdle of office from her waist. He makes priests behave like idiots and overthrows men long in office. Those who are trusted he strikes dumb; he takes away the judgment of old men. He heaps scorn on princes and abates the arrogance of nobles. He leads peoples astray and destroys them: he lays them low, and there they lie. He takes away their wisdom from the rulers of the nations and leaves them pandering in a pathless wilderness. They grope in the darkness without light and are left to wander like a drunkard. The overruling power of God is the true strength of the church. As the weapon of faith--prayer it is tremendous in its possibilities. Shakedown Resting upon this power, these disciples now make their request: And now, Lord, look upon their threats, and grant to thy servants to speak thy word with all boldness, while thou stretchest out thy hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of thy holy servant Jesus (Acts 4:29,30). What they are saying in essence is, "Do it again. Here we are in trouble and our lives are in danger; do it again!" They are asking for more. And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31). In answer to this prayer by the apostles God first shook the place in which they were praying. This was God's symbolic answer to the disciples' prayer. He was saying to them, in a figurative way, that He would shake Jerusalem and the world by the message these disciples were proclaiming. Less than 40 years after this event the city of Jerusalem was surrounded by Roman armies and the authority of the priests was broken in the city. ultimately the entire nation of Israel was shaken and its people dispersed throughout the nations of the world. For almost twenty centuries Jewish government was not permitted to come into power again. The principles of Christianity then penetrated and permeated all strata of Roman society, changing and transforming them completely. Many young people today are troubled by power structures, by the establishments. They see the evils in them, and that they are not doing what they were set up to do. But it is clear from this account that there is a mighty force at work in society, a force upon which you can rely to enable you to do what these disciples did--to proclaim a message which is the most powerful revolutionary proclamation the world has ever seen; to speak the Word of God with boldness in the filling of the Holy Spirit. To do this is to shake society to its very core. The factor which produces peace, order, prosperity, blessing, and happiness in a land is not the form of government which exists. The U.S. Constitution will not ultimately protect us or preserve justice. What will preserve justice? Righteousness! A people who are dedicated to the will and purpose of God and who recognize the life of God in their midst. That is what preserves a land: that is the only thing that ever has or ever will. The lack of righteousness has been the prime reason for the overturn of one civilization after another. Arnold Toynbee has counted some 26 great civilizations that have come and gone. They failed because they were not built upon righteousness. The effect of the message of Jesus and the resurrection is to bring new life pouring from a living Christ into dying and dead people and institutions, changing them, awakening them, arousing them again to righteousness, to living in accordance with reality. The only hope of our own nation is the proclamation of this message in every possible way in the 37

fulness of the power of the Holy Spirit. God has made provision that we might do as these disciples did. Being filled with the Holy Spirit, let us speak the word with all boldness and produce a profoundly unsettling effect upon all the structures of society.

Chapter Ten Great Power, Great Grace, Great Fear Acts 4:32-5:11
One of the most exciting events of our exciting times is the overwhelming evidence that the Spirit of God is moving to heal a sluggish and diseased church. No one can really comprehend the death and darkness that prevails in the church in many places today unless they contrast it with the vitality and excitement of the normal Christian life. In the fourth chapter of Acts we find a beautiful glimpse of life in the early church. After the dramatic events of the Day of Pentecost, the healing of the lame man, and the great response of the multitudes in Jerusalem, the church faced life in a world of darkness, despair, and death--and it met that death with an outflowing of the life of Jesus Christ. Genuine Christianity is described for us in this way: Now the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own, but they had everything in common (Acts 4:32). Unfortunately, a counterfeit Christianity came along very soon in this early church, and evidences of it can be seen throughout the Book of Acts. Wherever the true church has gone, counterfeit Christianity has kept close company with it. Counterfeit Christianity can be recognized externally as a kind of religious club and who are where people who are mostly of the same social level bound together by a mutual interest in some religious project or program meet to advance that particular cause. In distinct contrast, true Christianity consists of individuals who share the same divine life, who are made up of all ages, backgrounds, classes, and levels of society, and who understand that they are brothers and sisters in one family. Out of that background of mutual love and fellowship they manifest the life of Jesus Christ. Belonging to Each Other That is what we have in this verse. The last word is the key: "...they had everything in common." They were of one heart. At the very deepest level of their lives they belonged to each other, and that is only possible by means of the Holy Spirit. They recognized that they belonged to each other, that they were of the same family and had a great deal in common. Not only were they of one heart, compelled by the Holy Spirit to share the life of Jesus together, but they were also of one soul. Most of us read the words "they were of one heart and soul" as though it were simply a double way of saying a single thing. But the soul is different from the heart, or the spirit. The soul is the conscious part of life, and it consists of the mind and emotions and will. Whatever is going on in your thoughts right now is an activity of your soul. Your mind is engaged, your emotions are feeling certain things, and your will is making choices; that is the soul, the realm of experience. When Luke says that these early Christians were united in both spirit and soul he means not only that they shared the life of Jesus as a fact of their existence, but also that they experienced it. That is what made the difference. Christians everywhere in the world are already united. Unity exists as a fact; it is the uniting of the body of Christ by the Holy Spirit. But these early Christians were united not only in heart (spirit) but also in soul; they emotionally enjoyed their unity. It was part of their daily life. In many churches today there is unity, a oneness of spirit, but there is no experience of it in the soul. It is quite possible to come to church and sit together in the pews, united in a physical presence with other Christians, or to sing the same hymns and listen to the same message and relate to God individually, but to have no sense of body life, no sense of belonging to one another. This is what our younger generation is desperately trying to tell us. "There is no soul in your services," they say to the church at large; "There is no sense of oneness. You may belong to God, but you don't belong to each other." In the early church the believers' sense of belonging to one another manifested itself in a new attitude toward the material aspect of life. "No one said that any of the things which he possessed was his own"--that is, exclusively his. This is not Communism, for it is not a forced distribution of goods. It is not an attempt to make everyone give up their 38

material things and redistribute them to others. No, it is a changed attitude, one which says, "Nothing I possess is for my exclusive use, but everything I possess is God's, and therefore it is available to anyone who needs it." Making Life Visible This is what the church ought to be like, and when it operates like this there will always be results. Luke summarizes them for us: And with great power the apostles gave their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus (Acts 4:33). Power in witness occurs whenever body life is present. God has designed that His church should operate as a body, and we can understand His design as we observe the proper functioning of the physical bodies in which we live. Our life, the life of our spirit--our personality, if you like--can only be made manifest to others through the body. It takes the body to make the life visible. This is also true of the church. If the church of Jesus Christ is not functioning as a body, then the life that is in it (which is the life of Jesus) can never be seen. Notice that although the power was focused in a few men, it took the whole body of Christians (over five thousand by now), to make the power possible. The twelve apostles gave the witness, but the church was participating in their ministry and making their power possible. Furthermore, Luke says, "Great grace was upon them all." What is grace? It is one of those terms we Christians use freely, yet with only a vague idea of what it means. But grace means something specific. It is a word that describes the enrichment of life that results from the love and power of God. Somebody has defined grace in the form of an acrostic: God's Riches At Christ's Expense The Law of Love God's grace appeared in the early church in two ways. First, it produced sharing of wealth to meet needs, the bearing of one another's burdens. Paul puts it this way: "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2). The law of Christ is the basic expression of Christian living, the law of love. "A new commandment," Jesus said, "I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you" (John 13:34). To love means to know someone. You cannot love someone you do not know. Until you know a person you cannot love him; you can only love your image of him. Much of the frustration in Christian homes between parents and children arises because parents have an image of what they want their children to be, and that is what they love. Unless their children measure up to that particular image, they do not love them. If a child goes wrong, does not measure up to the standard, then the love ceases, because it is not directed toward the child as he is, but only to the image of what he ought to be. It is so important to understand this. Our Lord said that love is fundamental to Christian expression. It is the means by which men will know that we are believers, that God is true, and that Jesus is a Savior. "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). The mark of Christian success is not activity or even morality, though these are an important part of Christian expression. But the primary and fundamental expression of Christian living is not that you stop doing wrong things; it is that you love one another, that you bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ. This is where the Christians of the early church began, and grace began to enrich their lives: There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made to each as any had need (Acts 4:34,35).


In Philippians, Paul says concerning the Lord Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped" [that, is, not a thing to be held onto, clutched, or clung to], "but emptied himself" [renounced his rights, stopped clinging to his prerogatives], "taking the form of a servant" (Phil. 2:6,7). That was the first step in relieving the need of a desperate world. Jesus did not regard His equality with God as something to be held onto. And the first step which we ourselves must take to rectify the desperate condition of society around us is to stop clinging to things. Are you clinging to anything? To a certain material standard of living, to status, to personal ambition, or to something else? you will never be able to enter into and enjoy the life that flows in richness and fullness through the body of Christ until you let go. The man who clings is hanging on with clenched fists. But our Lord is pictured in almost every portrait with hands open, ready to give abundantly to those in need. Son-of-a-Gift The second form of grace--essential to body life--is the exercise of gifts. Thus Joseph, who was surnamed by the apostles Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), a native of Cyprus, sold a field which belonged to him, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet (Acts 4:36,37). In the body of Christ in Jerusalem there was a distribution of gifts by the Holy Spirit. These gifts (called "graces" in Ephesians 4) are described in First Corinthians 12 and Romans 12. The various gifts had been given by the Spirit to fulfill the ministry of the body in that particular place. Among the early Christians was a man named Joseph. If I had used only his given name you would not have recognized, but if I mention his nickname, you will know him immediately--Barnabas. He was the Barnabas of the open heart and the acceptant spirit, the Barnabas who encouraged young John Mark when he was humiliated and crushed by his failure in that first missionary visit of Paul's. Mark would probably have dropped out of Christian activity altogether if Barnabas had not found him and encouraged him, and then taken him on another trip to set him on his feet. This was the Barnabas who vouched for Saul after his conversion, after the new convert had come up to Jerusalem from Damascus. The other apostles were afraid of him, for Saul was the man who had been persecuting and killing the church. Barnabas had the gift of exhortation, of comfort, of encouragement--a wonderful gift--which he used so diligently that everyone began to call him by his gift, the Son of Encouragement. That is true grace--through the exercise of gifts to sense and supply the needs of the body. Cutting Off the Life Beginning at Acts 5 we turn a corner. Now start looking away from the character and nature of body life and instead start confronting the perils and dangers attached to it: But a man named Ananias with his wife Sapphira sold a piece of property, and with his wife's knowledge he kept back some of the proceeds and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him (Acts 5:1-6). What is this account telling us? Here a man and his wife are earnestly wanting to have a part in what is going on, a piece of the action. They sold some property, just as Barnabas did, but they bring only part of the money to lay at the apostles' feet. Is there anything wrong with this? Not a thing. When Ananias comes to Peter the Apostle says to him, in effect, "Ananias, this land was yours to sell or to keep. You had the right to dispose of your property as you saw fit. And after it was sold you had every right to say what the money was to be used for." Well, then, what is wrong? Peter, exercising his gift of discernment, says to Ananias, "You have lied. it wasn't wrong for you to withhold some of the money, but then to act as though you had given it all--that is what is wrong. You lied, you pretended. You're a sham, a phony." When that penetrating analysis hit the ears of Ananias, he dropped dead at Peter's feet.


His wife, we are told, had also been part of this press: "by his wife's knowledge" this deception had been enacted. The rest of the story follows: After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. And Peter sad to her, "Tell me whether you sold the land for so much." And she said, "Yes, for so much." But Peter said to her, "How is it that you have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? Hark, the feet of those that have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church, and upon all who heard of these things (Acts 5:7-l1). There were three "greats" in the early church: great power, great grace, and great fear. Why did this terrible tragedy occur? Why was the Holy Spirit so severe? Is this what He always does with His church? No, it doesn't happen physically now, but this is a picture by which God teaches us a sharp and penetrating lesson. Just as the healing of the lame man pictures what the Lord Jesus does in the inner life of a person who knows and follows Him, so this judgment of God pictures what happens in a person's life when he indulges in pretense. The moment we pretend to be something we're not, we are immediately cut off from the flow of the life of Christ. This doesn't mean that we are no longer a Christian, but it means that instead of being part of a living, vital movement, we become dead and unresponsive cells in the body. Paralysis sets in throughout the area over which we have influence. This story of Ananias and Sapphira underscores for us the result of our own hypocrisy. The minute they pretended to be something they were not-death! When we are with other Christians we often put on a mask of adequacy, but inside we are inadequate, and we know it. We are struggling with problems in our homes, but we don't want to tell anyone about them. We can't get along with our children, but we'll never admit it to anyone. Our pride keeps us from sharing what is going on between husbands and wives, and between parents and children. Somebody asks us how things are going. "Great, great! Fine!" "How's everything at home?" "Oh, wonderful! We're having a wonderful time!" The minute we say that, and it's not true, we die. Death sets in. And soon that death pervades the whole church. This kind of dishonesty is a primary characteristic of the church today. To break through this death, to begin to share realistically with one another, the way is always the same: repent and believe. Acknowledge that you have been doing it wrong, and then understand that God has already given you, in Jesus Christ, all that it takes to do what you should. Then start opening up and sharing your burdens. You will start in a rather small way, perhaps, and it will be difficult at first. But it is the sharing of lives that makes power and grace to flow through the body. We are concerned about the world around us with its desperate sickness. The life of the church is not to be merely a religious hobby to which we give some time and attention when it suits us; the body life of the church is the very focus of the work of God to help change the structure and pattern of life all around us, to release salt into society and light into the darkness of the world. It must begin and increase by the understanding and experience of body life.

Chapter Eleven Times of Peril Acts 5:12-42
A helpful key in understanding God's teaching is to see that the visible, physical events recorded in Scripture illustrate invisible spiritual situations and forces. The visible event is occurring because of the unseen spiritual situation. This is what we must understand if we are going to face life and understand it properly. The Bible consistently stresses that you can never explain what happens in this world on the basis of an evaluation and assessment of visible things. You must look behind the visible to the invisible. We come now to a series of events which center around the confrontation between the apostles and the Sanhedrin. In this section four factors are highlighted that will always be present whenever the church is operating in times of peril. If we are aware of the peril and stress of our own day, we can see that these four things are essential to our own lives. First, there is a clear demonstration of the power of God: 41

Now many signs and wonders were done among the people by the hands of the apostles. And they were all together in Solomon's Portico. None of the rest dared join them, but the people held them in high honor. And more than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women, so that they even carried out the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them. The people also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing the sick and those afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all healed (Acts 5:12-16). This sounds like the days of Jesus all over again, doesn't it? Here is a tremendous display of physical healing power at the hands of the apostles, resulting in multitudes of believers being added to the church. No one knows how many, but it may have been ten thousand or more in this city with a normal population of about forty or fifty thousand. Here is an obvious evidence of the power of God at work. Striking Powers But many people today are troubled by this account. They say, "What's wrong with the church today? Why don't we have signs and wonders and mighty events like these taking place in our own day?" Many faith healers, in trying to reproduce these and wonders, succeed only in a temporary restoration, due to a psychological effect in the afflicted. Nevertheless, many people feel that the church is not living in power unless these physical miracles are present. But notice some things that Luke carefully points out to us. First, he says, these healings were not done by the believers in general, but by the hands of the apostles. These men, gathered together in Solomon's Porch, were obviously anointed by God with unusual and striking powers--powers for which the apostles had prayed after being released by the Jewish rulers (Acts 4:29,30). They had asked God to work through them with signs and wonders, and that is exactly what He did. As we have noted earlier, these were the signs that identified the apostles. They were never intended for the church at large. They were intended to confirm the ministry of these mighty apostles, who laid the foundation of the church in the giving of the Scriptures. Not only were they to manifest the power of God in physical ways, but this physical manifestation was to be a symbol of the spiritual power which God would release among the people. What Greater Works? It is always a mistake to put great emphasis on a physical miracle. Although miracles attract attention, they also tend to confuse people, so that ultimately the observers miss the point of what God is saying. That is why the Lord Jesus consistently said to the men and women whom He healed in the days of His flesh, "Now don't tell anybody about it." He didn't send the healed people out to broadcast the story; He said instead, "Go home and say nothing to anyone." Jesus did not want the confusing effect of physical miracles to thwart His spiritual ministry. That is exactly what happened here in Acts. We read that when the apostles began to heal the sick, cast out demons, and relieve those who were distressed, the multitudes "carried out the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and pallets, that as Peter came by at least his shadow might fall on some of them" (Acts 5:15). This is a manifestation of the superstition that immediately begins to develop when physical miracles occur. There is nothing here to suggest that the apostles encouraged this kind of thing at all. Nor does it say that Peter's shadow did heal them. Jesus had said, "He who believes in me will also do the works that I do" (John 14:12). Those words were spoken to the apostles, and here they are, doing the same works that Jesus did, the same miracles of healing. "And," said Jesus, "greater works than these will he do." Greater works than physical healing? What greater works? Why, spiritual healings. God wants most of all to heal the hurt in man's spirit. That is where the problem really lies. Every person ever healed by the Lord Jesus or by the disciples in the days of the early church eventually died. But when God heals the spirit, it is an eternal event. The physical power displayed here is a symbol and guarantee of the spiritual power available to the church at all times. I don't mean that God has stopped all physical healing; He has not. But the deepest need of man is spiritual healing, not physical. And the power of God to heal spiritually is still present and available to us. And when this spiritual healing happens, multitudes will be added to the church. 42

Not Bound The second significant factor in this account follows immediately: But the high priest rose up and all who were with him, that is, the party of the Sadducees, and, filled with jealousy, they arrested the apostles and put them in the common prison. But at night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out and said, "Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life." And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and taught (Acts 5:17-21). Then follows one of the classic examples of double take in all of history: Now the high priest came and those who were with him and called together the council and all the senate of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, and they returned and reported, "We found the prison securely locked and the sentries standing at the doors, but when we opened it we found no one inside." Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were much perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. And someone came and told them, "The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people." Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people (Acts 5:2126). What lesson is God trying to teach us here? Why, that there is a liberty in the Spirit which nothing that man can do will ever touch. "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom" (2 Cor. 3:17). It is no problem for God to get a man out of jail. He doesn't even have to go through a bail bondsman--He simply sends an angel! He can even send an earthquake, as He did for Paul and Silas at Philippi. But it is also clear from events later on in Acts and in church history that God does not always intend to get His people physically out of prison. The point of the story is--as Paul beautifully put it in another place--that the Word of God is not bound. The resurrection power of a living God cannot be held by prison walls, gates, bars, and chains. You cannot hinder the preaching and teaching of the Word of God with prisons. Behind the Opposition As we go, the third factor emerges: And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, "We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you intend to bring this man's blood upon us." But Peter and the apostles answered, "We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him." When they heard this they were enraged and wanted to kill them (Acts 5:27-33). This last statement sounds familiar, doesn't it? Peter and the other and the other apostles simply told these men the truth. They stood before them and very quietly said, "Look. The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you killed." That is a clear statement of fact. "God has exalted Him at Ws right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins." This is another statement of fact. "And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit." With that simple statement of clear, plain truth, these rulers became violent and set out to kill the apostles. This reaction shows clearly the fallen nature of man. Man is in the grip of forces beyond his knowledge and ken, evil forces which are implacably opposed to the will, purpose, and love of God. Whenever truth is uttered it enrages men like this. They oppose it with the only weapon they can think of--physical violence. Wherever the gospel goes, it not only invites and redeems some people, but it also enrages others. But beyond this immediate opposition of men is the opposition of certain malevolent beings; as Paul says, "We are not contending against flesh and blood" (since it is not men who are ultimately the problem),"...but against principalities against the powers against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12). This is where the opposition and hostility ultimately coming from. 43

That is why it is so useless to attempt physical resistance burn and destroy those who are the puppets of evil forces? They against these kinds of forces. What good does it do to kill and will only raise up other men and use them in their place. What advantage is gained by wiping out at the polls groups of people who are opposed to something that God wants done? The evil forces will only raise up other men and women to do it all over again. What God wants to get across to His people is that they will never do any real good until they attack the spiritual forces. God has placed in our hands the spiritual equipment to do so. The next verses of the passage illustrate this: But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, held in honor by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a we. And he said to them, "Men of Israel, take care what you do with these men. For before these days Theudas arose, giving himself out to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was slain and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean arose in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; for if this plan or this undertaking is of men, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!" So they took his advice...(Acts 5:34-40). Here the apostles are confronted with the same group that had just murdered their Lord, threatened by the same hostility that had accomplished the death of Jesus. Their lives are at stake. Why didn't these rulers kill them? Surely the apostles could not have predicted how God would deliver them. They had no way of knowing that there was seated on that very council a man with a calmer frame of mind, who would listen to reason and lay a quieting hand upon these tumultuous passions. But God knew. And God knew how to use that man and when to have him speak. Although these were men controlled by evil forces, they were also subject to the overriding sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. Worthy to Suffer The account closes with one additional event: So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ (Acts 5:40-42). I love that; "They did not cease." In fact, they counted themselves fortunate to suffer dishonor for Jesus' name. When we were called to be a Christian we were called to suffer. As Paul said in his Letter to the Philippians, "It has been granted to you that...you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake" (Phil. 1:29). Suffering is an integral part of the Christian experience. "Do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you" (1 Pet. 4:12). You go through heartaches, disappointments, and ostracism, all for the sake of "the Name." Don't think this is strange. It is the privilege to which we are called. What else can we expect if we stand for the truth in a world run by illusion? When a normal person lives in a world full of oddballs they think he is odd. But that is the suffering to which the Christian is called. Like these disciples, we ought to thank God for it and rejoice in it. Jesus said that, didn't He? Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so men persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt. 5:11).

Chapter Twelve Seven Choice Men Acts 6:1-8
In the parable of the wheat and the tares the Lord Jesus said that He, the Son of Man, would begin by sowing the field of the kingdom. But shortly after this certain signs of evil, put there by the Devil would appear. The Devil would sow weeds that would spring up right in the middle of the wheat. 44

In the Book of Acts we see the historical fulfillment of Jesus' prediction. First we see the wheat springing up in the midst of the world--men and women filled with the Spirit of God and equipped by the Spirit with gifts of ministry. In trust and dependence on the life of God in them they have tremendous impact on the city of Jerusalem. Then, in the deceit practiced by Ananias and Sapphira, there is the first indication of evil sown by the Devil. Although their dishonesty brings death into the church, it is met by the honesty and judgment of the Spirit of God. Attack from Within The second evidence of the weeds of the Devil's sowing is found in Acts 6, in this story of dissension--an attempt on the enemy's part to divide the church by envy and misunderstanding: Now in these days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists murmured against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily distribution (Acts 6:1). In the early church in Jerusalem there were two kind' of Jews who had become Christians by faith in Jesus Christ. Some had been born and raised in provinces away from Palestine, so they had not learned Hebrew, spoke Greek. Then there were those who were raised in Jerusalem and spoke Aramaic, a form of Hebrew. So the early church was divided, interestingly enough, by the language barrier between Greek and Hebrew. Every day a distribution was made to the widows who were in need. A common fund was provided out of which money was taken every day to meet the needs of the widows among the group because they had no other means of support. Some inequity arose (whether deliberate or not is hard to tell, but it was very likely not deliberate), and it became the cause of the fit the dissension in the church. The Hellenists expressed their dissatisfaction by murmuring and murmuring is always deadly. These Greek-speaking Christians did not complain to those in authority, those responsible; they simply complained among themselves, thus spreading discontent throughout the whole body of Christians. When you complain about a problem to people who are not in a position to do much about it, that is murmuring. Murmuring brought about the judgment of God upon the children of Israel in the Old Testament days. Murmuring is always the mark of a querulous discontented, unhappy spirit. According to the Gift Somehow the apostles heard of the murmuring--rumors travel fast--and when they heard they acted: And the twelve summoned the body of the disciples and said, "It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brethren, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this duty. But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:24). It almost looks as though the apostles were saying, "We're too good to serve tables. After all, we're apostles. Let's pick out seven flunkies who can do that, while we devote ourselves to the tremendously spiritual work of prayer and preaching the Word." But that would be to completely misread this passage. Remember that these apostles had been in the upper room with the Lord Jesus. They had seen him divest Himself of his garments, gird Himself with a towel, take a basin of water, and wash their dirty feet. They had heard His words, "He who is greatest among you shall be your servant" (Matt. 23:11). So the apostles were not in any sense downgrading the ministry of serving tables. They made this decision simply on the basis of a difference in spiritual gifts. Here is a very clear example of how the early church assigned duties on the basis of the distribution of gifts by the Holy Spirit. The glory of this church was that they were conscious of the superintendency of the Holy Spirit, aware that the Lord Jesus Himself, by means of the Spirit, was the Head of the church. He was apportioning gifts, giving certain ministries to various individuals and sending them out with His own orders. All through the Book of Acts you can see a tremendous display of the directing power of the Holy Spirit. The apostles understood then, according to their gift, that they were to lay the foundation of the church, for it was given to the apostles to lay foundations. That foundation is the Scriptures. It is on the Scriptures that the church rests. Whenever 45

the church has rested on the foundation laid by the apostles, the truth as it is in Jesus, the church has always had strength, power, and grace. Therefore, it was most necessary that the apostles give themselves to the ministry of apostleship, which involved "prayer and the ministry of the word." As they met together in prayer they learned and understood the mind of God. The Spirit of God reminded them of what the Lord Jesus had taught them, and they in turn imparted this to the church. At that time the scriptures as we have them had not yet been written. Yet all the truths contained in our New Testament were being uttered by the apostles as they went about teaching the people. But they recognized that other men and women in this vast congregation also had gifts--gifts which would qualify them to do this kind of work. So the apostles said, in effect, "We are simply sticking with the gifts that were given to us, and we want you to find among yourselves those who have other gifts." So they charged the congregation to elect from among themselves seven men who had the gifts appropriate to the problem. Specifications There were several qualifications which the congregation was to look for. First, the people chosen were to be men, not women. And second, they were to be believers. The church never has any reason to go to the world for help in carrying on the life of the body. The Holy Spirit has adequately equipped the body of Christ to do all that it needs to do. This may appear obvious, but in the matter of fund-raising, at least, many churches make the mistake of relying upon secular organizations which is a denial of the life of the body. The third qualification was that they were to be "men of good reputation" men of good character who could be trusted, who had already won the confidence of others. Fourth, they were to be spiritual men. Now what does this mean? The word "spiritual" is one of the most misunderstood in the whole Bible. Is a spiritual person one who goes around mouthing pious sayings, using every situation to quote a verse of Scripture? Is this a truly spiritual person? No, according to the New Testament a spiritual person is a normal person, a person as God intended people to be. Spirituality is dependence on the activity of God, a recognition that God is with you and that He intends to work through you, and that you expect Him to do it. The opposite of spirituality is carnality. A carnal Christian is one who counts on something within himself. He may be ready to give up his sleep, his wealth, and his girl friend to serve God, but if he is not resting on Christ he is still carnal. These men had to be spiritual men. Fifth, they had to have the gift of wisdom. They were to be "full of the Spirit and of wisdom," to be able to apply Scriptural knowledge to a practical situation. That is what these men were to do. They had a problem. There was an inequity of distribution caused perhaps by neglect, or by a lack of concern, or by some technical problem that made the distribution difficult. Whatever the reason, it required the application of truth, so men were needed who knew how to take truth and apply it to a specific situation. These men were to be chosen on this basis. The apostles gave the church this charge, and the church carried it out: And what they said pleased the whole multitude, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands upon them (Acts 6:5,6). There is something wonderful here. Every one of these names is Greek, which means that the men chosen were probably all from among the complaining party, the Greek-speaking Jews. When the far larger group of Hebrew-speaking Christians were asked to choose men, they chose them from the very group that was issuing the complaint. And that ended the dissension. They entrusted these men with the responsibility of resolving the problem within their own ranks, thus indicating their trust of them and of their ability to solve this problem in the Lord. Sharing the Ministry Evidently these men were elected by the congregation and were then called before the apostles, who laid their hands upon them, thus identifying themselves with their ministries. In the Old Testament, whenever a Hebrew brought an 46

animal to be sacrificed he first laid his hands upon it, by which he said, "This animal and I are identified. My sins are laid upon him and his blood shed for me is as though my own blood were being shed." In the New Testament this was carried on into the body of Christ as an act of identification. These apostles were saying, "These seven men whom you have chosen, who have the gifts and the qualifications we outlined, are part of our ministry as apostles, and we are part of theirs. We belong in the body together, and in the body every gift is important." Paul writes, For the body does not consist of one member, but of many...The eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you," nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you" (1 Cor. 12:14,21). The members are interdependent one upon another. If we do not understand and recognize that every member of the body has been given a gift, and unless each member begins to exercise his gift, the body will suffer. As Paul says, "If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honoured, all rejoice together" (1 Cor. 12:26). What the apostles are seeking to demonstrate is the identification of the members of the body with one another. Those with leadership gifts are equal, they say, with those who serve tables. Each gift is absolutely essential to the operation of the body. A situation that recently developed in a nearby church illustrates this principle well. A sizable number of converts were joining the church, all from one particular geographical area. The church elders became curious and found that one of their members was a milkman in the area. He was witnessing widely to people during the course of his work and was winning them to Christ, because he had the gift of an evangelist and he loved the Lord. He did not realize that he had any ties to the rest of the body, but he was witnessing and reaching others and winning them to Christ. One day a number of the church leaders called him in and said, "Look; we've been watching you and we see that you have the gift of an evangelist. We want to show you that you're not alone, but that we're all one body with you. We want to identify with you." So they had a little service and asked the man to kneel, and they all came and laid their hands on him and prayed for him and thus expressed this great truth: we are members one of another. This man was tremendously touched. Tears rolled down his face as he stood and thanked them for their identification with him in the body of Christ Evidence of Life The healing of the dissention in the church and the flowing of body life yield four immediate results. First, And the word of God increased...(Acts 6:7a). This phrase is used several times in Scripture, and every time it means that the Word was more widely proclaimed. Obviously the apostles now had more time to speak, to utter the words of God, the mind of the Spirit. Second, as a direct result of this ministry, The number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem (Acts 6:7b). All we need to do is to get the truth out to people. The Bible speaks the truth; it reveals the way things really are. We are living in a world ruled by illusion and fantasy, where people are confused, disturbed, and upset. In minds that are groping for reality the truths hits with wonderful impact. There is an immediate awareness, as there was in Jesus' day on earth, that what is being said is true. Disciples multiply because men and women are drawn to the truth; they want to know what is right and what is real. And the third result: A great many of the priests were obedient to the faith (Acts 6:7c) This is wonderful. The priests were men who were active all day long in religious ritual; they had to kill the animals that were offered as sacrifices on the alters of the temple. They were religious people performing ritualistic observances. But now, as the truth about Jesus was set before them, something was happening. They were discovering that Jesus was the key to their ritual, that all these sacrifices pointed to Him. Finally, Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people (Acts 6:8). 47

Stephen became the first martyr. The next chapter is devoted completely to the message he preached the longest sermon in the Book of Acts. At the close of it the enraged hearers stoned Stephen to death because of his testimony to the truth. And in chapter 8 we read of Philip, another one of these seven men, who Neither Philip nor Stephen did signs and wonders until after also did great signs and wonders. Neither Philip nor Stephen did signs and wonders until after the laying on of hands by the apostles which indicates that in some sense the ministry of these deacons (and later of the elders of the church) was an apostolic ministry. They did these great signs and wonders as a result of having been identified with the work of the apostles. The second thing to be noted is that these signs were to confirm the introduction of new things in the church. When the apostles first began to proclaim the gospel of the resurrected Lord it was confirmed to the people by signs and wonders. As the apostles now extended their ministry to include others with gifts within the church, this too was confirmed with signs and wonders. The Word of God makes clear that these mighty miracles were particularly slanted toward the Jewish mind, that they were given specifically for the purpose of confirming something which was being introduced for the first time. The miracles did not continue in the church, and they do not continue to this day. This doesn't mean that God is unable to do miracles. He can and does do them. But they are no longer in the nature of physical signs and wonders. These were reserved for the initial experiences of the early Christians as they introduced God's truth to the world.

Chapter Thirteen The Issue is Jests Acts 6:8-8:1
We come now to the story of Stephen, one of the seven men who had been chosen by the congregation of the early church to be apostolic helpers: And Stephen, full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people. Then some of those who belonged to the synagogue of Freedmen (as they were called), and of the Cyrenians, and the Alexandrians, and of those from Cilicia and Asia, arose and disputed with Stephen. But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke. Then they secretly instigated men who said, "We have heard him speak blasphemous words against Moses and God." And they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they came upon him and seized him and brought him before the council, and set up false witness, who said, "This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place and the law; for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place, and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us." And, gazing at him, all who sat in the council saw his face was like that of an angel (Acts 6:8-15). Stephen you remember, was one of those Greek-speaking Jews called Hellenists, having been born in another country and speaking Greek instead of Hebrew or Aramaic. In the city of Jerusalem were a number of synagogues that had been formed by Greek-speaking Jews from various parts of the world. To these synagogues Stephen evidently went and preached in Greek, giving testimony to his faith in Jesus Christ. Five of these synagogues are mentioned in this passage. One was the Synagogue of the Freedmen, founded by Jews who had been slaves in the Roman Empire and had later been set free. Then there were two groups from Africa: the synagogues of the Cyrenians and of the Alexandrians. There were also two groups from what we presently call Turkey: Cilicia and Asia, two of the Roman providences of that day. It is interesting to note that the capital of Cilicia was Tarsus, and undoubtedly a young man named Saul was among those who disputed with Stephen when he came to the Cilician synagogue preaching Jesus Christ. Saul was among those men of whom it is said here, "But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which [Stephen] spoke." This brilliant young Jew, Saul of Tarsus, was later to become the Apostle Paul. But now he arose and disputed, yet he could not answer Stephen. That must have been a blow to his pride, since Saul prided himself as an authority on the Scriptures; after all, he sat at the feet of the great teacher, Gamaliel! When these men could not answer Stephen they set out to charge him officially before the court, and to find false witnesses to testify that he had blasphemed Moses and God.(It is interesting that they put Moses first, making him more 48

important than God!) Then they stirred up the people and the elders and the scribes, and they seized Stephen in order to bring him before the council. Charge and Countercharge So here is Stephen, standing before the same Sanhedrin that had condemned the Lord Jesus to death and had just experienced some difficulty with Peter and John and the other apostles. By the time Stephen came before the council the official charges had been narrowed down to two very specific offenses: that he was threatening things against the temple ("This man never ceases to speak words against this holy place for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place") and against the law ("and will change the customs which Moses delivered to us"). Stephen had probably said something very similar to what was alleged here, but he had not meant it to be taken that way. So it was impossible for him to answer with a simple yes or no when the high priest read him the official charges and asked, "Are these things so? How do you plead: guilty or not guilty?" Stephen had to explain what he meant. He had said something about Jesus' coming, and that the worship of the temple was changed. He had said that the customs which Moses had given would be altered. Therefore, in Stephen's brilliant defense of what he believed--really a review of the history of the people of Israel--he answers the two charges against him and he brings a charge of his own against the people. They had charged him with saying that Moses' teachings were to be changed (blasphemy!). Stephen answers by saying, This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, "God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren, as he raised me up" (Acts 7:37). Moses himself had said that things were going to be changed, that God was going to raise up another Prophet who, like himself, would speak to the people and give a whole new set of provisions for life from God. Then he answers the charge concerning the temple in a brief section toward the close of his message: Our fathers had the tent of witness in the wilderness, even as he who spoke to Moses directed him to make it, according to the pattern that he had seen. Our fathers in turn brought it in with Joshua when they dispossessed the nations which God thrust out before our fathers. So it was until the days of David, who found favor in the sight of God and asked leave to find a habitation for the God of Jacob. But it was Solomon who built a house for him. Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with hands; as the prophet says, "Heaven is my throne, and earth my footstool. What house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?" (Acts 7:44-50). God Himself, through the prophet Isaiah, had predicted that the temple would not always be an adequate place to worship God. In fact, no building will ever be. God is bigger than buildings. God is the one who made all things, who makes the material from which a building is made, and who makes the men who put that building together. God has not intended that He should be worshiped in a building made with hands. Isaiah said that, not Stephen. And so he successfully answers this charge. Then Stephen levels a charge against his hearers. He says, in effect, that far from following the great men of faith whom they professed to admire and revere, they were actually identifying themselves with the godless and idolatrous forces that had consistently opposed these men, and had even put them to death on many occasions. To illustrate his point, he selects from the course of Israel's history three outstanding heroes of faith and indicates the contrast between them and his listeners. Pointed Contrasts Notice how this mighty preacher of the early church developed his thesis. He begins with Abraham, the first of the three figures: And the high priest said, "Is this so?" And Stephen said, "Brethren and fathers, hear me. The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia before he lived in Haran, and said to him, 'Depart from your land and from your kindred and go into the land which I will show you.' Then he departed from the land of the Chaldeans and lived in Haran. And after his father died, God removed him from there into this land in which you 49

are now living; yet he gave him no inheritance in it, not even a foot's length, but promised to give it to him in possession and to his posterity after him, though he had no child. And God spoke to this effect, that his posterity would be aliens in a land belonging to others, who would enslave them and ill-treat them four hundred years. 'But I will judge the nation which they serve,' said God, 'and after that they shall come out and worship me in this place.' And he gave him the covenant of circumcision. And so Abraham became the father of Isaac, and circumcised him on the eighth day; and Isaac became the father of Jacob, and Jacob of the twelve patriarchs" (Acts 7:1-8). Stephen is saying that Abraham was a man of lifelong faith, a man who dared to change his life pattern in obedience to God. He left his father's house and went out into a land he had never seen before, and although he never owned a foot of ground there, he nevertheless believed that God would do what He had said. Although Abraham had no child, he believed that God would give him descendants. Stephen is drawing a very pointed, unspoken contrast here. "Abraham your father," Stephen said, "was a man of faith who dared to make changes out of obedience to God." The next man from their past is Joseph: And the patriarchs, jealous of Joseph, sold him into Egypt; but God was with him, and rescued him out of all his afflictions, and gave him favor and wisdom before Pharaoh, king of Egypt, who made him governor over Egypt and over all his household. Now there came a famine throughout all Egypt and Canaan and great affliction, and our fathers could find no food. But when Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt, he sent forth our fathers the first time. And at the second visit Joseph made himself known to his brothers, and Joseph's family became known to Pharaoh. And Joseph sent and called to him Jacob his father and all kindred, seventy-five souls; and Jacob went down into Egypt. And he died, himself and our fathers, and they were carded back to Shechem and laid in the tomb that Abraham had bought for a sum of silver from the sons of Hamor in Shechem (Acts 7:9-16). Joseph was a man of integrity and truth who believed God. God took him through deep waters and dark places, but eventually He exalted and honored him and fulfilled His word to him in everything He promised. Because Joseph obeyed God, God fulfilled every letter of His word to him. Therefore Joseph presents another contrast with Stephen's accusers, who refuse to obey God simply because it will mean some changes in their lives. Failure and Faith Stephen spends most of his time on Moses, the third man of faith, whom he was charged with blaspheming. He first outlines the early part of Moses life: But as the time of the promise drew near, which God had granted to Abraham, the people grew and multiplied in Egypt till there arose over Egypt another king who had not known Joseph. He dealt craftily with our race and forced our fathers to expose their infants, that they might not be kept alive. At this time Moses was born, and was beautiful before God. And he was brought up for three months in his father's house; and when he was exposed, Pharaoh's daughter adopted him and brought him up as her, own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds. When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brethren, the sons of Israel. And, seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking the Egyptian. He supposed that his brethren understood that God was giving them deliverance by his hand, but they did not understand. And on the following day he appeared all to them as they were quarreling and would have reconciled them, saying, "Men, you are brethren, why do you wrong each other?" But the man who was wronging his neighbor thrust him aside, saying, "Who made you a ruler and a judge over us? Do you want to kill me as you killed the Egyptian yesterday?" At this retort Moses fled and became an exile in the land of Midian, where he became the father of two sons (Acts 7:17-29). You may ask, "Why did Stephen tell these stories to people who knew them by heart?" Because he wanted to remind them of something. They had said to him, the great leader, the infallible authority." But Stephen was saying, "Have you forgotten that Moses was a failure during the first 80 years of his life? Have you forgotten that when Moses acted on the basis of the human knowledge and resources he possessed he fell flat on his face, and that when he tried to deliver his people, instead of becoming a missionary to them (as he thought God had appointed him), he became a murderer and had to flee? Instead of being a deliverer he became a refugee. Moses was a failure when he did not act by faith." Then Stephen moves to the second stage: 50

Now when forty years had passed, an angel appeared to him in the wilderness of Mount Sinai, in a flame of fire in a bush. When Moses saw it he wondered at the sight; and as he drew near to look, the voice of the Lord came, "I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham and of Isaac and of Jacob." And Moses trembled and did not dare to look. And the Lord said to him, "Take off the shoes from your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground. I have surely seen the ill-treatment of my people that are in Egypt and heard their groaning, and I have come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send you to Egypt." This Moses whom they refused, saying, "Who made you a ruler and a judge?" God sent as both ruler and deliverer by the hand of the angel that appeared to him in the bush (Acts 7:30-35). Catch the argument now. "You want to follow Moses," he says. "Well, Moses failed when he walked by the sight of his own eyes and in the wisdom of his own mind. But when God appeared and empowered him and taught him the proper source of strength and authority, he was sent back to be a ruler and deliverer." Stephen is stressing this essential fact: the only Person worth following is God! When people act in faith toward God they have all the power of an omnipotent God behind them. But when they refuse to obey God they fall flat on their faces! Then comes the third stage, by which Stephen drives home his point with a vengeance: He led them out, having performed wonders and signs in Egypt and the Red Sea, and in the wilderness for forty years. This is the Moses who said to the Israelites, "God will raise up for you a prophet from your brethren, as he raised me up." This is he who in the congregation in the wilderness with the angel who spoke to him at Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living oracles to give us. Our fathers refused to obey him, but thrust him aside, and in their hearts they turned to Egypt, saying to Aaron, "Make for us gods to go before us; as for this Moses who led us out from the land of Egypt, we don't know what has become of him." And they made a calf in those days, and offered a sacrifice to the idol and rejoiced in the works of their hands. But God turned and gave them over to worship the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the prophets: "Did you offer to me slain beasts and sacrifices, forty years in the wilderness, O house of Israel? And you took up the tent of Moloch, and the star of the god Rephan, the figures which you made to worship; and I will remove you from Babylon" (Acts 7:36-43). Stephen says that the people refused to obey Moses and so began that whole system of idolatrous worship which led God at last, centuries later, to disperse them into the country of Babylon for 70 years of captivity. As they turned from Moses and disobeyed him they fell into evil, idolatrous practices which were so wicked that God had to judge them. And, Stephen's point is, Moses himself had said that it would happen again: "God will raise up for you a Prophet like me, and Him you must hear." That Prophet would be Jesus, the very one Stephen's hearers are now rejecting. They are following exactly the course of their fathers. The Two-Edged Sword Here is Stephen's conclusion: You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you always resist the Holy Spirit...(Acts 7:51). These Jews would understand these terms. "Stiff-necked"--proud, stubborn, unwilling to bow their heads at all. "Uncircumcised in heart"--the foreskin of their heart had never been removed; there had been no exposure of their life to the grace and glory of God. They were defiled, yet they refused to repent. As your fathers did, so do you. Which of the prophets did not your fathers persecute? And they killed those who announced beforehand the coming of the Righteous One, whom you have now betrayed and murdered, you who received the law as delivered by angels and did not keep it (Acts 7:51-53). What forthright truth this is! It was terribly hard to bear. These rulers of the Jews became so enraged that we read in the next verse, Now when they heard these things they were enraged, and they ground their teeth against him (Acts 7:54). They gnashed their teeth. This is the effect the truth has. Truth never allows you to remain neutral, never leaves a middle ground; it always drives you to either one side or the other. As Jesus said repeatedly of His own ministry, "I have not 51

come to bring peace, but a sword" (Matt. 10:34); "He who does not gather with me scatters" (Luke 11:23). Those who are against Him are causing divisions, fomenting factions, creating schisms, and scattering. But he, full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and prayed, "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do." he said, "Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing at the right hand of God" (Acts 7:55,56). These are almost the identical words which Jesus Himself had used before this same group just a few weeks earlier. He had said, "You will see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven" (Mark 14:62). When they heard Stephen say this they knew the issue was Jesus not Stephen. Faithful Unto Death What do you do with Jesus of Nazareth? Stephen's hearers were condemned by their own Scriptures. There was not a word they could say against Stephen. They either had to crown Jesus or crucify Him again. They either had to kiss His feet or kill His servant. They chose to kill His servant. But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together upon him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him; and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul. And as they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And he knelt down and cried with a loud voice, "Lord do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul was consenting to his death (Acts 7:57-8:1) What a vivid picture! Stephen's eyes are opened right in the presence of the council to see the Lord Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. It is my conviction that every believer who dies sees this event, that when a believer steps out of time into eternity the next event waiting for him is the coming of the Lord Jesus for His own. Here Stephen sees Jesus waiting to step out and receive Him in a few moments, when he will be taken out of the city and stoned to death. Stephen sees the sight that greets the eyes of all those who fall asleep in Jesus. And he prays to Him words that echo those of Jesus Himself on the Cross. Jesus had Stephen says, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Twice this account we read about young Saul of Tarsus. All the people who killed Stephen brought their garments to Saul for safe keeping while they were doing the stoning. Saul had voted against Stephen in the council, and now he was consenting to his death. But the idea which the Holy Spirit wants us to grasp from this account is this: the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. When the church suffers in this way it always grows immensely. Out of the blood of Stephen there was brought to the church the heart and soul of the mighty Apostle to the Gentiles, the Apostle Paul. Paul never forgot this scene. It was etched in his mind and memory so deeply that when Jesus stopped him on his way to Damascus and said, "Saul, Saul...it hurts you to kick against the goads," it was doubtless this memory of Stephen that He was referring to. It was like a goad digging at young Saul's conscience, preparing his heart for that moment of conversion. The Book of Acts is an unfinished book. In this day and age there may be some Christians who will be called, like Stephen, to lay down their lives for Jesus' sake. The opposition is sharpening and the hostility is emerging, more vicious, more furious, more enraged on every side. We may face in our own day a tremendous outpouring of the hostility of depraved hearts against the message of Jesus Christ and a persecution of its bearers. May God grant that, like Stephen, we will be faithful unto death.

Chapter Fourteen God Has the Edge Acts 8:1-24
Remember Jesus' words to His disciples just before He was taken out of their sight: "You shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8). So far in this account the gospel has been 52

restricted to the city of Jerusalem, where the apostles and the entire body of believers were remaining. As we move into the next section of Acts we will see how God thrusts His people out into the world beyond Jerusalem--into Judea and Samaria. The last period in the history of the early church closed with the story of Stephen's death at the hands of an enraged Sanhedrin, who could not tolerate the truth which he spoke. The men who stoned Stephen laid their garments at the feet of Saul of Tarsus. By this the Holy Spirit indicates to us that out of the death of Stephen came ultimately the preaching of the Apostle Paul. The Sanhedrin silenced a voice that was upsetting a city, but without realizing it they were awakening a new voice that would upset an empire. That is the way God works. God continually uses opposition to advance His cause. Read what happened after Stephen's death: And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the region of Judea and Samaria except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul laid waste the church, and, entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to a city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ (Acts 8:1-5). Notice that the paragraph begins with persecution and ends with proclamation. The persecution that arose over Stephen pressed these early Christians out of Jerusalem, squirting them into Judea and Samaria, where they began to preach the Word--all according to the program of God. This young man, Saul of Tarsus, was part of God's plan even before he became a Christian. Picture young Saul as he tries to stamp out this "heresy" with all the energy of his flesh--entering house after house, dragging off men and women, and committing them to prison. In the rage of a tortured conscience Saul tried through zealous activity to cover up his anxiety, emptiness, and hurt. Yet God used Saul's rage to accomplish two things: He forced the church out of Jerusalem, and He made the early church depend on the gifts which the Spirit distributed to everyone, instead of simply on the apostles' gifts. Luke is careful to tell us that those who were scattered abroad were ordinary, plain-vanilla Christians who nevertheless had gifts of the Spirit. But they would never have discovered their gifts if God had not used this pressure to place them in circumstances where they had to develop the gifts of evangelism, witnessing, helps, wisdom, knowledge, teaching, and prophecy--all gifts which the Spirit had made available to them. The Real Thing The first mark of the way God works in resurrection power is that persecution leads to a wider proclamation of the truth. Let's pickup the account in Samaria: And the multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in that city (Acts 8:6-8). Here is the ministry of Philip, a layman. Yet it is a ministry of power, the power of the Holy Spirit. The result was a marvelous demonstration of what Christianity is like. In this brief paragraph there are three marks that always accompany a genuine ministry of the spirit. The first is the ring of truth. Notice that it says, "The multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip" (verse 6). When a great crowd of people listens intently, it is because they are struck by a note of reality. This was the way Jesus taught. He didn't teach the way the scribes and Pharisees did with quotations from other authorities, but He spoke with words that hit people as the truth and convicted them deep inside. As Philip talked this way people also stopped and listened. The second mark is the accompaniment of power: For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed (Acts 8:7). The power that delivers was manifest in Samaria as soon as Philip preached there. These miracles--the freeing from demonic spirits, the healings--were evidences of the power of God manifested on a visible and physical level, to help the 53

people understand that God would also free them in the spirit. They were a demonstration of God's power to heal, both physically and spiritually. Wherever the gospel goes, it gives liberty. And the third mark is joy: So there was much joy in that city (Acts 8:8). Our American cities are for the most part seething pools of human misery. Millions of people are living in squalor and poverty, in filth and degradation. Within them there is loneliness, emptiness and depression of spirit. What can set them free? What can fill them with joy? The glory of the gospel is that wherever it goes, even though it may not immediately change people's outward circumstances, it does fill people with joy. And soon the circumstance begins to change as well. Counterfeit Christianity But notice the contrast in the next paragraph: But there was a man named Simon who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the nation of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all gave heed to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is that power of God which is called Great." And they gave heed to him, because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And, seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed (Acts 8:9-13). In this section the Holy Spirit deliberately contrasts the marks of authentic Christianity with those of a false and counterfeit faith. This is the third occasion in the Book of Acts of the sprouting of the Devil's seed. The first was the hypocrisy of Ananias and Sapphira, the second was the dissension which arose among the disciples when they quarreled over the distribution of goods to the widows, and the third is this manifestation of religious falseness through Simon the magician. Notice the characteristics of this false religiosity. The primary feature by which this kind of religious falseness can be recognized is given to us right away: There was a man named Simon who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the nation of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great (Acts 8:9). All false faith involves the inflation of an individual, usually by self-aggrandizement. But genuine Christianity makes little of the individual. "For what we preach is not ourselves," says the Apostle Paul, "but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake" (2 Cor. 4:5). But here in Acts we have a man who exalted himself. A popular faith healer I once listened to started out well: he took his text from Scripture, he began to develop it well, and I began to think I had been wrong about this man--until he came to the conclusion! Rather than giving an invitation to the thousands who were present to come to know Jesus Christ, this is what he said: "If you want to know God, then have faith in my prayers." The whole direction of his message was toward himself and his prayer. False Christianity always attempts to interject a mediator between a believer and his God. But, "there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 2:5). There is none other. Counterfeit Christianity tries to insert someone who has an "in" with God, someone who has a special channel to God that other people don't have. When you hear that sort of thing you know that you are hearing the same kind of false Christianity that appeared here in the Book of Acts. The second mark of false Christianity is a wide following, a widespread delusion: They all gave heed to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, "This man is that power of God which is called Great" (Acts 8:10). 54

These people thought God was so removed, so distant, that He would never appear Himself, but would only send His "power," as though the "power of God" were a different personality from God Himself! The whole city believed this delusion, from the least to the greatest. Similarly, the leaders of false cults today point to the numbers that follow them and say, "Look at all the people who believe in us. Fifty million Frenchmen can't be wrong!" But one of the chief characteristics of a false faith is that it can mislead the masses. These false leaders always have great followings. The third mark is that of a counterfeit power: And they gave heed to him, because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic (Acts 8:11). In Scripture the term "magic" does not refer to sleight-of-hand tricks done before an audience. It applies instead to the occult practices of people who have somehow established a relationship with demonic powers and are being used by these powers to accomplish apparently wholesome miracles which cannot at first be distinguished from the real thing. But they never last. That is the mark of theft falseness--diseases will reappear, symptoms will return, the miracle will fade. When Moses appeared in Pharaoh's court and threw his staff down, it became a serpent. When he picked it up again, it became a staff. Immediately the magicians of Pharaoh's court threw their staffs down, and these also became serpents, apparently equaling the power of Moses. But then God told Moses to throw his staff down again. This time it became a serpent which ate up the other serpents! God always has an edge. We are seeing the return of the occult in our own day. Thirty years ago people would have laughed if you had suggested that intelligent, educated people would believe in witches and warlocks, astrology and horoscopes. But now these beliefs are here, and we are going to see much more of them in the days to come. If you believe only what you see, you will be swept right along with what appear to be genuine miracles. But they are false and temporary, done by a counterfeit power. The Devil Joins the Church Here is the fourth mark of false Christianity: Even Simon himself believed, and, after being baptized, he continued on with Philip. And, seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed (Acts 8:13). The Devil must have been the first one who ever said, "If you can't lick 'em, join 'em." That is exactly what Simon did. If this were the only statement about Simon in the Scriptures, we would have to conclude that he had become a Christian, because the language used to describe him is the same as that used for genuine believers. "Simon himself believed and was baptized." He took upon himself the symbol of identification with Jesus Christ, thus openly joining this company who said they belonged to Jesus. But the rest of the account makes it clear that thus man was a fraud. He said the right words and did the right things, and he was baptized. Yet he was unchanged; his heart was unregenerate. As the account continues we see how God the Holy Spirit, working power through His people, can expose this kind of fraud: Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give me also this power, that any one on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit." But Peter said to him, "Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." And Simon answered, "Pray for me to the Lord, that nothing of what you have said may come upon me"(Acts 8: l4-24).


Here again is the genuine manifestation of authentic Christianity--the coming of the Holy Spirit. But it says of these believers in Samaria that the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen on them. Well, then, what had happened? They had believed and had been baptized, so what had happened? Can a person become a Christian without the Holy Split? Into One Body We must be very careful in reading these verses to notice exactly what these Samaritan believers had and what they did not have. They did have power. The Holy Spirit was in their midst in power, setting them free from the illnesses and depressions that had been besetting them. And they had joy--the kind of joy that can never be produced except by the Holy Spirit. Power is an outward sign, while joy is inward. Both outwardly and inwardly these Samaritan believers were demonstrating the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives. They were regenerate. They had been baptized in water as a testimony to that very regeneration which had occurred within their hearts and which manifested itself in the joy that was there. So we would make a great mistake if we said that the Holy Spirit was not yet in Samaria. He was, but what the account specifically says is that the Holy Spirit had not yet fallen upon them. The Holy Spirit does a great variety of different things, and this account makes clear that these believers had not yet received a certain manifestation of the Spirit. What was this manifestation? These Christians had not yet been baptized by the Spirit into one body. They were still separate, individual, regenerated Christians--just as the apostles themselves had been before the Day of Pentecost. On that day they were baptized into a body and made members of one another. They became members of one body in Jesus Christ at the same time that they received the gifts of the Holy Spirit. What the Christians in Samaria had not yet received, then, was this baptism into one body and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. When Peter and John came to Samaria, they first prayed for the church and then laid hands on them. At this point the Samaritan believers received the baptism of the Spirit, making them one body in Jesus Christ. They also received the gifts of the Spirit, among which may well have been the gift of tongues, so that Simon and others might recognize that the Holy Spirit had been given to them. Let's be very clear about this point. If someone says, "You have to have the gift of tongues in order to have the Holy Spirit," I reply that later on, at Antioch of Pisidia, new groups of disciples were filled with the Spirit without any mention of tongues (Acts 13:52). "Well, then, you must have the apostolic ministry!" No, in the very next chapter Paul has hands laid on him by Ananias, a man who is not an apostle, and he receives the Holy Spirit. "Oh, then it must be by the laying on of hands!" Well, in Acts 10, although Peter the Apostle is at the house of Cornelius, the Holy Spirit is given to the hearers before he can lay his hands on them (Acts 10:44). It is apparent from these divergent accounts that the Spirit of God is sovereign, doing things in different ways because that is His sovereign right. If He had come upon these Samaritan disciples when they first believed in Jesus, there could easily have developed a church of the Samaritans which was separate from the church of the Jews. The Jews and the Samaritans had no dealings with each other, so if the Spirit of God had come upon this church when Philip first preached there, two separate churches might well have emerged. So through these apostles who came down from Jerusalem the Spirit of God was saying, "There are not two bodies, but only one. There is one church, and the Samaritans belong to it equally with the Jews." No Repentance Now we come to the exposure of Simon's false ministry. Now when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles' hands, he offered them money, saying, "Give me also this power, that anyone on whom I lay my hands may receive the Holy Spirit" (Acts 8:18,19). How little Simon understood of the grace, majesty, and might of God! Through the centuries Simon's very name has been attached to the sin of trying to buy religious power with money. This sin is called "simony" because of this man. Notice how bluntly Peter exposes Simon's sin:


But Peter said to him, "Your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money!" (Acts 8:20). In a literal translation of the Greek Peter actually says, "To hell with you and your money!" It was a terrible thing that this man had suggested--that God's power could be bought with money, as though God were but a mechanism, subject to man's whim and caprice. Then Peter points out the problem to Simon: You have neither part nor lot in this matter, for your heart is not right before God (Acts 8:21). Peter sees that Simon's heart is full of bitterness and is enslaved by iniquity. He had never really been set free! So Peter continues, Repent therefore of this wickedness of yours, and pray to the Lord that, if possible, the intent of your heart may be forgiven you (Acts 8:22). God reads hearts and does not need to listen to words. But this man was so far from repentance when he replied: And Simon answered, "Pray for me to the Lord that nothing of what you have said may come upon me" (Acts 8:24). In other words, Simon refused to take personal action; he wished only to escape the penalty. There is no hint here that he actually repented of his insult against God's grace. It is no wonder that this man ultimately became one of the earliest and greatest opponents of the gospel. In the apocryphal books you can read that Simon Mingus hindered the gospel everywhere it went and continued to be the exponent of the Devil's lie. God's grace is able to overpower evil, but as Jesus said, "Woe to him by whom temptations come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung round his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin" (Luke 17:1,2).

Chapter Fifteen Have Spirit, Will Travel Acts 8:25-40
Three symbols present at the beginning of the church were to characterize the ministry of the Holy Spirit throughout the age of the church. These three were the mighty rushing wind, the tongues as of fire, and the proclamation of the truth in various languages (the gift of tongues). The mighty rushing wind represents the Spirit in His sovereignty, and this aspect of the Spirit's work is especially prominent in this part of Acts. Jesus had said, "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit" (John 3:8). The wind is an apt symbol of the sovereign direction of the Holy Spirit. This account is a very beautiful picture of this sovereignty. The account opens as Peter and John are on their way back from Samaria to Jerusalem: Now when they had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, preaching the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans (Acts 8:25). Three words here indicate the normal, usual activity of Christians. Peter and John came down to Samaria and first of all testified they shared what they had experienced, what God had done with them through Jesus Christ. Then they spoke the word of the Lord--they prophesied--by proclaiming truth. Finally, as Peter and John returned to Jerusalem they evangelized--they preached the gospel. These three things--prophesying, testifying, and evangelizing-make up the normal activities of Christians. Peter and John came down to Samaria and first of all testified--they shared what they had experienced, what God had done with them through Jesus Christ. Then they spoke the word of the Lord--they prophesied--by proclaiming truth. Finally, as Peter and John returned to Jerusalem they evangelized--the preached the gospel. Theses three things--prophesying, testifying, and evangelizing--make up the normal activities of Christian witness. The apostles then proceeded in an orderly way back to Jerusalem, doing the ordinary, expected thingsempowered, of course, by the Holy Spirit. Freedom to Interfere 57

But in the next verse we have an unusual, extraordinary, unpredictable activity of the Spirit of God: But an angel of the Lord said to Philip, "Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is a desert road. And he rose and went (Acts 8:26,27). The ministry of angels, according to the Bible, goes on all the time. They are "ministering spirits sent forth to serve, for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation" (Heb. 1:14). All of us, all the time, are being touched and affected by the ministry of angels, but we usually do not see them. So here is an unexpected agency through which the Holy Spirit works. An angel appears to Philip and gives him an unexplained command to go south on the road to Gaza. He could not have picked an emptier stretch of road. There are no cities or villages en route, but notice the beautiful way in which Philip obeys the angel's command. He just goes. He leaves the awakening that is going on in Samaria, with its demands for training and teaching, and goes down the desert road. The point I wish to make is that the experience of Peter and John, as well as that of Philip, are both records of Spirit-filled activity. Peter and John were obeying the Holy Spirit when they testified, prophesied, and evangelized. But Philip was also obeying the Holy Spirit when he was sent by an angel to a desert place. Some people say that you are being led of the Holy Spirit only when you are doing unusual things under unusual circumstances. But this is obviously untrue. The Holy Spirit often leads in the ordinary and the usual, and He can be very effective in this way. Yet we must also leave room for the unpredictable character of God--the sovereign, vital, fresh ministry of the Holy spirit which moves in ways that nobody can anticipate. We need to give Him the freedom to interfere in our programs. In the story of Elijah, God showed the prophet that He did not intend to work through the power of the wind, the earthquake, or the fire, as Elijah wanted Him to do. God said instead, "No, I'm going to work through the still, small voice of an awakened conscience. That is what will change the whole land." We must be prepared in our Christian life for this sovereign activity of the Spirit of God which can use both usual and unusual circumstances in our lives. The Man and the Moment The rest of the chapter is a wonderful story of the Holy Spirit's adequacy to handle Philip's adventure, and to prepare it all in advance. It begins with a prepared man: And he rose and went. And behold, an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a minister of Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of all her treasure, had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah (Acts 8:27, 28). The eunuch was a prepared man. He had great responsibilities as the secretary of the treasury of Ethiopia. He had great influence throughout all of Ethiopia and Egypt, for he worked with the queen.(Candace was the title given to all the queens of Ethiopia.) He was obviously a searching man. He had come to Jerusalem to worship at the temple, even though he was definitely not a Jew. You cannot read this account without detecting a note of disillusionment. The eunuch is going home, but he is evidently not satisfied. Having bought a copy of the Book of Isaiah, he is reading this scroll aloud as he rides along in his chariot. This is Philip's perfect moment, prepared by the Holy Spirit: And the Spirit said to Philip, "Go up and join this chariot." So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet, and asked, "Do you understand what you are doing?" And he said, "How can I, unless some one guides me?" And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. Now the passage of the scripture which he was reading was this: "As a sheep led to the slaughter or a lamb before its shearer is dumb, so he opens not his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken up from the earth." And the eunuch said to Philip, "About whom, pray, does the prophet say this, about himself, or about someone else?" (Acts 8:29-34). This whole situation is a tremendous manifestation of the preparation and timing of the Holy Spirit. As Philip is walking along the road, a chariot comes over the hill. At the precise moment when the man in the chariot passes the evangelist he happens to be reading aloud from Isaiah 53, the great passage that predicts the coming of the Messiah, the suffering Savior. What exquisite timing! 58

Notice how the Spirit is guiding the conversation. Philip says to him, "Do you understand what you are reading?" And the man replies, "How can I, unless some one guides me?" This answer indicates the eunuch's awareness that it takes God's full provision to make Scripture clear through teachers that He raises up. Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher, used to say, "I never could understand why some men set such great value on what the Holy Spirit says to them, and so little value on what He says to anyone else." Some people seem to think that only what God says to them counts--as though He were not speaking to anyone else. But God has provided both the Scriptures and teachers. It takes both to enter into the full knowledge of truth. Beginning with this Scripture So the eunuch invites Philip to come up and sit with him. He was at the right passage but was puzzled by it, as many have been puzzled since. For this is the passage that deals with the sufferings of Jesus. Most of the Old Testament passages depict the Messiah as coming in triumph and power and glory , riding over the enemies of Israel as the great King, the One who would restore peace to the earth, who would break in pieces all the weapons of war and cause the people to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. But these pictures of a suffering Savior have always been a puzzle to some readers, especially the Jews. And they puzzled the eunuch also. "Why does the prophet say that the Messiah has to die? Or is he speaking of the Messiah at all? Is he perhaps speaking of himself?" Philip, who knew the Scriptures, was ready with the answer: Then Philip opened his mouth, and, beginning with this scripture, he told him the goods news of Jesus. And as they went along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What is to prevent my being baptized? And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him (Acts 8:35-38). Philip began with the Scripture that the eunuch was reading, and he undoubtedly pointed out some of the predictions in this passage: But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:5,6). What a marvelous place from which to preach the gospel! What good news that the coming of Jesus Christ has solved the problem of man's guilt! How this man must have rejoiced to hear the stow of Jesus, and of how this passage was fulfilled in Him. But evidently Philip went on from there, obeying the Great Commission: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matt. 28; 19,20). Philip must have told the eunuch what baptism means, how it is a symbol of the life that has been received from Jesus Christ, and that by being baptized an individual is saying, "I have asked Jesus to enter my life and to be my Lord. I have received a new life in Him." So when they came to a place where there was some water at the side of the road (again at the precise timing of the Holy Spirit), the eunuch said, "See, here is water! What hinders me from being baptized?" So they went down and Philip baptized him. Caught Up in Joy The closing passage is full of wonderful things: And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught up Philip; and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip was found at Azotus, and, passing on, he preached the gospel to all the towns till he came to Caesarea (Acts 8:39,40). 59

This sounds like a miracle, doesn't it? It sounds as if Philip suddenly disappeared, and the eunuch, looking around with amazement, couldn't find him, so he finally went on his way. Although it can be read this way, I think that Philip and the eunuch came up from the water, the two were so carried away with the excitement and tremendous joy of the moment that they did not realize they had gone their separate ways. As the eunuch came up from the water he was so overwhelmed with the joy of finding Jesus that he didn't even notice that Philip failed to get back into the chariot with him. He went on his way rejoicing, and it was some time before he thought of Philip again. Philip, on the other hand, was so caught up with what God had done, with this glorious gem of an experience that God had given him, that he didn't realize for awhile that the eunuch had driven off and left him there. He was so lost in his thoughts as he cam to himself. When he did, found himself in Azotus, on the coast road. There he began to preach systematically in the towns all the way up the coast to Caesarea. Hasn't this happened to you? It has to me. I've gotten to thinking about some dramatic work of God's as I have been driving along in my car, and suddenly I've found myself in an entirely different town than the one for which I had set out. This is the adventure of the Spirit-filled life. Yet when Philip got to Azotus he didn't wait for another dramatic leading like this. He began where he was and started preaching right up the coast until he came to Caesarea. The Spirit-filled life will have much that is routine, much that is usual, much that is ordinary, but that "ordinary" is all touched with the flame of heaven. And there will also be these wonderful moments when out-of-the-ordinary, amazing things will suddenly begin to develop, and you become aware that you are being carried along into events which dovetail together in a way that only a divine hand could have planned. It is then that you realize that God is at work in an amazing way. This is the truly normal Christian life.

Chapter Sixteen Beloved Enemy Acts 9:1-19
During the time that the gospel was being systematically preached throughout every village of Samaria and Judea by outstanding leaders such as Philip and others, the Lord was also doing something else. He was preparing the human instrument by which the gospel would move into the third stage, even today unfinished, of reaching the uttermost parts of the earth. We now come to the conversion of the Apostle Paul. Young Saul of Tarsus, the enemy, the persecutor, the relentless pursuer of Christians, is now to be arrested by Jesus Christ and conscripted to bear the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. No story tows more beautifully the relentless, loving pursuit of God than the story of Saul. Here, in the opening words of Acts 9, we find a man pursued: But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem (Acts 9:1,2). Notice three interesting things in this passage. First, Saul was breathing threats and murder. In the King James Version it says that he was "breathing out seats and slaughter," but the literal Greek says that he was "breathing in threats and murder," for this was the very atmosphere and climate in which Saul lived and breathed. Later, in his appearance before King Agrippa, Saul himself tells the king how he had felt at this time: I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem; I not only shut up many of the saints in prison, by authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme; and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities (Acts 26:9-11). Obviously Saul was a man motivated, a man empowered by guilt. He never forgot the death of Stephen. To quiet his conscience he engaged in this terrible pursuit of the church. 60

The name given to the Christians in this passage is most interesting. They are referred to as "belonging to the Way." Names like this are invariably given by opponents. A group may take a name for themselves, but the name that sticks is usually the one that others call them. Other people saw that these Christians had a different life-style. They were characterized not by self-centeredness but by love and acceptance and understanding and tolerance. There was something about them that reminded them of Jesus, who was Himself "the Way, the Truth, and the Life." So they dubbed His followers "those belonging to the Way." Beyond the Border The third significant thing in this paragraph is that it was not until Saul was outside the borders of his homeland--brought there by the Lord Jesus--that he was converted. This was because Saul was scheduled to become the mighty apostle to the Gentiles. Until this time the gospel had gone out only within the bounds of Israel. But now, in calling the man who is to carry it further, God takes Saul out of his land to convert him. This is the wonderfully graphic symbolism by which God underlines His truth. In the next section we have the story of how the hands of Jesus closed in on the soul of Saul of Tarsus: Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" And he said, "Who are you, Lord?" And he said, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do." The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he could see nothing; so they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank (Acts 9:3-9). Although there have been many scholarly attempts to explain what happened here on a purely natural level, Paul himself is utterly consistent throughout his whole life as to just what he heard and saw on this occasion. He says he saw the Lord Jesus. Paul based his claim to apostleship upon the fact that he had seen Jesus Christ. He heard His voice and he knew what it said, and what it said had great effect on him. This was not a lightning stroke or an epileptic seizure, as has been suggested; this was the appearance of Jesus Christ to the man who was to be the mighty apostle to the Gentiles. Exposure and Development The first words that Jesus speaks to Saul are very significant. He says to him, "Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" What are your reasons? What do you hope to accomplish? I'm sure that in the hours of darkness that followed, young Saul debated this question many, many times. Why? What was it that had driven him like this? What was it that led to such violent activity against the program of God? In answering this question Saul would come to a great understanding of himself and of human life. Next, Jesus says, "Arise and enter the city, and there you will be told what to do." This indicated a tremendous reversal of Saul's whole approach to life. He is now experiencing for the first time the life-style which belongs to a Christian. Conversion is a revolutionary change of government, resulting in a radical change in behavior. That is what happened to Paul. No longer would he be giving the orders; no longer would he be directing men and sending them where he wanted them to go in order to do what he wanted them to do; now he would be told what he was to do. It has always seemed to me that in the conversion of Saul there is a striking parallel to the process of photography. At this moment God printed a picture of Jesus Christ upon the soul of this young man. From that moment on, anyone who looked at Paul the Apostle never saw Paul; he saw Jesus Christ. The fundamental principle of photography is to take light-sensitive salts spread them on a film, and then keep them in total darkness until the precise moment when what you want recorded is exposed to it. Saul was a young man who was very sensitive to the things of God, but he was kept in darkness until this moment of exposure. In that blinding light the image of Jesus Christ was printed indelibly on his soul. After exposure to light, film is always kept in darkness to develop while it is placed into dark and bitter waters for awhile. Here the newest apostle was led by the hand into the city of Damascus, where for three days and nights he neither ate nor drank, while the image to which he was exposed was developed and imbedded unforgettably in his heart. Saul of Tarsus was crucified, and Jesus Christ was seen in his life from then on. 61

Strength from the Body Now we see the Lord Jesus moving further to reclaim this man from the worthlessness of his empty life and to set him on the path to true value: Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, "Ananias." And he said, "Here I am, Lord." And the Lord said to him, "Rise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire in the house of Judas for a man of Tarsus named Saul; for behold, he is praying, and he has seen a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight." But Ananias answered, "Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to thy saints at Jerusalem; and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind a who call upon thy name." But the Lord said to him, "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine..."(Acts 9:1015). What is the first thing Paul experienced as a Christian? The life of the body of Christ. Two unknown, obscure Christians are sent to him, and he is immediately helped by the strengthening that can come from the body. First there is a man named Judas--that is all we know about him--to whose house Saul was led. While he is there a man named Ananias is sent to minister to him. There is a joyful, poetic irony in the Holy Spirit's choice of two names winch elsewhere in the New Testament are tainted: Judas and Ananias. Judas Iscariot was the betrayer of our Lord, and Ananias was the first Christian to manifest the deceit and hypocrisy of unreal life. Yet here are two people who bear these same two names are honored and used by God. Ananias was understandably reluctant to come to the man who had been ready to drag people off to prison and put them to death because they were Christians. Yet Saul of Tarsus begins to experience the joy of body life through these other Christians Gentiles First After Paul is called he is given a specific ministry: But the Lord said to him [Ananias], "Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name" (Acts 9:15,16). Paul was told two things about his ministry: first, where it would be manifested. It was to be to three groups. His primary obligation was to go to the Gentiles, the non-Jewish nations of the world. Later he would call himself the Apostle to the Gentiles. His second area of ministry was to kings. He was to penetrate the power structures of his day, to speak to those at the top, to minister to those who were in positions of authority and influence. Throughout the Book of Acts you will find the record of Paul's repeated appearances before governors, procurators, kings, and finally even the Emperor himself. Last on the list, Paul was to minister to the sons of Israel. Paul always wanted to put this first. He longed to be the instrument by which Israel would be redeemed. But Paul wasn't running the program anymore; God was. Though Paul had great impact on his own nation, the sons of Israel, he was primarily the minister to the Gentiles. Then the Lord revealed how Paul was to make his impact. "I will show him," God said, "how much he must suffer for my name's sake." Paul was called to suffer. This is a word we don't like--suffer. Yet the Christian life invariably involves suffering. Why is that? Why is suffering a part of the normal Christian life? Because suffering is the activity of love. It is love that bears hurt. It is love that takes the blame, that takes the hurt, that is willing to endure. Anyone who is called to be a Christian must learn to suffer. Love is always hurt in the process of loving. That is why, in this fallen world, love must always suffer. The man Paul was called to enter into the sufferings of Jesus Christ because Jesus loves fallen men and wants to redeem them. 62

But he cannot redeem them without being hurt in return. So Paul as Jesus' servant was called to be hurt. What a tremendously responsive instrument he became! How much he suffered in order that he might manifest the love of the heart of God for lost and wicked world! When we are called to follow Jesus Christ we are called to suffer. We have to forgive, and that hurts, doesn't it? We don't like to forgive; we would rather hold a grudge and take vengeance. We want our ego to be fed and our pride to be satisfied. But God has called us to suffer and forgive. Filled and Enlightened Paul is not called to do this in his own strength, but in the power of the Spirit. So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you came, has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized, and took food and was strengthened (Acts 9:17-19). No one can manifest the suffering of Christian love without being filled with the Holy Spirit. As Ananias laid his hands on Paul he was filled with the Holy Spirit. There were no tongues, no sign, no manifestation; there was simply a quiet infilling of the Holy Spirit, just as occurs today with anyone who believes in Jesus Christ. The filling immediately changed Paul's vision; scales fell from his eyes. I think this is both literal and symbolic. All those long, built-up prejudices of a Pharisee against Gentiles; all the bigotry, pride, and prejudice that twisted and distorted his view of the Gentile world--all this disappeared in a moment. This man saw the whole world, Jews and Gentiles alike, as men and women bearing the image of God and needing to be redeemed. As Paul later tells us in his own words, he learned to judge no man according to the flesh, but to see in him only a potential subject for the kingdom of God. Then Paul was baptized. He took his place as a Christian. He identified himself with those who bear the name of Jesus Christ. God has now prepared his instrument to carry the gospel to all the nations of the world. Those of us who are not Jews owe a great debt to Paul; without him we would not have believed and come to know our Lord Jesus. Paul's life and ministry has made a great impact upon every one of us.

Chapter Seventeen The Yoke of Christ Acts 9:19-31
Paul became a Christian on the road to Damascus, but he didn't start living the Christian life in all its fullness and power until a number of years later. He had many lessons to learn first. The simple fact of Saul's conversion did not by itself account for the mighty influence which this man had throughout the rest of his life. Jesus had said to His disciples, "Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest." Then he added, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls" (Matt. 11:28,29). These two verses indicate two separate stages in Christian development--two stages which Paul experienced, as does every believer who wishes to walk in the footsteps of the Lord. The simplest possible statement of the gospel is the three words of Jesus: "Come unto me." He does not add any qualifications; just come as you are. That is His invitation, and he promises, "I will give you rest." Millions of people through the centuries have come to Christ on these terms and found that He gives exactly what He Says He will--rest of heart. But then Jesus says something more: "Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me and you will find rest for your souls." You become a Christian by coming to Christ, but you cannot really live the Christian life until you assume the yoke of Christ. A yoke is a shaped piece of wood by which two draft animals are tied together to pull a load. To take on the yoke 63

of Christ means to submit to Him, to His leadership, to his Lordship. And to do this is to discover what it means to live as a Christian is really intended to live. Because He Is Lord Paul had to learn this. There was a definite period during which Paul was being taught how to take the yoke of Christ upon himself. That is what we will see in this account, as a new paragraph begins: For several days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And in the synagogues immediately he proclaimed Jesus, saying, "He is the Son of God." And all who heard him were amazed, and "Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called on this name? And he has come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests" (Acts 9:19-21). These verses describe the initial witness of the Apostle after he became a Christian. He came into Damascus and stayed there, blind, for three days and nights. Then Ananias came and prayed for him. Paul received his sight, was filled with the Holy Spirit, and was baptized; he had all the basic equipment necessary for living the Christian life. Then Paul immediately began to proclaim Jesus, saying, "He is the Son of God." In other words, Paul started proclaiming the lordship of Jesus Christ, that He is the Lord of heaven and earth. This is fundamental to the new birth. You become a Christian when you understand and accept in your own life the authority and lordship of Jesus. The idea that you become a Christian when you accept Him as your Savior is not in the New Testament. You will find no verses in the New Testament which offer the Lord Jesus as the Savior of the world; He is offered as Lord. When He is accepted as Lord, He becomes Savior. We have twisted this around and, unfortunately, millions of people have tried to accept the saviorhood of Jesus without His lordship. As a result there is no change in their lives. It is understanding the fact that Jesus is the Son of God, that Jesus is Lord, which produces the change of heart that allows the Holy Spirit to bring a person fully into the family of God. Remember that this mighty Apostle, in writing to the Romans, says, "if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead [that he is a risen Lord, a living Lord], you will be saved" (Rom. 10:9). That is when salvation occurs. Into the Desert The next verse immediately notes a different kind of testimony by the Apostle: But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ [the Messiah] (Acts 9:22). Paul proved from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah. But he didn't do this at first. Luke is giving us a condensed survey of what happened in the early church, and he leaves out certain events which we need to fill in from other Scriptures. We learn from the Epistle to the Galatians that a period of many days--three years, in fact--comes between verses 21 and 22. What happened during this time? In Paul's own account of his conversion he says, But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles, I did not, confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me, but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned to Damascus (Gal 1:15-17). Luke tells us that immediately after the Apostle was converted he began to tell everybody that Jesus is Lord. But after a few days he found it necessary to somehow square this with all he had been taught in the Scriptures. And so, taking the Scriptures under his arm, he went away into the desert. As he began to read through the Old Testament again, he saw Jesus Christ on every page. Everywhere he turned, the Old Testament was speaking of Jesus. In the Prophets, in the Psalms, in Moses and the Law--everywhere it pointed to Jesus. Paul began to discover that the sacrifices and offerings were all pictures of Jesus. The very configuration of the Tabernacle was a picture of the life of Jesus. Jesus was everywhere throughout the Old Testament. 64

Paul's Plan As Paul studied, a great yearning and conviction grew in his heart. He did what many of us have done; he tried to second-guess what God was doing and what his part would be. He was still a young man. He had his whole life to live before him. So he tried to figure why it was that Christ had arrested him in such dramatic fashion on the Damascus road. He came up with this conviction (the Bible does not say this explicitly, but it is clearly implied in several places): God had determined that Paul would be the person to reach the nation of Israel. This stubborn, obstinate nation of the Jews needed someone who would convince them beyond a shadow of a doubt that Jesus was the Messiah. Paul himself tells us in certain places in his Epistles that there was a great, eager hunger in his heart to reach his own people. In Romans he says, "I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race" (Rom. 9:3). He hungers to reach them, and he thinks he sees what God is doing. He reasons, "I've got all the equipment, all the background, all the training, all the ability necessary to reach this stubborn people." So he came back to Damascus from Arabia confident, knowledgeable, eager, and able in the Scriptures, and he increased all the more in strength in confounding the Jews by proving from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. Imagine what Paul must have felt like. Here he is a seminary graduate with a D.D. degree (Doctor of the Desert), feeling called to go into Damascus to wipe out all the opposition before him and to convince these stubborn Jews that Jesus is their Messiah. And he does this. He is unbeatable in debate. He proves from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. His Greatest Moment Paul wins all the battles but loses the war. He wins all the arguments, but he never wins a soul. In spite of his tremendous dedication, in spite of the skillful and knowledgeable arguments he employs, in spite of the untiring, sincere effort of this dedicated, zealous young man, the Jews remain locked in stubborn and obstinate unbelief. In fact, the situation gets much worse. We read, When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night, to kill him; but his disciples took him by night and let him down over the wall, lowering him in a basket (Acts 9:23-25). What humiliation! Paul was going to show the world how much he could do for this new Master he had found. But instead he finds himself humiliated and rejected. His own friends finally have to let him down over a wall by night. He walks away into the darkness in utter, abject failure and defeat. The amazing thing is, and it really is amazing, that many years later as Paul writes to the Corinthians he recounts this episode: "The greatest event in my life was when they took me at night and let me down over the wall of Damascus in a basket. That was the most meaningful experience I have ever had since the day I met Christ" (2 Cor. 11:30-33). Why was this so? Because then and there the Apostle began to learn the truth which he tells us about in his Letter to the Philippians: "Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss...because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord" (Phil. 3:7,8). That is, "The night they let me down over the wall in a basket, I began to learn something. It took me a long time to catch on, but there I began to learn that God didn't need my abilities; He needed only my availability. He just needed me--not my background or my ancestry. He didn't even need my knowledge of Hebrew. In fact, God didn't have any particular intention of using these things to reach the Jews; He was going to send me to the Gentiles." Though Paul didn't fully understand it at the time, it was at this point that he began to assume the yoke of Christ and to enter the school of the Spirit. Jesus Himself tells us what the curriculum of this school is: "Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart" Ambition and pride must die. If you are depending on yourself, God evaluates all you do as worth nothing. This is what Paul began to learn, and through this experience his pride began to die. Yet it died hard, and we find him still struggling: And when he had come to Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name 65

of Jesus. So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists; but they were seeking to kill him (Acts 9:26-29). Here Paul comes to Jerusalem still aflame, determined to show the world how much he can do for Christ. Yet at first even the disciples would have nothing to do with him. But after Barnabas swore that Paul was indeed a disciple, and that he had been preaching in the name of Jesus, the other disciples listened to him. Get Out of Town From Galatians we learn that Paul's stay in Jerusalem was only fifteen days. But in this short time this zealous young Christian bigot went into the synagogues and began to argue and dispute, again to prove that Jesus was the Christ. It had the same effect as in Damascus: they tried to kill him. And another incident occurred which is not recorded in this part of Acts but is found later in Paul's account of this same period: When I had returned to Jerusalem [from Damascus] and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw him [Jesus] saying to me, "Make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will not accept your testimony about me" (Acts 22:17,18). Here the Lord appears to Paul and says, "You don't belong here in Jerusalem. I don't want you to be the apostle to Israel; I want you to be the apostle to the Gentiles. Get out of this city. Nobody is going to listen to you here." Notice how Paul argues with Jesus: And I said, "Lord, they themselves know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believed in thee. And when the blood of Stephen thy witness was shed, I also was standing by and approving, and keeping the garments of those who killed him" (Acts 22:19,20). "Why, Lord," Paul says, "you don't seem to realize who I am. I'm the one who was persecuting the church with great eagerness and malice; these Jews know how vigorously I opposed the church. And now that I know that those whom I persecuted were right, the Jews will have to listen to me, Lord. You're throwing away your greatest opportunity here! They can't help but believe when they hear it from me!" But listen to what the Lord replied: And he said to me, "Depart; for I will send you far away to the Gentiles" (Acts 22:21). "I have a different program for you, Paul. All you need is Me. Until you learn that, you will never be of any value to Me at all. So I want you to leave town." Back in Acts 9 we read, And when the brethren knew it, they brought him down to Caesarea, and sent him off to Tarsus (Acts 9:30). Then notice this beautiful last verse: So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was built up; and, walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it was multiplied (Acts 9:31). It might seem strange that Luke would add here that the church had peace as soon as they got rid of Paul. But now that we understand what is really happening here, from correlating these other Scriptures, it makes perfect sense. So the believers sent Paul to Tarsus--the hardest place on earth to learn anything, and yet the best place to be, for it was Paul's home. For a period of from seven to ten years nothing is heard of the Apostle Paul. He is home, learning the essential lesson that God is trying to teach all of us--that all God needs is you and me the way we are, available to do whatever He wants to do through us. The life of an eager, zealous Christian who is trying to serve God in the flesh is not a Christian life at all. It is false Christianity, and it turns people away from Christ. Remember how Peter tried to put his zeal into action, how in the Garden of Gethsemane he drew his sword and slashed away. All he did was chop off the ear of the high priest's servant. And that is all we do when we try to serve God in the 66

energy of the flesh--we go around chopping off peoples' ears! If it weren't for the healing grace of the Lord Jesus, who picks up all those severed ears and puts them back in place, nobody would ever speak to us again! Finally, after seven to ten years at home, the Spirit of God leads Barnabas to go down to Tarsus to find Paul and bring him to Antioch, where there has been a spiritual awakening. Paul comes back chastened and broken-and available. And then begins that mighty career in the power of the Holy Spirit, that unparalleled manifestation of the life of Jesus Christ that changed the whole Roman Empire and the course of history. Paul had learned the essential lesson, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (John 15:5) so he says, "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20). It was on these terms that Paul shook the world for Christ.

Chapter Eighteen Three Faces of Death Acts 9:32-10:23
Death takes many forms. We begin to die long before we actually take our last breath; death seizes us in many areas of our life other than the physical. Boredom is death. Despair is also death. Fear and worry are forms of death. Mental illness is death, and so is bitterness of spirit. Death can rule over great areas of our lives long before we ever die; we know this from experience. But the great Good News of Jesus Christ is that He has come to abolish death, whatever form it may take. The Apostle Peter, like all true Christians, was a channel of the power of Jesus Christ as he traveled around among the churches of Judea and Samaria. Christ's power accomplished one great thing through Peter everywhere he went: it abolished death. In the three incidents of this passage we will see how in each case the power of Jesus Christ abolished death. The first incident is a picture of death's power to paralyze: Now as Peter went here and there among them all, he came down also to the saints that lived at Lydda. There he found a man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden for eight years and was paralyzed. And Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed." And immediately he rose. And all the residents of Lydda and Sharon saw him, and they turned to the Lord (Acts 9:32-35). The airport outside Tel Aviv is at the ancient town of Lydda, now known as Led. It was to this village that Peter came on his way down from Jerusalem, as he visited the new churches of Judea and Samaria that had sprung up in all the villages. In Lydda he finds a man who had been paralyzed for eight years. Peter says to him, "Jesus Christ heals you; rise and make your bed." Here we have a paralysis of the body. For eight years it had held this man impotent, unable to fulfill God's intention for human life. But that can happen to the spirit as well. When it does, you experience a paralysis of the will. Perhaps there are things you have been wanting to do, knowing that you ought to do them. But you never have, because you are looking to your own resources; you are expecting some new sensation or feeling to motivate you to get moving. It is to that kind of condition that this story makes its appeal. Jesus Christ says to you, "Rise and begin to live. Do what you ought to do, in My name. Stand up and be strong, in My name. Rise and be well." Interrupted Service The next incident is even more remarkable, for here we find death in its most fearful form, the actual ending of life: Now there was at Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which means Dorcas or Gazelle. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she fell sick and died; and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him entreating him, "Please come to us without delay" (Acts 9:36-38). Death's power to interrupt service is pictured for us in this account. The outstanding characteristic of this woman was grace and selfless love. She helped others. Her very name meant Gazelle, an animal characterized by grace and charm. 67

Suddenly, unexpectedly, her service was brought to an end. She fell sick as the power of the enemy struck hard and viciously, and she was laid low and died. But now comes the sequel: So Peter rose and went with them. And when he had come, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping, and showing coats and garments which Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside and knelt down and prayed; then, turning to the body, he said, Tabitha, rise." And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and lifted her up. Then, calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. And it became known throughout all Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. And he stayed in Joppa for many days with one Simon, a tanner (Acts 9:39-43). This is a marvelous miracle--a restoration from the dead. Here is a woman whose ministry of love and selflessness was interrupted by death. But now, by the hand of God and the power of Jesus Christ, the is restored to her ministry of good works. Of course Dorcas later died again, because this incident is primarily a picture intended to teach us that this kind of death can happen to the human spirit, too. Something can interrupt the progress of a spiritual life which is beginning to flourish and bear fruit. Some circumstance, some event or experience, can interrupt and cause it to die. The person loses his zeal and becomes cold, hard, and indifferent--bitter of spirit. He is literally like someone dead. This kind of death can go on for years. Edwin Markham the great Christian poet, once entrusted a banker with the settlement of an estate. The banker betrayed him, and Markham lost all his money and was rendered penniless. It made him bitter, and for several years he could write no poetry. Then one day as he was trying to write, Markham sat at his desk aimlessly scrawling circles. As he doodled the thought suddenly struck him of the great circle of God's love, and of how it takes us in. He was struck with inspiration and wrote these words: I drew a circle and shut him out; Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout. But Love and I had the wit to win; We drew a circle that took him in. Markham forgave the banker and was able to resume his ministry. After that came some of his greatest poems. That is what Jesus Christ can do. He can heal the bitterness that may be in your life, rendering you cold and indifferent to the needs of others. Cornelius and the Angel The third incident is most significant, for it concerns a healing in the spirit of the Apostle Peter himself. It begins with another man who is living 27 miles up the coast from Joppa, in the Roman garrison headquarters at Caesarea: At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion of what was known as the Italian Cohort, a devout man who feared God with all his household, gave alms liberally to the people, and prayed constantly to God. About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, "Cornelius." And he stared at him in terror, and said, "What is it, Lord?" And he said to him, "Your prayers and your alms have ascended as a memorial before God. And now send men to Joppa, and bring one Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging with Simon, a tanner, whose house is by the seaside." When the angel who spoke to him had departed, he called two of his servants and a devout soldier from among those that waited on him, and, having related everything to them, he sent them to Joppa (Acts 10:1-8). Here is a picture of a moral, upright, and generous man--but one who is not yet born again. The gift of God, eternal life in Jesus Christ, is what this man needs, and God is moving to answer that need. The great question which I am asked more frequently than any other, especially by non-Christians, is, "What about the man who lives up to the light he has, and is faithful to what he knows, but has never heard of Jesus Christ? What happens to him?" The story of Cornelius shows us what happens to a man like that. When he is obedient to the light he has, God will take it upon Himself to give him more light and to lead him to the place where he can come to know Jesus Christ. This is in line with what we read in Hebrews: "Without faith it is impossible to please [God]." It goes on to say, "For whoever would draw near to God must have two qualifications--just two: he must believe that God exists, and he must 68

believe that God rewards those who seek Him (Heb. 11:6). He must believe that God will meet his quest by giving him more light along the way. That was Cornelius' situation. He believed that God existed. He was tired of all the emptiness and sensuality that was connected with Roman paganism. He was seeking God; he knew that God would help him. He was praying, asking God to help him and God does help. Notice that God doesn't send an angel to preach the gospel to Cornelius; angels are not commissioned to preach the gospel. God sends an angel to tell him where he can find a man who will preach the gospel, who will tell him the truth about Jesus Christ. When the angel appears, Cornelius is very frightened, as we would also be. But the angel tells him to send to Joppa for a man named Peter, who is living in the house of Simon, a tanner. That was about as good an address as you could ask for, since tanners prepare hides, and it is a smelly occupation. Once the messengers arrived in Joppa, they merely needed to follow their noses in order to find Peter! The Death of Prejudice In the meantime God was working at the other end to prepare the meeting of these men: The next day, as they were on their journey and coming near the city, Peter went up on the housetop to pray about the sixth hour. And he became hungry and desired something to eat; but while they were preparing it, he fell into a trance and saw the heaven opened, and something descending, like a great sheet, let down by four corners upon the earth. In it were all kinds of animals and reptiles and birds of the air. And there came a voice to him, "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." But Peter said, "No, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." And the voice came to him again, a second time, "What God has cleansed, you must not call common." This happened three times, and the thing was taken up at once to heaven (Acts 10:9-16). What a strange experience! Why did this happen to Peter? The answer is that God wanted to heal the death in Peter's spirit--the death of prejudice, of bigotry and snobbishness. Here is an apostle who is born again and filled with the Holy Spirit, but who has a great area of bigotry present in his life. Choice, Not Exclusion The Old Testament tells us that God separated the Jews from the rest of mankind. He did so not on the basis of their superiority, but because He wanted them to demonstrate to all the other nations of the world the relationship which God wants to have with mankind. Only in that sense were the Jews the chosen people. But in typically human fashion, as we ourselves probably would have done, the Jews distorted that calling of God, that pattern of the Old Testament. They began to believe that God was not interested in Gentiles, but that He only liked Jews. This has given rise to anti-Semitism by the Gentiles, many of whom are saying, in that shortest of all poems, How odd Of God To choose The Jews! And so Peter grew up with the attitude that God did not like Gentiles. Gentiles were a sort of animal, not quite human. They were not even to be spoken to, let alone to be invited into your home. A good Jew, as Peter had been taught, would have nothing to do with a Gentile. If he even touched one accidentally on the street he would go home and wash. This bigotry was deeply embedded in the Apostle's heart. He had always thought that God's choice of the Jews also involved His exclusion of the Gentiles. God cures Peter by revealing the truth in graphic form. He sends a vision of a sheet full of animals which Peter had been taught were unclean. But God's command is "Rise, Peter; kill and eat." Peter begins at once to argue with the Lord. He says, in the King James Version, "Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is common or unclean." Obviously you cannot be consistent and say, "Not so, Lord." If you say "Lord" then you must not say, "Not so." And if you say "Not so" then He is not Lord! 69

Notice also the marks of legalism here. Peter says, "Lord, I have never eaten anything common or unclean." That is the language of legalism: "I have never done anything like that in all my life." A legalistic spirit is proud of the negative, proud of "never having done" a particular thing. Of course, as a Christian led of the Spirit there are things we won't do-things that are harmful, and which God has forbidden for our own protection. But what is wrong here is being proud of the things we won't do. So God rebukes Peter for his legalism. God says to him immediately, "How dare you call unclean what God has called clean!" Sometimes we call ourselves unclean. People have said to me, "I just can't forgive myself. The things I've done are so bad that even though I know God has forgiven me, I can't accept myself." It often helps if we can see that by this attitude we are calling God a liar. We are calling unclean what God has called clean. We read that this vision appeared to Peter three times. That may be because three is the stamp of the Trinity. God is saying by this threefold occurrence, "Look, all of us--Father, Son, and Holy Spirit--agree that we don't like this bigotry. This is against the Spirit of God--this whole business of prejudice because of color or background or past or deeds or circumstances or whatever." Even the mighty Apostle Peter had to be taught this lesson, not by the filling of the Holy Spirit but by the teaching of the Holy Spirit. Setting Aside All Malice While my daughter was at Wheaton College she wrote to me about a touching incident. At chapel one day, the president of Wheaton College got up and shared with the entire student body a dilemma that he was facing. Many supporters of the school were withholding funds because they were bothered by the many long-haired youths they had seen on their visits. The president said the school was in a serious financial bind because of this; their whole operation was being threatened. And the student body sat there, breathlessly anxious to learn what the administration's stand would be. Then the president called out of the audience the young man who had the longest hair and beard in the whole student body, and asked him to come up to the platform. Turning to him, he said, "You have long hair, and you have a long beard. You represent the very thing that these supporters of the school are against. I want you to know that the administration of this school does not feel as they do. We accept you, and we love you. We believe that you are here to seek and to find the truth as it is in Jesus Christ." And he reached out and embraced him! The student body rose as one man in a moment of acclaim for their president, for his expression of that kind of love and acceptance. That is what God wants. The great lesson that God taught the Apostle Peter on this occasion was that these Gentiles were to be his friends and were to be accepted by him. Now Peter takes the first step toward this goal: Now while Peter was inwardly perplexed as to what the vision which he had seen might mean, behold, the men that were sent by Cornelius, having made inquiry for Simon's house, stood before the gate and called out to ask whether Simon who was called Peter was lodging there. And while Peter was pondering the vision the Spirit said to him, "Behold, three men are looking for you. Rise and go down, and accompany them without hesitation; for I have sent them." And Peter went down to the men and said, "I am the one you are looking for; what is the reason for your coming?" And they said, "Cornelius, a centurion, an upright and God fearing man, who is well spoken of by the whole Jewish nation, was directed by a holy angel to send for you to come to his house, and to hear what you have to say." So he called them in to be his guests (Acts 10:17-23). Ah, the barriers are crumbling; the walls are breaking down! Peter invites these Gentiles in to be his guests. That is the first step. He had never done anything like this before. But that is the language of liberty. Legalism says, "I have never"; liberty in Christ says, "I open up, to accept and take these men in. In this story we can see clearly the character of the grace of God-that He desires to remove all prejudice from the human heart and to make us see each other as we really are-members together of one race, all equally in need of God's redeeming grace in Jesus Christ.

Chapter Nineteen

Peter and Cornelius Acts 10:23-11:18
It is often suggested that the Book of Acts ought to be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. I agree. Nowhere is the sovereign superintendency of the Holy Spirit more in evidence than in this wonderful account of how He moved to open the door of faith to the Gentiles. The Spirit's first step was to prepare the heart of a Gentile man, Cornelius, to receive the message of life. He did this by awakening in Cornelius a sense of hunger which he expressed in prayers, in the giving of alms, and in seeking after God. Next the Spirit gave Peter the vision of the sheet let down from heaven with various kinds of animals, birds, and reptiles in it, and He told Peter pointedly that all of them were clean, thus removing the iceberg of prejudice in Peter's heart. Then He brought Peter and Cornelius together. We resume the account as Peter and his accompanying brothers in Christ leave the city of Joppa: The next day he rose and went off with them, and some of the brethren from Joppa accompanied him. And on the following day they entered Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his kinsmen and close friends. When Peterman entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, "Stand up; I too am a man." And as he talked with him, he went in and found many persons gathered; and he said to them, "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation; but God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean. So when I was sent for, I came without objection. I ask then why you sent for me" (Acts 10:23-29). Certain human reactions which Luke has recorded for us mark this incident as the authentic account of a real episode. When Peter entered Cornelius' house, this proud Roman centurion fell down at his feet and worshiped Him. It is remarkable that a member of the subjugating military garrison should fall at the feet of one of the subject people and worship him! But so hungry was the heart of Cornelius, so anxious was he to find God, that he was actually willing to worship a Jew. Prepared for the Gospel Peter, of course, is embarrassed. He lifts Cornelius up and says, "I'm just a man like you; don't worship me." Peter refuses to accept the homage of this man, which is most interesting in view of the Roman Catholic claim that Peter was the first Pope. Also, Peter is obviously still uneasy at entering the home of a Gentile, as we see from his explanation. As they go into the house he says to Cornelius, "You know how unlawful it is for a Jew to associate with or to visit anyone of another nation." Now this was not God's law; it was man's law. But Peter had been taught a lesson, and though he obviously doesn't fully understand it yet, he says "God has shown me that I should not call any man common or unclean, and so I've come. What do you want of me?" Cornelius now tells his side of the story: And Cornelius said, "Four days ago, about this hour, I was keeping the ninth hour of prayer in my house; and behold, a man stood before me in bright apparel, saying, 'Cornelius, your prayer has been heard and your alms have been remembered before God. Send therefore to Joppa and ask for Simon who is called Peter; he is lodging in the house of Simon, a tanner, by the seaside.' So I sent to you at once, and you have been kind enough to come. Now therefore we are all here present in the sight of God, to hear all that you have been commanded by the Lord" (Acts 10:30-33). This was one of the most strategic home Bible classes ever held. In a home Bible class a man opens his home, gathers his friends, has some refreshments ready, and invites a teacher to come and present the gospel to his friends. It is a most workable format, as it was on this occasion when Cornelius gathered his kinsmen and friends together. They are waiting expectantly now for the word of the gospel. Now we come to Peter's message--the purpose for which the Holy Spirit has maneuvered these men together. Here is the great message that will set Cornelius free: And Peter opened his mouth and said, "Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him" (Acts 10:34,35). Here we have the first formal preaching of the gospel--the first preaching of Jesus--to a Gentile audience. Peter makes seven distinct points, and they comprise a marvelous unfolding of the Good News. The first point is that God shows no 71

partiality. He receives anyone, anywhere, from any background or race, any social class, any station in life. It doesn't make any difference to Him. Do not misread what Peter says. The words "in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him" mean that God recognizes that such a man has an honest heart and a correctly receptive attitude. But Cornelius was still unregenerate, without Christ. He still had no life within his heart. Yet he was acceptable to God because he was honest. Anyone, in any circumstance, who comes to God with an honest heart will find an open door to the truth about Jesus Christ. That is the first part of the gospel. Man as God Intended Then Peter goes on to make the second point: You know the word which he sent to Israel, preaching good news of peace by Jesus Christ (he is Lord of all), the word which was proclaimed throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism which John preached: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power...(Acts 10:36-38). Immediately Peter moves to the first coming of Christ, to the incarnation. Notice how he puts it in human terms. Jesus came as a Man through whom God worked in love and power. He did not come primarily to display His deity, to show us how God behaves; He came to show us how man behaves as God intended him to be--indwelt by God. That is what it takes to be a man. The third point of Peter's message goes on from there: ...how he [Jesus] went about doing good and healing all at were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. And we are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem (Acts 10:38,39). The next great feature of the Good News is that when Jesus Christ arrived He destroyed the effects of evil everywhere He went. He did this openly, before witnesses, where everyone could see. Everywhere Jesus went He set people free and brought once more to human hearts the hope that there is a way out of the desperate bondage of fallen humanity. I will never forget the experience of a young man who came into our congregation a few years ago. He was not accustomed to attending church--he had not been raised in a church at all--but his heart was hungry. He came, not knowing what the people would be like. He felt that Christians were super-snobbish and self-righteous--people who felt they were better than others. As I was speaking, I read these verses: Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you (1 Cor. 6:9-11). For some reason that morning I stopped at that point and said, "How many in this congregation belong in this category? How many of you have ever been guilty of some of these things?" All over the congregation hands began to rise. This young man took a look around, saw the forest of hands, and said to himself, "These are my kind of people." Such were some of you, set free. That is what Christ does. "He went about doing good and healing all that were oppressed by the devil" as a demonstration of what God is accomplishing in the work of redemption. Peter's fourth point is sobering, and very briefly stated: They put him to death by hanging him on a tree(Acts 10:39). It is almost as though he does not want to dwell on it. All he says is, "They put him to death...Jesus was killed by the most shameful means possible. Even the Romans recognized that. Cicero, the Roman orator, said, "The cross is so terrible that it should not be mentioned in polite company." Yet by this means Jesus, the Man who went about doing good, was put to death. Peter passes quickly to the fifth point:


...But God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people, but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead (Acts 10:40,41). This is impressive, isn't it? Peter said, "I was one of those witnesses who saw Jesus after He rose from the dead. It was no hallucination, because we ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. Only bodies can eat and drink, and there He was." God's power was greater than man's, and He broke the barriers of death. Every Man Must Choose Peter then makes the sixth point: And he commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that he is the one ordained by God to be judge of the living and the dead (Acts 10:42). In other words, says Peter, Jesus commanded us to preach Him as a living person. He is not dead; He is alive and available to all men everywhere. Not only that, but He is the ultimate crisis of all men. Jesus stands at the end of every path down which men go, and He waits there as the One ordained by God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. Finally Peter reaches the seventh point and the glorious climax to it all: To him all the prophets bear witness, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name (Acts 10:43). Peter says, "You Romans may not appreciate this fully, but everything that Jesus did was predicted by the prophets long before He ever came, all that He would be like and all that He would do was written down. Every prophet bore witness to this one fact: the only way you can ever find forgiveness of sins is by believing in Him." We are guilty people, and we know it. That is why we are so restless, why we often cannot stand to be alone with ourselves. Our oppression because of our sense of guilt is overwhelming. So the prime need of our lives is to be forgiven, to have nothing in the past to worry about, to have nothing which makes us uncertain of the future and nothing which makes us unwilling to appear before God. Through Jesus Christ our sins are forgiven. All the future ones, as well as those of the past, are forgiven in Jesus Christ. God, therefore, has no quarrel with you; He loves you, He accepts you. Whatever you do, He will continue to love you and accept you. If you have been born again you know that this is the greatest and most unending blessing of your life--to wake up every morning and remember that you stand as a beloved child in God's presence. You are His, and for that reason He will be with you in every circumstance, all day long. Holy Interruption Peter had more to say, but right at this point a most dramatic interruption occurred: While Peter was still saying this, the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word. And the believers from among the circumcised who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles. For they heard them speaking in tongues and extolling God. Then Peter declared, "Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to remain for some days (Acts 10:44-48). The Holy Spirit interrupted Peter, just as He had on the Day of Pentecost, and what He did here is very significant. Peter had just given these people something to believe, the death and resurrection of Jesus. Then he told them, "The prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in Jesus receives forgiveness of sins." As soon as Peter's audience heard these words they believed. And immediately upon believing they received the Holy Spirit, just Jesus said they would. He had said,


If anyone thirst, let him come to me and drink...Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water." Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive...(John 7:37-39). As soon as they heard, they believed, and when they believed, they received. The Holy Spirit refused to wait until the altar call! As on the Day of Pentecost, the gift of tongues was the sign of the coming of the Holy Spirit, indicating to Peter and these other Jews that the Gentiles were being received on the same basis as the Jews had been. Peter got the point. He said, "Can anyone forbid water for baptizing these people who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?" Notice that the baptism of the Holy Spirit does not do away with the baptism of water. One is a symbol of the other. These men were baptized with water because they had been baptized with the Spirit. An End to the Matter The last part of the story shows us what happens when truth encounters deep-seated prejudice and tradition: Now the apostles and the brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, "Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?" But Peter began and explained to them in order: "I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, something descending, like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, 'Rise, Peter; kill and eat.' But I said, 'No, Lord: for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.' But the voice answered a second time from heaven, 'What God has cleansed you must not call common.' This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven." At that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them without hesitation. These six brethren also accompanied me, and we entered the man's house. And he told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, 'Send to Joppa and bring Simon called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.' "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.' If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could withstand God?" When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God, saying, "Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life" (Acts 11:1-18). That is the way to answer arguments. Just tell what God has done. Recount the actions of God. When these men saw how God had acted, there was nothing further they could say. And so they ceased arguing and instead praised God, glorifying Him for extending life outward to all men.

Chapter Twenty Recognition of a Church Acts 11:19-30
Animated discussion has been stimulated over the question of when the gospel was first brought to the Gentiles. Did the first breakthrough take place at the meeting of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, in Acts 8, or was it when Peter came to the house of Cornelius, in Acts 10? The following two verses in Acts 11 provide a clear answer to the question: Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to none except Jews. But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Greeks also, preaching the Lord Jesus (Acts 11:19,20). It was at the time of the persecution that broke out over Stephen, described in Acts 7, that the gospel began to penetrate the Gentile world--In other words, it was almost from the very beginning of the church. The wonderful thing about this gospel message is that it was carried by obscure, unknown men and women--Jews who had been converted to Christianity. Some were Hebrew-speaking Jews who preached only to the Jews, and others were Greek-speaking Jews, 74

men of Cyprus and Cyrene on the north coast of Africa. When they came to Antioch they began to preach to the Greekspeaking Gentiles there. This soon led to a natural consequence, the beginning of a new church: And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number that believed turned to the Lord. News of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad; and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose; for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a large company was added to the Lord (Acts 11:21-24). The result of this first preaching was that a great many Gentile converts came to Christ. But the disciples at Jerusalem never thought that God would move to reach the Gentile world, so they hardly knew what to make of it. Were these people real Christians? Was it possible that Gentiles could actually come to Christ just as a Jew could? Gentle Investigator To settle the issue, the disciples sent Barnabas to Antioch. What a great choice they made! Great-hearted Barnabas didn't try to control this new thrust by the Holy Spirit; he simply came down to investigate it, to see what God had been doing. Barnabas was a Greek-speaking Jew, having come from Cyprus himself, so he could identify with the Christians from Cyprus and Cyrene who did the preaching here. Antioch was a strategic city, the third-largest in the Roman Empire. It was noted as a sports center--chariot races were a specialty--and as a place of culture. Also, about five miles outside the city, in the temple of Daphne, sex was enthroned and worshiped through priestesses who were really religious prostitutes. Yet this new church had arisen in the midst of the city's corruption, and Barnabas was sent to discover what was going on. Barnabas is characterized as a good man, full of the Spirit and full of faith. He was a good man--an easygoing, cheerful, open-hearted, gracious individual full of the Holy Spirit. This, of course, is the supreme qualification. In other words, Barnabas was a man to whom the wisdom, understanding, and love of God were continuously being imparted. Being full of the Holy Spirit meant that the fruits of the Spirit were evident in his life: love, joy, longsuffering, patience, and gentleness, because he was drawing upon the power of an indwelling Holy Spirit. Expecting God to Work Being a man of faith, Barnabas acted upon what God said. He didn't wait for his feelings. A man of faith simply believes God and expects Him to act. He doesn't even think about how he feels. Many people think that unless they have a tremendous sense of expectation or excitement within them, they have no faith. But faith is not a feeling. Rather, it is simply believing that God will do what He has promised, and then acting on that basis. When Barnabas came to Antioch he expected to be led of God, that God would give him the wisdom to handle whatever developed. So it was no surprise to him that things began to work out immediately. When Barnabas arrived he found a group of men and women who were undoubtedly Christians which is what he had been sent to discover. "When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad." What did he see that convinced him that these men and women were genuine? Luke says that Barnabas saw the grace of God. Now how do you see grace? Grace means the goodness of God poured out into a life--an invisible quality. How do you see that? The word for grace here is the same word that the Apostle Paul employs in speaking about the gifts of the Holy Spirit: But grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ's gift (Eph. 4:7). In other words, grace is a gift of the Spirit, such as love, wisdom, knowledge, faith, discernment, prophecy, teaching, and so forth. When Barnabas saw the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work he knew that these people were real Christians. In Hebrews 2 we are told that the gospel was first declared by the Lord, was then preached by those who knew Him, and was finally confirmed by signs and wonders and by the distribution of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (Heb. 2:3,4). To a Young Church


Barnabas saw also that these people comprised a church, for they shared together the common life of Jesus Christ. And since they were a church, this is the basis on which Barnabas spoke to them. He gave them a message designed for a new church, with two important points. He exhorted them first to remain faithful to the Lord, He said, "In receiving the Lord, you have received all there is; there is nothing more for Him to give you. It's true that you haven't yet laid hold of it all, but through the years you will develop what you have. But there is nothing more to be added." As Peter puts it, "His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness" (2 Pet. 1:3). So Barnabas says, "Remain faithful to what you have. Don't go after anything else. You don't need anything new. In the Holy Spirit you have all that God will give you." But, second, do it intelligently and with purpose. "Remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose." The Greek here means "according to a set plan." They were to remember that they needed to learn more of the Lord through His Word. Already they had the Old Testament scriptures, which were full of Christ. And the New Testament Scriptures were gradually beginning to come into being. They were to begin understanding what God was doing in Jesus Christ. They were to seek, and read, and study, because the Scriptures reveal Christ. Don't Look Down So Barnabas exhorted these new believers to work intelligently at learning about Jesus, through reading the Scriptures, seeking His face, and learning to pray all through the day in every situation. New Christians need to learn this more than anything else, and many make a fatal mistake at this point. At first they have their faces fixed on Jesus, and it is wonderful. They sense immediately the joy that fills their hearts as they come to know this glorious, living Lord. But gradually their focus shifts. Instead of seeing Jesus they begin to look at themselves. They start feeling of their feelings. And when they do that, they are like Peter walking on the water, who began to sink when he took his eyes off Jesus and put them on his circumstances. Many young Christians fail to concentrate on the Lord Himself, to find joy in Him and to glory in His presence. In becoming occupied simply with the things the Lord does for them, they lose the sense of His presence and fail to seek His face. That is why they sink and often disappear from Christian fellowship for awhile. The immediate result of Barnabas' exhortation was that a large company was added to the Lord. When you get people looking to the Lord and not to themselves, you will find that people are added to the Lord. And this is the way the church increases; the true means of adding to the church is to add people to the Lord. If they belong to the Lord, they already belong to the church. The phrase "a large company" leads to the next new thing that happened in Antioch: So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul (Acts 11:25). The word "so" means "because of this large company." There were so many new people to teach, and such an overwhelming number of new converts had come in, that Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul: And when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church, and taught a large company of people... (Acts 11:25,26). In the ten years since Barnabas last saw him, Paul had not been entirely idle, as he tells us in Galatians. He preached the Word throughout the regions of Syria and Cilicia, the area around Tarsus. Probably many of the visions and revelations from the Lord which Paul mentions in several places occurred during this time. But he had learned one great secret--that only his dependence upon Jesus at work in him made him an effective worker for Jesus Christ. When Paul had learned this lesson, the Lord sent Barnabas over to Tarsus to find him, to bring him to Antioch, ready to begin his great worldwide ministry. In connection with this, we learn of another first: ...and in Antioch the disciples were for the first time called Christians (Acts 11:26). It is clear from this brief statement that it was not the disciples who named themselves Christians, but the people of Antioch. The word means "those belonging to Christ" or "Christ's men." As these Christians talked about Jesus to men everywhere--Jesus the Christ, the Messiah--the Gentiles around them labeled them "Christ's men." (You can tell from this that they didn't talk about the church; they talked about Jesus!) 76

Although the people of Antioch used the term contemptuously, the disciples thought it was wonderful to be called Christ's men, so they adopted the name and called themselves Christians. The people of Antioch, in a sense, called them "Jesus freaks," and the disciples agreed. In current usage, to be a freak is to be deeply committed to something. So when these believers were heard witnessing about Jesus, they were called Jesus freaks. But they were not in the least offended. They counted it a joy to suffer reproach for His name's sake, so committed were they to the cause of Jesus Christ. Plenty Meets Need The last scene in this chapter brings to our attention another first-time ministry: Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. And one of them, named Agabus, stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world; and this took place in the days of Claudius. And the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brethren who lived in Judea; and they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul (Acts 11:27-30). Unfortunately, both the word "prophecy" and the gift of prophecy have become associated only with the ability to predict the future. But the word primarily means "to cause to shine." Prophecy is the ability to illuminate the Word of God--to make it shine. These prophets who came from Jerusalem were men who illuminated the darkness in people's lives with the truth of God. Occasionally, as in this case, they were also able to illuminate the future. On this specific occasion one of the prophets predicted that there would soon be a great famine throughout the world, and this came true just a few months later. Not only does Josephus, the Jewish historian, record this famine, but two Roman historians, Suetonius and Tacitus, both mention the great famine in the days of Claudius. We can positively date this event at AD. 44 and 45 And we know that it was especially severe in Judea. But the most important fact is that when these disciples heard from the Spirit that there was going to be a great famine, they believed Him and began to prepare for it. The whole account is a beautiful picture of the concern of the body. They didn't wait for heartrending appeals from the brethren in Judea: "We don't have anything to eat, and we don't have any clothes to wear." The Christians anticipated the need in response to the Holy Spirit, and they had the gift all ready when the effects of the famine struck. They sent the gift by their favorite teachers, Barnabas and Saul(Paul), who had been teaching there in the church for a year. What wonderful instruction in the Holy Spirit this church must have had under the leadership of these two men! How clearly they understood the essential nature of the church--that it is a body in which one member shares life with another. Notice that there is no sense of hierarchy here, no priesthood. There is no super-spiritual class of saints called the clergy. There is just the body of Christians together, one group in Jerusalem and another in Antioch. One has need and the other has plenty, so the body in Antioch sends to the body in Jerusalem the things required to meet their need and to share together in the life that is in Jesus Christ. The essential characteristics of a church are all here: the gifts of the Spirit, the shared life in Jesus, the proclamation of the word, the teaching of Scripture, the sharing of the body. Every now and then, when men drift away from this pattern, the Holy Spirit breaks out afresh and starts it all over again. Right now we are living in one of those times. God is again renewing the church in our own time. How we ought to rejoice in that great fact!

Chapter Twenty-One Let Us Pray Acts 12:1-25
A moment ago we saw how the young church was being blessed as God's Spirit was moving in the city of Antioch to enlarge the Christian enterprise and to thrust the gospel out to the Gentiles. That great city was being shaken by the presence of the Christians in its midst. But now, coming back to Jerusalem, we discover that the enemy strikes a slashing blow in retaliation against the church there. We may be twenty centuries away from these events, but we are not twenty centuries away from the Book of Acts, because this is the account of the work of the timeless Spirit of God. He is the same in every age, working today just as He did here in the Book of Acts. 77

So far we have seen the body of Christ at work. Now let's look at three events which Luke puts together--events which at first seem somewhat unrelated. But no event in the Word of God is ever without significance, so let's try to see why Luke, guided by the Holy Spirit, has chosen these particular events for our instruction. The three events are the murder of the Apostle James, the deliverance of Peter from prison by the intervention of an angel, and the death of Herod the King. First is the murder of James: About that time Herod the king laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. He killed James the brother of John with the sword; and when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. This was during the days of Unleavened Bread (Acts 12:1-3). This means that the murder and arrest took place during the Passover season, the same period of the year when Jesus Himself was taken and crucified. But now the year is A.D. 44. We can date it very precisely because the date of Herod's death, also recorded here, is well-known in ancient history. So these events occurred about twelve years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the coming of the Spirit on the Day of Pentecost. The church had been growing and expanding during these twelve years, but now the enemy strikes hard by moving Herod the King to seize James the brother of John and to behead him with the sword. (This Herod is not the one before whom Jesus appeared. This is his brother, known as Herod Agrippa, the father of the Herod before whom Paul will later appear.) This account indicates that James was an important leader in the church, although his name has not been mentioned previously in the Book of Acts. James's brother was John. How often James and John appear together in the Gospel accounts! These were the brothers whom Jesus very affectionately called "sons of thunder" because of theft swashbuckling dispositions. They were filled with zeal, and it is interesting to watch how the Lord worked with these two young men. John He particularly loved and drew close to Himself. But both were strong in Jesus' affections. It was these two boys who came to Jesus with their mother, asking to be granted positions at the right and left hand of the throne of glory when Jesus came into His kingdom. Jesus answered theft request with a question: "Are you able to drink the cup that I am to drink?" By this He meant His violent death on the Cross. And with typical teenage enthusiasm and ardor they said, "Yes, we're able!" Jesus told them, "You will drink my cup, but to sit at my right hand and at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared by my Father" (Matt 20:22,23). In the words "You will drink my cup" Jesus indicated that these men would die violent death. James was the first of the apostles so to die, and John was the last. So the deaths of these brothers form a parenthesis within which all the apostles lived and labored and eventually died. No Automatic Deliverance The church is evidently not too disturbed when James is taken captive. Undoubtedly they think that God will release him from prison, perhaps by sending an angel, as He had done before. But imagine the shattering effect upon them when James is be-headed--actually executed--and the sad news comes to the waiting church. The church is stunned, and when Peter is arrested there is great concern: And when he [Herod] had seized him [Peter] he put him in prison, and delivered him to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending after the Passover to bring him out to the people. So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church (Acts 12:4,5). No more fun and games now; the church is very serious. They realize that they cannot count upon the automatic deliverance of God. And so earnest prayer is made on behalf of Peter. You can see that Herod is afraid of something too, because he takes special care to see that Peter is held securely. He details four squads--six-teen soldiers altogether--to watch this one man. Peter is under the guard of four soldiers at all times--two chained to his wrists and two standing guard at the door of his cell. But Peter is not afraid, for we read: The very night when Herod was about to bring him out, Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains, and sentries before the door were guarding the prison; and behold, an angel of the Lord appeared, and a light shone in the cell; and he struck Peter on the side and woke him, saying, "Get up quickly." And the chains fell off his hands. And the angel said to him, "Dress yourself and put on your sandals." And he did so. And he said to him, "Wrap your mantle around you and follow me." And he went out and followed him; he did not know that what was 78

done by the angel was real, but thought he was seeing a vision. When they had passed the first and the second guard, they came to the iron gate leading into the city. It opened to them of its own accord, and they went out and passed on through one street; and immediately the angel left him. And Peter came to himself, and said, "Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hand of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting" (Acts 12:6-11). What a remarkable story! I think Peter really expected to be executed, but he slept nevertheless, obviously trusting that God would glorify Himself either by his death or by delivering him so that he could live. Yet when the angel comes, Peter is taken by surprise. Seeing is Not Believing As we read this account we can see what a supernatural deliverance this was. The angel takes no note of the guards whatsoever, but simply strikes the chains from Peter's arms. The guards were evidently either confused or asleep. And notice how bewildered Peter is. The angel has to tell him, "Now get up. Put on your shoes. Wrap your mantle around you." He leads him by the hand out into the city streets. Peter is not sure what's happening, but when he gets outside and sees the iron gate open of its own accord, he knows that God is at work. And the realization suddenly strikes him that God has indeed set him free from prison. Then we get this interesting and most human account of what happens when Peter comes to the church: When he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John, whose other name was Mark, where many were gathered together and were praying. And when he knocked at the door of the gateway, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. Recognizing Peter's voice, in her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and told that Peter was standing at the gate. They said to her, "You are mad." But the insisted that it was so. They said, "it is his angel!" But Peter continued knocking; and when they opened, they saw him and were amazed. But motioning to them with his hand to be silent, he described to them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he said, "Tell this to James and to the brethren." Then he departed and went to another place (Acts 12:12-17). Nothing is more humorous than this picture of Peter, valiantly pounding away at the door, while the girl is inside, having forgotten to let him in, trying to explain to these Christians that God has answered their prayers. But they don't believe her. At first they think she is insane, but finally she persuades them to come out--and then they see Peter, still banging away. At this point they believe, but are amazed that God has answered their prayers! The account closes with the story of the cruelty of Herod: Now when day came, there was no small stir among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. And when Herod had sought for him and could not find him, he examined the sentries and ordered that they should be put to death Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and remained there (Acts 12:18,19). Four innocent soldiers die because of this man's stubborn unbelief. He will not believe that God has acted. As the soldiers tell their tale, the only explanation he will accept is that these men had betrayed their trust and had somehow connived with Peter's friends to release him. So he orders their deaths. Then he goes down to his headquarters in Caesarea, on the coast. Here's the final story of what happened to Herod: Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon; and they came to him in a body, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king's country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and made an oration to them. And the people shouted, "The voice of a god, and not of man!" Immediately an angel of the Lord smote him, because he did not give God the glory; and he was eaten by worms and died. But the word of God grew and multiplied. And Barnabas and Saul returned from Jerusalem when they had fulfilled their mission, bringing with them John, whose other name was Mark (Acts 12:20-25). Josephus, the Jewish historian, also records the death of Herod. He describes this occasion when Herod met with the people of Tyre and Sidon in what we now call Lebanon. These people were dependent upon Judea, and especially upon Galilee, for food. 79

So when the king came out, dressed in his royal robes, they flattered him. When he spoke to them they cried out, "Why, this is a voice of a god, and not a man!" And this pompous, vain king believed them. It's almost incredible to imagine the tragic, twisted mentality of a man like this, a man who could actually believe that he had so much power that he had become a god. Luke tells us that Herod was immediately stricken by an angel of the Lord, and that he was eaten of worms and died. I don't know what Luke's exact diagnosis is here (perhaps it was a stroke), but some sudden catastrophe befell Herod and, as Josephus tells us, within two or three days he died. What does this mean? This was God's way of demonstrating the ultimate folly of the idea that we have what it takes to produce all that life requires, and that we do not need anyone or anything else--especially God. But God would remind us that our very life, our very breath--all that we have and are--come from Him, and that we are fools to think that we have some power of our own, apart from Him, on which to operate. As we review the events of this chapter there are some questions that come to mind. Why did Luke choose to put these three events together in this account? And, of course, the preeminent question is, "Why was James killed and Peter delivered? Couldn't God have saved James as well?" Well, why didn't He? The only answer that this chapter suggests is found in verse 5, the key to the chapter: So Peter was kept in prison; but earnest prayer for him was made to God by the church (Acts 12:5). The prayer made the difference. Peter was kept in prison, as was James. The difference lay in the word but. ("But" is always a crisis word. It indicates a change in direction.) "But earnest prayer to God was made for Peter by the church," and as a result Peter was free. Perhaps you're thinking, "If God determined that James would die and Peter would be set free, what difference did the prayer of the church make?" Called to Participate Let us never forget what James (not this James, but Jesus' brother, who wrote the Epistle of James) says: "You do not have because you do not ask" (Jas. 4:2). In His wisdom God has arranged for His people to participate in the things He does. He is impressing upon His people here in Acts that when danger threatens the program of God or the people of God, it is a call to prayer. Prayer becomes a mighty, powerful thrust on the part of the people of God to change events. Basically, prayer is the most natural and normal response of a heart that is dependent on God. The basic motive of prayer is a sense of dependence. If you really think that God, and God alone, can work, and that there are elements of a situation which only He can change--then you pray. This is what happened to the early church. When they realized that James had been put to death, and that this vicious attack of the enemy could be successful, it suddenly crystallized in their minds that they had a part to play in God's program. They were to go to God in earnest prayer that Peter might be delivered. And God set him free in a wonderful way. God works in the same way today as He did in those first-century days, and He will respond to our prayers in very much the same way. This doesn't mean that everything we pray for will be granted. Sometimes God overrules our prayers. But prayer does other things as well, even when the things for which we pray are not granted. Releasing God's Mercy First of all, prayer has the ability to postpone or delay the judgment of God--or the victory of Satan, as in this case. James was killed, but Peter's execution was postponed to a later day. Prayer may not remove the threat entirely, but it can change the time schedule. That is the consistent teaching of the Scriptures about prayer. We are facing the imminent occurrence of the events predicted in the Bible for the last days. But there have been times in the past when the world has approached the edge of the precipice of the last days. Threatening personalities have appeared whom many people have mistakenly identified as the Antichrist. Yet each time, because of the grave dangers present, God's people woke up and began to cry out to Him. A spiritual awakening followed, and the world moved back from the brink of destruction. Today we are perhaps further over the edge toward the ultimate disaster than we have ever been before. But once again God's people are waking up, crying out to Him. This is the only hope in our day--that once more God will turn the clock 80

back a bit, delay the schedule, bring us back from the brink, and allow perhaps another generation to grow up in relative peace and liberty in order to know the glory of the gospel in its delivering power. It is my conviction that, in order for God to allow the events of the last days to finally happen, He must remove His church from the earth. In order to take the salt out of society He will remove the church and thus allow the final display of man's evil and enmity to come to full fruition in the last days. But prayer can delay it. A second thought about the prayers of the church is the clear implication that Peter was at peace even though he was in prison. How could he sleep on the night of his execution? If you knew that you were to be executed tomorrow morning-that your head was to be chopped off--would you have a good night's sleep tonight? Peter slept peacefully. But it was not that he was such a great man of faith--Peter was like us, often weak and fearful--it was because the church was praying for him. That is why God gave him peace of heart. Prayer does this for us when we undergo times of difficulty and trouble. Third, notice that prayer can produce sudden changes, like the death of Herod. I don't think the church was praying for the king to die. We are not told in Scripture to pray in this way about those in authority. But the church was praying that God would intervene, and as a result of their intercession God was "free" to act in unusual and remarkable ways. This vicious, cruel tyrant, to whom human life meant nothing, was suddenly removed from the scene because of a people who were responsive to God and dependent upon Him, and who cried out to Him for His help. In Mysterious Ways This is what Paul means when he says that we often do not; know how to pray as we ought to in complicated and intricate situations. But as we pray, the Spirit of God helps us in our weakness and awakens deep longings and yearnings in our hearts for which we cannot find words (Rom 8:26). And God the Father, who knows and reads our hearts, reads there the mind and will of the Spirit, and He answers by sending the very events that are needed to work out the situation according to His purpose. There is a mighty, mysterious element about prayer, an element which, as God's people gather together and open their hearts and share their feelings with God, somehow creates an atmosphere for God to work in sudden, remarkable ways. One night at a Young Life camp, at about eleven o'clock, the camp trumpeter was practicing out by the creek, all by himself. That, by the way, is where trumpeters should practice! When he finished, he put his trumpet away and came back to camp. But suddenly he was seized with an urge to play his trumpet in the middle of the camp, he felt that the urging was from God. So in obedience he took his trumpet out, put in the mute, and prepared to play. He thought, "What should I play?" The thought immediately came, "Play Taps!" So he played Taps with the muted trumpet. Then an inner voice seemed to suggest that he take the mute out and play it out louder. So he did. At 11:30 at night, in the middle of the camp, he played Taps out loud on his trumpet, put his instrument away, and went to bed. The next day yet another young man described the what had happened to him the night before. When he had first come to camp he had been belligerent and rebellious. He was not a Christian, and he didn't like what was going on. He decided he had had enough of it, and about 11:30 at night he walked out of camp and headed toward the highway to hitchhike home. Suddenly he heard Taps being played on a trumpet. "I knew Taps was the song people played when somebody died," he said, "so I thought to myself, 'Who died?' And then the thought hit me, "Well, I know who died; it was Jesus. Jesus died, and He died for me.'" So he sat down by the road and received the Lord into his heart right on the spot. Surely someone's prayers for that boy were being answered that night!

Contents 1 The Strategy of the Spirit (Acts 13:1-13) 2 The Radical Word (Acts 13:13-52) 3 Counterattack 81

(Acts /4:3-28) 4 Cause For Alarm (Acts 35:1-21) 3 The Way God Guides (Acts 15:22-16:10) 6 D-DAY at Philippi (Acts 16:11-40) 7 Rabble and Nobles (Acts 17:1-35) 8 Athens Versus Paul (Acts 17:36-34) 9 The Cross in Corinth (Acts 18:1-22) 10 Halfway Christians (Acts 18.23-39:7) 11 Down With Witchcraft! (Acts 19:8-20) 12 Christianity is Dangerous (Acts 19:22-20:1) 13 Last Words (Acts 20:2-38)

God has always made the Middle East the focal point of history and of current events. With the intensification of developments there since the Jews returned to Israel, events have now come full circle. This is where Christianity began, where the explosion of the gospel first occurred. In the Book of Acts we have the joyful account of how this radical gospel broke out on a decadent, pagan society, capturing the interest and the hearts of men, awakening hope in a hopeless world, and changing lives by a fundamental transformation of behavior and outlook. In its original form, this section was titled "The Pattern Setters," because this is the account of the missionary journeys of the Apostle Paul, during which a pattern was laid down for Christian witness in any age. Through Luke's eyes we can trace the establishment of the church in many places, but, equally important, we can see how the early Christians grew in numbers and spread their influence throughout the world around them. Various elements of truth appear again and again on these pages, and this repetition shows the importance of these truths to the church today. The church is intended to live in the atmosphere of the Book of Acts and to manifest its accomplishments throughout its whole history. Whenever the church has not done so, it has been because this pattern was neglected. Surely nothing could be more important today than for the church to return to the blueprint of power which the Book presents. Ray C. Stedman

Chapter One The Strategy of the Spirit Acts 13:1-13
The thirteenth chapter of the Book of Acts is what Winston Churchill would have called a "hinge of history." It marks the beginning of the third phase of our Lord's Great Commission. In the opening chapter of this book, before he ascended into the heavens, Jesus had said to his disciples, "You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses..." (Acts 1:8). Then he outlined geographically how that witness should proceed--beginning in 82

Jerusalem, then in Judea and Samaria, and finally unto the uttermost parts of the earth. In Acts 13 we have the beginning of the last phase, the going unto the uttermost parts of the earth. This chapter also records the beginning of the apostleship of Paul. Although he was called to be an apostle when he was first converted on the Damascus road, he had so far never acted as an apostle. Now, some eleven or twelve years after his conversion, he begins to fulfill the ministry to which he was called as an apostle of Jesus Christ. But perhaps the most important thing contained in this section is the revelation of the ways in which the Spirit of God guides his people. The first three verses relate the call of the Holy Spirit: Now in the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Symeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. While they were worshipping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent then, off" (Acts 13:1-3). Notice that the whole event begins with a group of Christians in the church at Antioch who are exercising the spiritual gifts that were given to them. Certain prophets and teachers are mentioned--men who had the gift of prophecy, and others who had the gift of teaching. In the Greek text it is clear that three of the men were prophets and two were teachers. The first three were prophets. Barnabas we know as the person who vouched for the newly converted Saul before the skeptical and fearful disciples. Symeon (who was called Niger, a reference to the area of Africa now known as Nigeria, indicating that perhaps this man was a black) was very likely the same Symeon (Simon) who was forced by the Romans to bear the cross of Jesus when he fell under its weight on his way to the crucifixion. Lucius, from Cyrene (located in Africa along the Mediterranean coast), was perhaps also black and was the third prophet. Then there were two teachers, Manaen and Saul. Manaen was a member of the court of Herod the tetrarch. This is not the Herod whose death is recorded in Chapter 12; this is the Herod before whom our Lord appeared, and at whose hands he suffered. Manaen was one of the prophets. Or it may well have been that he was related to Herod as a foster brother and was thus very close to the king. These men are a collection, then, of people from all walks of life: Symeon, a black man; Lucius, perhaps also black; Barnabas, a man from the island of Cyprus; and Manaen, a nobleman from the aristocratic class of society With them was Saul of Tarsus. The amazing thing here is that he is listed only as a teacher. He is not called an apostle, nor even a prophet; he is a teacher in the church at Antioch. At this point in his career the only gift that was visible in his life was his wonderful ability to teach the Word of God. Using Their Gifts While these men were using their gifts, busy doing what God had equipped them to do in the church, the Spirit of God spoke to them. I think this is very significant, because many people today are confused and uncertain about the circumstances under which God will lead them. They think they must hole up in a cave or isolate themselves with nature in order to hear God speak. Once they get away on a mountain somewhere they expect him to speak in some dramatic fashion and send them hack with a great sense of personal calling. But God does not often call people in this way. Usually his call comes when we are busy exercising our gift where we are, just as these men were. It was in the midst of their activity that the call of the Spirit came. We don't know exactly how the Spirit spoke to these men. It may have been in a prophetic utterance through one of the prophets. Or it may well have been that he spoke as he speaks to many people today in what has been termed "insistent unanimity," a deep conviction shared by everyone in the group that the Spirit of God desires a certain thing. This is often the way God works. At any rate, he spoke to men who were already at work doing what they knew--that is the point You can steer a ship or a car if it is moving, but it is very difficult to steer when it is sitting still. Notice also two elements of the Spirit's sovereign choice. He chose the men, and he chose the work. He said, "Separate unto me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." He didn't tell the church what that work was(although He had told Barnabas and Said), and we don't find out what it was until we read on and see what they did. 83

But the Spirit had spoken to these men and had laid on them a deep concern to reach out to the world around; then he said to the church, "Now set them aside for this purpose." That is the way the call of God came in this initial thrusting out toward the uttermost parts of the earth. I want to comment on one other thing here, and that is that the believers were all fasting. This was not because they were overweight; it was because they were concerned. In the Bible, fasting is always the mark of deep spiritual concern. It means that a person is willing to set aside his normal demands of life in order to concentrate for a time on finding what God wants, and to pray that what he wants will be accomplished. It is too bad that fasting has largely disappeared from the Christian church, because it is a very helpful and very needed expression of spiritual awareness. As these men were concerned about what God wanted to do, they met together, foregoing food for a time and exercising their gifts. When the Spirit of God spoke to them, the whole church recognized it and identified themselves with these two men as they went out. Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off. This means that the whole church was involved as one body, acting together to indicate to these men that they would support them in prayer and provide whatever financial support they needed to fulfill their ministry. As they went out, they had this expression of the unity and harmony of the whole church behind them. That is the body at work, and what a beautiful picture it is. Sovereignty and Responsibility But we also see a wonderful blending of the sovereignty of the Spirit and the responsibility of men. Look at this next section: So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them (Acts 13:4,5). God's sovereign, authoritative choice is expressed in the sending out of these men by the Holy Spirit. It was the Spirit who laid this on their hearts and created in them an intense desire to move out. But then the next phrase reads, "They went down to Seleucia; and from there they sailed to Cyprus..." The Spirit did not tell them to go to Cyprus; that was the choice of Saul and Barnabas. The Spirit told them to move out, but the men decided where to go. This is perfectly proper. Paul and Barnabas were acting in confidence that the Spirit was not only thrusting them out, but was also working in them to decide where to go. As Paul wrote later to the Philippians, "Work out your own salvation [solutions] with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12,13). When they thought over the situation they decided that Cyprus would be the logical place to start. They didn't wait for the Spirit to point it out on the map; they decided on the basis of the natural contacts they had. Barnabas was from Cyprus, and so were the men who started the church at Antioch. They undoubtedly had many contacts there, so that is where they started. But they went with the confidence that God was in their choice. This is the way to be led of the Spirit. The Spirit may lay on your heart some need, some ministry, some opportunity that is before you, so that you feel impressed to do it, and perhaps others will join you in it. But if you don't know quite how to get started, begin with what looks like the most natural thing, being confident that God is in you to govern and lead you in your choice, and to bring out of it what he wants. Note also that when Paul and Barnabas arrived at Salamis, they began in the synagogues. Why did they start there? Was it because they were Jews and they knew that other Jews who had the Scriptures would listen to them? Was it simply the most natural place to start? Yes, that is true, but I don't think this is the whole reason. We are not told as much in this text, but in the Epistle to the Romans we learn that it was revealed to Paul that the gospel was first to go to the Jews and then to the Gentiles. Everywhere he went, Paul began with the Jews. Again we see the combination of natural reasons and the specific and precise command of the Holy Spirit. Paul always followed this pattern: he went to the Jews first, and when they rejected the message he went to the Gentiles.


On this journey Paul and Barnabas took an intern with them, a young man whose name was John Mark. Mark was not commanded of the Lord to go with them, but Saul and Barnabas chose him, and in their choice we see the human element once more. Mark had a rich mother who could aid in their financial expense, and he was also Barnabas' cousin. So they simply followed natural lines of choice in their decision to take young John Mark, the one who later wrote the Gospel according to Mark. Expecting the Unexpected As the men preached on Cyprus they obviously expected God to be with them and to open doors everywhere they went. This is the way the Holy Spirit commonly operates; we are not to wait for orders concerning everything we do. Young Christians often get the idea that they are to be like robots, automatons, ruled by computer-impulses which come from the Spirit, and that they must sit and wait until such an impulse comes. While I was a student at Dallas Seminary I remember a young man who thought this was the way the Spirit worked. He would stop at the foot of a staircase and ask God to show him whether he should go up the right side or the left. He would pray about whether to put his hat on in the morning, or not. If God ran our lives like that we would be nothing more than mechanical beings. Animals are controlled in that way, by their instincts, but not men. God wants us to understand that he lives within us. He will direct us precisely at times, and when he does we must not ignore his direction. But when he doesn't we are to move out where we are with the confident expectation that God is with us and will open the doors to make a way for us. When we follow that pattern, life becomes exciting. God is infinitely creative, always doing something surprising, unexpected. You cannot improve upon the strategy of the Holy Spirit. No one could anticipate the right way to approach these Cyprian cities. One of the problems with the church in the twentieth century is that we are forever calling conventions, councils, retreats, and conferences to try to decide where we ought to go next. We devise programs, structuring and organizing God's work along carefully planned lines, as though the whole thing depended on us. This is one reason the church is faltering in so many places, and why it has lost its note of excitement. The strategy belongs to the Holy Spirit. He is the only one who knows how to reach a city or a county or a nation. As Paul and Barnabas discovered, he already had men planted here and there, ready to respond whenever his people go out to proclaim the truth. I heard a wonderful example recently of how the Holy Spirit works along this line. A friend told me that the Christian World Liberation Front was trying to do something about the topless and bottomless bars in San Francisco. They organized a protest and started walking up and down in front of some of these lewd, lurid places, carrying signs--rather ironic signs--such as, THURSDAY NIGHT IS FAMILY NIGHT...BRING THE CHILDREN TO EL CONDOR. Customers became so embarrassed by these signs that they stopped entering the bars. Finally the management, angered by the marked decrease in attendance, sent out a bouncer to order the Christians off the sidewalk. But these Christians, knowing they had a right to orderly protest, refused to leave. One night the bouncer got very angry and hit one of the leaders right in the mouth. But the Christians were back again the next night, not knowing how to proceed, but counting on the Lord. This time the bouncer came out and ordered them to go, but they said they wouldn't leave unless they could go in and pray for the people first. Surprisingly, the management agreed and invited them in. The place was absolutely dead silent as these Christians stood up on the stage, surrounded by naked girls, and led the whole place in prayer. One fellow said he peeked while the rest were praying and saw the bouncer going around quietly closing all the doors so they wouldn't be disturbed by any noise from the street. They had a tremendous opportunity to speak the truth to these people, who became utterly different in their demeanor when they were confronted with this kind of a contrast between the right and the wrong. We find this kind of radicalism of the Holy Spirit all through the Book of Acts. We are co-laborers with God, and when we work together with him in this way he produces exciting situations and climactic circumstances which almost always open the door for a fruitful ministry. Luke doesn't tell us everything Paul and Barnabas did as they went through the island of Cyprus in this way. They must have had a very effective ministry, however, because Christian churches were established in Cyprus right from the beginning. The one incident in Cyprus that is recorded for us is given for a special reason. Luke tells us that Paul and 85

Barnabas worked their way across the island from east to west, probably visiting all the cities along the way. After perhaps two or three months they finally arrived at Paphos, the capital of the island on the western shore, where an unusual event took place: When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet, named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) withstood them, seeking to turn away the proconsul from the faith (Acts 13:6-8). Here is a remarkable example of how the Holy Spirit works. Paul and Barnabas had no idea that they would be able to speak to the governor of the island, the proconsul. This man had been placed there by the Roman senate and was responsible for the control and governance of the whole island. But this proconsul, prompted by the Holy Spirit even though he was a pagan Roman, sent for Paul and Barnabas and asked them to speak to him the words of truth. So Paul and Barnabas came and began to preach to the governor. It is interesting that archeology has confirmed Luke's report. Inscriptions bearing the name of this very governor, Sergius Paulus, have been found in Cyprus. Furthermore, Sir William Ramsey had uncovered evidence that he was a Christian and that his whole family became Christians and were very prominent in Christian circles after this event. Crooked Paths When Paul and Barnabas began to teach Sergius Paulus, they were opposed by a Jewish magician whose professional name was Elymas, which means "magician." His name in Hebrew was Bar-Jesus, and from this we get a hint of what this man was doing. Bar-Jesus means "the son of Jesus." In the Hebrew culture, to call yourself a son of someone was to designate yourself his follower. When this man called himself Bar-Jesus, therefore, he was claiming to he a follower of Jesus, but what he taught was absolutely contrary to the teachings of Jesus. He was, in other words, the first in a long line of Christian cultists who seize upon the name of Jesus and the name of Christianity as a guise for utterly unchristian teaching. Many have followed him, so that today we have Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnesses, and many new sects which claim the name of Christianity but teach the most unchristian doctrines. Because this man was such a fraud, he very greatly provoked the spirit of Paul: But Saul, who is also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, "You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord?" (Acts 13:9,10). Do you see what was happening? Paul was declaring the straight paths of Jesus, but this man was teaching deviations, thus misleading this proconsul. So Paul said, in these rather blunt and direct words, "You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, you had better stop what you're doing, perverting the straight paths of the Lord." First Sign of Apostleship Then he did a very significant thing: "And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind and unable to see the sun for a time." Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord (Acts 13:11,12). Why was this event selected out of the ministry at Cyprus and recorded for us as the one significant occurrence of that ministry? It is because it was here that Paul began to act as an apostle: "filled with the Holy Spirit," he began for the first time to fulfill his apostolic calling. This is the first of those "signs of an apostle" which Paul fulfilled in order to indicate that he was selected by the Lord Jesus to be a founder of the church, empowered to lay the foundation of faith and become a writer of Scriptures. Note that Paul speaks to Elymas with the same authority that Peter manifested when Ananias and Sapphira attempted to pose as pious frauds, as recorded in the fifth chapter of Acts. In both cases 86

there was an immediate judgment. Only the apostles had the power to bring about such immediate judgments; this is not something which just any Christian can do. Paul has now become an apostle, and the leadership shifts immediately from Barnabas to Paul. From here on it is no longer Barnabas and Saul but Paul and Barnabas, as verse 13 confirms: Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphylia. This event, then, is the beginning of the great ministry of the Apostle Paul, and the primary characteristic of that ministry was his power in teaching. What impressed this consul was not the miracle, for this simply confirmed what he had heard. What impressed him and made him believe was the teaching of the Lord, the remarkable, radical doctrine of Christianity: Jesus Christ the Son of God has become man and is prepared to live his life again in every human being who will receive him. Dear Father, make us obedient followers of the strategy of the Spirit and careful teachers of this most revolutionary truth. Our age needs this as desperately as did the first century. Make us faithful imitators of Paul as he was of Christ. In Christ's name, Amen.

Chapter Two The Radical Word Acts 13:13-52
The Apostle Paul has changed the course of world history by the power of his ministry in the Spirit of Christ. He did so by the preaching of the Word of truth, and in the latter part of Acts 13 we have a good example of how he did it. Paul had preached many times before, but this powerful and shattering message is the first of which we have a record. It was given in a synagogue on a sabbath morning and it shook a whole city--so much so that in verse 44 of this account we read, "The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God." We need to examine Paul's message in some detail to see why it made such an impact then, and what elements make it radical and revolutionary even today. This message is not preached as widely as it needs to be today, perhaps because people do not often want to hear the gospel presented as it is given in the Scriptures. John Mark Turns Back We left Paul, Barnabas, and young John Mark on the island of Cyprus at Paphos, the capital city. They were about to sail across the arm of the Mediterranean to Asia Minor, and Luke now resumes the account for us at verse island of Cyprus at Paphos, the capital city. They were about to sail across the arm of the Mediterranean to Asia Minor, and Luke now resumes he account for us at verse 13: Now Paul and his company set sail from Paphos, and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem; but they passed on from Perga and came to Antioch of Pisidia. And on the sabbath day they went into the synagogue and sat down. After the reading of the law and the prophets, the rulers of the synagogue sent to them, saying, "Brethren, if you have any word of exhortation for the people, say it" (Acts 13:13-15). As we have already pointed out, the subtle shift from "Barnabas and Saul" to "Paul and his company" marks the beginning of the apostleship of Paul, and of his leadership of this missionary journey. It may also suggest at least one reason why, as Luke records in the next sentence, young John Mark left them and went back to Jerusalem. As the cousin of Barnabas, Mark may well have resented this change in leadership. There is some indication in the Scriptures that he and Paul did not get along too well, at least at first. Later on Paul will write from prison in Rome and ask that Mark be sent to him, as he is of great profit to him by then. But now there seems to be a great deal of friction. John Mark was the son of a wealthy widow, raised in luxury. There is some evidence that he was the rich young ruler who refused to follow Jesus because he had many possessions. If that is so, he has by this time returned and become a follower of Jesus. But some scholars feel that he was afraid of the hardships 87

that were developing on this journey. The three men were coming into the rugged mainland where paganism was rampant, where robbers and other dangers were on every hand, and where they faced increasing opposition from religious leaders. Mark may well have weakened at this point and, resenting the leadership of Paul, returned to Jerusalem. So Paul and Barnabas went on to Antioch. This is not the Antioch in Syria, which they left to go to Cyprus, but another Antioch in the region of Pisidia, which was part of the ancient Roman province of Galatia. When you read Paul's Letter to the Galatians, you are reading a letter written to the Christians in the cities which were reached on this first missionary journey: Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. They came into the synagogue, according to the pattern which Paul always followed. It was the custom in the synagogue for strangers to be invited to speak, and what these Jews heard from Paul was of very great importance. This speech falls into three simple divisions which we will look at very carefully so as to understand the power of this mighty word. So Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said: "Men of Israel, and you that fear God, listen. The God of this people Israel chose our fathers and made the people great during their stay in the land of Egypt, and with uplifted arm he led them out of it. And for about forty years he bore with them in the wilderness. And when he had destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, he gave them their land as an inheritance, for about four hundred and fifty years. And after that he gave them judges until Samuel the prophet. Then they asked for a king; and God gave them Saul the son of Kish, a man of the tribe of Benjamin, for forty years. And when he had removed him, he raised up David to be their king; of whom he testified and said, 'I have found in David the son of Jesse a man after my heart, who will do all my will.' Of this man's posterity God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised. Before his coming John had preached a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel. And as John was finishing his course, he said, 'What do you suppose that I am? I am not he. No, but after me one is coming, the sandals of whose feet I am not worthy to untie'" (Acts 13:16-25). Perhaps you have noticed that the introduction is in the same style as Stephen's great message recorded in the seventh chapter of Acts. Stephen had stood before the Sanhedrin, of which Saul of Tarsus was a member, and had recounted the history of Israel in order to try to awaken these stubborn Jews to an understanding of God's love and concern, and of his sovereign direction of their nation. Paul never forgot the power of that message. It had reached to his own heart, had cut through all the bigotry and egotism, and had planted a seed of faith in his heart which was ultimately to result in his conversion. So here he is following the same tactics as Stephen. True History But notice that though this introduction is history, it is not history as we usually read it. Most of the history books I have read center upon certain men--men who have done various deeds, either great or foul. Men like Adolf Hitler, or George Washington, or Winston Churchill--outstanding personalities--men with what the world calls "charisma," who leave their mark upon an age. But you will notice that this history centers on God; it is God who is working. This is history as it ought to be written, because it is history as it really was. The apostle points out eleven different instances of God's work in history: God chose the fathers, made the people great, led them out of Egypt, bore with them in the wilderness, destroyed seven nations in the land of Canaan, gave them their land, gave them judges, gave them Saul for a king, removed Saul, raised up David, and finally, "God has brought to Israel a Savior, Jesus, as he promised." It all culminates in the coming of the Lord Jesus himself. Then Paul cites John's testimony to the greatness of Jesus. This was a telling blow because out in the provinces, away from Jerusalem, John the Baptist was regarded as a great prophet. So here Paul quotes his testimony to the fact that the person who was coming after him was so great that John himself said he was not worthy to untie his shoe. That is the introduction. In the second division of Paul's message we have the timeless facts of the gospel: the ministry, the crucifixion, and the resurrection of Jesus: Brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you that fear God, to us has been sent the message of this salvation. For those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers, because they did not recognize him nor understand the utterances of the prophets which are read every sabbath, fulfilled these by condemning him. Though they could 88

charge him with nothing deserving death, yet they asked Pilate to have him killed. And when they had fulfilled all that was written of him, they took him down from the tree, and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead; and for many days he appeared to those who came up with him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are now his witnesses to the people (Acts 13:26-31). I recently read an article by a very prominent liberal theologian of our day, in which he said it was almost impossible to define the gospel clearly. But Paul did not have any such trouble; to him the gospel was very clear. It consisted of the great acts of God in history, the coming of the Lord Jesus, his ministry among men, his crucifixion because of the sins of men, and his resurrection as the Scriptures had promised. In First Corinthians he puts it this way: Now I would remind you, brethren, in what terms I preached to you the gospel For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures (1 Cor. 15:1,3,4). This is the Good News, the basis for everything God does, and here Paul makes that very, very clear indeed. If Jesus Was Messiah... Here also, Paul gives us the answer to a question that many people are still asking today: how is it, if Jesus was the Messiah predicted by the Old Testament Scriptures, and if he fulfilled these when he came, that the Jews did not recognize him? Paul says there were two reasons. First, they did not really see Jesus. They were misled by superficialities about him. They looked at his trade and his background and saw that he was only a carpenter's son. They saw that he had no money or influence or standing in society. They saw that he had no prestige-- he had never been to school, had never been taught at a great scholar's feet--so they wrote him off and paid no attention to him. They didn't hear his words, and they didn't see his miracles--or if they did, they immediately forgot them. Jesus lived the most magnificent life that had ever been lived before men, but his contemporaries never saw it; "they didn't recognize him." A lot of people are blind in this way today, like the Jews, because of the second reason: they did not understand the Scriptures. Here were people who had heard the utterances of the Prophets read to them every Saturday in the synagogue. They knew many of them by heart, but they didn't understand them. The reason they didn't understand is that they never asked any questions. They didn't take the Scriptures seriously. The reading of the Scriptures had become just a religious rite, a perfunctory performance. People went and did their thing in synagogue, and then went home again. Because of this they missed the coming of the Son of God and failed to recognize him as the Messiah. And so, as Paul says, they fulfilled the prophecies by condemning Jesus and turning him over to Pilate. The Promises Fulfilled In the third division of his message, Paul takes the two great truths of the ministry of Jesus and his resurrection and nails them down for these Jews by quoting the Scriptures to them: And we bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus (Acts 13:32, 33a). (This does not mean raising him from the dead. It is an expression very much like the one in verse 22, "he raised up David," which does not mean that David was resurrected but that he was brought into office. God also raised up Jesus, that is, brought him into humanity.) ...as also it is written in the second psalm, "Thou art my Son, today I have begotten thee" (Acts 13:33b). The promise in Psalm 2 was that the Son of God would be begotten as a man and would come into humanity. Then the second fact: And as for the fact that he raised him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, he spoke in this way, "I will give you the holy and sure blessings of David." Therefore he says also in another psalm, "Thou wilt not let thy Holy One see corruption (Acts 13:34,35). 89

Psalm 16 clearly predicted the coming of a man who would never see corruption, whose body would not decay, would not disintegrate in the grave. Regarding psalms of this type, certain skeptics say, "These psalms don't refer to Jesus; they are just referring to experiences in David's life. David wrote this psalm; therefore it pertains to him. We just don't have the record of it, but he is talking about some unknown experience of his own." Many of the prophetic psalms are discounted on that basis. Psalm 22, which so beautifully describes the crucifixion, and which even opens with the words of Jesus on the cross, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" is often minimized as being but an experience of David. But here Paul answers that type of argument before it can even be raised. He says, For David, after he had served the counsel of God in his own generation, fell asleep, and was laid with his fathers, and saw corruption; but he whom God raised up saw no corruption (Acts 13:36,37). In other words, you cannot apply Psalm 16 to David, for it points to someone who would come later, of the lineage of David, who would never see corruption when he died. Witnesses saw Jesus alive after he died; he saw no corruption. Thus Paul confirms the fact of Christ's resurrection. Now we come to the heart of the message; here is the hammer blow of this word: Let it be known to you therefore, brethren, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him every one that believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38,39). This was a shattering statement. Here were men who honored the law of Moses, who thought the Ten Commandments were the greatest word that God had ever given to men. They were trying their best to live up to them in one way or another, and many of them realized they were failing. But they still thought the way to God was to obey the Ten Commandments, to try their best to be good. But now Paul comes to declare to them that they will never find acceptance with God in that way. You cannot be accepted by God on the basis of trying to be good. The Ten Commandments will not help you a bit; they will condemn you, because you will not fulfill them, no matter how hard you try! What the Law Could Not Do Rather, Paul tells the people, God has found a way to accept mankind even though man cannot be good enough in himself, and that way is through this man, Jesus Christ. Today we are accustomed to hearing this; it doesn't shake us. But perhaps you can imagine how it shook these people. They had never heard anything like this before, this amazing news that God would accept them. Unfortunately, our version somewhat diminishes its impact because it uses the term "freed." Paul really says, "Every one that believes is justified from everything from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses." This is the first recorded occasion of Paul's use of that great word which is so frequent in the Book of Romans, "justification by faith." What does it mean to be justified? Most people think it means to have your sins forgiven, which is true, but it means a great deal more than this. Justification means to have your sins forgiven in such a way that God's honor and integrity are preserved. Let me use a term which explains this very well, although it is not theological. After serving in the Navy for two years, I was honorably discharged. My being discharged meant that I was through. The Navy had no further claim on me, nor I any relationship to them. But what I liked about this event was the word 'honorable." It was an honorable discharge. I freely show my discharge papers to anyone. There was no blot or stain on my discharge. As far as the Navy was concerned I had behaved well (there were some things they didn't know) and thus I was honorably discharged, But I knew certain men in the Navy, because I worked in the legal office, who were dishonorably discharged. They were just as separate from the Navy as I. The Navy was just as through with them as it was with me. But there was a blot on their discharge; they did not like to show their discharge papers to anyone. In fact, their dishonorable discharge could even affect their employment. So what Paul is really saying here is this: If God forgave in the way most people think he does, if he were to say concerning our sin, "Oh, forget about it, that's all right, don't worry about it; you're such a great fellow and I love you so much that I'm just going to ignore it," then God's honor would be impugned. His character would be defiled by that kind of forgiveness. He could no longer be regarded as the God of justice and truth; he would be a partaker in my sins and yours. 90

But God has found a way, through Jesus, to lay the guilt of our life and heart upon his own Son. Thus he has preserved his honor and character and integrity, and at the same time he has been free to show his whole love to us. That is justification. Because of the cross nobody will ever he able to point to God and say, "Aha! You let people off who are guilty!" In the cross of Jesus God poured out all his judgment upon his Son. And in that cross, in the agony and the anguish of it, the world can see a picture of how faithfully God obeys his own laws and carries out justice to the nth degree. And yet, the wonder of it all is that God's love is therefore freed to be poured out to us, so that the result of justification is full acceptance. If you accept the death of the Lord Jesus on your behalf, and his life is given to you, you are justified from all things. Isn't this a great word? It means that God's unqualified love is poured out toward you. There is no rejection whatsoever, for any cause. God's love begins to heal all your scars and hurt and anguish, and you start becoming a whole person--all on the basis of being justified by faith. This kind of love is incredible! Again and again I run across people who shake their heads and say, "That can't be; I've got to do something. The only way God can find me acceptable is for me to make myself acceptable." But no one can ever make himself acceptable to God by trying to live a good life. Many people find this truth difficult to accept, but that is the radical character of this great concept! A Moment of Crisis Paul evidently saw some frowns as he spoke, because he immediately adds these words: Beware, therefore, lest there come upon you what is said in the prophets: "Behold, you scoffers, and wonder, and perish; for I do a deed in your days, a deed you will never believe, if one declares it to you" (Acts 13:40,41). I don't think these words were spoken in sharpness, but in sadness. The apostle is saying here that when you hear this incredible word of grace--that God has found a way to love you without qualification--this is a moment of crisis in your life. You can either accept it and live in the glory of that love, or you can reject it and turn away. But if you reject it, you will find yourself in tremendous danger: you are in danger both of destroying yourself and of being destroyed, because only God's love can rescue man! This was sharply underlined for me a few years ago. Sitting in my church study one weekday morning I suddenly heard a woman's voice shouting and crying out. I came out to see what was wrong, and I found a young married woman whom I had talked with the week before, walking up and down in front of the cross above the platform. She was looking up at the cross and crying, "Yes, there is a God; yes, there is a God and he will forgive me--I know he will! I know he will!" She was in torment of spirit. I didn't know what to make of it for a moment. I listened to her, and then I moved to speak to her. When she saw me she just crumpled and fell on her face to the floor. I picked her up and helped her to a pew, and we talked together. The previous week she told me that although she was married and although she professed to be a Christian, she was having an affair with an older man. She had justified it, thinking it was something that would contribute to her happiness. I had tried to help her gently and patiently and lovingly. I didn't condemn her, but sought to help her see what she was doing to herself. Then, this day, the man had called her and told her he was through. It shattered her, and, crushed with guilt, she came trying to find release. Suddenly it had dawned on her what she had done to her family, what she had done to her husband, what she had done to herself, how she had hurt everyone. She came trying to find forgiveness, crying out to God. But I could see as I talked with her that she didn't really believe the forgiveness that was offered. I went through the Scriptures with her, but she refused to accept God's forgiveness. She felt that somehow she must do something, she must atone. She would not believe what God had said: that there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, that he would freely forgive and wash it all away, and that then, in the strength of his healing, wholeness would follow. Finally she calmed down a bit. She called her husband and he came over. I talked with them, and then he took her home. But she was still distressed, so her husband took her to the hospital. Two days later I received word that in her anguish of mind she had thrown herself from the tenth floor of the hospital and her body was crushed on the pavement below. That is the awful pressure of guilt. If you do not find a way to relieve it, it will destroy you! And that is why this message hit with such power in this city. Paul laid out before them the fact that the only way, the only way, to be freed from guilt is to accept the work of Another on your behalf. God's love is unqualifiedly poured out on that basis, and that alone. 91

Either Faith or Jealousy Now look at the results of this message: As they went out, the people begged that these things might be told them the next sabbath. And when the meeting of the synagogue broke up, many Jews and devout converts to Judaism followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. The next sabbath almost the whole city gathered together to hear the word of God. But when the Jews saw the multitudes, they were filled with jealousy, and contradicted what was spoken by Paul, and reviled him. And Paul and Barnabas spoke out boldly, saying, "It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you. Since you thrust it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life, behold, we turn to the Gentiles. For so the Lord has commanded us, saying, 'I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth.' And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed (Acts 13:42-48). Jesus had said to his disciples, "If they have receive me, they will receive you; and if they have rejected me, they will reject you." Everywhere Paul went he found this to be true. The gospel is like a knife cutting its way through society, through men's hearts. It awakens, it hits with impact, and it divides--men have to decide one way or the other. Some decide for, some against. Some want God and cry out to him, and are relieved and delivered; others refuse, turn away, harden their hearts, and destroy themselves. This is what we see here. Certain Jews and devout converts, i.e., Gentile converts to Judaism, followed Paul and Barnabas, who spoke to them and urged them to continue in the grace of God. But there were also those who were filled with jealousy and hostility, who contradicted and reviled, and to them Paul proves, from the Scriptures, that the Scriptures authorize them to turn from the Jews and go to the Gentiles if the Jews refuse this message. He quotes Isaiah: I have set you to be a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the uttermost parts of the earth. Then we are told: And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and glorified the word of God; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed. Now do not turn this around. The verse does not say, 'And as many as believed were ordained to eternal life." Paul began this message by showing them that God is active, trying to reach out to men; it is not men who are trying to find God. When men believe, they are simply responding to the activity of God, who is already reaching out to them. Here were many who were ordained of God, and when they were thus ordained, they believed, they responded to God. You can never get away from this wonderful, mysterious combination of divine sovereignty and human responsibility. This, by the way, is the same word that Paul uses in Romans 13 when he says, "The powers that he are ordained of God." In an election year we vote for men to he our governmental officials. Certain men, by their human will, decide to run for office. Others decide to vote for them; the people put them into office. Yet the Scripture says it is God who puts them there. I don't know how it works. God doesn't cancel out human responsibility, but underneath and above and all around is the sovereignty of God, working his wonderful purposes in human life. The final result of Paul's sermon is given in the closing verses: And the word of the Lord spread throughout all the region. But the Jews incited the devout women of high standing and the leading men of the city, and stirred up persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust from their feet against them, and went to Iconium. And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit (Acts 13:49-52). Paul and Barnabas were evidently at Antioch for an extended time, probably several weeks, during which the Word of God went out into all the region around. But many of the Jews were disturbed by this and, as they could not prevail openly, they went around behind the scenes and stirred up a Women's Liberation Front. They went to devout women of 92

high standing and through them they reached the Roman authorities (the leading men of the city) and thus drove them out of their district. Dr. Luke, with his ability to deliver quick, precise summaries, does not give us all the details. Paul tells us that there were three times in his life when he was beaten by rods, an official action of the Romans. Once was later in Philippi, and many scholars feel that here was another occasion. Paul and Barnabas may have been brought before the Roman authorities and beaten with rods and thus driven out of the district. In any event, they shook off the dust of their feet against them and went to Iconium. The last sentence is beautiful. The disciples who remained in this area were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit. There is no mention of the gift of tongues in connection with the filling of the Holy Spirit, but there is mention of the fruit of the Spirit. They were filled with the joy of the Lord and the love of God. This is the great sign of the Spirit of God in the human heart--it floods the heart with love and joy. If we are Christians our hearts cannot help but be moved at the mercy of God toward us, who deserve nothing at his hands. Yet how much he has given! Our heavenly Father, our hearts are stirred as we think again of the mercy that you show to us, this marvelous justification by which all that has lain heavily on our hearts and our consciences has been washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ our Lord. And his life is given to us so that by it we may live on a totally different basis than we ever lived before. How wonderful this is, Lord! Teach us never to forget that we have been justified, and that whenever we fail or falter, your justification is there again, ready to wash us and cleanse us, to free us and restore us. In his name we thank you, Amen.

Chapter Three Counterattack Acts 14:1-28
In Acts 14 we will see Paul and Barnabas ministering in three different cities--Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe. In two of these cities they met with vicious and violent opposition. It is important for us to see how they handled this, because it is very likely, in the days to come, that many of us will face the same kind of conditions--violence and physical opposition, threatening us because of our faith. Immediate Impact We begin with the first verse of Chapter 14, as Paul and Barnabas come to the city of Iconium: Now at Iconium they entered together into the Jewish synagogue, and so spoke that a great company believed, both of Jews and of Greeks. But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles (Acts 14:1-4). Iconium, although a pagan Gentile city, had a strong colony of Jews who had a synagogue. As usual, Paul and Barnabas went there first, and their preaching had an impact. We read that they "so spoke that a great company believed, both of Jews and of Greeks." This was no bland, meaningless gospel; it was a gospel that hit like a ton of bricks. It shook people and jolted them and made them sit up and take notice. Immediately a great crowd believed when they heard Paul and Barnabas. Since this was a synagogue it was a place where religious people had long gathered, going over the truth about God. A great deal of truth was available to them there, but their hearts were empty. All their knowledge had not brought them to peace and forgiveness and all the other great things for which they were searching the Scriptures. But when Paul and Barnabas declared the grace of God in Jesus, these people believed, and it made a tremendous change! It doesn't make any difference what your background has been--how dark or wrong, how smug or self-righteous or hypocritical. The great word of the gospel is that Jesus Christ cleanses, sets free, fills with adequacy, and makes men able to be what God intended them to be. 93

Subtle Opposition A further effect of a genuine gospel message is that it will arouse opposition. We read, "But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brethren" (v. 2). In any Jewish synagogue there were many Gentiles trying to learn the truth about God. Luke says that certain of the Jews were unbelieving. Literally, the word is "unpersuadable" They not only disbelieved the gospel but would not give it a chance or even consider it. These people stirred up the Gentiles who were present and poisoned their minds against the brethren. Just how they did this we are not told. There is a very interesting account in the New Testament Apocrypha (certain books circulated in the early days with the claim that they were a part of Scripture, but which were never accepted as such). Among them is a book called "The Acts of Paul and Thecla," the setting of which is Iconium. According to this story the Apostle Paul fell in love with a young woman called Thecla, and their romance became so torrid that it broke up her whole family and thus turned the city against them. I am sure this was not an actual event. The book is dated probably two centuries or so after Paul lived. But it does perhaps reflect something of the methods these Jews used to poison the minds of the Gentiles, by suggesting that the gospel being preached would destroy a family relationship. At any rate, the apostles ran into subtle opposition. No one knows exactly how the enemy is going to strike back. Paul says, "We are not ignorant of his devices"; that is, we know what schemes the devil uses against us. The devil has a limited bag of tricks from which he can operate. But what we do not know is which one of them he is going to employ on any given occasion. There is an element of surprise in the devil's work, and here is a clear case in point. These men were not met with the outright, open opposition they faced in Antioch, but with subtle, whispering, deceitful, poisonous propaganda, turning many people away from the truth. Luke, with characteristic brevity, does not give us all the details, but it is evident that the apostles somehow overcame this opposition, for we read, So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. (Acts 14:3). They were probably there for several months, possibly as long as six months. During this time, despite the subtle propaganda against the gospel, a sweeping proclamation of the truth went forward. Many were turning to Christ, and God worked with his apostles, confirming the Word with signs and wonders. Supernatural Evidence Here is another significant element which is always present when the true gospel is being preached. There is a baffling quality about it; things happen which are beyond the ability of men to bring about. It is the supernatural evidence of the truth of the gospel which makes it so attractive and compelling to the world. This strange confirmation does not always involve physical miracles, although it did in those days, and it does in certain places again today. But these physical miracles are simply parables for us of the spiritual freedom that God intends to give. The character of the miracles occurring today is primarily that men and women are set free to be what they never could have been without Jesus Christ. Some of them struggle for years to free themselves from habits, thoughts, and attitudes that are harmful and injurious to them, but without success. When they come to Christ, however, he strikes off the shackles, and they are free. That baffling supernatural element must be present in every single Christian. If there is not that quality about you as a Christian which cannot be explained in terms of your personality, or your background or education, or your heredity, then you really have nothing more to offer to your neighbors and friends than any other person would have. There must be that mysterious element which makes people scratch their heads and say, "I don't understand him (or her). His attitude and reactions are unaccountable. I don't understand his ability to show love. It's something quite different from what I'm used to." That is God at work. The Sword of Division The last mark of the gospel given in this section is that of division: But the people of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles (Acts 14:5-7).


The gospel is like a ferment turned loose in society. It is not intended to bring peace, except to the individual heart; it is intended to be divisive. Jesus said, "Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No. I have come to bring a sword." He certainly did not mean the sword of warfare and physical violence. He made that very clear. He meant that the message he proclaimed was intended to divide men. One of the marks of true evangelism is always that those who are being affected by it are divided. They are either for it or against it. No neutrality is possible when the gospel is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit. If there is a church in a city and that city is not divided, then there is something wrong with the church, because it is not preaching the gospel as it ought to be preached. There ought to be a clear-cut division among people as the gospel comes in. Before we move on, notice one other interesting thing here. For the first time in the Book of Acts both Barnabas and Paul are called apostles (in verses 4 and 14), showing that other men besides the twelve and Paul were called apostles. Eventually the animosity of the apostles' opponents intensified dangerously. But, as usual, this by no means prevented a wider preaching of the gospel. When an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to molest them and to stone them, they learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country; and there they preached the gospel (Acts 14:4). Thus we come to the second city in this chapter, the Gentile city of Lystra, where there was no Jewish synagogue. With no obvious place to begin, what will they do now? Let's see what happens: Now at Lystra there was a man sitting, who could not use his feet; he was a cripple from birth, who had never walked. He listened to Paul speaking; and Paul, looking intently at him and seeing that he had faith to be made well, said in a loud voice, "Stand upright on your feet." And he sprang up and walked. And when the crowds saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in Lycaonian, "The gods have come down to us in the likeness of men!" Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, because he was the chief speaker, they called Hermes. And the priest of Zeus, whose temple was in front of the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates and wanted to offer sacrifice with the people (Acts 14:8-13). When Paul and Barnabas came into this city they had no idea what they were going to do. They didn't form a committee and say, "Well, let's see if we can get the Chamber of Commerce report on the city's population distribution. Then we could divide it into squares and evangelize in a systematic way." They had no plans other than to be there and to do what God sent them to do--to preach. So they walked right into the marketplace and began, trusting the Lord to have prepared certain people, to have men of his choosing ready to open the door to the city. As they proclaimed the gospel, God began to work in an amazing way. Sitting in the marketplace was a man who had been lame from his birth, who had never walked. He was evidently well-known throughout the city, having been there all his life. As Paul preached, probably for several days in a row, this man listened and believed what Paul was declaring about the power of Jesus, the mighty Son of God. One day Paul looked at him and saw in that man's eyes the faith to believe. Suddenly, unquestionably led of the Spirit, he said to him, "Stand upright on your feet." And the lame man, though he had never walked in his life, made the effort to obey. He had faith enough to try, and the moment he began to obey, the power to obey was given. The Christian life always works that way. It doesn't make any difference whether the problem is physical, emotional, or spiritual; you are going to be held in its bondage until you begin to obey the Word of God about it. When you make the effort to obey, God will set you free. But he will never move until you obey. That's the way faith works. Most people are kept from seeing God at work in their lives because they keep waiting for God to do something in order for them to believe. But God has already done all that he is going to do, and when you believe what he says, then he will give you the power to be free. This miracle is a mighty parable of the many people who have been spiritually lame, unable to take a step toward God, but who have been set free to do so by the gospel. This miracle cracked the city wide open. The whole populace immediately took note of Paul and Barnabas in their midst. Ordinarily the city would not have been open to the preaching of the gospel, and God's full purpose would not have been accomplished there. 95

Appeal to the Ego But the enemy was also at work. Without wasting a moment, he managed to pervert the situation so that these people would not hear the word. He twisted and distorted the people's perception just enough to lay groundwork for a further attack against the apostles. We are told that these superstitious, pagan people cried out, "Why, the gods have come down to us!" The Greek names they gave the apostles were Zeus and Hermes; the Roman names were Jupiter and Mercury. Perhaps because Barnabas had a long beard and dignified bearing they called him Jupiter, or Zeus. Because Paul was small and talked a lot he was called Mercury, or Hermes, the spokesman for the gods. What a subtle attack! Here was an appeal to the ego of the apostles. Imagine going into a strange city and being welcomed as gods! On a recent trip to Hawaii I visited the wax museum in Honolulu and saw the diorama depicting the landing of Captain James Cook of the British Navy on the shores of Hawaii, at Kealakekua Bay. He was welcomed as the god Lono, and he and his men were given anything and everything they wanted. They were attended to day and night. But one day as they were about to launch their boats and return to their ship, a native who was angry with Captain Cook for some reason grabbed hold of him, forgetting that he was supposedly a god. Captain Cook swung at him and knocked him down. The native retaliated, hitting him on the head with a club, and the captain groaned. When the natives heard this, one of them cried out, "He groans. He is not a god!" and they fell on him and killed him. You can see a memorial at the site today. In Lystra, these apostles had a perfect opportunity to take over the city on their own terms! What a subtle attack this flattery was. Sometimes popularity is the weapon Satan employs most successfully to ruin the presentation of the gospel. But notice how Paul and Barnabas receive it: But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it [they didn't understand the native speech of these people, even though Paul had the gift of tongues. The gift is not intended for preaching the gospel nor understanding another language, so someone had to tell them what was happening], they tore their garments and rushed out among the multitude, crying, "Men, why are you doing this? We also are men, of like nature with you, and bring you good news, that you should turn from these vain things to a living God who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to walk in their own ways; yet he did not leave himself without witness, for He did good and gave you from heaven rains and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness." With these words they scarcely restrained the people from offering sacrifice to them (Acts 14:14-18). If you want to know how to reach your neighbors who are not interested in the gospel and who know nothing of Scripture, who have not been to church and are not interested in it, the approach to take is through nature. When Paul went to the Jews, he started with the Scriptures, the truth of God that they already knew. When he went to the Gentiles, he started with nature, the truth of God which they already knew. Paul points out three things that would have been very plain to his hearers if they had been thinking about their contact with nature. First he shows that behind creation there is one living God, not a multitude of relatively powerless, desperate, and divided pagan deities or idols. If Paul's hearers had really observed nature, they would have realized that it is not controlled by a conglomerate of separate powers, all trying to compete with one another, as envisioned in the pagan pantheon. According to the pagan system, everything had a god. There was a god of water, a god of trees, a god of rocks. Even the processes of the body had gods: there was a god for speech, a god for sex, and a god for life. These gods, like people, were in competition with one another. Paul is saying, 'You haven't really seen nature. You haven't noticed, obviously, that nature is as one; it all ties together because it has been made by one God, who is a living God. It is sustained and held together in harmony, and is constantly being renewed. So there is one living God," Paul declares to them in no uncertain terms that nature has borne witness to God. The second point he makes is that the one living God permits men free choice, and therefore allows evil. The problem of evil among men forms the basis of constant arguments from humanists and others, who say, "If your God is such a loving God, why does he permit suffering? Why does he allow evil, and injustice, and war?" These pagans were quite aware of these arguments. They understood them and argued the same way as such people do today. Paul answers by saying, "What you must know is that God, in generations past, allowed all the nations to walk in their own way." In other words, he gave them free will. In order to permit free will, he must allow evil. That is Paul's argument, and it is unanswerable. There are those today who say, "Why doesn't God stop all the wars and injustices?" Well, he could, But if he did, he would take away your freedom of choice, and that is the one thing you don't want to surrender. The greatest dignity of 96

humanity is the power to choose between two possible routes. God has given us that power, and he will not take it away. Paul says that this is the reason God allows evil. But third, he says, God will not allow evil to go too far. He does not allow evil to engulf humanity and wipe us off the face of the earth, as human evil would surely do in a few months' time if it were unrestrained. God has restrained it. And right in the midst of it, despite all the rejection and rebellion and blasphemy and hatred that is poured out against him by these people whom he loves, God has shown his love by giving rain and fruit and harvest and gladness in the family circle and joy and happiness throughout the various moments of life. That is the God whom Paul preached. What a marvelous declaration of the gospel, that God had given all these things and thus had given witness to these people about himself! The Marks of Jesus So the first onslaught of the enemy falls back upon itself. The city is open to the gospel, and Paul is able to proclaim it in power. But soon the devil's evil comes full cycle. Look at the next event: But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium; and having persuaded the people, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples gathered about him, he rose up and entered the city; and on the next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe (Acts 14:19, 20). Here is the counterattack of the enemy again, striking back to hinder the gospel as soon as its power is unleashed. This time he falls back on his old reliable--violence. His spadework has created a climate in which the people can be persuaded to condone the stoning of the person who would be their benefactor. This is the only time that Paul was stoned--not with drugs, but with hard, sharp rocks which cut his body, bruised and crushed him, and left him lying in a crumpled heap on the pavement. His enemies dragged him outside the city gates and threw him on the rubbish dump, thinking he was dead. You can imagine Barnabas and the disciples gathered around him there, weeping over this beloved, faithful preacher whom they too thought to be dead. This may well be the time when Paul received those marks in his body to which he refers later in his Letter to the Galatians, The church in Lystra was one of the Galatian churches. Paul writes," I bear on my body the marks of Jesus" (Gal. 6:17). He may have received those marks when he was stoned at Lystra. In any case, as his friends are gathered around him, weeping and lamenting his death, perhaps speaking of burial, the apostle suddenly sits up and says, "Hold the undertaker! You're not going to bury Paul yet." And God restores him. Was he dead? This is a question many ask, but Luke says no, he was not dead. "Supposing him to be dead, they dragged him out of the city." Luke can surely be trust in this judgment. As he journeyed with Paul later he certainly must have questioned him closely about this event. As a doctor, his medical interest would have been aroused, and he was satisfied that Paul had not died. But Paul was miraculously restored, and the next day he went on to Derbe. So far we have seen the pattern of approach to the religious crowd as well as the pattern of approach to the pagan crowd. We have seen how to handle the various attacks of Satan by faithful obedience to the commission which God has given. In the last part of the chapter we learn about another important feature which is basic to the gospel-body life: When they had preached the gospel to that city [Derbe] and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God. And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they believed (Acts 14:2123). What tremendous evidence of courage! They had been expelled from Antioch of Pisidia, threatened in Iconium, and actually stoned in Lystra, but when God raises Paul up they go right back into those same cities to strengthen the disciples. This kind of courage comes only from trust in the living God; they were confident that God was going with them. It was essential to the life of the church that they gather the disciples together and minister to them. The Christian life is more than merely being converted; it is growing in Christ. It is going on to he what God intended you to be in Christ, which involves certain provisions. Provisions for Growth 97

Notice three important things the apostles did. First, they taught the disciples. "They strengthened the souls of the disciples." You do that by teaching the Word of God. The Word is what sets men free, but people must know the truth before they can be set free. So they taught them by expounding the Word to them. Second, they exhorted them to continue in the faith. This is usually done by an appeal to example. They went back over the Old Testament record and pointed out how men and women of God had been living by faith for years, and how God had blessed and strengthened them. The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a mighty testimony of this sort. Third, they enlightened these new believers as to the meaning of tribulation. They said, "You're going to go through trouble, but don't be surprised. This is what will make a real, genuine man or woman out of you. It will make you grow. You need tribulation, so thank God for it." In this way they taught them how to view hardship. Not only did they teach the new disciples, but they also recognized the spiritual gifts that were present. They noted that the Holy Spirit had equipped men and women for ministry in the church, and they appointed elders in every church, with prayer and fasting. Finally, they prayed and committed the people to the Lord. Thus, as they moved on, the church was able to grow and expand and preach throughout the whole area (as we will see when the apostles come back later) because they were solidly grounded. At last they were able to return to the church at Antioch, from which they had been sent out: Then they passed through Pisidia, and came to Pamphylia. And when they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia; and from there they sailed to Antioch, where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work which they had fulfilled. And when they arrived, they gathered the church together and declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. And they remained no little time with the disciples (Acts 14:24-28). This was a missionary meeting, with a report of what has happened, much as churches have in our time. Missionaries come to us periodically to tell us what is going on in the far reaches of the world as the gospel is penetrating in power there today. What an exciting time it most have been for the people gathered together to hear the apostles speak, as they saw the scars on Paul's body and heard the marvelous stories of the thousands who had come to Christ through the ministry of these faithful men! By trusting God they had been able to turn back all the attacks of the enemy and could therefore encourage the home church by their experience of God's faithfulness and power in the midst of opposition. Our Father, we ask you to make us faithful followers of these mighty apostles, our brethren of the early centuries. Like them, Lord, help us to trust in a living God who is changing men's hearts and delivering their minds from the grip and power of the evil one. Help us to rejoice as we too see the power of the Word of God in our own day. We ask in your name, Amen.

Chapter Four Cause For Alarm Acts 15:1-21
Paul and Barnabas and the other believers who proclaimed the truth of God in the first century met with bitter and violent opposition everywhere they went, as we have just seen. Riots were created in cities where they preached, and everywhere they preached they were confronted with such heavy opposition that their lives were threatened. But the tactics of the enemy are not limited to external opposition; these men also met with treacherous betrayal from within. In the fifteenth chapter of Acts we have the story of the worst of these inner betrayals of the gospel, the emergence of what we can only call false Christianity. You will never understand Christianity or the church until you understand that there are always present, in any so-called Christian gathering, manifestations and representatives of both true and false Christianity. Unfortunately, false Christianity is believed by millions who think they have understood the truth. Therefore their minds are closed to the truth when it comes. The characteristics of this kind of false Christianity, which is unthinkingly accepted by millions of people today as the real thing, are described in this chapter. Luke gives us the background in the opening verses: 98

But some men came down from Judea [to Antioch]and were teaching the brethren, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." And when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question (Acts 15:1,2). Here is another greatly condensed account of events which actually occurred over a period of several months. It all began with the introduction of a very plausible and attractive heresy which came disguised as Christianity. Luke says that certain Jewish brethren, who were ostensibly Christians, came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. They came among the Gentile believers there, who had been, until just recently, devotees of the licentious and sexually immoral practices of the pagan temples. These Gentiles had been hopeless in their outlook toward the future beyond this life and were sunken in despair and darkness. But God had saved them, and they were now rejoicing in Christ. But these Jewish brethren came to them and said, "Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved." This introduced an issue which split the church at Antioch wide open. They were really saying, "In order to become a Christian, you must first become a Jew. Unless you become a Jew you are a second-class Christian, if a Christian at all." Thus they challenged the gospel of the grace of God as Paul and Barnabas had been proclaiming it. Race and Ritual The first really serious internal strife within the church was over race and ritual--over the question of Jews versus Gentiles, and of circumcision as the sign of acceptance. This specific issue has long ago passed away as a concern to us, but the principle behind it is very definitely still present today. The enemy has simply changed the players on the program, substituting new issues on the same old divisive platform. In many places today the issue is whether blacks are supposed to worship with whites. One of the largest churches in Birmingham, Alabama, was split for weeks over the question of whether they ought to admit one lone black woman to membership in a church which had never had a black member for 98 years! More widely, this same principle is involved in the feelings of many Christians toward any group or individual who is different from them in some way. At the height of the hippie movement one young man was working successfully within the hippie culture in Los Angeles, bringing great crowds of them into the church he represented. He was finally dismissed because, as the official board of that church put it, "He's bringing the riffraff off the streets into the church." That is the kind of issue they had in Antioch. I remember how shocked I was a few years ago at the reply a young couple gave to my suggestion that they visit another couple who were newcomers to our church, They looked at me and said, "Oh, no, you don't want them. They're not our kind of people." It was all I could do to restrain myself from tongue-lashing them on the spot, because that is a hateful denial of the universality of the church and of its inclusion of all types and ages and backgrounds and races. Rituals, as well as people, often become bones of contention today. Substitute baptism for circumcision and you bring the issue right up to date. Some people insist that unless you undergo the ritual of a haircut, you cannot become a Christian. Barbers have become the priests of our day! Others say that no one should be admitted to a church gathering unless he has his shoes on. But I have searched the Scriptures and cannot find anything there which says you must wear shoes to church. These external issues are the kinds of things that are splitting Christians apart today, even as the issue of circumcision was in Antioch. This issue had great power over these new Christians. They were relatively untaught, and the whole idea appeared very plausible on several grounds. First of all, these men who came down from Jerusalem were evidently sincere. They were not simply trying to cause trouble; they were deeply committed to the belief that unless a Gentile complied with the law of Moses and was circumcised, he had no right to call himself a Christian. This whole concept struck with such tremendous force because of the sincerity of these men. Furthermore, the issue appeared to have a great deal Scriptural support. There are passages in the Old Testament which say that ultimately Israel will rule over the Gentile nations, and that the Jews are chosen as God's own people, with a peculiarly special relationship to him. These men went through the Scriptures and selected these verses, ignoring others 99

that temper and balance them, and, like any good cultist today, they presented a tremendously appealing program that seemed to be based solidly in Scripture. With it they shook the faith of these people in Antioch. What they were doing was failing to allow God to reveal new truth. They were basing their position on the assumption that all truth had already been given in that day. But the Scriptures were not yet completed; God was revealing new truth. Remember that the Apostle Paul tells us very plainly that this whole truth about the Jews and the Gentiles becoming one body in Jesus Christ was never mentioned in the Old Testament. He says it was a mystery hidden from previous generations until it was revealed to the apostles and the prophets of the New Testament era. But for this reason it was difficult indeed to prove that receiving uncircumcised believers into the church was not a violation of the Scriptures. Third, the position of these men appeared to be supported by the church in Jerusalem. The views came from James, the brother of our Lord Jesus himself, who had been raised with Jesus and could testify to the fact that Jesus obeyed the law and was circumcised according to the law of Moses. By using these arguments they had great power in the preaching of this heresy. Thus it is no wonder that Luke says, in a characteristic under statement, that they caused no small dissension and debate! Though we are not told so here, this is unquestionably the time when that incident occurred which the Apostle Paul records in his Letter to the Galatians. The Apostle Peter had come clown to Antioch and at first had perfect freedom to eat with the Gentiles. Peter enjoyed his first taste of a ham sandwich, and he had bacon and eggs every morning. He was rejoicing in his freedom in Christ. But, Paul says, when certain men came down from James and began to preach that you cannot be saved unless you are circumcised according to the law of Moses, Peter (think of it--Peter the Apostle!) was carried away by this dissension. He went over to the kosher table for breakfast and no longer ate with the Gentiles. And Barnabas (Barnabas, Paul's faithful co-laborer in the dissemination of the gospel!) was likewise carried away briefly, until Paul straightened him out. Paul had to rebuke the Apostle Peter publicly for his inconsistency. You can see what Luke means when he says this was no small debate. This was an issue which threatened to divide Christianity for the rest of the time! The church appointed Paul and Barnabas to go up to Jerusalem. Be careful not to read this as though Paul was uncertain as to the truth and had to consult with the other apostles before it was settled. Paul never had a moment's doubt over this issue. He tells us in Galatians that he went to Jerusalem by revelation; the Lord told him to go. Paul was prepared to defy all twelve apostles and the whole church of Jerusalem if they should differ with him on this issue, because he knew what the Lord Jesus had revealed to him directly. He did not get his gospel from the apostles; he got it from the Lord, So he stood firm. For a while the whole fate of the gospel hung upon this one man's faithfulness. First Ecumenical Council Paul went to Jerusalem because this was the best way to silence these Judaizing teachers. If the church at Jerusalem would repudiate this doctrine, then the Judaisers would be thwarted and their teaching would be discredited. Luke takes us to this first ecumenical council: When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up, and said, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to charge them to keep the law of Moses." The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter rose and said to them, "Brethren, you know that in the early days God made choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God who knows the heart bore witness to them, giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us; and he made no distinction between us and them, but cleansed their hearts by faith. Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we shall be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will. And all the assembly kept silence; and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles (Acts 15:4-12). From this account alone it would seem as though only one great meeting took place in Jerusalem, but actually there were three. First there was a body-life service when Paul and Barnabas arrived. This was the first time these men had appeared in Jerusalem after their triumphant missionary journey through the Galatian cities, and so they were welcomed home. What a grand occasion it must have been as Paul and Barnabas stood up and told about all that God had done! They told 100

of how they had held street meetings in front of saloons in the various cities where they went, of how riots had started over them, of how they had been kicked out of assemblies and driven out of towns. They told of how God had worked with them through it all, confirming their words and changing the lives of many. The whole church in Jerusalem was stirred as they heard this account. The next day there was a private meeting which Paul mentions in Galatians 2, but which Luke does not record here. There Paul and the other apostles and the elders sat down and together discussed Paul's theology. "At the end of that meeting," Paul says, It was quite apparent that these men who had lived and traveled with the Lord Jesus had absolutely nothing to add to me," In other words, Paul had learned from the Lord directly what Jesus had taught the others through the whole scope of his ministry. Paul's gospel was exactly the same as theirs. "And when they saw that," Paul says, "they extended to me the right hand of fellowship and put their blessing upon my ministry. We realized that we were proclaiming exactly the same truth." Focus on Titus On the next day was the great general meeting in which the leaders took up this very divisive issue of whether a person had to be circumcised in order to be a Christian. Titus had come to Jerusalem with Paul on this occasion, and he now became the focus of contention. The question was whether this young man, who was a Greek and not a Jew, had to be circumcised or not. You can imagine how embarrassed poor Titus was, but Paul tells us in Galatians that this was the issue. There was a great deal of debate, as Luke records; there always is in such a meeting. The issue must be thoroughly aired, and there are always two kinds of speakers: those who have something to say, and those who have to say something. So it went on and on. Finally Peter stood up. It is important to note that Peter did not convene this council. If, as our Catholic friends tell us, he had been the first pope, that would have been his responsibility. But he did not. James was the president of the council and Peter was merely a spokesman. Notice also that they did not settle anything by majority vote. They were seeking the mind of the Spirit, which would be expressed in a sense of unity they would all recognize. That is why the issues had to be clearly aired. Actually, I'm surprised that Peter kept silent as long as he did; he was always opening his mouth to change feet. But he was probably chastened and humbled by the recent rebuke he had received from the Apostle Paul, and so, biding his time and awaiting God's moment, finally rose to speak. He had three things to say: first he reminded the leaders that at the very beginning of his ministry God had taught him a great lesson along this line, stripping him of all the ugly Jewish prejudices he had retained even as a Christian. God made him face up to the fact that he loved and searched for and wanted non-Jewish believers as much as Jews. Peter had told, in an earlier council in Jerusalem, of the struggle he went through in this area. Now he reminds them again of how, in the home of Cornelius, he had learned something new about the heart of God. Then (and this is very significant, coming from a Jew) he admits to them publicly and openly--challenging them to deny it--that the effort to obey the law by trying their hardest was nothing but a burdensome yoke upon their necks, and that it always had been such a yoke, throughout Jewish history: Now therefore why do you make trial of God by putting a yoke upon the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear (Acts 15:10)? Nobody ever came to God by trying to be good or by religious ritual. Never. No Jew, no Gentile, no one ever came to him that way. In the effort to do so, people have that only been bowed down under such an intolerable weight that they have often been crushed in despair. Peter's third point is a real blockbuster. He says to these Jews, "Look, I believe that we Jews will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as those Gentiles will." Notice that Peter does not say, "They will be saved, just as we will," as might be expected. In other words, the norm for God's operation in saving men is more visible when he saves a Gentile than it is when he saves a Jew. The Jew often confuses the issue by his efforts at self-righteousness. But the Gentile does not try that. He usually accepts the grace of God because he has no other place to turn. So Peter says, "I have come to see that we Jews are on exactly the same basis as these Gentiles, when it comes to being saved." 101

This thought-provoking statement had the impressive effect of bringing silence to the whole assembly. Even the Judaizers were stunned by this argument. They all stopped talking and started thinking. Then they listened as Barnabas and Paul related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas seized the occasion to confirm the words of Peter by showing that God was doing the very thing he said, not only in saving men but also in confirming that these two men were apostles. They had the signs of an apostle to prove it, the signs and wonders that God had done through them. (This is probably when Paul and Barnabas received the right hand of fellowship, acknowledging that they were indeed authenticated apostles.) At this point James, the chairman of the meeting, speaks, and this is the conclusion of the whole event: After they finished speaking, James replied, "Brethren, listen to me. Symeon [i.e., Peter] has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. And with this the words of the prophets agree, as it is written, 'After this I will return, and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will set it up, that the rest of men may seek the Lord, and all the Gentiles who are called by my name, says the Lord, who has made these things known from of old.' Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the pollutions of idols and from unchastity [literally, fornication] and from what is strangled and from blood. For from early generations Moses has had in every city those who preach him, for he is read every sabbath in the synagogues" (Acts 15:13-21). This is an extremely important statement. It is made by the man who was the flesh-and-blood brother of the Lord Jesus. He had been raised in that home in Nazareth and had seen all that his older Brother had done all his life. He had not believed in him until after the resurrection, but in the resurrection he saw confirmation of all the witness that the Spirit had borne to his heart through those years, and he became a believer in Jesus Christ. He holds the utmost respect from all factions in the church. He is called "James the Just" and "Old Camel-knees" because he prayed so long he wore holes in his robe and raised calluses on his knees. He is a man of tremendous integrity. He summarizes now, after listening to the mind of the Spirit. He says four things which are of extreme importance. First, he comes squarely to terms with the activity of God. These Judaizers had been saying to the Gentiles, "Without circumcision you cannot be saved." But they were ignoring one very stubborn fact: these Gentiles were already saved. God had already been saying Gentiles without asking anybody's permission to do so, and he was doing it without any ritual, or even any reference to the law of Moses. And with this point they could not argue. This was extremely important because it forced them to take note of the direction of God's activity. They saw that God was already doing what they said could not be done, and thus God was overruling them. Be Sure It Is God But now notice the second point. It is supremely important! The activity was accepted as the valid activity of God only as it corresponded to the written Word of God. I wish I could get this point across to people today. There is so much activity going on in our day which is being called the work of the Spirit of God, but which is not in line with what the Word of God says. And people are accepting it naively, ingenuously, because it has some appearance of supernatural activity. It is alright to note what God is doing, but we must be sure it is God who is doing it. Whatever does not correspond with the Word of God is not the activity of God, no matter how good it may look. There is so much occurring like this today. There are meetings where people break out into tongues, and everyone says, "Oh, look at the restoration of the gift of tongues. God is at work. The Spirit is at work!" My question is, "Is it the Biblical gift of tongues?" When you compare it with what the Bible says about the gift of tongues, there is scarcely any resemblance at all. So I must say, "That is not God at work." Another example is healings. I certainly believe that God can heal; I am not denying that. But each healing must be questioned in order to discern where it comes from. James accepted this activity among the Gentiles as from God because he saw that it corresponded to the Word of God. He quoted one of the prophets, Amos, who had predicted that there would come a time when the Gentiles would be reached. There are certain scholars today who attempt to imply that James is giving here a sort of outline of future events. "After this [the second coming] Jesus will return and restore Israel, rebuild the dwelling of David... And then the Gentiles who are called by my name shall come to Christ...." But I honestly do not think he is doing that. James views this prediction by Amos as referring to the first coming of Jesus. I do not question that there is a greater fulfillment awaiting us at the second coming. 102

But here he is talking about the first coming, the coming of the Lord as the son of David to gather up all the crushed and broken hopes of the Davidic line and to fulfill the promise made to David by God: "Thou shalt never lack a king to set upon the throne..." The fact is that the gospel, by that first coming, began to go out to the Gentiles. In other words, James is confirming by the prediction of the Word of God what Peter and Paul and Barnabas had declared. His point is that God intends to save Gentiles and has already begun in the home of Cornelius. Third, James gives three or four very practical suggestions for a letter to the Gentile believers, suggestions designed to lay this controversy to rest. He says, "We should write to them to abstain from idolatry, from fornication [sexual immorality], from eating that which is strangled, and from eating blood. For from early generations Moses has in every city those who preach him [and who would therefore be offended]." Notice the classification here: two things in the moral realm (idolatry and sexual immorality) and two things in the realm of Christian love, of sensitivity and understanding toward others. If the Gentiles ate animals that were strangled, or if they ate blood, they would have great difficulty in fellowshipping with Jewish believers in Christ, who still clung to some of the dietary laws. So James wisely suggests that they should, in love, forego these practices in order to have fellowship in the body of Christ. Denials of Faith But notice that there is a footnote in the Revised Standard Version which suggests that the words "and from what is strangled" are not in the better texts (here and also in verse 29, later in the chapter). I personally believe that this phrase was not in the original text, and that James pointed out only three things: they were to abstain from idolatry, from fornication, and from blood, which in this context means murder. I feel that this is the case not only because of the manuscript support but also because these practices are direct denials of Christian faith in the areas of the spirit, the soul, and the body of man. If you do these things, James is saying, you are denying by your actions what you affirm is your faith. The Scriptures support this reading. Paul says, 'You cannot eat at the table of idols and the table of the Lord." In the Spirit, you can only worship one god. It is either God or a demon; one or the other. In the soul, you can only give your inner life to one lord. If you give it away in sexual immorality, you are destroying yourself. Interestingly, Scripture everywhere warns against this. Peter himself says, "Flee youthful passions, which war against the soul." In other words, sexual immorality--fornication--is the most devastating thing you can do to yourself psychologically. It destroys your emotional life. It breaks up the inner integrity of your humanity. This is why the Bible says that nations which give themselves to widespread immorality are bringing upon themselves sure destruction, because they are undermining the whole structure of society. And of course the third evil practice, against the body, is very evident. John says, "You know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him." You cannot, as an individual, take the life of another person in anger and still claim that you really belong to Jesus Christ. In the fourth point, the most important of all, James defines the supreme purpose of God today: Peter has related how God first visited the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name. Here is the focus of history: during the entire history of human life the one thing God is doing is calling out a people for his name. Everything that happens in history or current events relates somehow to this great program of God. God may permit terrible catastrophes and awful persecutions and judgments to come upon a people in order to make them wake up to reality and turn to him, that he will he able to call out a people for his name. He may isolate a nation for years, perhaps centuries, in order to shut it off and allow it to sink into darkness and despair and hopelessness. Then, at the right psychological moment, he can open the door and let the gospel in, and the people will respond in great numbers. I believe that this is what God is doing in China today. Everything relates to this one great task of God. According to the Bible, one of these days our great American cities are going to lie in ashes, crumbled to dust, destroyed, perhaps in a great nuclear holocaust (1 Pet. 3:7,10). Civilization will be tremendously altered, with much of it destroyed. Out of the crumbling chaos of those days one institution involving humans will survive, and only one: the church of the Lord Jesus Christ, a people called out for his name's sake. Unless your life, and my life, finds a part in that program, it too is worthless. Only what God does is worthwhile. And if we do not find a part in what God is doing, in reaching out to all the nations and all the cultures and the tribes and peoples of earth, to call out from among them a people for his name, we have no justification for having lived. 103

Our Father, help us to take these words with utmost seriousness, as they were taken in the first century, so as to split the world wide open in that day. Help us to do the same in our own day, realizing that your great purpose has gone forward relentlessly. Throughout all the changing currents of human history, you are accomplishing what you set out to do. Grant that we may have a part, giving ourselves to the Lord Jesus, that we may be instruments of his working. We pray in his name, Amen.

Chapter Five The Way God Guides Acts 15:22-16:10
The most baffling and difficult problem with which young Christians often wrestle is how to determine the will of God. In the first chapter of this book, we began to see something of the strategy of the Holy Spirit. We saw that if we simply go about our business--that is, put into practice the truths we know, using the spiritual gifts we have been given--the Spirit will open up opportunities and guide us faithfully to do the will of God. That is his responsibility. In the section before us now, we have a further revelation on this vital matter-seven practical ways we can know God's will. The first way appears in the paragraph describing the conclusion of the great council in Jerusalem, where the early church settled the question of whether Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to become Christians. Then it seemed good to the apostles to and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Jesus called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brethren, with the following letter: "The brethren, both the apostles and the elders, to the brethren who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us in assembly to choose men and send them to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity [or fornication]. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell" (Acts 15:22-29). This is the way the council conveyed to the outlying churches the decision reached by the apostles and the elders. It is vital to see that this early church settled a question of doctrine by first hearing everybody's viewpoint. Everyone had a chance to say what he thought the Scriptures taught, and finally James summed it all up. His two main points were, first, that God was already saving Gentiles without reference to any ritual or law of any kind, and second, that this was the genuine activity of God because it agreed with the Word of God. So, as James put together the actions of God and the Word of God, the council came to the unanimous conclusion that this was indeed the mind of the Spirit. They realized that God was in their midst and that he could make his mind known to them. They understood that when they reached unanimity of opinion, they had found the mind of the Spirit. The first principle of guidance from God that is revealed here, especially in doctrinal matters, is that unanimous agreement in line with the Word marks the mind of the Spirit. Notice also that they conveyed this decision to the people in Antioch not only by letter, but also by appointing some men to go down and explain the letter to them. I write that kind of letter too; they have to be explained when people receive them! This letter, however, was perfectly clear; God was simply underscoring a very important lesson. People learn best by having truth presented both through the avenue of the eye and of the ear. These men were sent to expound the letter that was written, so as to make it perfectly clear to all. Some people learn better through reading, some through hearing. Here we read of the beginning of a process for teaching in the church which is still God's method today. This is exactly what he has done with us. He has written us a letter, the Bible; he has put his truth in writing. He has also appointed men to come and explain it: teachers, gifted men who are able to expound the Scriptures. These include not only men who have been to


seminaries, but many others as well, who have gifts of exhorting and teaching and preaching. So these men came to Antioch with this dual conveyance of the truth because they had discovered the mind of the Spirit through the principle of unanimous agreement. The Basic Activity The second principle is set forth in the following paragraph: So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch; and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. And when they had read it, they rejoiced at the exhortation. And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, exhorted the brethren with many words and strengthened them. And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brethren to those who had sent them. But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also (Acts 15:30-35). What a sigh of relief went up from these Gentile Christians when the letter arrived! They would not have to be subject to any Jewish ritual. They had understood this already from the teaching of Paul, but now it was very apparent that the whole church was in agreement. How delighted they were at this confirming exhortation! But now notice how this paragraph focuses upon the activity of believers when there is no special guidance from the Holy Spirit to do something new or unusual. Judas and Silas came down with Paul and Barnabas, and they spent their time "exhorting the brethren with many words and strengthening them. "This is what you do between the occasions of extraordinary activity in the Spirit-filled life. You give yourself to the most fundamental and basic activity of Christianity, the knowledge and understanding of the Word of God, the learning of the Word. This is always in order, always in season. So is the teaching and preaching of the Word, as you see in the last sentence: "But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the Word of the Lord..." But don't miss the last four words: "with many others also." In that congregation there were many, beside the four men mentioned here, who had gifts of teaching and preaching. They exercised them there in Antioch and in all the area around. The Way the Word Spreads In every congregation or community of believers there are many people who have the gift of teaching and the gift of preaching (proclaiming the truth, telling it abroad and appealing to the will--as opposed to teaching, which instructs the mind). If you have these gifts, you should be exercising them, just as they did in Antioch. This is the secret of the multiplication of the church. As they did this in Antioch, the word spread throughout the surrounding region. Several years ago I had the privilege of being in a party which visited the ruins of Baalbek, located between the Lebanon ranges, between Beirut and Damascus. In the valley between those high mountain ranges a strong civilization had developed in these early centuries. At the foot of the valley, on the Orontes River, is Antioch, the very city we are reading about here. In the first century, Christian communities sprang up all through that valley. I walked around the ruins of Baalbek and noted how vast and extensive this complex is. It is one of the largest in the world, with a temple to Jupiter; a temple to Bacchus, the god of wine; one to Venus, goddess of sex; and a number of temples to other gods, covering a huge area. I asked the guide when these temples were at their height and was most interested in his reply. He said they were built by the Romans in the first century A.D. to counteract the spread of Christianity through this area. The Romans went to great expense and effort to build these huge pagan temples. They went down to Egypt and quarried the stones for the columns, painfully moved them across the desert sands on rollers, floated them down the Nile river, shipped the huge pillars across the Mediterranean, and dragged them up the valley or over the mountain ranges. It was a tremendous, Herculean task. They did it desperation, to stop the spread of Christianity throughout that whole region. And who was spreading it? The people were, as they exercised their gifts and were obedient to this second principle of the Spirit's guidance: when you do not know what else to do, persist in learning and teaching the Word of God. That is fundamental to everything else. Responsible Concern Now look at a third principle:


And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Come, let us return and visit the brethren in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are" (Acts 15:36). There is no vision here, no angelic call. There is no lightning, no special word of the Spirit in the inner heart. There is simply the responsible concern of Paul and Barnabas for the people whom they had led to Christ. They remembered all those Gentiles who had come to Christ in the cities of Antioch of Pisidia, Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe, and they said to one another, "We have a responsibility to help them grow in grace. They do not yet know the whole counsel of God; there are truths that they must understand, without which they will be lacking in their Christian experience. Let us go and see how they are, and impart these truths to them. This is a perfectly proper leading of the Holy Spirit. God does not want to give orders to you about everything you do, as we saw illustrated in Acts 13. Once you discover the power by which to act--the life of Jesus within, ready to respond to the choice of your will--then the initiative lies with you. You can do what lies on your heart to do. If you sense an opportunity to show responsible concern for another person, move into it, and God will be with you in it. There is a fourth principle in the next paragraph: And Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia, and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp contention, so that they separated from each other; Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, being commended by the brethren to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches (Acts 15:37-41). This quarrel between Barnabas and Paul has fascinated many. These two men could not agree on whether to take young John Mark with them again. Barnabas was Mark's cousin and wanted to give the young man another chance. But Paul did not want to take the risk; the work was both important and dangerous, and he did not think it wise to take someone they could not count on. So we read the sad note that "there arose a sharp contention between them." Many have said, "Which of these men was right?" Disagreements have arisen over this question, so that many people have had "sharp contention" between them over whether Paul or Barnabas was right! Agree to Disagree But this is really not the point. I believe that both of these men were right. One was looking at the work and the other at the person. As Paul looked at the work he was perfectly right to say, "We don't want somebody who is apt to cop out on us." And he probably quoted the words of Jesus, "If any man puts his hand to the plow and turns back, he is not worthy of the kingdom of God." Christian service and ministry are demanding, and those who undertake them should be prepared to go through with the work and stick with it to the end, for God's cause is injured by those who quit in the middle. On the other hand, Barnabas (though I'm sure he would have agreed as to the importance of the work) was looking at the young man. He knew that Mark was gifted. Sure, he had failed, but who doesn't? Who of us does not need a second chance, does not need to have a forgiving spirit exercised toward us, and the opportunity to try again? So Barnabas was willing to give Mark a second chance. This situation indicates a very normal and proper procedure by which we may know the mind of the Spirit. There are times when there are differences of viewpoint which require a separation. The will of God was that Barnabas should take Mark and go to Cyprus, because Cyprus, his birthplace, had not been visited since the churches there had been founded. And it was equally the will of God for Paul to take Silas and go into Syria and Cilicia, because the churches there needed his particular ministry. But it was not the will of God that they should be sharp in their contention. It was the will of God to separate; it was not the will of God to quarrel. There are indeed times when the Spirit of God leads Christians to go separate ways. But they should do so with joy and with an agreeable understanding that the mind of the Spirit has been expressed in their divergent viewpoints. Still another principle, the fifth, is in Chapter 16, as we ignore the chapter division and move right on: And he came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted 106

Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews that were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions which had been reached by the apostles and elders who were at Jerusalem. So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily (Acts 16:1-5). Paul is now back at Lystra, the city where he had been stoned, where he had encountered the most severe opposition of his first missionary journey. On that first occasion he had led a young man to Christ, who was now still only a boy, about sixteen years old. Paul thought he observed in him various gifts--gifts of ministry, perhaps of wisdom and knowledge in the Scriptures, of teaching, and of preaching. He wanted to take Timothy with him, using that marvelous means of discipling which has never been superseded. It was the process and method by which Jesus himself trained men, taking them along with him and teaching them as they ministered together. So Paul took Timothy as an intern on the rest of his journey. The Underlying Principle But there was a bit of a problem. Timothy was half Jewish, half Greek. His father was a Greek but his mother was a Jew, and according to the Jews this made him a Jew. The Jewish people had a very practical way of thinking about this: anyone knows who a man's mother is, but you can't be as sure of his father. So they reckoned the line of descent through the mother, and Timothy was therefore considered a Jew. The amazing thing is that Paul circumcised Timothy, while earlier he had refused to do the same to Titus. Here is another marvelous indication of how to know the mind and will of God. In any situation involving customs and rituals--cultural matters--the governing rule is to find the great underlying principle at stake, and to act according to that principle. In the case of Titus, it would have been devastating to have circumcised him. It would have meant yielding to the whole concept of legalism, and of initiating circumcision of Gentiles as a Christian teaching. Titus was entirely Greek, but Timothy's situation was different. Timothy was looked upon as a Jew, and in order not to offend the Jews among whom he must labor, in order to open the door of acceptance by them, Paul submits to this Old Testament ritual and circumcises Timothy. Here the governing principle, as expressed by Paul, is: "I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save [win] some" (1 Cor. 9:22). This approach may result in two seemingly contradictory actions, but all is reconciled as you see the great principle underneath. We have two more principles of guidance in the next paragraph: And they went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. And when they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas (Acts 16:6-8). What a remarkably helpful illustration this is! It links with what we said earlier--that the initiative lies with the Christian. Paul did not wait for directions from God as to where he was to go; he went to the most logical place. He went to where it appeared there was an open door, taking the next step on the path before him. But the Holy Spirit did not want him to go there, and so he shut the door. A Voice Behind You I fully believe these words indicate that Paul was experiencing what we call the "inner witness of the Spirit." The Spirit of God is willing to confirm to us, or deny to us, whether or not we have made a correct decision--but only after we make the decision. That is important to note. Isaiah said, "Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it'" (Isa. 30:21). Behind you, after you have made the decision, after you have started out, then there will be a voice which says, "Yes, this is right." That "voice" is usually a sense of peace, a great inner sense of the confirming peace of the Holy Spirit which, after you have committed yourself, tells you it is right. But suppose the decision is not correct. Well then, it is not wrong to try. Paul is not rebuked here because he tried to go into Asia or Bithynia. That was perfectly all right. The Spirit simply said, "No, Paul, the time is not yet." Later Paul did go into Asia, where Ephesus is located. But the Spirit's timing is not yet. 107

So, not waiting for any particular directions but moving out, Paul is guided of the Spirit by the closing of doors, or by the inner sense of denial from the Spirit, and thus he is led at last to the city of Troas. This is near the ancient city of Troy, whose people fought the Trojan wars against the Greeks. Now look what happens to Paul in this ancient city: And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing beseeching him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them (Acts 16:9,10). God is sovereign, and he can choose the way he wants to direct you. Sometimes he will come through in such an unmistakable way that you cannot help but know that God has spoken. Something like that occurred when I first became pastor of Peninsula Bible Church. My name was suggested by three different sources, none of whom knew that the others were writing. Each wrote independently and yet their letters all arrived in the same week. The men who had to decide were not considering any other man at the time, and when they went to the mailbox they found these three letters suggesting that they get in touch with a young man named Ray Stedman. That was a clear-cut moving of the Spirit of God, and they took it as such. So here is a vision from God. Notice that it is not a dream. The difference between a dream and a vision is that a dream always has us in it--which may make it a nightmare! Psychologists tell us that dreams always involve ourselves. If you dreamed last night of a long-eared mule, or a witch on a broomstick, or whatever, that was you. You were in the center of the dream. But this is a vision: it is not of Paul, but another man, a Macedonian, calling out to him, "Come over and help us." Paul knew it to be a vision. "And [I love this] immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them." They make an immediate response. Do you see the quiet acting of faith here? Paul expects God to lead him. He does not doubt it. He simply acts on the matters before him and expects God to correct him if he is wrong. He is already moving out, but he determines his exact destination on the basis of the vision that he had seen. And notice something else interesting here. This is where Luke joins the party. Inverse 8 Luke says"...they went down to Troas." But when you come to verse 10, it is "And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach...By that change in pronouns they to we, Luke indicates that he has now joined the expedition. We don't know where he came from, or how he got there, or what contact he had with Paul. Perhaps in one of these Greek cities along the way Luke had met the apostle. Now he joins him and is united with Paul as they reach out toward Europe. In our next study, we will be looking at the way the gospel came into Europe and thus changed all of Western civilization, vastly affecting our lives today. These are some of the ways God guides. Let me review them briefly. In the understanding of doctrine he guides by unanimous agreement. In those quiet periods of life, when there is no particular sense of direction from any source, he expects us to manifest persistent obedience in learning, teaching, and exhorting in the Word. In relations with other persons he expects us to show a responsible concern, which will often initiate action. In irreconcilable practical differences of opinion he expects cordial separation, so that there is unity of spirit even though there is no longer union of endeavor. In customs, rituals, and cultural matters he expects its to examine the important principle at stake and to act according to that. Finally, in matters of geographical direction, we saw two ways that he guides: either by denying to us or confirming to us by a sense of peace, the most obvious and legitimate action to take; or by a direct and obvious interposition of his mind and will, made known through a vision or a call that is unmistakably from God. Who knows how God will guide you? You can understand some of the possibilities from our study here. But the important thing is that above all, whatever action you take, you do it on the basis of dependence upon his power in you, his life in you. Whatsoever you do in "word or deed, do it all to the glory of the Lord." The only thing that glorifies God is God at work. Only God can do God's work. Only God can glorify himself. Please teach us heavenly Father, how to apply this practical help which the Scriptures so freely give us in our daily life. May it be true of us that we are available instruments, ready to be used according to your mind and purpose, right where we are--not waiting for anything dramatic but ready to move out, knowing that you will lead us and work through us, as you have promised to do. We thank you in Jesus' name, Amen.


Chapter Six D-Day at Philippi Acts 16:11-40
Now we come to an obscure and apparently minor event which, in the reckoning of hindsight, has turned out to be one of the most significant and momentous occasions in human history. It is the story of the entrance of the gospel into Europe. When the Apostle Paul and his small company crossed the Dardanelles, moving from Asia to Europe, they changed the whole course of Western civilization. Perhaps no single event since the cross of Christ has so affected the world as Paul's seemingly insignificant decision to cross a narrow neck of water. If the Emperor Claudius, who occupied the throne in Rome at that time, had been asked to name the most significant event in his reign, I'm sure he would have dreamed of suggesting (had he even known about it) that it was the occasion when an obscure little bald-headed Jew decided to leave Asia for Europe. This is how little we understand the history we are living through! We don't know what the really great events are. The Apostle Paul, with his faithful friend Silas and his young follower Timothy, had joined by Dr. Luke in the city of Troas. There Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia asking to come over and help, and the apostle never waited a moment. Whenever he found a door open he tried to move through it. As Luke tells us what happened, we will see unfolding once again the familiar pattern followed by these early Christians in planting the gospel in new places. Setting sail therefore from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is the leading city of the district of Macedonia, and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days; and on the sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together (Acts 16:11-13). Not a very impressive beginning, is it? Here are Paul and Silas and their company in this pagan city of Philippi. Luke is careful to tell us that it was a Roman colony, because the Philippians prided themselves in this fact. About a century earlier a great battle had been fought outside the walls of the city, in which Brutus and Cassius, the murderers of Julius Caesar, had been defeated by the combined forces of Antony and Octavian, who later became the Emperor Augustus. Because of the help they gave to Octavian's armies, Octavian granted Roman citizenship to these Philippians when he became emperor. Therefore the city became a little bit of Rome transplanted to far-off Macedonia, The people had all the rights of every Roman citizen and were governed in the same way as Rome. They were proud of their status as a Roman colony located so far from the capital. When Paul and Silas and the others came into the city they were faced with the problem of how to start a Christian work. But this was no real problem to Paul. Everywhere he went he always began with the same activity--simply proclaiming the revolutionary message about Jesus, the word about Christ. Most Influential People They did have to choose where to begin, however. Philippi was a pagan city, evidently with too few male Jews to have a synagogue. The law was very specific: you had to have ten adult male Jews in order to have a synagogue. If there were not that many, then the law provided that the Jewish people were to meet by a river and have a prayer meeting. That is why Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke walked along the riverside on their first sabbath morning in Philippi--to see if they could find a Jewish prayer meeting. To their delight they did. But, perhaps to their dismay, they found that the only people present were women. It was through a women's club that the gospel entered Europe! Perhaps this doesn't seem to be a very promising beginning. Most of us would feel that the way to start evangelizing a city is to gather the most influential people together. But, as a matter of fact, that is exactly what they did! The most influential people in any community are the women, and I'm not joking when I say that. They have a power to work behind the scenes that is absolutely unparalleled. So Paul and Silas, led of God, found the opportunity to address these women by the riverside, where they began to preach the gospel--as always, to the most available people. The second principle they followed was immediately evident: One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to give heed to what was said by Paul. And when she was baptized, 109

with her household, she besought us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us (Acts 16:14,15). The next step after proclaiming the Word of God is always up to God. These disciples expected God to do something! That, by the way, is the missing note among Christians in many places today. Many churches have given up expecting God to do anything, for they expect to do everything. It is literally true, as someone has observed, that many churches today are operating in such a way that, if the Holy Spirit were suddenly removed from their program, nobody would notice the difference. They do not expect God to do anything, but these people did. They preached the Word and then expected God to act. Prepared by God They could not tell what God would do--he, is always unpredictable. Philippi was a tough nut to crack, so God employed four different methods to open that town. Although he is by no means limited to these four, they are ones he frequently uses. First, he prepared men and women in that city, people whose hearts were ready to respond to the gospel. Such a woman was Lydia, who was already a worshiper of God. She was a business woman who sold purple goods, dealing in the purple dye for cloth which was so valuable in those days. She made a good living and had her own home, which was large enough to accommodate Paul and his party. Her heart was ready, having been prepared by God, and she was led of God to be there and to hear. When I have had the occasional privilege of speaking to groups of non-Christians, who have given me a cold and rather hostile eye at times, and whose reactions I couldn't anticipate, it has been a great encouragement to my heart to realize that there are unquestionably people in the group whom God has prepared. I never doubt it, for I have always found that there are at least one or two. I talk to them and try to ignore the hostile reaction of the others. This is what happened here. Lydia was there and she did not get upset by the message. She did not view it as a challenge to her Jewish faith, but immediately recognized that it was the fulfillment of all her Jewish hopes. So she opened her heart and received the Lord. Then God employed another of his methods to crack open a city: As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owner much gain by soothsaying. She followed Paul and us, crying, "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." And this she did for many days. But Paul was annoyed, and turned and said to the spirit, "I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." And it came out that very hour (Acts 16:16-18). One of the ways God arrests people's attention is by a spectacular deliverance like this. Sometimes it is in the realm of the physical, as when Paul, preaching at Lystra, saw a man lame from birth and said to him, "Rise, stand upon your feet; Jesus Christ makes you well." And sometimes, as in this case, it is in the realm of the spirit. This teenage girl, a slave, whom today we would call a medium or even a witch, was possessed by an evil spirit who used her as a channel to convey clairvoyant messages, interpreting various events of the day and predicting the future for people. She was exploited for revenue by a group of unscrupulous owners. This girl followed Paul and the others around and declared wherever they went: "These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation." Platform for Subversion Actually this was a very dangerous, satanic attack upon the gospel. The devil knows the power of the Word of God, and he knew what these men could do in Philippi if they got a chance. So he was already prepared to adopt his most powerful tactic: to derail their proclamation right at the beginning by appearing to be in line with it, by attempting to form an alliance and thus gaining a position from which eventually to subvert the whole program. 110

The devil has only two basic approaches: either apparent alliance or outright attack--one or the other. Of the two, alliance is by far the more dangerous because it appears to be so helpful. What this girl said was perfectly, absolutely true. These men were indeed servants of the Most High God, and had indeed come to declare the way of salvation. So, you might ask, why didn't they welcome this? For the same reason that Jesus never allowed a person possessed of an evil spirit to give testimony to him. In the Gospels we are told that wherever Jesus went, the evil spirits would cry out, "Thou art the Son of the Most High God!" And Jesus would always rebuke them, saying, "Hold your peace." Why? For two reasons: first, if men were drawn to him on that basis, they would be coming with a wrong motive. Anyone who deals with mediums, witches, astrology, or any aspect of the occult is always motivated by self-interest. They want to use these forces to benefit themselves in some way. Second, it would not be very long before the truth, which was originally proclaimed as bait to lead people on, would be mixed with error, and very serious error at that. Then people would be sucked in so that they could no longer tell the difference between truth and error. That is the story of every cult that bears the name of Christianity in the world today. They all began with a proclamation of truth, but soon error began to be intermingled, and eventually people were led right off the track. Someone once sent me a book titled Edgar Cayce's Story of Jesus. Perhaps you know who Edgar Cayce was; he lived earlier in this century and was called "the sleeping prophet." He would go into a trance and pour out volumes of information supposedly from the spirit world. He has been hailed as a leading prophet of our generation. Because some of his predictions came true, he is regarded, even by some Christians (unfortunately) as an authoritative spokesman. His followers have now published this book, in which he takes the facts of the New Testament and interweaves with them a lot of spiritualistic revelations and clairvoyant readings. It is a mishmash of spiritism and Christianity, all designed to first attract people with the truth and then lead them into error. That is why Paul was annoyed. The word "annoyed" might seem to suggest that Paul was merely irritated by this woman who kept following him around. But the word actually means "deeply troubled." Paul was deeply troubled because he knew what would happen if he allowed or recognized her testimony. So finally, in the power of the Spirit of God, he turned and said, "I charge you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her." The spirit came out that very hour, and the girl was set free. Violence Allowed It must have been a tremendous blessing to her heart to be delivered from this evil thing. But, as always, the devil was quick to twist everything to his own ends. That which was a blessing to this girl he immediately employed to awaken serious opposition, just as he did after the healing of the lame man in Lystra. But remember that one of God's ways of opening a community is to allow the devil to arouse violent opposition. Look what happens now: But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market place before the rulers; and when they had brought them to the magistrates they said, "These men are Jews and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs which it is not lawful for us Romans to accept or practice." The crowd joined in attacking them; and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks (Acts 16:19-24). God permitted this opposition in order to open a door for a church to be implanted in this city. This may appear to be a self-contradictory statement, but think this through with me. When Paul and his men preached the message of truth in Philippi, opposition mounted rapidly, soon erupting in outright violence. Why? This was a sure sign that one of the enemy's strongholds was being attacked. Philippi was a place where evil was long-standing and deeply imbedded. The enemy knew that when this stronghold fell, the whole surrounding area would be open to the gospel. "The weapons of our warfare are not worldly but have divine power to destroy strongholds" (2 Cor. 10:4). That is why there was so much opposition. But by allowing it to happen, God was laying the groundwork for further steps in his plan to deliver the city of Philippi. 111

The particular stronghold of evil at Philippi found its expression in the pride of the citizens in their status as a Roman colony. Notice how clever the owners of this girl were. They immediately hauled Paul and Silas before the magistrates on the charge that they were challenging the rights of Romans. "They advocate customs which it is not lawful for us Romans to accept or practice." Paul and Silas had touched their point of pride, and their reaction was no longer logical but emotional. A lynch mob formed immediately over this emotional issue. The crowd responded wildly, and, as calculated, the magistrates were swept off their feet, with the end result that Paul and Silas were beaten. According to the official Roman punishment, their backs were bared and they were beaten with rods as thick as a man's thumb until their backs were bloody and raw. Then the magistrates charged the jailer to put them into the innermost cell of the dungeon. In the darkness and dampness he locked their feet in stocks so they couldn't even turn over. This violent reaction shows how deeply the power of evil was entrenched in this town. Singing at Midnight But we have not yet come to the end of the story. The fourth method God uses here is dramatic intervention. But about midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's fetters were unfastened (Acts 10:25,26). There is nothing unusual about an earthquake in this region; to this day earthquakes are common in northern Macedonia. It was the timing of it that was supernatural. God released the earthquake, precipitating it precisely at the right moment and thus setting Paul, Silas, and the other prisoners free. The most dramatic aspect of this story, though, is not the earthquake, nor the fact that the prison was damaged and fetters unfastened, It is the singing of Paul and Silas at midnight. Somebody has said that the gospel entered Europe through a sacred concert which was so successful that it brought the house down! Frankly, I am filled with admiration for these men. Imagine--they were praising God! (That is the meaning of the word "praying" here.) They were not asking for anything; they were praising God and singing hymns. They were not faking either, Their backs were raw and bloody, and they had suffered a great injustice. They were facing agonizing uncertainty, with no way of knowing that this delivering earthquake was coming (since they had not requested it), but they exhibited no self-pity or resentment. All this is accentuated by the solemn words "at midnight." Everything--pain and heartache and disappointment--is always the worst at midnight. But it was at midnight that they began praising God and singing hymns. I don't know what they sang. I know what I would be singing: "Rescue the Perishing, Care for the Dying"! But they were probably singing "How Great Thou Art!" Evidently they sang because they could see things that we in our poor, blinded condition seldom see. These were men of faith, and I think I know some of what they saw. When you see it, you will no longer ask, "Why did they sing?" but, "What else could they do but sing?" They saw, first, that the enemy had panicked. Paul and Silas and all these other early Christians were always conscious of what Paul describes in Ephesians 6: that we are battling not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers and wicked spirits in high places. This is a spiritual battle which is tough and demanding, and where every inch of the way will be contested. But they were delighted when they saw that the enemy had resorted to violence, because that always means that he has already emptied his bag of tricks. He is down to the bottom of the barrel, and there is nothing left. They knew they had won. The second thing they saw was that God, in his resurrection power, was at work in the situation. Resurrection power cannot be stopped. As Paul would later write to these Philippians, "What has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel." All attempts to oppose the gospel, or to throw an obstacle in its path, are turned around and used as opportunities for advancement. Paul and Silas knew this, and so they were assured that the work was established, that it would continue, and that they had won. Resurrection power was at work. The Privilege of Suffering


The third thing they understood in all this was that suffering--physical, mental, and emotional suffering--is absolutely necessary to Christian maturity. They themselves had been benefited by this experience. Again, Paul would write to these same Philippians and say, For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake (Phil. 1:29). Suffering is part of the program. They knew this was so because it was part of the program for the Son of God. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews says, Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and being made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Heb. 5:8,9). Suffering is an absolutely inescapable part of the curriculum. You will never grow up, you will never be what God wants you to be, without some form of suffering. When you learn that, you will start rejoicing when you encounter suffering, as these men rejoiced. They saw that the foe had been defeated, that the work was established, and that they personally had benefited. So they began to rejoice and sing and thank God for what they saw. The heart of God was so blessed by this that he said, "I just can't hold still; I'm going to shake the place up a bit!" Now we see the next step in the pattern. According to their established routine they had come to town and proclaimed the Word; they had expected God to do something, and then, when the results began to show, they started the operation of body life--the life of the family of God. This is what happened: When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, "Men, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their wounds, and he was baptized at once, with all his family. Then he brought them up into his house, and set food before them; and he rejoiced with all his household that he had believed in God (Acts 16:27-34). The result is that a church is formed right there. They had reached some women before, but a church must include both men and women, as well as all classes of society. Here were the men--the jailer and his family and household, servants and all. They came because of the crisis in this jailer's life. There are some who read these words of the jailer, 'Men, what must I do to be saved?" as though he were saying, "Men, how do I get out of this mess? How do I square myself with the authorities?" But I am confident that this is not what he is asking, because the answer of Paul and Silas is, "If you believe in the Lord Jesus, you will be saved, you and your household." The household was not in trouble with the magistrates; the jailer was. So he must be talking about eternal things. If you refer to what had just happened to him, you can see why. He thought his prisoners were free, and he knew that his own life would be taken if they got away. So, rather than allow the authorities to take his life he was going to do it himself. He had drawn his sword and was ready to plunge it into his breast. He was about to die when Paul stopped him with the dramatic words, "Do not harm yourself, for we are all here." When men are about to die they start thinking about what lies beyond. That is what is behind the jailer's question. Paul and Silas responded with the only possible answer: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." The word "believe" governs the entire sentence. If his household believes, they too will be saved. They are not saved because this man believed; they will be saved when they believe. Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house. They all believed, so they were all saved, and that was the beginning of Gods family in Philippi. The immediate reaction of the jailer was to wash their wounds. What a beautiful picture! This man who just a few hours before had thrown them in the cell and had brutally locked them in stocks was now washing their wounds, sponging away all the blood and dirt and filth and tenderly taking care of the men to whom he had been joined in the family of God. That is the beginning of body life--the immediate sharing of one another's problems, the bearing of one another's 113

burdens. They also rejoiced together, which is another aspect of body life. In a great time of celebration they welcomed each other into the family of God. For the Sake of the Body The last section continues the theme of the beginning of body life, and it must be read in that context in order to he understood. But when it was day, the magistrates sent the police, saying, "Let those men go." And the jailer reported the words to Paul, saying, "The magistrates have sent to let you go; now therefore come out and go in peace." But Paul said to them, "They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and now do they cast us out secretly? No! let them come themselves and take us out." The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens; so they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. So they went out of the prison, and visited Lydia; and when they had seen the brethren, they exhorted them and departed (Acts 16:35-40). There is humor in Paul's response here. The police told Paul he could go, but he said, "No! We're not going. They beat us, though uncondemned, breaking the law themselves. Now let them come down and ask us to leave." And so these magistrates, who had just cast them into prison, came down, hats in hand, and apologized for their treatment of these two, and begged them to leave town. Paul said, "Very well, we'll leave, but we'll take our time about it. We want to have lunch with Lydia first, and then we'll visit some of the brethren." Who are the brethren? This is the first mention of any male converts here in Philippi other than the jailer. One time, after I had preached a message on this passage, a delightful college student came up to me and asked, "Who were these brethren?" I told him I didn't know, and he said, "Do you know who I think they were? I think they were the prisoners who had been listening to Paul and Silas sing at midnight." I think he was right. We are not told what happened to them, but the prisoners were listening intently, and they too were freed by this event. You might ask, "Why did Paul raise the issue of his Roman citizenship at this point?" Some think he was being a bit prickly and difficult, somewhat vengeful for his own sake. But we must read this in the context of what he is doing with the body of Christ here at Philippi. He could have invoked his status in his own defense much earlier. Had he mentioned that he was a Roman citizen when they were about to beat him, he probably could have spared himself the beating. He did not say a word then, but now he does, for the sake of the Christians in the city of Philippi. You can see what a difference it made for these magistrates to come down to the prison and apologize to Paul and Silas, and to publicly acknowledge their illegal treatment. This put the church on an entirely different standing within the community. So it is clear that Paul did this for the sake of the body. His final act is to gather the brethren together and to exhort them, teach them, and admonish them to go on in the Lord. When you read the Letter to the Philippians, written from Paul's Roman prison--again in prison, still rejoicing--you can see that this letter is full of triumph. He is still exhorting the believers to rejoice, still teaching them and ministering to the body. That is a principle the early Christians always followed. The minute believers came together they began sharing one another's burdens, praying for one another, rejoicing together, and living together the life of Jesus Christ. It is crucially important for the church to recover this again in our own day. Father, we pray that we will demonstrate the life of Christ not only in some outward, external fashion, but most of all in the way we accept one another, pray for one another, seek to help one another, bear one another's burdens, and meet one another's needs. Lord, help us to brighten the hearts and lives of lonely people around us by our warmth and willingness to share something of the joy we have together. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

Chapter Seven Rabble and Nobles Acts 17:1-15

Once God had established a bridgehead in the midst of the entrenched evil of Philippi, he then moved Paul and Silas westward, leaving Luke and Timothy behind in Philippi for the time being. Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Appollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And Paul went in, as was his custom, and for three weeks he argued with them from the scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ," And some of them were persuaded, and joined Paul and Silas; as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women (Acts 17:1-4). Paul and Silas were following the famous Roman road called the Egyptian Way, which crossed Macedonia and connected the Adriatic Sea with the Black Sea. The cities mentioned here all lie on that road. Here we see something of the apostle's strategy as he was led of the Spirit to move into various cities, passing through some and stopping in others. He always chose the most strategic center from which the gospel might reach out into the surrounding area. In this particular region it was Thessalonica. I once visited that city, and as I stood on the old Roman wall which formed the northern city limits I could see the old Via Egnatia winding down out of the hills into the city proper. In my mind's eye I could picture Paul and Silas and the little band of Christian brethren coming down that road into the city. You might get the impression from this account that this journey was a rather pleasant afternoon's stroll. But Amphipolis is 33 miles from Philippi, a long day's journey on foot. Apollonia is some 30 miles from Amphipolis, another day's journey. Thessalonica is 37 miles beyond Apollonia, and that is also a long day's journey. It must have taken Paul at least three days to trudge from Philippi to Thessalonica, even though Luke dismisses this hundred-mile trek with just a sentence. When they entered Thessalonica they first found a synagogue of the Jews, and for three sabbath mornings. Paul reasoned with them out of the Scriptures. He was undoubtedly in the city much longer than three weeks, but he was limited to three weeks' ministry within the synagogue itself. He was soon excluded from teaching further there, as we will see. If you wonder what he was doing the rest of the week, he tells us in Second Thessalonians: For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, we did not eat any one's bread without paying, but with toil and labor we worked night and day, that we might not burden any of you (2 Thess. 3:7,8). Paul made tents all through the week, but on Saturday he went into the synagogue and taught. Using the Scriptures, he dealt with that great stumbling block to the Jews--the death and resurrection of Christ. These people, like Jews all over the world at that time, were having a great struggle over Jesus of Nazareth. They could only accept him as the Messiah if they were not confronted with the facts of his death. A suffering, crucified Messiah was a great offense to them. Selective Reading These Jews read their Scriptures much as we sometimes read ours. They picked out all the passages they liked and kept reading these over and over. Eventually they thought that this was all the Scriptures said about the Messiah. They liked the passages which dealt with the majesty of the Messiah, when he would come in his royal power and establish his kingdom over all the world. They expected him to come and subdue all enemies, cause war and strife to cease, and reign in triumphant splendor and glory. But they ignored those passages which dealt with a suffering and crucified Messiah, and with the necessity for a resurrection. Some of the Jewish rabbis had actually come up with the idea that there were two Messiahs. One they called Messhiach ben David (that is, Messiah the son of David). This was the glorious, triumphant king. Another they called Messhiach ben Joseph, from one Old Testament passage which some rabbis interpreted as teaching that the Messiah would be the son of Joseph, and that he would be the suffering One. Very likely this teaching is what John the Baptist had in mind when he was in prison. Discouraged, he sent word to Jesus, "Are you he who is to come, or should we look for another?" Paul showed them there is only one. "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ, the Messiah." I imagine he started with Isaiah 53:


But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord has laid upon him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:5,6). What an impact he would have made with that passage! And perhaps he used Psalm 22, which opens with the words of Jesus from the cross: "My God, my God, why hast then forsaken me?" This psalm goes on to describe the sufferings of his death, the agony that he went through. Then Paul must have brought in the resurrection passages, like Psalm 16: "For thou wilt not...permit thine Holy One to see corruption." With passages such as these Paul reasoned with these Jews, proving that Jesus was the Christ. The account says, And some of them were persuaded." Here we find three groups of people who responded to his message. The toughest nuts to crack were these religious Jews. In any community, religious people are always the most resistant. They are the ones most set in their ways, most prejudiced; they are the hardest to reach, because they think they know it all already. He reached only a few of these. But there was also a great band of unprejudiced Gentiles--Greeks who had tired of the emptiness of their and satisfying glory about the gospel, and they pagan philosophies and had come to the synagogue hoping to hear the truth about the living God. They had been attracted by the Jewish Scriptures. They knew there was something here, but they had not yet become Jews and were not yet circumcised. As these Gentiles heard the word of the gospel they were tremendously impressed, and many believed. Appeal to Women Among them, Luke is careful to point out, was a group of the leading women of the city. You find this emphasis in several places in this book. This gospel had a particular appeal to women, especially to women of the upper classes, who were prominent citizens of these Greek cities. The reason was that these educated women, instructed in the philosophies of Greece, had found that the Greek philosophies were dead and empty, offering nothing for the heart or for the spirit within. They instructed the mind but did nothing for the soul. And further, they were philosophies full of voluptuous and degrading practices which left these women devastated and filled with self-loathing if they gave in to them. So they had turned from their philosophies to Judaism, only to find themselves burdened with difficult and cumbersome regulations which again left them empty. Then the gospel came with the glad good news that in Jesus Christ there is neither male or female, bond nor free, black nor white, nor any other distinction, that all the distinctions men make were broken down, all the middle walls of partition removed. These women responded joyously! They found a liberating, fulfilling, and satisfying glory about the gospel, and they responded to the grace of God in Jesus Christ, inviting the Lord Jesus to enter their hearts. So there was a tremendous impact upon the city because of this conversion of a great band of Gentiles, including these leading women. Rabble-Rousers The devil, as you might expect by now, struck back immediately. The next section shows us what occurred when Paul and Silas had reached these people in the city with their preaching: But the Jews were jealous, and taking some wicked fellows of the rabble, they gathered a crowd, set the city in an uproar, and attacked the house of Jason, seeking to bring them out to the people. And when they could not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brethren before the city authorities, crying, "These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also, and Jason has received them; and they are all acting against the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus." And the people and the city authorities were disturbed when they heard this. And when they had taken security from Jason and the rest, they let them go (Acts 17:5-9). We are told here that the Jews were jealous. They were unable to win against the power of the Scriptures and the logic of the apostles, and so they revealed the lawlessness in their own hearts by turning, literally, to "the loafers of the marketplace," young men who were what today we would call hoods or toughs--radicals who knew how to manipulate a crowd.


In this the Jews followed a classic pattern. They started a disturbance which attracted a crowd. When the crowd gathered around them, they inflamed them with emotional words and propaganda until the crowd was brought to a fever pitch. Then they gave them a victim to attack. They turned against Paul and Silas for no reason whatsoever. These Jews were skilled manipulators who could incite the people to an unprovoked and groundless attack upon the apostles. Here, as at Philippi, was another lynch mob. But now notice how God works: he is fully in control, and just before the mob arrives he sends Paul and Silas out for a cup of coffee or something; they simply are not there when the crowd arrives. So the mob had to be satisfied with dragging Jason, the host, and some of the brethren, and bringing them before the city authorities. The charges against Paul and Silas are very interesting. There is a germ of truth in them, but as a whole they are obviously false. They were charged, first, with being notorious troublemakers. "These men who have turned the world upside down have come here also." I don't know whether these authorities had heard about the trouble in Philippi or not. Perhaps they simply recognized Paul and Silas as Jews and, since the Jews were in trouble in Rome at that very time, they may have identified them with that trouble. Whatever the reason, what they said was true: these were indeed men who had turned the world upside down. But what they didn't realize was that the world was already upside down! When you turn something upside down which is already upside down, you turn it right side up! The world was turned upside down at the fall of Adam, and it has been operating in reverse ever since. That is why it never works right. In the final analysis everything seems to fall apart. In spite of the best efforts of men, we are still struggling with the same problems men wrestled with in the days of Noah, before the flood. No progress whatsoever has been made, because the world is upside down. But now the gospel comes in and turns it right side up. As men and women respond to the gospel, God's original intent for man begins to be worked out in their lives. Peace and tranquility and prosperity and progress and harmony and love and grace--all these wonderful things begin to flow out of a community which is operating in the fullness of life provided in Jesus Christ. So they were indeed men who turned the world upside down. The second charge was that they were challenging Caesar's authority, that they were preaching another king--Jesus. Paul had in fact been declaring the kingship of Jesus, the fact that all men relate to him in some way. His spiritual kingdom encompasses the whole of humanity, and men live within that kingdom whether they like it or not. He is indeed Lord of all things, and men have a relationship to him. But of course these men interpreted that as a challenge to the authority of Caesar. They thought the apostles were political insurrectionists. Paid to Leave Town They finally settled the matter by taking security from Jason, which sounds as though Paul and Silas were released on bail. But if that is the case, they became bail jumpers, because immediately they went away by night to Berea. It is impossible to believe that Paul and Silas would try to cheat justice in this way. This must mean, then, that Jason had to give a certain amount of money as a guarantee that Paul and Silas would leave Thessalonica and never return. That is probably what Paul refers to in his First Letter to the Thessalonians: But since we were bereft of you, brethren, for a short time, in person not in heart, we endeavored the more eagerly and with great desire to see you face to face; because we wanted to come to you--I, Paul, again and again--but Satan hindered us (1 Thess. 2:17,18). What hindered him was very likely this guarantee against his return. The next stop is the city of Berea: The brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea; and when they arrived they went into the Jewish synagogue. Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Many of them therefore believed, with not a few Greek women of high standing as well as men (Acts 17:10-12). Berea is a very pleasant little city lying in the foothills of the Olympic Mountains, about sixty miles southwest of Thessalonica. Some time ago Dr. Dick Hillis and I had the privilege of standing on the steps of the synagogue where Paul preached in Berea. This ancient synagogue has been excavated, and the fact has been established that this was the actual 117

synagogue in which Paul preached. We took great joy in standing on those steps and trying to preach to each other! Later I entered the evangelical church in Berea, and when I went to the pulpit and found the Greek Bible, I opened it to this very text: Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with all eagerness, examining the scriptures daily to see if these things were so. Luke draws a sharp contrast between the rabble in Thessalonica--with their unthinking, prejudiced minds, and their emotional, impulsive actions--and these Jews in Berea, who were more noble. In what way were they noble? Their nobility was that they not only received the word but also checked it out with the Scriptures. A noble person is one who has both an open mind and a cautious heart. The Scriptures are given to us as our guide, so that we can tell what is true and what is false, what is right and what is wrong. Unless a Christian uses these Scriptures, he is lost in a sea of relativism; his mind becomes confused and blinded, and he can be misled and easily manipulated, as the rabble manipulated the crowd in Thessalonica. These Jews, however, had the nobility to find out whether what Paul said was confirmed by the Scriptures. The value of this story to us, and the reason Luke includes it, is that we might learn the necessity of testing any man's word. Don't listen to just one man's tapes, or read only one man's books or messages. This is a very dangerous practice. You will be misled by his errors and you won't know how to recognize them. Never give yourself to following a single man. Paul writes to the Corinthians, "You who do this are carnal. You follow Apollos or Cephas or Paul, but we are all provided for your instruction. You need us all." Do not ever limit yourself to a single man's ministry, including mine. Establish what the Word of God says; that is the authority. To Establish the Church The account concludes with a very familiar pattern: But when the Jews of Thessalonica learned that the word of God was proclaimed by Paul at Berea also, they came there too, stirring up and inciting the crowds. Then the brethren immediately sent Paul off on his way to the sea, but Silas and Timothy remained there. Those who conducted Paul brought him as far as Athens and receiving a command for Silas and Timothy to come to him as soon as possible, they departed (Acts 17:13-15). Here come the hounds of hell, panting down the road from Thessalonica. These Jews are not content to drive Paul out of Thessalonica; they pursue him for sixty miles, and when they arrive, they employ the same familiar tactics. They move in and stir up the thoughtless crowds, who in turn set upon Paul and Silas, so that poor Paul has to slip out of the city again by night. (It seems like Paul never left a city by daylight!) Now he is on his way by sea to Athens, leaving Silas and Timothy behind to establish the church. And of course this is the point of the whole story. Paul is free to leave because he has left a church behind. God has implanted a believing community which will be a bridgehead in the midst of the evil of that city, arresting its corruption and dispelling its darkness as they operate in the freedom and liberty of the body of Christ. There may be a stiff battle for a while, but eventually the light will penetrate the darkness and men will be able to think straight and act righteously, even though they are not yet Christians. The light of the gospel lifts the whole level of community life. That is why Paul was so concerned that these young Christians left in Berea and Thessalonica would grow in grace, understanding the power committed to them and exercising it to set these communities free. When I was in Berea I found that the church which Paul had implanted has now become the persecutor. The Spirit has had to break in afresh with a new body of believers who meet in secret places so as to avoid persecution and oppression. The Greek Orthodox Church, lineal successor to the church that Paul started in Greece, has now become sunken in apathy, liturgy, ritual, and dead orthodoxy, and is persecuting the fresh, alive, evangelical church of these areas. The church I visited was deliberately built behind a group of buildings in a little compound, where it could be partially hidden. The believers could not advertise their meetings and had to meet secretly, at unscheduled times. They could not openly evangelize within the city, but had to meet from house to house. Yet a very fruitful work was going on in these cities. This should indicate to us that any group can become the instrument of evil as well as good if the life of the body in that group is not kept fresh and vital. When a group does lose its savor and its light, it becomes an instrument of evil and 118

darkness. Then God has to awaken a new body, pouring new wine into new wineskins so that the freshness and vitality of the gospel will not be hindered. Finally, brethren, farewell. Mend your ways, heed my appeal, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you...The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all (2 Cor. 13:11,14).

Chapter Eight Athens Versus Paul Acts 17:16-34
At the time of Paul's visit to Athens that city was no longer important as a political seat; Corinth was the commercial and political center of Greece under the Roman Caesars. But Athens was still the university center of the world. It was the heir of the great philosophers, the city of Pericles and Demosthenes, of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, and Euripides-these men who established patterns of thought that have affected human learning for centuries. Almost all philosophies follow, in some degree, the teachings of these men. But Athens was long past its zenith when Paul visited it. It was now four hundred years after the golden age of Greece, and though Athens was still a center of art, beauty, culture, and knowledge, the city had lost all political importance. Paul came down from Berea with certain unnamed Christians and was left alone in Athens. He sent word back to Silas and Timothy, whom he had left in Berea, to join him there. Evidently the apostle did not intend to stay long in Athens. He was heading for Corinth, for Paul always focused upon those centers of commerce where the influence of a church would be borne rapidly into the surrounding regions. He had decided to wait for Silas and Timothy in Athens, and Luke now tells us what happened there: Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he argued in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market place every day with those who chanced to be there. Some also of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers met him (Acts 17:16-18). This section is a powerful revelation of why the gospel needs to be presented to every culture and every age of the world. While Paul was waiting, he did what any tourist does in Athens: he went sightseeing. Athens is a striking city: it boasts the great temples of the Acropolis, crowned by the Parthenon (now in a ruined state but nevertheless still one of the most beautiful buildings in all the world), as well as many other theaters, temples, and marketplaces. As the apostle walked around the city he saw the gods of Athens, the idols that were being worshipped. According to one contemporary source, there were thirty thousand gods in Athens at this time! Petronius, one of the ancient historians, said that is was easier to find a god in Athens than a man! Many of these statues have survived, and copies of them are widely displayed as samples of ancient art. But Paul recognized that these were not merely objects of art, but actually idols whom the people of Athens worshipped. Provoked to Preach Luke tells us that Paul's spirit was provoked when he saw this. This Greek word translated "provoked" is the basis for our word "proxysm." Paul's spirit was gripped by an intense paroxysm, a storm within, as he saw the city given over to idolatry. Although the idols revealed that these men and women of Athens had a great capacity for God, each idol also revealed a distortion which sabotaged that capacity. What Paul felt was very much akin to what must have moved a group of Christian students, some time ago, to run an ad in their university newspaper, from which this paragraph is taken: Why are we Christians willing to follow Jesus into suffering in order to accomplish his mission of liberation? Because Jesus has changed our minds about a lot of things, and we can no longer tolerate the foolishness and futility that is passed out as wisdom at this university. We are tired of the "enlightenment" of this age which is blindly ignorant of its intellectual slavery to materialism and its contradictory obligation to ethical relativism. We are tired of seeing people's lives wasted and unfulfilled because of their submission to the established world order. 119

That expresses exactly what the apostle felt as he moved about and saw the cloud of idolatry that hung over this city, blotting out the truth and plunging these people into the darkness of superstitution. So Paul began to preach. He could not help it; he knew that the only message that could help people in this groups to whom he spoke. First, he went into the synagogue and spoke to the religious people, the Jews and devout persons who where there. These Jews (and the Greeks who were following Judaism) were opposed to the idolatry of the city but could do nothing to prevent it. They themselves were delivered from idolatry, but they were powerless to deliver the city because they were focusing on their own religious experience. To them Paul preached the gospel with seemingly little effect. Then there were the common citizens of the city whom he met in the marketplace, the agora of ancient Greece-tradesmen, people going about their business, commercial people coming in with their wares to the city square. Here were people who were unthinking victims of the idolatry that held the city in its grip. They were sunken in superstition and gripped by fear, uncertainty, dread of darkness, and inner tensions and turmoil-all results of following false gods. Atheists and Pantheists Then there was a third group, the philosophers. Although these men were free from the crass idolatry of the city, they were offering the barren concepts of pagan philosophy as an alternative. Two kinds of philosophies are mentioned here, epicureanism and stoicism, and these same systems of thought are very much in evidence today. The Epicureans were atheists; they denied God's existence and a life after death. They were also materialists; they felt that since this life was the only thing that really existed, men should therefore get the most out of it. To them, pleasure was the highest virtue and pain was the greatest evil. Their motto (and it still persists to this day) was "Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die." They were existentialists, living for the experience of the moment. The Stoics, followers of the philosopher Zeno, were pantheists. They believed that everything is God and that he does not exist as a separate entity. Rather, he is in the rocks and trees and every material thing. Their attitude toward life was one of ultimate resignation, and they prided themselves on their ability to take whatever came. Their motto, in modern terms, was "Grin and bear it." Also, they taught moderation; they urged their followers not to become overemotional, either about tragedy or happiness. Apathy was regarded as the highest virtue of life. There are many people today who feel that the best thing they can do is to take whatever comes and handle it the best they can. They are proud fatalists, just as these Stoics were. Contempt and Curiosity Luke gives us the initial reaction of these two philosophical groups to Paul's teaching: And some said, "What would this babbler say?"[Those were the Epicureans.] Others said, 'He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities"--[because he preached Jesus and the resurrection, [These were the Stoics.] And they took hold of him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, "May we know what this new teaching is which you present? For you bring some strange things to our ears; we wish to know therefore what these things mean. Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new (Acts 17:18-21). The Epicureans, who were basically atheistic materialists, were contemptuous of what they heard from Paul. They treated him with utter disdain. They said, "What would this babbler say?" The word "babbler" is literally "seed-pecker." They saw Paul as one of the little birds in the marketplace going around pecking at seeds here and there. They regarded him as a mere collector of fragments of truth, gathering a few choice words from philosophies that he had picked up along the way and trying to impress people. They smiled and dismissed him contemptuously. The Stoics, however, were more interested. But Luke is careful to tell us that their interest did not arise out of a genuine desire to know and understand what Paul said, but out of a shallow curiosity. They were intrigued by the fact that he seemed to present two new gods, one named Jesus and the other named Resurrection. This was not an unusual concept for Athens; throughout the city you could find altars erected to various themes. There were altars to Shame, Reason, Virtue, and various other concepts. When they heard Paul speak of resurrection, they thought this was the name of a god 120

and that he was preaching two new deities. They pricked up their ears because, as Luke said, "All they lived for was to hear something new." Here in ancient Athens were all the classes of humanity that are still with us today. There were the religious oddballs, remote from life and powerless to affect it; there were the thoughtless idolators, sunken in superstition, living lives of quiet desperation, as do millions of people today; there were the atheistic existentialists; and there were the self-sufficient fatalists. To all these the apostle presented one thing--the delivering word of Jesus, the word of the power of God unto salvation. In due course the people brought Paul before the Areopagus. If you visit Athens today you will be taken up a small rocky hill without buildings, west of the Acropolis and told that this is the Mars Hill where Paul addressed the Athenian philosophers. But although the word "Areopagus does mean Mars Hill, it was also the name given to a court of judges who had the final authority in the city of Athens at this time. It is much more likely that it was this court before whom Paul was brought. They no longer met on Mars Hill, although they had originally done so. By this time they were probably meeting in one of the porches surrounding the marketplace. So it is before the court of the Areopagus that Paul appeared. Point of Contact In the message Paul gave to them we have a splendid example of just how the gospel operates to deliver men. He began with a most captivating introduction: So Paul, standing in the middle of the Areopagus, said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you" (Acts 17:22,23). A good introduction always begins where people are, and Paul began right where these Athenians were. He did not denounce them, he did not attack their idolatry; in fact, he paid them a compliment as far as he could. He said to them, "As I've been walking about your city, -fearers. But the word he chose for "god" was rather unusual. Instead of the common word, theos, which means God I've noticed one thing about you: you are a very religious people." The expression he used was literally "you are god in his greatness, he chose the word daimon, demon, by which he implied that the gods they worshipped were lesser concepts than the great idea of God. They understood that he meant to compliment them because they had a concept of and a capacity for God. They were very much involved with and interested in God. Then he said he had come upon an altar to an unknown god. There were several of these in Athens. Many centuries before, a plague had been arrested by turning loose a flock of sheep within the city. Wherever the sheep were found they were slain and offered to a god. If slain near the altar of a recognized god they were they were dedicated to that god, but if they were slain apart from any of these, an altar was erected and dedicated to an unknown god! Paul found one of these and said, "This is the God I want to talk about. What you worship ignorantly I have come to declare to you." In this great introduction the emptiness of paganism is revealed. If you do not worship the true God, there is no end to your search; you will keep on going forever. The Athenians had thirty thousand gods, but even these were not enough; they had also erected altars to an unknown god! How clearly this voices the agony of humanity, the cry for a God they know exists but whom they cannot find. Maker and Giver In the rest of his message Paul first unfolds the truth about the living God which idolatry denied. Then he shows them the corresponding truth about man, which followed as a logical result of the truth about God: The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything (Acts 17:24, 25). What he is saying here is that God is the Maker and not the one who was made. God was not created by man; he is the one who makes man and everything else that exists in all the universe. He is the originator of all things. We have not moved very far from ancient idolatry. They used to take a piece of gold or silver or wood and carve or form an idol, thus 121

worshipping the works of men's hands. Today we don't use images, but we still see men worshipping themselves, projected to infinite proportions. Man simply thinks of himself, projects this into infinity, and worships that; that is his god--and that is exactly what idolatry is. Paul points out that this is not in line with reality. God is not the projection of man; God is greater than man; he is the Maker, and not the made. Second, God is the Giver, and does not have any needs himself. "The God who made the world and everything in it is not served by human hands as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything." Idolatry and paganism taught that men had to bring gifts to the gods, they had to do things for their gods, to propitiate them and sacrifice to them and bring them all kinds of things. Today men are still doing the same thing. We are not free from idolatry, for if a god is that which is the most important thing in a person's life, to which he gives his time and effort and energy, that which occupies the primary place of importance to him, then men have many gods even today. Money, fame, your children, yourself--all these and more can be your gods. You can even worship your country as your god. I am appalled at the number of people today who worship America and enthrone it as the highest value in life, the only thing which they would give their lives, the only thing worth living for. These false gods make continual demands upon us; they do nothing for us, but we must work for them. Paul cancels all this out. He says the real God is one who gives, who pours out. He does not need anything from you. He does not live in temples made by man. I'm sure Paul must have pointed to the Parthenon as he said this, for it was regarded as the home of Athene, the goddess for whom the city was named. God does not live in places like that, Paul said, and there is nothing you can give him that he needs. Rather, he is continually giving himself to you. Seekers Are Rewarded The third great truth was to show how God draws men and does not seek to evade them. To the pagans the gods dwelt on remote Mount Olympus. Men had to go through perilous and hazardous journeys in order to find and placate their gods, while the gods hid themselves from men. But Paul's message is that the true God is not doing that: And he made from one every nation of men to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their habitation, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel after him and find him (Acts 17:26,27). The true God is the God of history. He made man as one race, originating from one source. The interesting thing is that today this statement is as scientifically sound as when it was first uttered. Science today admits that there is only one race of men, one species, Homo sapiens. Despite the differences in skin color, body size, and facial features that exist around the world there is only one race of men. They all come from one source. Furthermore, God has intervened to direct their lives throughout the curse of history. He has determined where they will live and how long they will live there, as well as how long it should take for a nation or an empire to rise and then fall again--not arbitrarily, but based upon their reaction to the one great reason for which human beings exist, that they might find God, "that they might feel after him and find him." The events of human history have all served the one great purpose that men might be motivated to search for God. Hebrews 11:6 says, For whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him." In Jeremiah 29:13,14 we read, "When you seek me with all your heart, I will be found by you." God is urging men to seek him. That is why catastrophes come, those tremendously difficult events--in order to show men that they are not independent. It is ridiculous, absurd, and dishonest in the extreme to think that we can operate without God. Our very life and breath come from him continually. Man Is Not Nothing The apostle concludes his address with a wonderful statement about man: Yet he is not far from each one of us, for "In him we live and move and have our being"; as even some of your poets have said, "For we are indeed his offspring." Being then God's offspring, we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all men everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in 122

righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all men by raising him from the dead (Acts 17:27-31). Paul begins with the fact of the dignity of man, recognizing that man is God's offspring. It is not Biblical to go around telling people that man is nothing, that he is vile, that he is a worm. That is not the Biblical view of man as he was created. I sometimes hear Christians talking as though they were nothing and God is everything. Although I understand what they mean, the truth is that man is not a mere nothing. He can do nothing, but the Bible never says that he is nothing. What the Bible says is that man is the image of God, and that he has a capacity to respond to God. Everywhere you go, even among the most degraded and primitive of men, you will find this pattern of the image of God. You will never find a man, woman, boy, or girl who does not have a passion for life, who does not want to live, who is not in revolt against death and boredom and frustration and all the other negative qualities of life. They all want to seize hold of life. And you will never find a man, woman, boy or girl who does not have a passion for dominion, who does not want to succeed, who does not want to reach out and try something new and accomplish new objectives, to conquer new territory. That is because man is made in the image of God. Further, you will never find a human being who does not have some power to create, to invent; some ability to produce or fashion or make or shape. This is inherent in the heart of man everywhere, and sets man apart and distinct from animals. These are all part of the image of God, and this image is man's greatest dignity. But right along with this the apostle mentions the tragedy of man. "Being God's offspring [which even your pagan poets recognize is true], we ought not to think that the Deity is like gold, or silver, or stone, a representation by the art and imagination of man." He is saying that if it is true that we are made with a capacity for God, if we know that we are made to contain and reflect God, then it is not only insulting to God to make an idol of him, but it is also degrading to man. It is saying that we can be satisfied with things that are less than ourselves. Wherever people act on that basis, the result is that they return to childish actions. Idolatry of any kind makes a man act like an infant. In Edwin Markham's great poem, "The Man with the Hoe," as he is thinking of man in his low estate, he asks, Is this the thing the Lord God made, and gave To have dominion over sea and land, To trace the stars, and search the heavens for power And feel the passion of eternity? Even in that degraded estate a capacity for God is recognizable. The tragedy is that this capacity is being prostituted into something less than the God for whom it was designed. From Ignorance to Responsibility The last thing Paul points out is man's responsibility, Men have lived, he says, in times of ignorance. Now these "times of ignorance" need to he understood carefully. This phrase does not refer to a certain date on the calendar. It is not speaking of Old Testament times as such, or of past dispensations before the present era. These "times of ignorance" are related only to the individual; they refer to the time in our lives when we, as the offspring of God, were trying to satisfy ourselves with things that were less than God. This is always a time of ignorance, when a man is operating on a level that reveals his utter ignorance of reality. Paul declares that God overlooks these times. He does not wipe us out. He does not judge us, he does not hate us and reject us, but he patiently waits while we live through these struggling times. But the apostle further declares that when a man hears about Jesus, when he hears the good news that Jesus Christ is the way to the heart of God, he then has a responsibility before God to change his mind, to stop acting as he did before. That is what repentance means: a change of mind. You are responsible to change your mind and lay hold of that which God has provided in Jesus Christ. Paul gives us here three great facts which underscore the importance of repentance. First, there is an inescapable day which God has fixed as the time when he will judge the world. Everyone knows this. A day is corning when our life will be laid open before everyone, and all the value of it, or its lack of value, will be evident. On that day every life will be evaluated. Second, there is an unchallengeable judge. The One who will do the evaluating will not be a god, remote upon Mount Olympus, but he will be a Man, someone who has lived right here with us, who knows what human life is like, who has felt everything we feel. He will be the One who passes judgment on that day. Third, God has made this evident 123

to all by an irrefutable fact: he raised that Man from the dead. On that fact Christianity ultimately rests. If you can disprove the resurrection of Jesus you can destroy Christianity in one blow. But as long as that fact remains unshaken, undestroyed, Christianity is indestructible. The fact that God raised Jesus from the dead is the guarantee that everything God says will happen will indeed take place. Luke gives us, in these closing words, the reaction of Athens to Paul's message: Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked; but others said, "We will hear you again about this." So Paul went out from among them. But some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them (Acts 17:32-34). Some mocked, which means their pride was threatened. Mocking is always the defense of pride when it feels itself attacked but has no logical defense; it resorts to ridicule. But Christianity ridiculed is always a sign of weakness, an admission of defeat. Some others delayed their response, succumbing to the curse of the intellectual: academic detachment. They viewed themselves as outside the system they were examining and thus detached from it. "Everyone else is subject to this but us." So they said, "We will listen to you again on this; we need more evidence." Such are the delaying tactics which many intellectuals are using today. But some believed. That is the great word here. Some repented, changed their minds. This indicates that among these intellectuals were some earnest, honest people who were trying to find the answers to life. Such a person was Dionysius the Areopagite. He was one of the judges, an intellectual, a ruler of the city, but he became a Christian, and with him was a woman named Damaris. There were others among them, though we don't know how many--perhaps just a few. Because it was a university city, Athens was much more resistant to the gospel than any other city would be, but there were nevertheless some who believed. Here then is a church planted in Athens. We never hear anything about it again, although I suspect that the Letters to the Corinthians were also shared with the church in Athens, because the cities were not very far apart. Paul addresses the Corinthian Letters to "all those who in every place call on the name of our Lord Jesus." We do not know what happened to the church at Athens except that here in the midst of this darkness the light of Jesus Christ began to shine, and a body was formed. From that body, power began to penetrate into the secluded areas where evil sat entrenched, shaking men loose and setting them free from the chains of darkness. Our Father, we pray for our own age, our own generation, our own world. We know how men have pursued the emptiness of pagan philosophies in our day and how men are trying to satisfy the emptiness within with some lesser concept than you. They can never do so and are therefore rendered restless and unhappy, never finding what they are looking for. Others are resistant to this message, Lord, preening themselves in their intellectual pride, trying to find their own way by the power of reason. Father, we pray that everywhere this great message may have its effect as it did on Athens, and that our darkened society will be set free from its bondage to materialism and made to be what you intended us to be: warm, whole, balanced, happy, excited, and alive. We ask it in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Chapter Nine The Cross in Corinth Acts 18:1-22
From Athens, the intellectual capital of the Roman world, the Apostle Paul now travels to Corinth, the center of sensuality. These two cities are symbols of the twin evils which, in every age and every generation, trap and enslave the hearts of people: intellectual pride and sensual lust. Corinth is about fifty miles west of Athens, and when Paul visited the city it was the capital of the Roman Province of Greece, which they called Achaia. It was a center of commerce and trade, located on a narrow neck of land between the Adriatic Sea and the Aegean Sea. The Greeks had built a skidway across that narrow isthmus, over which they actually dragged small ships on greased skids. Corinth was a magnificent city filled with beautiful temples of all kinds and located in a natural setting that I found breathtaking on my last visit there. It was also the center of the worship of Aphrodite, the goddess of sex. There was a great temple of Aphrodite on the Acrocorinth, the hill in back of the city, and every evening a thousand priestesses of the temple would come down into the city streets to ply their trade as cult prostitutes, indulging in the worship of sex. Thus Corinth had gained a reputation 124

throughout the whole Roman world as the center of sensuality. Whenever a citizen of Corinth was portrayed in a drama, he would he a morally loose character, and usually a drunk. This is the city to which the apostle came, walking all alone in the dust of the road. Corinth was infested with certain stubborn strongholds of evil which the apostle describes in his First Letter to the Corinthians. Sexual license and perversion were rampant. Racial discord was prominent. There were family feuds and political tyranny. And of course spreading over everything was the emptiness and lack of purpose which paganism always produces. Corinth was so very much like our own cities! We live in Corinthian conditions today, and if there is any church in the New Testament with which we could particularly identify, this is the one. Paul arrived in Corinth a total stranger; he had never been there before, and he knew no one. But he was confident that God would open the door. After this he left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, lately come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them: and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them, and they worked, for by trade they were tentmakers. And he argued in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks (Acts 18:1-4). Paul always expected God to lead him to someone who would open the door to a city, and in, Corinth (probably in the marketplace) he ran into a fellow Jew who, like himself, was a tentmaker. This was Aquila, who with his wife, Priscilla, had just been driven out of Rome by the decree of Emperor Claudius. Paul and Aquila began to work together, and, as you can well imagine, it was not very long before Paul led Aquila and Priscilla to Christ. These two are frequently mentioned in the pages of Scripture as faithful workers and helpers of the apostle. Notice in passing that Paul led them to Christ while he was at work. I hope this will encourage you to use your work place as a place for getting to know people, getting to understand their needs, and as a normal place for evangelism--but not on company time. Work I an excellent place to make contacts with people who are searching for answers in life. Kicked Next Door Now when Silas and Timothy rejoined the apostle, arriving in Thessalonica, Paul altered his procedure. We read, When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with preaching, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, "You blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles." And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titus Justus, a worshiper of God; his house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with all his household; and many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized (Acts 18:5-8). Here is the account of a great period of success in the opening weeks at Corinth. Paul taught in the Jewish synagogue, and as usual it was not very long until the preaching of a crucified Christ aroused the hatred and he enmity of the Jews. In his Letter to the Corinthians, Paul speaks of the fact that the word of the cross is to the Jews a stumbling block. It aroused such enmity that they opposed and reviled him, openly attacking and sneering at him. Finally Paul shook his garments against them in the Jewish gesture of detachment and said, "If you will not receive this message I will go to the Gentiles." (This applied only to Corinth because the next place Paul visited he started in the synagogue again.) But he didn't go very far; in fact, he went right next door. It is clear from the Greek text that the house of Titus Justus wand the synagogue actually shared a common wall. So Paul still had access to the synagogue, and the first thing we read about after his move is that Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, was won to Christ. He believed in the Lord, together with all his household. Also among the other citizens of Corinth there was a tremendous response; may who heard Paul believed and were baptized. Although some people claim that Paul did not believe in baptism, it is important to note that everywhere he went his converts were always baptized. As he says in his Letter to these Corinthians, he did not very often baptize himself because he did not want people bragging that the apostle had baptized them. But obviously Silas and Timothy helped him, and all of these converts were baptized. 125

Fear and Trembling The next section of this account reveals the inside story of Paul's reaction to the city of Corinth, which is very interesting: And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, "Do not be afraid, but speak and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man shall attack you to harm you; for I have many people in this city." And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them (Acts 18:9-l1). What the Lord literally said when he appeared to Paul in this night vision was "Stop being afraid but keep right on speaking." This reveals that Paul was indeed becoming afraid. It is quite understandable that he would, for a very familiar pattern was developing. He had seen it before many times. He had come to the synagogue and spoken to the Jews. They had rejected his message. He turned to the Gentiles and there was immediate response, a great flood of people coming in. This aroused the anger and hostility of the Jews, and Paul knew that the next step was Trouble, spelled with a capital T. He anticipated that he would soon be ousted the city by either the aroused rabble or the authorities. Paul's fear is so beautifully descriptive of the humanity of this man! We usually think of Paul as being bold and fearless, yet he suffered just as we do from apprehensions, forebodings, and fears. In fact, in First Corinthians 2 he says, "When I came to you...I was with you in weakness and in much fear and trembling..." He was very much afraid of what would happen to him in Corinth. The entrenched powers of darkness were being shaken, and the life of the city was being disrupted by the awakening which was spreading because of Paul's teaching. But this is the only legitimate mark of the success of a church. Many churches today measure their success by what is going on in the congregation. It is wonderful to have things happening within the congregation, but that is not the mark of success. The church is successful only when things start happening in the city. The Lord Jesus said, "You are the salt of the earth...you are the light of the world." it is the world that God is aiming at. Until something starts happening in the community, the church is a failure. It bothers me greatly to come into a city and find it filled with church buildings on every side, but to find that the city is locked into patterns of violence and hatred, riot and bloodshed. It tells me that there is something seriously wrong with the churches of that city, for God always aims at the world, breaking down the patterns of evil that lock men and women in bondage. As the apostle saw this beginning to happen he knew he was in for trouble. This is why the Lord appeared to his apostle. How gracious and reassuring are his words! He says, in effect, "Paul, don't let your fears grip you! Stop being afraid from and don't keep silent. Keep right on preaching, because I am going to protect you. No one is going to set upon you and hurt you, for I have a lot of work for you to do yet in this city. There are many people here who haven't come to me yet, but they will--if you keep on preaching." Pocket of Protection I remember thinking one time when I read these words that a football quarterback is protected in this same way. His teammates form a pocket around him and the quarterback drops back into the pocket. There he is protected so that he can continue the assault. That is exactly what the Lord is saying to Paul. "Paul, don't worry. You see the hostility, you see the opposition, you see it all coming, but I have built a pocket around you. You just keep on throwing that ball." Some of the Lord's most encouraging words are these: "I have yet many people in this city." They were still pagans, they had not yet become Christians--but the Lord knew they were there. There is nothing more encouraging to me in going into any strange situation than to realize that there are people there whom God already knows will respond to what I say. This gives me a great deal of support in preaching the truth. So it was with the apostle. He was greatly strengthened, and for a year-and-a-half he continued in Corinth without being molested. He was able to preach the truth until there was a great stirring in this city. The church at Corinth became a large church, with a powerful effect upon the life of the city. It was also during this period that Paul wrote his First and Second Letters to the Thessalonians, perhaps the earliest of Paul's letters that we have in our Bible. Paul undoubtedly wrote to other churches during this time, for the New Testament mentions other letters which have not been preserved. But the Thessalonian Letters were preserved because they contain the full-orbed teaching of the New Covenant, which is essential for us to know. 126

When the attack against Paul finally does come, God's hand is still in control of the situation. But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack upon Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, "This man is persuading men to worship God contrary to the law." But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, "if it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, I should have reason to bear with you, Jews; but since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves; I refuse to be a judge of these things," And he drove them from the tribunal. And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to this (Acts 18:12-17). This tribunal has been excavated, and you can see it if you visit Corinth. It is called in Greek the bema, the scale--that is, the judgment seat. When I was there I walked around in the bema and tried to visualize the apostle standing in front of this well-known prosecutor and judge of Rome. Gallio is mentioned several times in the historical accounts of that day. He was the older brother of the philosopher Seneca, who at this very time was busy tutoring the young Nero--who would become the next emperor after Claudius. Gallio was said to be a very just man, with a gracious and mild disposition. Here he appears to be very impartial. The charge brought against Paul by these Jews was that he was violating the Roman law against beginning a new religion. "This man is persuading men to worship God contrary to the law." They did not mean the Jewish law; they meant the Roman law. Evidently these Jews supported their charged with arguments concerning Paul's preaching of Christ. But Gallio was a very astute individual who furnishes us an example of how God often uses governmental authorities to preserve the peace and to permit the gospel to go forth. Before Paul could open his mouth to defend himself, the judge threw the case out of court. He refused jurisdiction. He said to the Jews, "Look, if this man had committed a crime or had done something wrong, I would judge him. But it is obvious to me that all you are talking about are some silly semantic distinctions between your own Jewish religious factions. Therefore it has nothing to do with Roman law." Freedom to Preach That was a very important decision! It meant that Paul was now free to preach the gospel throughout the Roman empire without being charged with breaking the Roman law. Gallio, in effect, said that Christianity, in the eyes of the Romans, was officially a Jewish sect-it was a part of Judaism. And Judaism was an established, official religion within the empire. This decision is what made it possible for Paul to preach in many Roman cities without any difficulty with the officials. The Jews were so upset by this outcome that they seized their leader, Sosthenes, and beat him up in front of the tribunal, venting their spite on him. When Crispus became a Christian he was no longer the ruler of the synagogue, so Sosthenes took his place and led the attack against Paul. But when he mismanaged the affair so badly that the whole thing was thrown out of court, the Jews beat him right in the presence of the Roman judge. All this left Gallio quite unconcerned. (The King James Version says that the Greeks beat Sosthenes, but this reading is not supported by the best manuscripts.) That beating did Sosthenes a lot of good. In the First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians you will find a most interesting item in the very first verse: Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes... I would never consider beating as a method of Christian evangelism, but it certainly worked in this case! Evidently Sosthenes' eyes were opened when these Jews turned against him, and he decided that maybe their cause was not so just after all. He gave heed to the gospel and became a co-laborer with Paul in spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ. All this is a beautiful picture of how God stands behind the scenes watching over his own. Do you remember that poem of James Russell Lowell? Truth forever on the scaffold. Wrong forever on the throne. Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown Standeth God amid the shadows, 127

keeping watch above his own. This was characteristic of Paul's ministry during these days! Paul's second missionary journey now comes to an end right where it began, in Antioch: After this Paul stayed many days longer, and then took leave of the brethren and sailed for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he cut his hair, for he had a vow. And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there; but he himself went into the synagogue and argued with the Jews. When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined; but on taking leave of them he said, "I will return to you if God wills," and he set sail from Ephesus. When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch (Acts 18:18-22). Several things are worthy of notice in this paragraph. Paul stayed in Corinth a long time after Gallio dismissed his case. The Christian faith was now legally accepted, so he had an open door and he used it to the full, preaching there for perhaps as long as two full years. At last he took leave of the brethren and, taking Priscilla and Aquila with him, he sailed to Cenchreae, one of the ports of Corinth. We have the interesting comment from Luke that there "he cut his hair, for he had a vow." The kind of vow this refers to is a religious vow; according to the law this was a way of expressing thanks. He had vowed that for thirty days he would not cut his hair but would give thanks to God and worship him. He probably fasted during this period as well, refraining from certain foods. At the end of the thirty days he cut his hair, having fulfilled his vow. It was simply a Jewish way of giving thanks. Some are disturbed by this, thinking it means that Paul was reverting to all the old, legalistic practices of Judaism. But that is not the case at all; he was simply doing as he described in a letter to the Corinthians: "To the Jews I became a Jew; to the Gentiles a Gentile." Since he was working with the Jewish community, he expressed in this Jewish way the thankfulness of his heart for God's protection over him while he was at Corinth. It was a perfectly proper thing for him to do. It does not mean that when Paul came to the Gentiles he was not perfectly free to lay aside all Jewish ritual and to live as a Gentile. Paul was a man set free in Christ. The voyage of Paul, Priscilla, and Aquila brought them to Ephesus in the Roman province of Asia. Earlier, Paul had been forbidden by the Spirit to preach the word of the Lord in Ephesus, but now he was allowed to come in, although he stayed only a brief time. As usual, he began at the synagogue. They received his message and asked him to stay longer, but he was in a hurry to get back to Jerusalem. So, the account says, he left Aquila and Priscilla and went on, landing on the coast of Palestine at Caesarea and "Going up to greet the church," i.e., the church at Jerusalem. He spent some time there (we don't know how much), doubtless reporting on what God had done. Finally he came back to the church at Antioch, from which he had begun his journey some two or three years earlier. Power Pattern What has God been saying to us in the account of this missionary journey of Paul? Over and over again we have seen the pattern which these early Christians invariably followed whenever they came into a new city. From this form of approach God always brought a new and creative program designed to meet the specific needs of the situation there. One of the things this has taught me is that we make a great mistake by taking one fixed program and trying to apply it to every situation. According to the New Testament the early Christians always began with the preaching of the Word. Then, as it won people to Christ, they began to have body life--loving one another, praying for one another, understanding their spiritual gifts, and putting them to work. As the body of Christ began to operate, the rich and varied innovations of the Holy Spirit came into play and adapted the body and its activities to the specific situation. Thus the Word went out with great power and began to shake up the surrounding community within a relatively short period of time. We need desperately to return to this pattern today, and I believe God is moving the church back in this direction. I hope we learn once and for all the lesson of this section of Acts: God is prepared to work to bring down the strongholds of evil, to shake up a city, to shake up a neighborhood, and to set men free. Think these things through and ask yourself, "Have I found my spiritual gift, and am I ministering with it as a member of the Body of Christ? Am I part of the moving of the body of Christ in this area, to accomplish what God wants done?" 128

Our heavenly Father, we thank you for this account which encourages us, for we know that you are at work today just as you were then. This same sense of electric excitement can grasp and grip us as it did these early Christians. This same mighty power can be turned loose in communities that are in the grip of strongholds of darkness and evil, and these can become demoralized in our area as the body of Christ begins to function. Lord, help us who are members of that body to take due note of where we are, and what we are doing, and whether we are fulfilling the task committed to us by the Lord Jesus when he gave us spiritual gifts and the power of his resurrection, so that we may be working members of this body. We ask in Jesus' name, Amen.

Chapter Ten Halfway Christians Acts 18:23-19:7
The Apostle Paul enjoyed a short but well-deserved rest in Antioch after being on the road for two to three years. But, as Luke tells us, he didn't rest for long: After spending some time there he departed and went from place to place through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples (Acts 18:23). On his third missionary journey the apostle started out all alone; he had no Barnabas or Silas with him this time. But he was heading out to familiar ground, to minister among dear friends whom he personally had led to Christ. His purpose was to strengthen the churches. Paul loved to venture into new territories, but he never forgot the need to strengthen those already won; he devoted this third journey to the strengthening of his converts. This meant that Paul's ministry among the churches in Galatia and Phrygia was to teach them the Word of God, for it is the Word that strengthens. In his Letter to the Galatians Paul recalls that he came among the believers telling them the truth. Jesus also, in his high-priestly prayer recorded in John 17, says to the Father concerning his disciples, "Sanctify them in the truth; thy word is truth." This is what builds Christians up--the knowledge of the Word of God, and obedience to that Word! The Word is the instrument which produces maturity. You cannot grow as a Christian without a continually increasing understanding of the Word. Furthermore, there is no chance for effective evangelism without laying the groundwork of maturity. Although any Christian can witness from the very day he is born again, there can be no effective, continuing evangelism without the spiritual growth which involves maturing in the understanding of the Scriptures. So the apostle went back to the churches to teach them the Word of God. The next section is a parenthesis which Luke inserts in this account of Paul's ministry to explain what happened when Paul finally reached Ephesus, and to introduce us to Apollos. This story continues into the opening section of Chapter 19, so we will disregard the chapter division. Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, well versed in the scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John (Acts 18:24,25). This golden-voiced orator of the first century was not yet a Christian at this time; he was a Jew who had been trained in the Jewish schools at Alexandria in Egypt. He had become a powerful speaker, well versed in the Scriptures--literally "mighty" in the Scriptures. But of course he could go only to the limit of his own knowledge and understanding. No preacher can ever lift his congregation above his own spiritual experience. Apollos knew only the baptism of John, which was a great deal, for it was the truth about Jesus--but it was not the whole truth. Wilderness Witness This term "the baptism of John" means the message which John preached. When John the Baptist went out into the wilderness of Judea and began to preach (about six months before our Lord appeared), the inhabitants of Jerusalem and the cities of Judea went out into the desert to hear him. This mighty preacher did not come to them--they went to him, indicating that his message was a startling one for his 129

day. To us, who have the full presentation of Christianity, John's message does not seem particularly striking. But to the people of his day it hit like a sledgehammer. Basically John declared three great truths: first, he announced that forgiveness of sins is possible before God only on the basis of repentance. Thus there was no real value in a sacrifice or offering. These Jews had been taught that the only way they could have their sins forgiven was by means of an animal substitute whose blood was shed on their behalf. Thereby God passed over their sins by accepting, at least temporarily, the blood of the animal on their behalf, thus forgiving their sins. But John came with the startling word that what God really wanted was a repentant heart. John had the people express their repentance in baptism, which was a symbolic act of cleansing. This too was something new. In the Old Testament you can read in the law about certain cleansings which were to follow a sacrifice. These were similar to baptism, but not quite the same. John was announcing that as people repented, changing their mind about their sin and calling it what God called it and forsaking it, then God forgave their sins. The symbol of that forgiveness was the washing of baptism. John insisted that their repentance must be real, and that they actually produce fruit that befitted repentance. That is, their actions had to demonstrate that they really meant what they said and would indeed turn from their evil. John met several different groups of people and told them specific things that they could do in order to indicate that they had really judged themselves before God. Third, John announced that One was coming who would complete the work he had begun. Repentance is just a beginning with God. It is as far as we human beings can go by ourselves, but it does not give us life. Repentance would achieve forgiveness of sins, but it would not give any positive ground of action, any power by which to live. That is what John announced would be available when Jesus came. "There is coming one after me," he said, "who is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to carry. I have baptized you with water, as a symbol of the forgiveness God gives. But he will go further; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit. He will put life into you, and give you power to live as God asks. That I cannot do." So Apollos knew this much, but he knew nothing of the cross or of the resurrection, and he did not know of the coming of the Holy Spirit on the day of Pentecost. His message was basically incomplete. He announced the word about Jesus but said nothing about the three essentials which make it possible for the power of Jesus to be experienced in our life: his death, his resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Luke now records what happened next: He began to speak boldly in the synagogue; but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and expounded to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him, and wrote to the disciples to receive him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully confuted the Jews in public, showing by the scriptures that the Christ was Jesus (Acts 18:26-28). Aquila and Priscilla were Christians, so it is interesting to note that they still met on the sabbath day with the Jews in the synagogue. They undoubtedly also had Christian meetings in their home (probably on Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of resurrection), but here they are in the synagogue, where they hear Apollos preach Jesus. He preached the things concerning Jesus very accurately, Luke tells us, and they were warmed and expectant because of this, but they soon learned that there was something missing. So they did a beautiful thing--they invited the preacher home to dinner with them and helped him with his problem. I don't know whom to admire more in this situation, Aquila and Priscilla, or Apollos. These two dear Christians, not too old in the Lord themselves (having been led to Christ by Paul in Corinth), do not scorn this young man for his incomplete preaching. They do not write letters to the editor about him, or reject him or criticize him, but instead they invite him home and lovingly and wisely expound to him the more accurate presentation of Christ. This means that they showed him how the Old Testament Scriptures indicated the death and resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit. They expounded to him so that his faith would rest not merely upon their testimony of the historic occurrences but also on the predictions of the Old Testament. Teachable Teacher But I really don't know if they were greater in all this than Apollos, who was willing to sit under the teaching of members of his congregation and listen humbly to them. What amazing news it must have been to Apollos that the message of John had now been fulfilled, that the One whom John had baptized had gone on to fulfill all that God had ever predicted 130

concerning the way of salvation for men. The implications of the cross, the resurrection, and the coming of the Holy Spirit were all explained to Apollos. Naturally he needed time to digest these facts and to rethink everything. There is no indication here that he immediately began to preach this new truth at Ephesus. Rather, he desired to go over to Corinth, probably because there was a congregation of believers there who had been instructed by the Apostle Paul. Aquila and Priscilla, his teachers, had been led to Christ by Paul in Corinth, and so Apollos wanted to go where he could learn more about what he had heard. The brethren in Ephesus sent letters of recommendation with him so that the brethren in Corinth would receive him. Apollos was a great help to the Corinthian brethren when he came. Here was a man who knew the Old Testament Scriptures. "When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed," doing what he could do best, answering the arguments of the Jews right in public, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. And how much more could he do this now, armed with the new facts he had learned about the Lord Jesus! In his First Letter to the Corinthians Paul acknowledges the fact that he had planted, but Apollos had watered. Paul was grateful for the ministry of this mighty man of the Scriptures who could confirm and strengthen the word that Paul had planted there. Now Paul appears again: While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the upper country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. And he said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" And they said, "No, we have never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit." And he said, "Into what then were you baptized?" They said, "Into John's baptism" (Acts 19:1-3). After visiting the churches of Galatia and Phrygia, Paul came to Ephesus, just as he had promised at the close of his second journey. You remember that Luke tells us: And they came to Ephesus, and he left them [Priscilla and Aquila] there; but he himself went into the synagogue and argued with the Jews. When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined; but on taking leave of them he said, "I will return to you if it is God's will," and he set sail from Ephesus (Acts 18:19-21). Now Paul is fulfilling his promise by returning to Ephesus. Naturally he went to the synagogue where he had been invited to stay, and when he came into the Jewish community he found certain disciples. We are not told whose disciples they were, but it is clear from the previous account that these were disciples of Apollos. They were men and women whom Apollos had told about Jesus, at least to the extent of the baptism of John. Paul heard them speaking about Jesus, and he obviously thought they were Christians when he first met them. But as he watched them he observed that something was missing, and I'm sure there was puzzlement in his voice when he finally said to them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" This question indicates that the normal Christian pattern is that the Spirit is given immediately upon belief in Jesus Christ. There is no suggestion here that the Spirit of God is given after a long period of belief in Christ. Jesus himself had predicted that the giving would be immediate. In the seventh chapter of John we are told that on the great day of the feast Jesus stood up and proclaimed, "If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, 'Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.'" John adds, "Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive...(John 7:37-39). So it is belief in Jesus which brings the Holy Spirit. These people whom Paul met in Ephesus knew something about Jesus. They appeared to be disciples of Jesus, but something was missing. What it was we are not told. Perhaps Paul saw that there was no joy in their lives, or no peace or certainty. Certainly there was no power. They were still under the domain of the law and had not yet been delivered into the joy and peace of the full Christian message. So he asked them, "Did you receive the Spirit when you believed?" The disciples answered that they had never even heard that there is a Holy Spirit. This does not mean that they never knew of the third Person in the Trinity, for John clearly taught the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit had come upon Jesus when John baptized him, and John knew this. They meant, "We have never heard that the Holy Spirit is now given, that he has come, as John announced that he would." Paul, understanding that, asks them, "What were you baptized into?" And they replied, "Into John's baptism." It was immediately clear to Paul what the problem was--they 131

were halfway Christians. They had come as far as repentance and forgiveness of sins, but they knew nothing about the work of the Holy Spirit. So he begins to instruct them: And 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, Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve of them in all (Acts 19:4-7). Paul undoubtedly gave them full instruction in the truth about Jesus, which Luke simply gathers up in these brief phrases. Paul went on to tell them about the death of Jesus, and what that accomplished with respect to the old life they had been living; and then about the resurrection which made available to them a risen life, a different kind of life; and then about the coming of the Holy Spirit, who would make all this real in their experience continuously, moment by moment, day after day. A Second Baptism After Paul instructed these Ephesian believers in this way they were rebaptized in the name of Jesus. This is very significant, for it indicates that the baptism which they had received with an incomplete knowledge of Jesus was really not Christian baptism. I meet many people who have been baptized as babies, when they had no opportunity to understand what the Christian message was all about and no opportunity to exercise faith in a risen Lord who could indwell them and strengthen them by his Spirit. Sometimes they ask me, "Do you think I should be rebaptized, now that I have really come to know a risen Lord?" On the basis of this text I say to them, "Yes, you should, because your baptism did not represent your personal faith in a risen, abiding Lord." When these people came to this understanding they were rebaptized by the Apostle Paul, who laid his hands upon them. Please understand that he did not impart anything to them; that is never what the laying on of hands does. Rather, it signifies identification. Paul is identifying these twelve people with the body of Christ, that new body formed by the Holy Spirit when he came on the day of Pentecost. By laying his hands on them he is signifying their union with the family of the Lord Jesus. The moment Paul performed this act of identification the Spirit came upon them, actually joining them to the body of Christ. They believed on Jesus and the unifying Spirit came immediately. Two Gifts The mark of the Spirit's coming was the impartation of spiritual gifts. It is strange to me how often people read this passage and note only that they spoke in tongues. They immediately think that this is another Pentecost. But there are two gifts mentioned here. Whenever the Holy Spirit comes he always gives spiritual gifts. He did so when he came into your life, and the whole aim and purpose of your redemption is to discover and put to work those spiritual gifts which were given to you. And here, when the Spirit came, they began immediately to exercise two spiritual gifts, the first of which was speaking in tongues. This is listed as one of the gifts of the Spirit in First Corinthians 12. It is very natural that this gift would be given on this particular occasion, for, as Paul tells us in First Corinthians 14, the gift of tongues is designed especially as a witness to unbelieving Jews. These twelve disciples were Jews. They had sat under the teaching of Apollos, probably having heard him in the synagogue at Ephesus. They lived in the Jewish community and were regarded as a sect or group of Jews, Now they have become Christians, but their friends and those all around them are still Jews. Within this setting (if not actually in the synagogue, then in the Jewish community), as they are now filled with the Holy Spirit they use the gift of tongues, in which they praise God in languages they had never learned. They do so publicly (never privately) as a sign to unbelievers that God is at work. Remember that Paul tells us in First Corinthians 14 that this is the fulfillment of the prediction of the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah had said to the people of Israel in his day, "By men of strange tongues and by the lips of foreigners will I speak to this people, and even then they will not listen to me, says the Lord. That is, "When you see and hear men coming to you speaking with other tongues, then you will know that the hour has struck when God turns from Israel to the Gentile world. The gospel is now to go out to the Gentiles as well." This was the sign, then, to the unbelieving Jews. This is the Biblical gift of tongues, and it was perfectly proper that it should be exercised on this occasion, for this is the situation in which it was designed to be used. 132

Today there is an imitation gift of tongues, a psychological phenomenon which has been known among men for centuries. Even Plato discusses it in some of his lectures to the Greeks in Athens, four hundred years before Christ. It is a phenomenon frequently heard among all kinds and classes of people, but it does not measure up to the Biblical gift. Those who fall into it by mistake are misled, entering eventually into a time of real weakness in faith in which they are spiritually derailed for a while, until God in grace delivers them and sets them free to begin to grow again in faith in the Lord. I fully understand the appeal that this makes to many Christians. It seems to offer such a wonderful experience and a shortcut to spirituality. It seems so desirable. I went through this very experience myself in my early Christian life, so I am well aware of its attraction. But as you compare it with the Biblical description of the gift of tongues, it is not the same thing. The Biblical gift is a proper one which will bless, encourage, and strengthen those who employ it. The false gift, however, leads only to spiritual blindness. Along with the gift of tongues at Ephesus was also given the gift of prophesying. This is the ability to open and expound the Scriptures in power and truth. The word "prophet" comes from a compound Greek word: pro-phaino. Phaino means "to cause to shine" or "to make shine," and pro means "before." So a prophet is who stands before the Word of God and causes it to shine, who illuminates people's lives with the power and truth of the Scriptures. Peter uses it that way: We have a more sure word of prophecy, which shines as a light in a dark place." These twelve new Christians of Ephesus began to prophecy as the Spirit illumined their minds. They saw great truth in the Scriptures and began to declare it in power. Note that one of these gifts was designed for unbelievers and the other for believers. The gift of tongues, Paul says in First Corinthians 14, is for unbelievers, but the gift of prophecy is for believers. Here in the community in Ephesus both groups were present: the unbelieving Jews who still refused to accept the truth of the Scriptures about Jesus, and those who had become Christians, who with Priscilla and Aquila were rejoicing in all that the Lord had given them and who needed this exercise of the gift of prophecy. When these twelve people were filled, and the Holy Spirit had come upon them, they demonstrated this fact by their expression of these gifts of the Spirit. No apostle would ever again need to ask them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" There was a difference about their lives. They obviously were now filled with new power and strength which came when they believed in Jesus. There are many people today who believe in Jesus and yet do not show much evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit. In many churches where I am privileged to speak I have wanted to say to the people, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" Recently I was at a Christian college and spoke in chapel. As in most Christian colleges, though I found a wonderful group of fine, growing young Christians on campus, the chapel service was so dull and dead that I could hardly bear it. I sat on the platform looking out at this sea of sterility before me and thought to myself (I had been working on this text), "If the Apostle Paul were here I think he would stand up and say, with puzzlement in his voice, 'Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?'" Yet they told me that the chapel services were much better than they had been! Spirit of Expectancy The Holy Spirit is given upon the exercise of belief in the Lord Jesus. This does not stop with one act of believing, and this is where we tend to get confused. We are to keep on believing in the Lord Jesus and to manifest his power and vitality in our lives. It is this continual act of believing which releases the freshness of the Spirit in our lives. Paul says to the Colossians, "As you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so live ye in him..." As you received him by an act of believing, keep on believing and walking and living in him, so that you might demonstrate the power of the Holy Spirit. This is why, when some Jews came to Jesus and asked, "What must we do to do the works of God?" he answered, "This is the work of God, that you keep on believing in him Whom he has sent." So what is wrong if, in our Christian lives, there is no evidence of the working of the Holy Spirit, none of the joy, none of the grace, none of the power? It is because we are not believing in him. We believed in him once, maybe twenty or thirty years ago, but that believing has ceased. There is now no sense of expectancy, no fresh anticipation of his working in our lives today.


If asked you, "Do you believe in Jesus?" you would probably say "Yes." Then I might ask, "Well, did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? Are the signs of the Spirit of God in your life? Are his presence, his power, his working, his freshness, his vitality, his enthusiasm, his excitement visible in your Christian life?" If not, you have ceased believing in Jesus. He makes himself available to us continually, moment by moment, to fulfill every demand which life makes upon us if we expect him to do so. This note of expectancy is the evidence or sign of faith which marks the difference between the sterility of religiosity without the Spirit, and the freshness and power of a Spirit-filled life. Paul's question addressed to those halfway Christians of long ago Ephesus still has meaning for us today as we understand the need for a continual act of faith in the Lord Jesus. Lord Jesus, how frequently we fail to understand the truth of your promise to us that you have come to live within us, and that your life can he as visible in us today as it ever was in this first-century time. Grant to us anew, Lord, the faith to lay hold of this promise and to make visible in our lives, moment by moment, this same sweet freshness and sovereign moving of the Holy Spirit. Flame of God, we ask you to touch us, to burn away the dross and to set us afire with that which manifests the character and the life of the Lord Jesus. We ask in his name, Amen.

Chapter Eleven Down With Witchcraft! Acts 19:8-20
The major problem in Ephesus was that it was a center for witchcraft. Superstition , demonism, and witchcraft held this city in its thrall. A weird mixture of black arts, worship of demons, astrology, and occult practices of various kinds had filled the city with priests, magicians, witches, warlocks, and quacks of every description. The inevitable consequence, as always among people who are held in bondage by witchcraft, was that people lived in fear and darkness, indulging their lusts in wicked, degrading practices, and were sunken in slavery, squalor, and drunken debauchery. Here indeed was a stronghold of darkness which could only be overcome by the weapons of truth and love and righteousness and faith--the weapons of our warfare. Darkness Challenged In this account we have another example of what can happen when a church begins to operate on the power that God has put at it's disposal and functions in the way it was intended to function. Paul begins, as always, in the synagogue, as Luke tells us in verse 8: And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, arguing and pleading about the kingdom of God; but when some were stubborn and disbelieving, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples with him, and argued daily in the hall of Tyrannus. This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them (Acts 19:8-12). What a remarkable account! Paul began, as he always did, with the weapon of truth. He spoke in synagogue concerning the kingdom of God, which had come with the coming of Jesus Christ. The kingdom was opposed to the rule of Satan, the powers of darkness which reigned in human affairs. Human history is the checkered account of man's struggles to be free from that from which he cannot free himself. It is this rule of darkness, the authority of the kingdom of Satan, which the kingdom of God in Christ challenges. This is what Paul was preaching in the synagogue. The Jews here had made Paul welcome and had invited him to come back. He had returned as he promised, and for three months, on every sabbath day, he reasoned with them out of the Scriptures about the kingdom of God. But when some of the Jews understood that to submit to the rule and authority of the Lordship of Jesus involved confessing the emptiness of their religious respectability, they opposed Paul. When they realized that they had to acknowledge that inwardly they were just as desperately dark and evil as anyone else, they resisted him. So these Jews made trouble for Paul, as they always did, and at last he decided to withdraw, taking the disciples with him. They moved out of the synagogue into rented quarters, the hall of Tyrannus. This unquestionably was one of the 134

lecture rooms which the Greek teachers employed to teach philosophy and various other subjects of the arts and culture of the day. Paul rented it, according to some ancient authorities, from eleven o'clock in the morning till four in the afternoon. The Revised Standard Version has a marginal note which says, "Other ancient authorities add, 'from the fifth hour to the tenth,'" which, according to the Greek method of reckoning, was from eleven till four o'clock. That was the time in Ephesus when all the people were taking a siesta. They closed up their shops, went home and had a leisurely meal, took a nap, worked around the garden, etc. The working day began at about seven in the morning. The shops closed at eleven and everyone went home until four, when the shops reopened and business went on until about nine-thirty at night. This was their normal day. Evidently the Apostle Paul made tents during the morning hours to support himself. But at eleven o'clock he came to the hall of Tyrannus and lectured for five hours every day for two years. Relay Evangelism Five hours a day, six days a week, fifty-two weeks a year for two years adds up to 3,120 hours of lecturing. This equals 130 days of lecturing continuously for twenty-four hours a day. The content of those lectures was the great truths that we find in the epistles of Paul. Imagine the tremendous impact of this teaching! No wonder we read in verse 10 that "all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks." That was an entire province, an area larger than the state of California, filled with many cities. Of course it was not Paul himself who was teaching throughout this area. It was the Christians who heard him in the lecture hail of Tyrannus and who, captivated and galvanized by these truths, began to spread the word throughout the whole area. They formed churches in other cities, which evangelized in turn, so that in two years this whole province was reached by the gospel of Christ. It was during this time that the church of Colosse was begun by Epaphras and Philemon, who carried the gospel up the Lycus Valley into the cities there. Others, perhaps Trophimus and Tychicus, young men from this province, were involved in preaching to other cities of the region. They may have been the founders of the churches to which John later wrote his letters in the Book of Revelation--Smyrna, Sardis, Thyatira, Pergamum, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. All of these cities are in this area and were begun by these Christians, largely unnamed and unknown, who heard the Apostle Paul proclaiming this fantastically revolutionary truth in the hall of Tyrannus in Ephesus. What power there is in the Word of God! In addition, Luke tells us, the word was confirmed by signs: And God did extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, so that handkerchiefs or aprons were carried away from his body to the sick, and diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. Underline the word "extraordinary." These miracles were unusual, of a different kind than previous miracles. What made them unusual was that they were performed by carrying away these cloths from the body of Paul, so that the miracles were accomplished at a distance from him. No Magic in Sweatbands There is nothing magic about this! There was no value inherent in the cloth. In fact, we can be misled greatly by the translation here. It was very difficult for the translators to put this word in terms that would be meaningful to us in the Western world, for these were not handkerchiefs or aprons in the usual sense. They were not little cloths that Paul used for blowing his nose nor aprons that ladies wear in the kitchen. The "handkerchiefs" were literally sweatbands, strips of cloth which Paul bound around his head as he worked at making tents, to keep the sweat from running down into his eyes. They were, therefore, associated with the labor, the toil, that he went through to make the gospel available. The aprons were made of leather, and he wore them while making tents, not while fixing his meals. It was these that were used for these miracles. Again, this is not an attempt to support the practice of many faith healers of today who anoint cloths and mail them around the country. That is superstition, hocus pocus, a form of magic. That is not what Luke is talking about at all. These are symbols which God chose to employ in order to underscore the characteristic of the apostle which made him a channel of the power of God, in the same way that Moses' rod was a symbol. Cast on the ground, the rod became a serpent; lifted over the waters, it rolled them hack. There was nothing magic about the rod itself; it was the symbol of 135

something about Moses which God honored. So these sweatbands and trade aprons were symbols of the honest, dignified labor of the apostle, his labor of love and humility of heart, his servant-character which manifested and released the power of God. God means to teach by this that it is through a man whose heart is so utterly committed that he is ready to invest hard, diligent labor in making the gospel available, willing to stoop to a lowly trade, that the power of God is released. Satan on the Bandwagon The first sign of the crumbling of the stronghold of darkness in Ephesus was the attempt on the part of the powers of darkness to make an alliance with the Christian cause. As we have seen before this is one of Satan's favorite tricks. He tries to join the team: Then some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists undertook to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, "I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches." Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this. But the evil spirit answered them, "Jesus I know, and Paul I know: but who are you?" And the man in whom the evil spirit was leaped on them, mastered all of them, and overpowered them, so that they fled out of that house naked and wounded. And this became known to all residents of Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks; and fear fell upon them all; and the name of the Lord Jesus was extolled (Acts 19:13-17). These seven sons of Sceva knew a good thing when they saw it. They were sons of a Jewish high priest, and they recognized that here was an opportunity to use religion, and the widespread interest in religion, to advance their own cause. So they attempted to jump on the bandwagon and, employing these two names as though they were some kind of magic formula, they tried to cast out evil spirits by saying, "I adjure you by the Jesus whom Paul preaches." This reveals something remarkable about people of this kind. We have many like them today, fortune-tellers and swamis and yogis and gurus and mediums. They know enough about the occult to sound impressive, but basically they are ignorant dupes, fooling around with powers they do not understand, and who have little control over what will happen when they become involved with such powers. Evil Routed by Evil But what happened here in Ephesus was almost ludicrous. As Sceva's sons adjured the evil spirit by these names, the man in whom the evil spirit dwelt (notice Luke's careful distinction, as a physician, between the man and the evil spirit who possessed him) was under the control of that spirit. The spirit seized him and empowered him to challenge these seven sons and to take them all on single-handed. You can imagine the scene as they tumbled out of doors and windows with their clothes torn half off, bloody and wounded, driven out by this possessed man. The evil spirit was angered by this use of the name of Jesus because his authority was threatened, and what he said in response to this adjuration is interesting. He used two different words for "know." He said, "Jesus I know (using a word that means "I know him with a deep, instinctive, innate knowledge") and "Paul I am acquainted with" (i.e., "I know his name, I know who he is; I don't know him as well as I know Jesus, but I am acquainted with him") but "Who are you?" That was the signal for attack upon them, resulting in their ridiculous exodus. This incident, no doubt because of the humor involved, became known all over Ephesus, with both Jews and Greeks hearing about it. It was impressive. And the result was that the name of Jesus was magnified. These people of Ephesus were impressed because here was a name of power--power in the realm of the invisible world. This is also the first sign of a crack in the stronghold of darkness that held the city in thralldom. As Jesus said, "When Satan's kingdom is divided he can no longer stand." Here you see a kingdom divided. These Jewish exorcists, who were the unwitting dupes of satanic philosophy, were attacked by an evil spirit who supposedly should have been on their side. Already the kingdom is beginning to crumble under the attack of truth and love and righteousness and faith, these weapons of the Christians' warfare. The $10,000 Bonfire This combined assault went on to yield a tremendous degree of success. Luke now gives us the next scene: 136

Many also of those who were now believers came, confessing and divulging their practices. And a number of those who practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them in the sight of all; and they counted the value of them and found it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. So the word of God grew and prevailed mightily (Acts 19:18-20). There were two movements in this development. It started with the believers, the Christians, who began to clean up their own lives, who came and divulged their hidden practices, confessing what they were doing in private. Obviously these were relatively new Christians, who perhaps had never thought anything was wrong with these practices. But as they sat under the teaching of the apostle, and saw the kingdom of God and how God longs to set people free, they began to see that what they had been doing--the astrology, the reliance on horoscopes, the belief in the influence of the stars, and all their other superstitious practices--had held them in bondage. Because of these practices they were weak and fearful, upset and distressed within themselves. So they began to confess all this and thus become freed from their bondage. This in turn precipitated another movement. The pagans around them in the city began to take a second look at their own practices. Many of them who had practiced magic arts brought their books together and burned them when they became Christians under the influence and power of the gospel, and thus they were set free from their deadly delusion. This is a beautiful illustration of how light breaks forth through the church, which is the light of the world. When the church begins to clean up its own life, then the world will begin to see itself as it is and be moved to start straightening up and becoming free. These people surrendered all their occult literature, and that was a costly thing to do. As they totaled up the value of these books and the various paraphernalia that were brought to be burned, it came to fifty thousand pieces of silver. This is approximately ten thousand dollars, which was a tremendous sum in those days. It meant that these people were forsaking their livelihood. They were actually changing the total pattern of their lives as they saw that they could no longer practice the occult and live as Christians. It revealed how willing they were to be free from this terrible practice. The Weapon of His Warfare This account makes very clear the means by which witchcraft seizes hold of people. Human beings are not easily invaded by demonic force. God has made man to be a king, and has built into us certain safeguards which operate naturally to keep us independent, free from control by these demonic forces which are supernatural and present all around us. They cannot force their way into a human life. They cannot simply overpower us and take possession, though they long to do so. What they must do, therefore, is deceive us. They must find a way by which they can trick us into yielding our wills to their influence and power. And when we voluntarily give way, then they move in, possess the mind, control the thoughts, and dominate the whole life. This was very sharply called to my attention a few years ago when I was teaching a home Bible class. Among those attending were a number of people who had been involved with witchcraft, scientology, and various other practices of this type. A girl took me aside after a class was over and said, "I want to ask you about something. I've been having some strange experiences. They started about a year-and-a-half ago when I was a schoolteacher in Alaska. Another girl and I roomed together, and during those long winter evenings, when there was nothing to do, we whiled away the time by amusing ourselves with a Ouija board. We were getting various answers and messages by doing this and we thought of it as nothing but a game. "But soon I began to be aware of very strange thoughts in my mind when I'd go to bed at night. would seem to think of certain words and strange things to say. At first I could put them out of my mind and go to sleep. But gradually they became more and more insistent, until I finally found that I couldn't sleep unless I'd pay attention to them and think about them. Then these inner voices began to suggest that I take a pencil and write these things down. At first I tried to resist, but they became more and more insistent and I found that I couldn't go to sleep until I'd write down what they told me. It was always filthy, obscene words. "Then I talked with my roommate and found that she was going through the same experience. Shortly after that we came down here to California. Now I can't go to sleep until I write out, sometimes for hours at a time, all the filthy things which these voices insist that I say. Now," she said, "is this God?" 137

I said, "No, you are becoming the victim of the powers of darkness. I turned to Deuteronomy and showed her what the Word of God said there, warning the people of God against these things which are an abomination to the Lord. She was tremendously helped by this. Then I showed her how to become a Christian, and she received the Lord. I told her to pray and ask God for help whenever she felt this kind of influence. Several weeks later I saw her in a restaurant and she said, "It's been so marvelous to be free from those voices. I've been doing what you suggested whenever they approach and I'm finding that the Lord keeps them away." This whole business of astrology and horoscopes, of Ouija boards and of scientology, of yoga and other practices of Eastern philosophy--these are all means by which satanic forces trick us into opening our minds and yielding our wills to them. The books on any of these subjects, if you read them, all suggest that you are going to discover a "hidden" power that few people know about. A man writes me almost every week about some new book he has found in the back room of some obscure bookstore, covered with dust and hidden in the back shelves, and which, he has now discovered, contains the secrets of the universe. "Such tremendous truths it contains" He says that if I would just read one of these books my eyes would be opened and I'd learn and understand so much that I don't know now. The trouble is that I do not see that he knows any more than I do...or even as much. But this is the way these evil powers attempt to seize upon us. Here in Ephesus Paul and the other Christians, by the power of the truth, broke through this deception. They assaulted this stronghold of evil and cracked it wide open, so that Luke says, "The word of the Lord grew and prevailed mightily." That is how a church ought to operate--in the power of the Spirit, and by the authority of the Word. There are strongholds like this all around us today, bastions of darkness. Drugs is one, witchcraft another, homosexuality a third. There are a hundred thousand homosexuals in San Francisco alone, deluded and trapped by a philosophy which urges them to accept their condition and treat it as though it were normal and natural. This will lock them into a bondage they will never be freed from. How desperately this situation needs the assault of truth and of light, as does the whole matter of crime, terrorism, and revolution. God longs to deliver people from these strongholds, and he has given the church this power. Our heavenly Father, we thank you for the truth that is revealed here. We see similar powers of darkness holding people enthralled today, locking them into misery and heartache, superstition and fear, hostility and emptiness. Lord, help us to understand that this is a very strategic time to live, and that we must not waste our time, frittering it away in empty activity. Help us to give ourselves to this exciting, glorious encounter against these powers of darkness. We ask it in Christ's name, Amen.

Chapter Twelve Christianity is Dangerous Acts 19:21-20:1
A most descriptive definition of a Christian is that he is completely fearless, continually cheerful, and constantly in trouble! Surely nothing could better describe the Apostle Paul in his ministry to the world of his day. He was--by faith, not by nature--completely fearless, continually cheerful, and certainly constantly in trouble. This indicates an inherent quality of Christian life. Christianity is a very dangerous faith. We are followers of one who said, "I have not come to bring peace on earth but a sword, and to make a division among men" (Matt. 10:34 paraphrased) By that seemingly paradoxical means Christ purposes to heal the warring of earth, to repair the brokenness of mankind, and to join men into one great body, sharing life together. When Paul came to Ephesus he found the sordid powers of evil entrenched in a stronghold over the city, holding it in bondage. Paul attacked that stronghold with the most powerful weapons ever known, and within two years it was demolished. It looked then as if Paul's work there were over, as if time Marines had landed and the situation was well in hand. So the apostle evidently began to think of moving on. Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while (Acts 19:21,22). 138

At this time three things occupied the apostle's heart and moved him to take this action. First was that which he said weighed upon him daily: the care of the new Christians who had come to Christ in Macedonia and Greece--in Thessalonica and Berea and Philippi, in Athens and Corinth. He longed to impart more truth to them so that they might learn how to live their lives in the power of the Holy Spirit. The second thing that moved Paul was an intense desire to penetrate to the very center of the Roman empire and culture with the claims of Christ, to plant the gospel in the fullness of its power in the very capital, in Rome itself. "After I've been to Jerusalem," he said, "I must see Rome." Dr. C. Campbell Morgan says, "That's not the 'must' of the tourist; that's the 'must' of the missionary." He longed to help the Christians who were already there and to instruct them. On the very journey which he will soon commence, when he comes to Corinth, he will take time to write his great Epistle to these Roman Christians, so as to help them even though he is hindered from getting there. But he also determines that at last he will come to Rome. Hungry Saints The third thing, merely suggested here by Luke, is the concern and desire in his heart to help the famine-stricken saints of the church at Jerusalem. Already a great famine had descended upon the land of Judea. The Christians in Jerusalem were hungry, and Paul longed to help them. So he sent Timothy and Erastus into Macedonia. Here we are not told why, but from one of Paul's letters we learn that Timothy and Erastus were sent to tell the churches there about the need of the Christians in Jerusalem, and to collect an offering for them in advance. Then, when the apostle came he could send it or take it to Jerusalem. We can read this in Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians: Now concerning the contribution for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that contributions need not be made when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me (1 Cor. 16:1-4). He reminds these Corinthians, I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may speed me on my journey, wherever I go. For I do not want to see you now just in passing; I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries (1 Cor. 16:5-9). It was the apostle's plan to stay in Ephesus until the day of Pentecost, but his mind was soon changed. Luke tells us now in Acts 19 what caused him to alter these plans: About that time there arose no little stir concerning the Way. For a man named Demetrius, a silversmith, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought no little business to the craftsmen. These he gathered together, with the workmen of like occupation, and said, "Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only at Ephesus but almost throughout all Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a considerable company of people, 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 may count for nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all Asia and the world worship" (Acts 19:23-27). The silversmiths at Ephesus had been organized into a trade union. And they found that they were being hit hard in the most sensitive part of the human anatomy: the pocketbook. I heard a man say the other day that he saw a friend looking very gloomy. He asked his friend, "What's the matter?" The friend said, "My wife has just made me a millionaire," He said, "Well, what's wrong with that?" The friend answered, "I used to he a multimillionaire!" Anything that hits us in the financial area always strikes home! He Saw Red (Ink) These silversmiths, who made little silver souvenirs of the goddess Artemis, found their business tremendously diminished because so many people were becoming Christians that nobody wanted their idols anymore. Demetrius, the president of the union, cared nothing for the real welfare of the hundreds who had become Christians and had found 139

freedom and peace and joy in Christ. He saw only the red ink in the profit-and-loss columns of his books, and he was very concerned about that. It is interesting that archeologists have found in the ruins of Ephesus an inscription bearing the name of the man Demetrius. The problem was, of course, that the vested interests in Ephesus were being threatened. In our day, many have charged that the war in Vietnam continued for so long simply because there are men in this country who have vested interests in making money by means of the military machine. There is a certain degree of justification for this charge, because there have always been profiteers who care nothing for the fact that lives are lost and bodies smashed and mutilated, so long as they make a fast buck, Profiteering is nothing new. There is a profound revelation of mob psychology in the account Luke gives us. For, after all, you cannot arouse a mob to defend your interests if all you can say is that you haven't been making as much profit as you used to, That may interest you, but it doesn't interest other people. They don't care whether you make any money or not, The lack of revenue was what stirred up these silversmiths, but since no one would defend them on this basis, Demetrius had to add another charge, deliberately introduced and emotionally loaded, in order to arouse the citizenry. The charge was that the religion of the city was being threatened--that Artemis, the goddess the city worshipped, was being insulted by this loss of income and was in danger of losing her stature in the eyes of the world. Artemis, the goddess whose temple was known as one of the seven great wonders of the world, was apparently fashioned from a meteorite, because later on the town clerk reminds the people of the "sacred stone" that had fallen from the sky. According to some of the copies that have been excavated she was the figure of a many-breasted woman, enshrined as the goddess representing Mother. In attacking Artemis the Christians were attacking Mother, and when you attack Mother and apple pie, you are really striking to the heart of a deep emotional issue! These riot engineers in Ephesus well knew that they could stir up the whole city with this issue, for this was the season of the year when Ephesus gave itself over to a whole month of feasting, revelry, and debauchery centering on the worship of Artemis. They called this festival the "Artemision." It had the characteristics of the Mardis Gras in New Orleans, and the city was packed with people who had come for this special occasion. Unfounded Charges There are two very interesting and revealing things about this speech by Demetrius First, he was evidently quite unaware of how ridiculous his charge really sounded. If Artemis was so great that the whole world worshipped her, then why was she not able to defend herself against this attack? If her power was so great that she commanded the worship of men, why did she need the support of the city of Ephesus to defend her? No one ever seems to face this kind of question when raising such an issue. Second, Demetrius was obviously blind to the significance of the way by which his trade had been ruined It had not been openly attacked by Christians. Paul had never said a thing against the religion of Ephesus. He had never denounced the temple and had in no way tried to attack this pagan superstition. In fact, the town clerk will openly admit that These were not blasphemers of the goddess, nor robbers of the temple." Now this is most interesting; there was nothing negative about their approach. These early Christians did not go around faulting paganism; rather, they introduced a positive new faith of such tremendous power and such fantastic reality that, when anyone experienced it, the old way of life was wiped out. The old was devitalized by the appearance of the new, and there was no need for attack. The Christians simply declared Jesus Christ and his availability to man. And men and women lost in darkness and superstition and gripped by fear found him so loving, so genuine, so joyful that all their empty paganism grew pale by comparison. It never seems to have dawned upon Demetrius that this was what had happened and that therefore there was no possible way of defending against it. If the Christians had attacked this pagan philosophy, then a defense could have been erected. But they said nothing about it. It was simply 'the expulsive power of a new affection," to use Thomas Chalmers' marvelous term. Assembly of Confusion Luke continues his account of the mob and its actions in verse 28:


When they heard this they were enraged, and cried out, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" So the city was filled with the confusion; and they rushed together into the theater, dragging with them Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul's companions in travel. Paul wished to go in among the crowd, but the disciples would not let him; some of the Asiarchs also, who were friends of his, sent to him and begged him not to venture into the theater. Now some cried one thing, some another; for the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together (Acts 19:28-32). That sounds familiar, doesn't it? How little human nature has changed in two thousand years! Here was a crowd, excited by a false emotional issue, which surged together into the theater. If you visit the site in Ephesus today you will find that this theater has been excavated. It is the only sizable part of the city which still stands. It was a huge theater, able to seat about twenty thousand people, so this was a vast crowd. These people were very responsive to this appeal, although there were many who did not know what it was all about. Paul wanted to go in and speak to them. What an insight into the fearless bravery of this man of God, who did not hesitate a moment to take on a crowd like this! But his friends recognized that the mood of the crowd was ugly. Even the Asiarchs, the political rulers of the province of Asia who were responsible to the Romans, were concerned and sent word to Paul not to venture into the theater. That is very revealing. Paul had made friends among these rulers, who understood and were impressed by the message of Christ. Though Luke does not say they were Christians, they were nevertheless favorably inclined and tried to protect Paul from this wild and raging mob. Luke then goes on to show how impossible it would have been for Paul to do anything to quiet them: Some of the crowd prompted Alexander, whom the Jews had put forward. And Alexander motioned with his hand, wishing to make a defense to the people. But when they recognized that he was a Jew, for about two hours they all with one voice cried out, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" (Acts 19:33, 34) Here is a wild mob that has no argument other than simply to chant, over and over again, this slogan which aroused their pride and fed their egos and ministered to their emotions. The Jews were very concerned, doubtless because they had lived in this city for many years and were known to be opposed to the worship of idols. They had a synagogue there and had made it clear that they were not idol worshippers and did not approve the practice, but the Jews had no effect upon the populace. They stood for the right cause, but without any power to affect others. Nevertheless, they were afraid they might be implicated in this disturbance and so they prompted Alexander, one of their number, to stand up and explain their attitude and to make clear that they were not the ones who had affected the business of selling idols. This is very likely the same Alexander to whom Paul refers in his Letter to Timothy. Timothy had become, by the time Paul wrote, a bishop of the church at Ephesus. Paul wrote, "Beware of Alexander the coppersmith, who did me great harm." I remember years ago hearing a Baptist preacher comment on this text. He said that he too had been damaged by Alexander the coppersmith, as he looked at the collection plate and saw all the pennies there! But the crowd refuses to hear Alexander and drowns out his words with a chant which continues for more than two hours, over and over monotonously, "Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!" When a crowd gets to the point where its emotions have been so aroused that its reasoning power is lost, it is in a very dangerous state. These Asiarchs were quite correct in their concern for the apostle because, with but the slightest suggestion, this crowd could have been sent raging through the streets, demolishing everything in its path. No Need to Shout The mob was finally quieted by the town clerk, whose office in those Greek cities corresponded to that of mayor. Luke tells us what happened: And when the town clerk had quieted the crowd, he said, "Men of Ephesus, what man is there who does not know that the city of the Ephesians is temple keeper of the great Artemis, and of the sacred stone that fell from the sky? Seeing then that these things cannot be contradicted, you ought to be quiet and do nothing rash. For you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess. If therefore Demetrius and the craftsmen with him have a complaint against any one, the courts are open, and there are proconsuls; let them bring charges against one another. But if you seek anything further, it shall be settled in the regular assembly. For we are 141

in danger of being charged with rioting today, there being no cause that we can give to justify this commotion." And when he had said this, he dismissed the assembly (Acts 19:35-41). This town clerk, whose name is not given to us, is an admirable politician and orator. He intervenes at precisely the right psychological moment. The crowd, having exhausted itself with its senseless roaring of the slogan for two hours now, is ready to listen at last. So he stands up to speak, setting forth three logical points. First he says, "Yes, Artemis is great; therefore there is no need to shout. We can count on her to defend herself, so why worry? Nobody is going to be able to overthrow a goddess as great as ours, so we don't need all this commotion." Second, "The men that you are charging have really done nothing provocative. They have not blasphemed the goddess; no such charge has been brought against them. They have not robbed the temple, nor been sacrilegious in any way. The courts are open, and if that doesn't satisfy you, the legislature is available. The normal channels of protest are open to you, so why don't you use them? Third, "We are seriously in danger of losing the freedom of this city as a result of this indiscretion. For he well knew that the Romans would tolerate anything except civil disorder. If an unexplained riot occurred they were in danger of losing their status as a free city, unencumbered by direct Roman rule. This is the telling point. You can see that this town clerk has nothing more in mind than that which would normally concern a politician--keeping the peace. He really doesn't care about the issues; he doesn't want to examine them. He only wants to keep everything orderly, so he puts a suppressing hand upon the unruliness This is the way men think. Yet in all this God was overruling the wildness of this mob, calming the emotional passions which were surging in the hearts of so many people and were creating this uncontrollable situation. God quieted all this through the use of governmental channels. In the opening verse of Chapter 20, after another of these unbelievably misplaced chapter divisions, you have the final sentence of the story: After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples and having exhorted them took leave of them and departed for Macedonia (Acts 20:1). Paul is anxious to explain this whole affair to the Christians. There is something about it he doesn't want them to miss, so he calls them together and exhorts them before he leaves. To Make Us Rely on God Luke doesn't tell us what Paul's exhortation consisted of, but I believe Paul himself does. There is a passage in his Second Letter to the Corinthians which refers to this very occasion. Some scholars doubt it, but in my judgment this is clearly a reference to this occasion. Paul says: For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of the affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself (2 Cor. 1:8). Imagine yourself with the apostle in the midst of this tremendous uproar. It was a very threatening circumstance. It had appeared for awhile that the gospel had so triumphed in Ephesus that Paul could think of leaving and going on to other places. Then this riot suddenly occurred, seeming to the threaten the entire cause of Christ and putting Christians in greater jeopardy and danger. Paul was crushed and very distressed. In fact, he said his very life was in danger. This crowd was so wild, so uncontrollable, that for a few hours it looked as though they might just sweep through the city and wipe out every Christian in Ephesus Paul expresses it in these terms: ...we were utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself. Why, we felt we had received the sentence of death (2 Cor. 1:8b,9a). Paul could not see any way out. It looked as if he had reached the end of the road. ...but that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead ...(2 Cor. 1:9b). 142

This is the very heart of the Christian message, as Paul will go on to explain in the Corinthian Letter. "Our sufficiency is not of ourselves," he says. It is not as though anything is coming from us; our sufficiency is from God. God alone is able. God without anything else, without reckoning on any human resources, is able. His explanation to these young converts in Ephesus was unquestionably along this line. He was saying to them, God has sent this event, has allowed it to happen, in order to teach us that he is able to handle things when they get far beyond the resources to which we ordinarily look. God is able. And he has taught us this so that we will not rely on ourselves but upon him who raises the dead, who works in us to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we could ask or think according to the power at work within us." He goes on in Corinthians to refer to this deliverance: ...he delivered us from so deadly a peril, and he will deliver us; on him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. You also must help us by prayer, so that many will give thanks on our behalf for the blessing granted us in answer to many prayers (2 Cor. 1:10,11). What an awareness this apostle had of the fantastic strength of the body of Christ working together, praying together, supporting one another, upholding each other in prayer and thus calling into action the mighty power of the God of resurrection! He is the God who can work through the most unexpected instruments to quiet a situation, to hold a crowd in restraint, to stop the surging emotionalism of people whose reasoning has been short-circuited, to hold them within limits and bounds, and to bring the whole affair to nothing! This is the might of our God. This is what Paul particularly wants us to learn from this situation, as we too come into times of danger and pressure and trouble. The difficulties which strike suddenly in our lives, the pressures through which we must go, the sudden catastrophes that come roaring in unexpectedly out of the blue--these are sent in order that we might rely not on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. So Paul sent for the disciples, and, having exhorted them, he took leave of them and departed for Macedonia. Father, thank you for this reminder. We live in days very much like these, when human emotions can rapidly get out of control, when demonic powers seem to rise suddenly and sweep through whole communities, affecting people far beyond what might be expected. Lord, these are dangerous times in which we live. We pray that we might not be so fatuous as to think that we are going to return to the quiet and peace of a time long past. But grant that we may be ready, Lord--confident, even eager, knowing that our faith does not rest upon human resources but in a God who raises the dead. We thank you in Jesus' name, Amen.

Chapter Thirteen Last Words Acts 20:2-38
The good news about Jesus had changed the whole cultural pattern of the city of Ephesus and had destroyed the market for the silversmiths' souvenirs of the temple of Artemis. Luke picks up the account of Paul's ministry as he goes from Ephesus through Macedonia and into Greece: When he had gone through these parts and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. There he spent three months..."(Acts 20:2,3) Paul moved through cities he had already visited, cities where he had founded churches--Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea-and he probably spoke to the believers in Athens. Finally he came to Corinth, where he stayed for the three months mentioned by Luke. It is amazing that Luke records so briefly a ministry which extended for a period of at least a year. Many incidents in the life of Paul which we would like to know about are simply not recorded. For example, he visited the region which today we call Albania and Yugoslavia. In those ancient times it was called Illyricum, and Paul refers to it briefly in the Book of Romans, but we know nothing of what happened there. One day it will be exciting to hear from his own lips about these forgotten parts of his ministry. Traveling Seminary 143

He went into these areas, as we have said, in order to encourage the believers Also, remember that Paul collected the contributions which the saints in these Gentile churches had made toward relief of the famished and the poverty-stricken believers in Jerusalem. Several men were appointed by each church to travel with him and take these gifts to Jerusalem. Luke tells us who some of them were in the next section: There [in Corinth] he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he determined to return through Macedonia. Sopater of Beroea, the of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus. These went on and were waiting for us at Troas, but we sailed away from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we came to them at Troas, where we stayed for seven days (Acts 20:3-6). Paul intended to sail directly from Corinth to Antioch and then on to Jerusalem, for he wanted to be there for the feast of the Passover. But he heard rumors of a plot against him, apparently involving the ship on which he was to sail. Very likely the Jews plotted that somewhere in the course of the voyage they would simply push him overboard and thus get rid of this man who, in their judgment, was very troublesome. But God was always alert to keep the apostle informed of these plots against him. So Paul changed his mind and went back through Macedonia, through Thessalonica and Philippi. There Luke joined them--notice the change from "them" to "us" in verse 5--and they sailed on together to Troas. At Troas were waiting these young men whose names are mentioned, some of whom had once been slaves. The man whose name was Secundus, which means "the second," was obviously a slave. Slaves did not bother to name their children; they just numbered them--the first, the second, the third, and so on. It may be that "number three," Tertius, who wrote the Letter to the Romans as Paul's secretary, was this man's brother. Paul insisted that these men go with him to Jerusalem in order to make sure that the funds were handled properly and that no one would misuse them in any way. But also, "coincidentally," these were sharp, alert young men, especially picked to travel with the apostle and to learn from him, So Paul had a traveling seminary and, as they went along by ship and by road, he taught these young men from the Scriptures. Asleep in the Window In the next paragraph we have an intimate glimpse of a wonderful event which occurred in Troas; On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the morrow; and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lights in the upper chamber where we were gathered. And a young man named Eutychus was sitting in the window. He sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer; and being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. But Paul went down and bent over him, and embracing him said, "Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him" (Acts 20:7-10). There are several very interesting aspects of this story. This is the first mention we have of the worship of the believers on the first day of the week. This early in the Christian era they had shifted from Saturday for their gathering, to Sunday, the first day of the week, the day of our Lord's resurrection. They evidently had met here for a communion service, and the apostle seized the occasion to teach them from the Scriptures. He loved to teach the Word because he knew it would deliver these people. He had very little time to spend in Troas, but he did stay for a week to teach them the delivering truth. In his last evening there, before they gathered at the Lord's table, he took time to teach them further from the Scriptures. He went on at considerable length, prolonging his speech until midnight. This has always been an encouraging passage to any pastor; even the Apostle Paul had people go to sleep on him! Someone has said that the art of preaching is talking 'in other people's sleep! At any rate, Eutychus fought a losing battle against falling asleep. Luke, with his physician's eye, is quick to make it as easy as possible on him. He tells us that there were many lamps in the upper chamber and each, of course, was burning up the oxygen. So, with the loss of oxygen in the atmosphere and the late hour and perhaps a long weeks work behind him--as well as Paul's long message--this young man was unable to hold out. He was seated in the window and fell into a deep sleep--actually the Greek word is the one from which we derive 'hypnosis"--and fell from the third floor.


Some people question whether he actually died. But the issue is settled by a physician's testimony. It is Luke who says that they took him up dead. So when Paul, going down and falling over him and embracing him, said, "Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him," he did not mean he was still alive. He meant that his life had returned to him. Thus he was really used of God in the great miracle of raising this young man from the dead. Peter, of course, was involved in a similar miracle in the case of Dorcas, all the more remarkable because she had been dead for several hours by the time he prayed for her. The ministries of these mighty apostles of God were confirmed by unusual miracles, including this one of raising a young man from the dead. We have another touching note at the close of the paragraph: And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. And they took the lad away alive, and were not a little comforted (Acts 20:11,12). Evidently the communion service had been interrupted by this young man's "fall from grace," and when they had restored him they went hack up and finished the Lord's supper. Then they enjoyed a wonderful time together in body life, conversing with one another, fellowshipping in the Lord, and sharing each others' experiences. So wonderful was this time that Paul could not tear himself away, even though he had a long walk ahead of him on the morrow. He stayed with them fellowship all night, rejoicing at the restoring grace of God who had brought this young man back to life. Now Luke continues the story: But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there; for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land (Acts 20:13). We are not told here why Paul chose this route. He sent them around a point that jutted into the sea, a voyage of about forty miles, while he cut across the neck of the peninsula, a hike of about twenty-five miles. He walked alone, very likely because he wanted to have time for meditation and prayer. He could walk and think and pray alone together with the Lord. This was also the habit of the Lord Jesus himself, who used to draw aside for times of meditation. And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. And sailing from there we came the following day 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; for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. And from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church (Acts 20:14-17). It is evident that the apostle was trying to maintain a schedule. He had planned to be at Jerusalem for the Passover, but he had missed that, and so now he was trying to make it for the day of Pentecost, that day on which the Holy Spirit had first come to indwell the Christians many years before. He wanted to go there not only to be with the believers but to he with the Jews as well, to help them in their celebration of the feast day of Pentecost. He had never forgotten his Jewish ancestry and his love for the people of Israel, and he longed to reach them. And so, in order not to waste time, he sent to Ephesus and asked the elders to join him at the port city of Miletus, about fifteen miles from Ephesus. They came, and Paul met them with a great message about their ministry, which occupies the rest of this chapter. Free to Make Plans Some Christians are afraid to do any planning. They realize that God is in charge of their lives and they want to be available to do his will, so they often go to the extreme of never doing any planning at all. But notice here that the apostle does plan ahead, although he is ready for any change that God might make in his program. These early Christians understood that God left choices up to them. They were to think and dream, to plan and program, but, as James tells us, they were always to remember that God has the right to interrupt and to change those plans. This is where so many of us get frustrated. It is right to plan, but it is also right to always remember that God can change that plan, and that his plan is the important one. We are not to be frustrated or to feel that we are being imposed upon or mistreated because things do not go as we planned. The apostle never seemed to object when God changed the plan.


Now we come to Paul's great charge to the Ephesian elders. In it the apostle is describing and defending his ministry. It is a beautiful passage, from which we get perhaps the most intimate glimpse anywhere in the scriptures of the heart of this great apostle, of the character of his labors, and of his concern for those with whom he ministers. We will examine it in sections, dividing it according to subject matter. With Humility and Tears The elders were what we would call the pastors of the churches there. In these ancient cities they did not meet together in church as we do on a Sunday morning. There was no room suitable for them to do so because there were probably thousands of Christians in Ephesus. They could not get together in one place, so they met in homes. In a letter to Corinth Paul speaks of the church in Ephesus which met at the house of Aquila and Priscilla, and there were many other house churches as well. The teachers of these various house-churches were the elders, those responsible for guiding and directing and teaching and feeding the flock. These are the men whom Paul has summoned to meet him at Miletus. He begins with a defense of his own ministry: And when they came to him, he said to them: "You yourselves know how I lived among you all the time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which befell me through the plots of the Jews..." (Acts 20:18,19). Some people read Paul's message and feel that he is being very conceited about his own ministry, that he is speaking at length of how he suffered but was faithful, and of how he preached the Word with power. They say he is very much aware of his own success. But if you understand that by this time the apostle is under attack and that his ministry is being threatened, you will know why he addresses a defense of his ministry to these people. In what way is he being attacked? He says that he preached with humility and with tears and went through trials which befell him through the plots of the Jews. This implies that his enemies were suggesting that he was proud, the opposite of humble, and that he was insincere, superficial, and a troublemaker, stirring up dissension everywhere he went. But Paul says, "No, I served the Lord with humility and with tears. This ministry meant everything to me. I wasn't insincere. And the trouble was caused by the Jews, not by me." In the next section we have the manner of his ministry--a wonderful glimpse of how he worked: "...how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ" (Acts 20:20,21). Whenever Paul came into these cities, he always sought first to set forth the whole counsel of God. He tried to teach the people the whole truth; he didn't want them to be shortchanged in any way. Sometimes Paul stayed up long hours in order to cover all that God has said to man, because he knew and understood that it is the knowledge of the Word that sets people free. I wish I could make this clear to people who are struggling with problems and internal tensions and pressures and with boredom, frustration, and a sense of restlessness--all the negative qualities of life. God has never intended for you to live like that. That is why he has given you the Word. It is the Word of truth that sets you free. When you learn it and understand it and operate on it, it will always set you free. Walk and Words This is why Paul emphasized this ministry so strongly. He was faithful in its delivery not only in public but also from house to house, testifying of it everywhere. Also, see how practical it was. It could always be reduced to two concepts: repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. There is the Christian message, summarized for us very neatly in two words: repent and believe. These two basic steps relate not only to the beginning of the Christian life but also to our walk throughout the Christian life. A walk is more than a single step. When faced with a situation, you should take the first step and repent, think through the old way of life and say to yourself, "I've been going at this the wrong way." But that is not yet a walk. You must take the next step and believe, have faith, trust in the work of God in you. Then, on the next occasion that comes, you go through the same procedure over again--you repent, and then believe-146

repent and believe--repent and believe--and you are walking! That is what the Christian, life is all about. In every circumstance, every situation, this is the twofold way by which the Christian lives in the power of a living God: repent and believe. Now the apostle goes on to give another characteristic of his ministry among them: And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may accomplish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. And now, behold, I know that all you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will see my face no more. Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:2227). What a magnificent statement! Note how costly Paul's ministry is. He knows that he is facing danger, trial, hardship, affliction. Everywhere he had gone, the Holy Spirit had witnessed to him through circumstances and through other Christians that he was heading for trouble, and he knew it. But note also the commitment of his heart. He says that it does not matter. Karl Marx wrote that Communists are dead men on furlough, i.e., they treat themselves as though they are as good as dead. They have nothing to lose, so they are ready for anything. That characterizes even better what a Christian is. He is really a dead man on furlough. He wants nothing for himself, but wants only to have God exalted, Christ manifested. Paul says, "I do not count my life of any value nor as precious to myself--I am not my own, but I am bought with a price. And that purchase means that I am available to Another to work through me. My aim, my goal, my joy, my desire in life is not that I should have anything for myself, but for my Lord. "What a wonderful statement of how available he was as an instrument of God's working! Then Paul makes very clear that he is aware that he has completed his ministry among them: "I testify to you that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I have declared to you the whole counsel of God. I have not kept anything back. I have given you the truth. You have listened to it, you have heard it, you know what God has toy You know the provision for his working, you know the power available to you, you know how to live in a that will please God and will fulfill your humanity. Now it is up to you; the decision is yours. Now move out upon the truth you know, because there is nothing further that I can do." The Authority of Obedience In the final section Paul goes briefly into the responsibilities of these elders to the flock at Ephesus. There are three considerations which the apostle wants to lay before them to govern them in their ministry, and the first is to feed the flock: Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you guardians [or overseers, pastors], to feed the church of the Lord which he obtained with his own blood (Acts 20:28). The primary responsibility of a pastor is to teach the Scriptures, to feed the flock. If he is not doing that, he is miserably failing in his job. If the Word, the Scripture, is not being taught, then people are not being changed. They are struggling on in their own futile ways and nothing is being accomplished. So the primary job of pastors is to set the whole counsel of God before the people. They are to begin with themselves, however; that is, they are to obey the truth which they teach. This is where their authority comes from; it is only as they are obedient to the truth which they teach that they have any right to say anything to anyone else. Even the Lord Jesus operated on that basis. He said to his disciples on one occasion, "If I do not the works of my father, then don't believe me." That is, if what I am doing is not in exact accord with what I am saying, then don't believe me!" Would you dare say that to your children? Or to your Sunday school class? Or to others who observe you as a Christian? "If what I am doing is not in line with what I teach, then don't believe me. I have no authority over you; I have no power over you." But if your actions are in accord with your teaching then power is inherent in that obedience. So these elders are to begin with themselves, and to teach the Word. Their responsibility is to the Holy Spirit, not to the denomination or to the congregation. It is the Spirit who has set them in that office and has equipped them with gifts. He 147

who reads the heart is judging their lives, so it doesn't make any difference what anybody else thinks. They are responsible to follow the Holy Spirit in what he has given them to do. Notice how Paul underscores the fact that theirs is a very precious ministry. It is to feed the church of the Lord. Nothing is more precious to God in all the world than the people of Christ, the body of Christ. The most valuable thing on earth, in God's sight, is his church. He gave himself for it, he loves it earnestly, "he obtained it with his own blood." Therefore it has highest priority in his schedule and emphasis. What concerns the church is the most important thing in the world today. I wish we could catch that picture as the apostle understood it. The second thing Paul exhorts them to do is to watch for perils: I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:29,30). There will he two sources of danger, Paul says. The first is that impostors like wolves will come in among the believers. Jesus said that too. Wolves in sheep's clothing, unregenerate men and women who talk and act like Christians and perhaps even think they are Christians, but who are not born again, will come into the church. They will be religious but will deny the power of true faith, and they will disturb and divide and ruin the church of God. These words have been fulfilled throughout the centuries, many times over. But also from within themselves, from among the elders, the leaders, will arise men who will teach distorted doctrines. The danger, again, will be that they will divide people, separate them, form little cliques which gather around particular leaders. Instead of uniting people in the fellowship of the body they will separate them out into special little groups which follow one man's view and turn away from others. Through the centuries these are the things which have disturbed the church of God. Fire and Brimstone with Love The third consideration which Paul lays before the Ephesian elders is to do all this in the spirit which he himself has exemplified: Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities, and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by so toiling one must help the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive (Acts 20:31-35). The apostle himself has been their example. They are to perform this ministry in four ways. The first is by admonishing with tears, or, as Paul writes later to the Ephesians, by speaking the truth in love. I heard the other day of a certain church which had dismissed its pastor and gotten a new one. Someone asked why they had gotten rid of the old one. A spokesman said, "Because he kept telling the people they were going to hell." The questioner asked, "What does the new man say?" "Oh, he keeps telling them they're going to hell, too." "Well, what is the difference?" he was asked. He replied, "The difference is that when the first one said it, he sounded as if he were glad of it. But when the second one says it, he lets you know it is breaking his heart." That is the difference the apostle is talking about--admonishing with tears, not with harshness, not with judgment but with concern and care and love, speaking the truth in love. The second way is to use the Word, "I commend you to the Word,'' he said. 'You have all you need in that. It is able to do what it was sent to do. It is able to build you up and give you the inheritance provided for you, the inheritance of the saints in Jesus Christ--all that Christ is, made available to you." And thirdly, Paul says, "Be selfless in your ministry. Do not be looking for something for yourself, do not be seeking glory for yourself, or favor, or position, or eminence, or prominence, or material reward. Look at me," he says. "I have labored among you and these hands have made tents to pay for my basic needs."


Finally, "Remember that the Lord Jesus has said, 'It is better to give than to receive.' So labor hard in order that you may he able to give and thus to receive the better reward." The last paragraph hardly needs comment. It describes the beautiful farewell service of parting: And when he had spoken thus, he knelt down and prayed with them all. And they all wept and embraced Paul and kissed him, sorrowing most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they should see his face no more. And they brought him to the ship (Acts 20:36-38). I'm glad that Paul was wrong about this. They did see face again. In First Timothy we learn that he paid another visit to Ephesus after this one. But he didn't know this at the time, so they all thought this was their last glimpse of their beloved leader. What a touching scene this was as they fellowshipped together, facing the dangers that lay ahead but strengthening one another in the Lord--undergirding, supporting, praying for one another, feeling the heartache of the occasion and yet the joy of sharing together in the life of Jesus Christ. Our heavenly Father, how grateful we are for your Word. How much it speaks to our hearts! How powerful is its ministry to us! And, in the hands of the Spirit, how graciously it teaches us, especially through the other members of the body. Unite us together, Lord, in love for one another. As we face the uncertainties, dangers, afflictions, hardships, and possibilities of our lives, we pray, Lord, that we may do so with a sense of our need for each other, and of our need for you above all else. We pray that you will sustain us and strengthen us and, as is your wont, that you will surprise us with such moments of joy which it is your delight to give to us. We thank you in Jesus' name, Amen.

Contents 1. Paul's Mistake (Acts 21:1-26) 2. Trouble At Jerusalem (Acts 21:27-22:29) 3. Love That Never Lets Go (Acts 22:30-23:35) 4. The Discipline of Delay (Acts 24:1-27) 5. The Gospel and King Agrippa (Acts 25 & 26) 6. God and Shipwrecks (Acts 27) 7. The End of the Beginning (Acts 28)

This present section completes the studies in the Book of Acts. Upon reading this third section some may object that it does not relate to the theme of the Body of Christ as the first two sections did. It is true that this last section of Acts focuses almost exclusively upon the trials and travels of the Apostle Paul, and very little mention is made of other members of the Body. Some may feel, therefore, that the title Triumphs of the Body is not appropriate. The point is well taken, though it does not seem to me of any great significance, especially in view of Paul's declaration that he and the other apostles served as a pattern for other believers. His trials would be their trials, and his triumphs would be their triumphs as well. "Be imitators of me, even as I am of Christ:" 149

I have pointed out in this section that the Book of Acts is unfinished, ending abruptly with Paul's first visit to Rome. This strongly implies that the Book is still being written, for each century unfolds new chapters in the story of Christ's Body on earth. Surely, therefore, the record of Paul's trials and triumphs provides a vivid and helpful example of the means by which we may prove to be more than conquerors in the trials of the Body today as well as rejoice with Paul in the triumphs. Ray C. Stedman

Chapter One Paul's Mistake Acts 21:1-26
The story of the last section of the Book of Acts is the story of Paul as a prisoner. Never before had the great apostle been locked up for more than a few days. Yet here in these last chapters we find Paul languishing for two years in the prison at Caesarea, and for three years (most scholars feel) as a prisoner in Rome. I have become convinced, however, that Paul need never have gone to Rome as a prisoner. The whole long agony of chains was totally unnecessary. I know that the Lord Jesus, when he first called to Paul on the Damascus road, said that he was to suffer great things--but not necessarily as a prisoner. That prediction had been amply fulfilled in the hardships he had undergone in his journeys around the Roman empire. Paul had been thrown in jail from time to time, but never for very long. I know also that the Lord Jesus said that Paul would give his testimony before kings, and I know it was the fact that he was a prisoner which finally brought him into royal courts. But again, it was not necessary that he come before kings in chains. A little later in this account the apostle himself, standing before King Agrippa, says, "I would that everyone in this room might be like I--except for these chains." That seems to be Paul's recognition that the chains were not a necessary part of the process. I know, further, that it was from this prison experience that Paul wrote some of the finest letters we have. And yet the greatest letter from his pen, the letter to the Romans, was not written in prison at all. The prison letters--Colossians, Ephesians, Philippians, Philemon, and others--are evidence of the salvaging grace of God, which takes even a man's mistakes and uses them for blessing and to advance God's cause. This, I believe, is the reason behind Paul's Roman imprisonment. It was a result of an action Paul took in the mistaken conviction that he was doing the right thing. One of the most helpful sections we have in the entire Book of Acts is introduced by Luke's account of Paul's mistake. It opens with the story of Paul's last journey to Jerusalem. The apostle and his friends left the Ephesian elders on the beach at Miletus and boarded ship: And 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. And having found a ship crossing to Phoenicia, we went aboard, and set sail. When we had come in sight of Cyprus, leaving it on the left we sailed to Syria, and landed at Tyre; for there the ship was to unload its cargo. And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. And when our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey; and they all, with wives and children, brought us on our way till we were outside the city; and kneeling down on the beach we prayed and bade one another farewell. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home (Acts 21:1-6). As you can see, that is largely an itinerary of the progress of the vessel down the coast of Asia Minor and then across a reach of the Mediterranean toward Jerusalem. It is obviously an eyewitness account. Luke was aboard and was recording the details of their journey. During the voyage they came to the ancient city of Tyre, north of Palestine. There they looked up certain disciples who, through the Spirit, told Paul that he should not go up to Jerusalem. Hard to Believe Many commentators have struggled with this passage. I suppose we are all reluctant to attribute any wrongful action to the Apostle Paul. We recognize the strength of his character, the fervor of his spirit, the love and compassion that was 150

always near the surface in this greathearted man, and we have come to love him. It is hard to believe that Paul would ever deliberately disobey the Holy Spirit. And yet, taken at its face value, this sentence indicates a command of the Holy Spirit which the apostle, for motives we shall examine, chose to ignore. Many people soften the implications of this sentence and say that it was only another warning of trouble ahead. But the apostle hardly needed any such warning. He well knew that trouble lay ahead of him. Back in chapter 20, verses 22 and 23, in his address to the Ephesian elders, he said, And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, bound in the Spirit, not knowing what shall befall me there; except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. Paul already understood that he was heading into trouble if he went to Jerusalem, so it seems unlikely that he needed any further warning. Others say that Paul was right and that it was the disciples who were wrong, that they should not have tried to stop Paul, since he was following an inner leading of the Spirit which they should have acknowledged. But that is to ignore three crucial words: it was through the Spirit that they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. We must face the full implications of those words. They were recorded by Luke, who was Paul's friend. He wrote this account several years later, and with the advantages of hindsight he looked back over all the events that followed. And yet, led by the Holy Spirit in recording this inspired book, he wrote down at this juncture that it was through the Holy Spirit that these disciples told Paul he was not to go up to Jerusalem. The Greek is very strong here--much stronger than our English text. Literally they said, "Stop going up to Jerusalem!" And verse 4, which in our version begins with "And" should really begin with "But," for Luke is recording a contrast here. He says, Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. But when our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey... Well, there is Paul's mistake. He did not follow the clear direction of the Holy Spirit. If we are to understand his action and derive any meaning or benefit from it, we must see where it began. Back in chapter 19 we have a word about the apostle's thoughts when he was still in Ephesus. In verse 21 Luke tells us, Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." That was the beginning of Paul's resolve to go to Jerusalem. There was nothing wrong with that at all. Here also Luke records. that this was done in the Spirit; in other words, it was perfectly proper for Paul to have decided to go up to Jerusalem at this point. God does not always guide us with messages sent before we make a decision. He expects us to make decisions and to step out on the basis of faith to do what looks like the right thing, and to change our minds only if we are impressed by the Spirit or by the Word that a decision is wrong. So there was nothing wronging with Paul's decision at this point. A little later on, at the beginning of chapter 20, we read that he did go through Macedonia and down into Greece, where he spent three months in the city of Corinth. It was during this three month period that the apostle wrote the great letter to the Romans. In that letter he tells us what motivated his desire to be in Jerusalem at this time. Before we look at that passage in Romans, we need to note verse 16 in chapter 20. Paul had come back near Ephesus, ...Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost. Why did Paul want to be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost? The answer is found in the letter to the Romans. In the first part of chapter 9 Paul unfolds to us something of the agony of his heart concerning his people:


I am speaking the truth in Christ, I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit [three times he affirms the solemnity of what he says], that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen by race. They are Israelites, and to them belong the son-ship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ. God who is over all be blessed forever. Amen (Romans 9:1-5). It is difficult for Gentiles to understand this emotion in the Apostle Paul. But he was a Jew, and as a Jew he loved his nation. He loved their heritage, their background, and their possession of the promises of God. He loved all the ritual but, Luke says, and ceremony which had been given to them to teach them about the coming of the One who would fulfill the meaning of those observances. Paul longed to reach the Jews. His heart was broken as he saw their bitterness and frustration, and the hostility and opposition to the cause of Christ which came from his own people. He knew that at Pentecost there would be a gathering of Jews from all over the Roman empire, and there was born in his heart a great hunger to be there. Israel's Relationship to God Something further is involved in this; we also know from Romans that Paul was a prophet. In chapter 11 he indicated that he well knew that the welfare of the whole world hung ultimately on what happened to Israel. That is still true. The world will never solve its problems until Israel is in a right relationship to God. And Paul, watching the developing signs of the times in his day, felt that the day of Christ's return was drawing very near. We must remember, living as we do two thousand years this side of the apostle's life, that Paul and his associates did not anticipate that the period before the Lord's return would be anywhere near as long as it has been. They couldn't have, for the time was not revealed. As Jesus said, the times and the seasons were not for them to know, just as they are not for us to know. God has always expected his church, in every age, to keep looking for the return of Jesus. But Paul seems to have made the mistake, as many do today, unfortunately, of reading the signs of the times in the present indicative tense instead of holding them always in the subjunctive--of saying, "It is the time of our Lord's return," instead of, "It may be that this is the time." No one can be certain about the time. Personally, I feel that today could well be the time of our Lord's return. I see many signs which indicate that we are drawing near to it. But no one can say precisely, "This is the time." We need to see that even these apostles--as they neared the end of their lives and saw struggle and strife breaking out in Israel, and knew that the Romans would soon be moving to destroy that nation (as indeed they did in A.D. 70)--might well have thought, "This is the hour when the Lord Jesus is about to return." Paul did think this, and he was determined to be involved in it. He longed to be an instrument to reach his people, and, moved by the anguish of his heart, he began to plan to be in Jerusalem on that day when the Jews would be gathered from all parts of the earth, so that he might have a part in proclaiming to them the kingship and lordship of Jesus Christ over that nation. Now there was nothing wrong with that part of his motive, absolutely nothing at all. But the account makes it clear that God had chosen otherwise; that God, in his great wisdom, saw that it was not necessary to have Paul in Jerusalem at this time. He had given him another ministry. Although Paul had a ministry to Israel and witnessed to them in every city to which he went, his ministry was primarily to the far reaches of the Roman empire, to the Gentiles, and it is clear that the Spirit of God did not want him in Jerusalem. Paul's mistake lay in insisting, out of mistaken zeal, upon doing what his heart longed to do for the glory of Jesus Christ. A Painful Scene A second motive is revealed in the next section Luke records for us: When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and we greeted the brethren and stayed with them for one day. On the morrow we departed and came to Caesarea; and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. And he had four un-married daughters, who prophesied. While we were staying for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. And coming to us he took Paul's girdle and bound his own feet and hands, and said, "Thus says the Holy Spirit, 'So shall the Jews at 152

Jerusalem bind the man who owns this girdle and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.'" When we heard this, we and the people there begged 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 imprisoned but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus." And when he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, "The will of the Lord be done." After these days we made ready and went up to Jerusalem. And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge (Acts 21:7-16). Had Paul obeyed the Holy Spirit at Tyre, Luke undoubtedly would simply have recorded here what he once wrote about another occasion in Paul's life: "We tried to go up to Jerusalem, but were forbidden of the Holy Spirit," just as once he recorded that the apostle tried to go into Asia and Bithynia, but was forbidden by the Spirit. But instead we have this rather painful scene. At Caesarea they came into the home of Philip the evangelist, whom we have met before in Acts, the man who led the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ. While he was there, Agabus, a well-known prophet of the Lord whom we have also met before (Acts 11:28), came to speak to Paul. In that dramatic, visual way by which Orientals illustrate truth, he took Paul's sash from around his waist and, binding his own feet and hands, said, "This is what the Holy Spirit is saying to you, Paul. If you go on to Jerusalem, you will be delivered into the hands of the Gentiles. They will bind you, and you'll be a prisoner." When we connect this with the previous paragraph we can see clearly that this was the last effort the Holy Spirit made to awaken the apostle to what he was doing. Agabus was joined in this by the whole body of believers. The whole family present urged him not to go, including Luke; we read, "When we heard this, we and the people there begged him not to go up to Jerusalem." So even his close associates recognized the voice of the Spirit, to which the apostle seemed strangely deaf. He refused to listen. In Paul's reply to them we can detect that, without quite realizing what has happened, he has succumbed to what today we call a "martyr complex." His words are brave and sincere and earnest. He meant every word of them. He said, "Why are you weeping, and breaking my heart? Why do you make it difficult for me? I'm determined to go on to Jerusalem, and I'm ready to die there." We can find no fault with the bravery and courage expressed in those words. But it was not necessary for him to go, and the Spirit had told him not to. Here we see what can happen to a man of God when he is misled by an urgent hunger to accomplish a goal which God has not given him to do. The flesh had deceived Paul. He apparently saw himself as doing what the Lord did in his final journey up to Jerusalem. The Gospel accounts say that Jesus steadfastly set his face to go there, determined to go against all the pleading and the warnings of his own disciples. Paul must have seen himself in that role. But Jesus had the Spirit's witness within that this was the will of the Father for him, while Paul had exactly the opposite. The Spirit had made it crystal clear that he was not to go to Jerusalem, had finally put it in almost the same terms employed by the angel toward Balaam, who, riding upon his ass, was determined to do his own will: "Stop going up to Jerusalem." When Paul refused to be persuaded, his friends said, "Well, may the will of the Lord be done." That is what you say when you have said all else there is to say. They are simply saying, "Lord, it is up to you. We can't stop this man. He has a strong will and a mighty determination, and he's deluded into thinking that this is what you want. Therefore you will have to handle it. May the will of the Lord be done." The will of the Lord was done, and that is what the rest of this account will trace for us. In the next section we learn of the welcome which Paul and his party received in Jerusalem. Here Luke makes clear what Paul's mistake was not. Some scholars feel that perhaps his difficulty was created by a doctrinal error. But I think Luke has been especially led of the Holy Spirit to record this next section in order to show us that Paul made no such error. When we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to 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. And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, "You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs" (Acts 21:17-21). 153

Many have misread this and concluded that Paul's mistake was that he did not boldly acknowledge that he did set aside Moses and the law, that he did reject circumcision as of no value whatsoever, as you read in his letters to the Colossians and the Galatians, for example. But the key phrase is, "that you teach all the Jews" to do so. That charge was totally false. Paul never taught a Jew to abandon Moses, or not to circumcise his children. What he strongly taught was that the Gentiles should not be made subject to these Jewish provisions. He would not allow them to come under the Jewish law, and insisted that they did not have to follow any of these Jewish provisions. Retelling the Story But he did not set aside the ritual for the Jews. Rather, he pointed out to them that the ritual was all symbolic, a picture pointing toward Christ. The very rituals they were performing and the sacrifices they were offering were all telling them of Jesus. Jesus' coming had filled out the picture drawn by the Old Testament sacrifices. Thus in the process of carrying them out the Jews were simply reminding themselves of the coming of the Lord Jesus. These observances were very much like the Lord's table is for us today. In that ritual we know that we are dealing with symbols which are retelling the story of the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. Doing this does not give us any added spirituality. In itself it does not make us any better, but it reminds us. The function of these Jewish rituals, then, was to remind them of what the Lord Jesus had come to do, and had done. All through the Book of Acts we see Jewish Christians going into the temple and performing ceremonies, just as the Lord Himself had done. There is no suggestion that they should have stopped, or that it was wrong for them to do this, until God took the rituals away. The Jewish sacrifices ended when the temple was finally destroyed in A. D. 70, when the words of Jesus were fulfilled and Roman armies came and laid siege to the city. His words of warning were, "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then flee into the mountains, for then shall be fulfilled all that has been predicted." The city was taken and the Jews were carried away captive, exactly as the Lord Jesus said. But that was still several years in the future from this point in history. So Paul is not compromising when, as we read in this next section, he took upon himself certain Jewish practices. James said to him, "What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you but that you yourself live in observance of the law. But as for the Gentiles who have believed, 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 unchastity." Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself with them and went into the temple, to give notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for every one of them (Acts 21:22-26). Here Paul was following his own announced practice. He wrote that when he was with the Jews, he became as a Jew; when he was with the Gentiles, he became as a Gentile; and when he was with the weak, he limited himself and became as weak as they--all in order that he might reach them on their level, through the medium and culture to which they were accustomed. He was simply declaring again the freedom he had in Christ. He was free--free to live as a Gentile among the Gentiles, free to live as a Jew among the Jews--free from the law, but free also to keep the law if there were certain advantages to be gained for the sake of the gospel by so doing. So Paul adopts this Jewish practice, willing to become as a Jew, along with these others, in order to clear up a misunderstanding which had a totally false basis. As you read the account which follows of the trouble he met in Jerusalem, you can see that not one bit of it was a consequence of his Jewish practices. The trouble that broke out, as we will see in our next chapter, was due simply to his presence in Jerusalem, where he had no business being. No Guarantee Against Failure There is a deep lesson here for us, one which strikes particularly deep into my own heart. It is this: experience, even long-continued Christian experience, along with spiritual insight and understanding of Scripture, are no guarantees against failure--against missing the mind of God. That is why we often see men and women who have been greatly used of God 154

for years and years, suddenly fail in some way and cast a blot upon their ministry. This again indicates to us the deadliness of our enemy. The flesh can bide its time. It can wait out long periods of subjugation, or relative victory in Christ, and then catch us off guard--especially by awakening a desire which seems to be right, seems to be exactly what God would want done. Now the Spirit of God is always faithful to warn us. We need not stumble blindly into this trap, any more than Paul needed to. But what this great study shows us is that we must be very careful to be obedient to the Spirit's voice. When he blocks our plans, clearly and unmistakably, we are to obey. Otherwise we simply open ourselves up to unnecessary heartache, unnecessary limitation and restriction, as the apostle did here. But God did not abandon or forsake Paul. He picked him up and used him powerfully, turning the mistake itself into opportunities for the advance of his cause. But Paul himself had to undergo deprivation, heartache, and suffering which he need not have endured if he had been obedient to the Holy Spirit. Through this experience God helps us to learn that even a mighty apostle can fail in faith at times. May this serve as a lesson to us that only as we walk in obedience to the voice of God and to the clear directions of the Word of God can we find our way through all the pitfalls that await us in life.

Chapter Two Trouble At Jerusalem Acts 21:27-22:29
To allay the suspicions of the Jews about Paul's teaching, he had assumed the responsibility of going into the temple with four young men who had taken a Nazarite vow, and of paying their expenses until they could complete the prescribed rites and shave their heads. It was when this was nearly accomplished that trouble began. Luke continues the account, beginning with verse 27: When the seven days were almost completed, the Jews from Asia, who had seen him in the temple, stirred up all the crowd, and laid hands on him, crying out, "Men of Israel, help! This is the man who is teaching men everywhere against the people and the law and this place; moreover he also brought Greeks into the temple, and he 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). Notice who instigates this trouble. It is not the Jews in Jerusalem; it is those from Asia. The Capital of the Roman province of Asia was Ephesus. So it was undoubtedly the same Jews who had caused the disturbance in Ephesus which resulted in a riot that drove Paul out of the city. Here they are again, hot on his trail, these riot engineers traveling around from place to place, deliberately stirring up trouble, determined to destroy the tremendous work of the apostle. Naturally they were upset by what had happened in Ephesus. The liberating power of the gospel had hit that region with such impact that it had demolished the structure of the superstitious pagan worship in that city. As a result, the trade of the idol-making silversmiths fell off, and so they rioted, led by a man named Demetrius. And now here they are in Jerusalem. Very likely Alexander the coppersmith, who had caused Paul so much trouble in Ephesus, is here as well. It is quite evident that the Lord Jesus had wanted Paul to avoid this trouble. This is why he had said through the Spirit that Paul was not to go to Jerusalem; he knew these troublemakers were there. He knew the volatile character of the Jewish nation. He read, far more clearly than Paul, the stubborn resistance of the Jewish heart to the gospel, and he knew that any attempt to reach this stubborn people would be hopeless at this time. But Paul could not see that. The Lord would have allowed Paul to continue his great ministry throughout the Gentile regions, where he now had a freedom he never experienced in the early part of his ministry. After the decision made by the Roman judge at Corinth, Paul had access to every Roman city to preach the gospel, and he could have gone on proclaiming Christ in liberty. But now his presence in Jerusalem makes him subject to attack and awakens the possibility of this riot. Explosive Charges 155

Notice the palpably false charge thrown against Paul. It is purely circumstantial, cooked up out of false evidence. He is charged with being against the religion of Judaism. Further, the Jews invent the accusation that Paul has defiled the temple by bringing Gentiles into it. Some years ago an archeologist exploring the ruins of Jerusalem dug up the actual copper plaque which had been affixed to the wall that divided the court of the Gentiles from the inner temple courts available only to Jews. It stated, both in Greek and Hebrew, that any Gentile daring to set foot beyond this wall was subject immediately to the penalty of death. So the Jews were incensed at the very idea of any violation of the temple. And, since they had seen Paul with a Greek in the streets of Jerusalem, they reasoned, "Well, if Paul would walk down the street with a Gentile, he would also take him into the temple." That was enough to cause an immediate explosion. Then all the city was aroused, and the people ran together; they seized Paul and dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut. And as they were trying to kill him, word came to the tribune of the cohort that all Jerusalem was in confusion. He at once took soldiers and centurions, and ran down to them; and when they saw the tribune and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. Then the tribune came up and 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. And when he came to the steps, he was actually carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd; for the mob of the people followed, crying "Away with him!" (Acts 21:30-36). It is obvious that Luke is an eyewitness to this stirring and colorful scene. No description in the New Testament is more dramatic that this one. A few years ago I stood in Jerusalem on the site of the Roman fortress of Antonia, overlooking the temple courts. Looking down into that arena I tried to reproduce in my imagination this vivid, colorful, tumultuous scene, as the whole area, packed with Jews gathered for the great day of the feast, had churned in turmoil, enraged by the accusation that Paul had brought Greeks into the sacred temple courts. They seized him and began to beat him with their fists and kick him with their feet, trying to knock him down so they could stamp the life out of him. They were prevented only by the intervention of the Roman guards. The sentries on the wall, seeing the tumult, sent word to their commander, the Roman tribune whose name, Claudius Lysias, is given a little later in Acts. Evidently the governor was in the capital of Caesarea, down on the coast, and Claudius Lysias was in charge of Jerusalem. When the word came he immediately took centurions (captains of hundreds) and gathered perhaps two or three hundred soldiers and charged down into this crowd. They shouldered their way through the enraged mob, surrounded the apostle, and picked him up and carried him out on their shoulders. The crowd was so enraged that they battled the soldiers all the way. Even this large force could rescue the apostle only with the greatest difficulty. The Romans to the rescue! What a tremendous scene this was! Paul was near death at this point. The mob had actually begun to beat him to death. Bold Request But next we have an amazing account which shows the courage of this great apostle. He makes a bold request of the centurion: As Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, "May I say something to you?" And he said, "Do you know Greek? Are you not the Egyptian, then, who recently stirred up a revolt and led the four thousand men of the Assassins out into the wilderness?" Paul replied, "I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city; I beg you, let me speak to the people." And when he had given him leave, Paul, standing on the steps, motioned with his hand to the people; and when there was a great hush, he spoke to them in the Hebrew language...(Acts 21:37-40). How remarkable that Paul would ask permission to speak to this enraged mob, which had just been ready to tear him limb from limb! I am sure that if I had been in his shoes I would have been trying to get out of there as quickly as possible, quite content to let the mob go. But Paul recognizes this as his opportunity. He has come to Jerusalem determined to speak to his nation. Out of the urgency of his love for them he wants to be the instrument to reach this stubborn crowd. So he seizes the only opportunity he has, hoping the Lord will give him success. The tribune is very startled when Paul addresses him in Greek, because this rough Roman officer thought he knew who Paul was. He thought he was that Egyptian who, according to Josephus, a year or so earlier had led a band of desperate men out to the Mount of Olives, promising them that he had the power to cause the walls of Jerusalem to fall down at his 156

command. Of course he was unable to deliver on his promise, and the Romans had made short work of the rebels, killing most of them, except for the Egyptian leader, who had escaped. But when this tribune heard the cultured accents of Greece he knew that Paul was no Assassin. (The rebels were called that because they had concealed daggers in their cloaks, and as they mingled among the people they would strike without warning, killing people at random in cold blood. They were utter terrorists, trying to strike dread into the Jewish populace and thus to overthrow the Roman government.) And so, impressed by something about the apostle, the tribune lets him speak to this crowd. Amazingly, when Paul indicates with his hand that he wants to speak, a great hush falls. To Win a Hearing Now we have Paul's defense, in chapter 22. We get the introduction in the first five verses: "Brethren and fathers, hear the defense which I now make before you." And when they heard that he addressed them in the Hebrew language, they were the more quiet. And he said: "I am a Jew, born at Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as you all are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brethren, and I journeyed to Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished" (Acts 22:1-5). Everything in this paragraph is cleverly yet earnestly designed to win a hearing for what the apostle has to say. He reminds them that he him self is a Jew. He speaks to them in their own language, Aramaic, a dialect of Hebrew, which was spoken throughout the city. He says he was born in the fine university city of Tarsus, and brings in the honored name of Gamaliel, his great teacher. Gamaliel, who had died only a year or two before, was one of five Jewish rabbis regarded as the greatest of all time. His nickname was "The Beauty of the Law," so highly was he honored by these Jews because of his insight and understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures. Paul is trying to impress the people that he was tutored at the feet of this godly man, in order to make them listen. He goes on from there to tell them the simple story of his conversion: As I made my journey and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone about me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?' And I answered, 'Who are you, Lord?' And he said to me, 'I am Jesus of Nazareth whom you are persecuting.' Now those who were with me saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me. And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' And the Lord said to me, 'Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.' And when I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus" (Acts 22:6-11). The apostle makes no attempt to preach to these people, but instead falls back upon what is basically the most powerful form of witness--simple testimony as to what had happened to him. That is very solid ground. Whenever you give your witness, your testimony of what Jesus Christ has done for you and of how he has changed your life, you are the world's greatest authority on that subject. So Paul could speak with absolutely unassailable logic and conviction. He simply recounts the story, doing his best to lay hold of the hearts of these stubborn Jews. He tells them that despite his hostility to Christianity he was converted against his will. This is the testimony of a hostile witness, which in a court of law carries greater weight than any other kind. What an arresting effect the story must have had upon this crowd, which had never before heard it from his own lips! Then he recites his commission as an apostle: "And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me and standing by me said to me, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight'(Acts 26:12,13). I have always been impressed with the courage of Ananias. How would you like to be sent to Public Enemy Number One, to the head of the Mafia, to welcome him, put your arms around him, and call him "brother?" Paul goes on:


"And in that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, 'The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Just One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name'" (Acts 26:13-16). Notice how the details of this event are etched into the apostle's memory. Though it occurred thirty years before, he has never forgotten a single detail. He recalls it all as vividly as if it had happened yesterday. This was the moment he was chosen to be an apostle, and Ananias conveyed the commission to him. It had three parts, three aspects of ministry, as Paul clearly details, the far regions of earth, performing his apostolic ministry. Pattern Christian First, he was chosen to know the will the God, and from that he obtained the power by which he was to minister. Paul was sent out as a pattern Christian. That is what apostles are. They are not special people living at a high level of spiritual life, to which none of us can ever expect to attain. They live at the very level we are to live on. The first thing that Paul was taught was to know the will of God. That did not mean that Paul was to know where God wanted him to go, or what God wanted him to do. What Paul had to learn was that the will of God is a relationship to his Son. When Paul understood that, he had all the power he needed to do anything God asked him to do. That is the will of God. I find that many Christians struggle at this point. They think that the will of God is some kind of itinerary they must discover, that if they can just find where God wants them to go, and what He wants them to do next, then they can do the will of God. No, the Scriptures make clear that the will of God is a relationship. It is your attitude of expectancy that Jesus Christ, living in you, will work through you. When you expect him to do that, you are in the will of God. Do anything you like, then, because it will be God's will, unless the Holy Spirit within you indicates otherwise, according to His Word. That is what Paul learned--the power by which a Christian lives his life. Then on that basis, he was to see the Just One, the Lord Jesus. Paul looks back and says, "This is what made me an apostle. I have seen Jesus Christ many times. He has appeared to me, and talked to me. He told me, directly and personally, the things that the other apostles learned when they were with Him as disciples. That is how I know them." And, motivated by the love of Jesus Christ and an awareness of the majesty of his Person, Paul pushed on ceaselessly, out into the far regions of the earth, performing his apostolic ministry. Finally, Paul was to hear a voice from the Lord's mouth. That was his message--to declare what Jesus Christ had said to him. It was the same message Jesus had given to the twelve, in the days of his flesh. That is how they knew that Paul was a true apostle--because he knew what they knew. God has the same message for all of us today--the words of his mouth, which Jesus had given to the Apostle Paul. Confrontation at Jerusalem In the next section Paul strangely includes the confrontation he had with Jesus in Jerusalem: "When I had returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, I fell into a trance and saw Him saying to me, 'Make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem, because they will not accept your testimony about me.' And I said, 'Lord, they themselves know that in every synagogue I imprisoned and beat those who believe in thee. And when the blood of Stephen thy witness was shed, I also was standing by and approving, and keeping the garments of those who killed him.' And he said to me, 'Depart; for I will send you far away to the Gentiles'"(Acts 22:17-21). It is strange that Paul should recount this episode on this occasion. Perhaps he is trying to explain why he ultimately went to the Gentiles. But in a sense he is testifying against himself here. This episode had occurred some 27 years earlier, when, three years after his conversion, he came back to Jerusalem to be the self-styled apostle to Israel and to preach to this nation about Jesus Christ. In Damascus, convinced that he was equipped with all it took to reach Israel with the gospel, he ended up having to escape the city by being let down over the walls in a basket. Though discouraged by that, he still thought he would get somewhere in Jerusalem. He came there to preach to Israel, but even the Christians would not receive him. The apostles would have nothing to do with him.


Brokenhearted, he came into the temple to pray. There the Lord Jesus met him and said, "Get out of Jerusalem. 'Make haste, get out! They will not accept your testimony!" The strange thing is that, 27 years later, here he is in Jerusalem again, and Jesus is saying the very same thing to him: "Get out! They will not accept your testimony. You should not have gone up to Jerusalem." Though Paul had been warned through the Spirit he had tried anyway, and now he has come to exactly the same place. One word about going to the Gentiles, and the place explodes--blows up in his face: Up to this word they listened to him; then they lifted up their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth! For he ought not to live." And as they cried out and waved their garments and threw dust in the air, the tribune commanded him to be brought into the barracks, and ordered him to be examined by scourging, to find out why they shouted thus against him (Acts 22:22-24). This poor tribune has not understood a word that Paul has said to these people, because he has spoken in Aramaic. And when the place all of a sudden erupts he does not know what to make of it. So he thinks, "We'll get the truth out of him -we'll scourge it out of him!" This was a brutal and bloody process of beating a man on the bare back with leather thongs in which were imbedded pieces of metal and bone. It would have torn Paul's back to a bloody pulp. That was the cruel method the Romans used. Distortion of the Divine Plan But we are told here what had offended these Jews. The point of pride which Paul had touched was the idea that God would even consider going to the Gentiles and bringing them into the same blessings the Jews had enjoyed. Their racist rejection of this notion was complete. But what a twisting and distorting of the divine program that represented! The nation Israel had been called of God to be the vehicle by which the nations should be reached! But instead of obeying that call they had selfishly gathered it all to themselves and said, "God has chosen us; therefore we must be a superior people. He doesn't have any interest in the rest of the world. Let all the Gentiles go to hell; we're the people of God, the chosen instruments of God! And we don't like anybody who suggests that God is going to save those dirty dogs, the Gentiles, on the same basis that he does us Jews!" This was the rankest form of racial prejudice, on a par with the worst of the hatred of whites for blacks in our country today. But what strikes me as I read this account is how closely it resembles much of the evangelical isolationism which the church has been going through. To a great degree we have done the same thing. We have felt that God is not interested in the world, that he wants only us, that we are the favored people of God. We have gathered our robes of selfrighteousness about ourselves and drawn into our Christian ghettos and said, "Let the world go to hell! We are going to enjoy God's favor and blessing." And we have resisted the chance to reach out to the lost, fragmented humanity around us. But God always judges that. He is judging it in our day. He judges this self-righteous pride which says, "We are especially favored," which refuses to recognize that we are nothing but guilty sinners like anybody else, and are just enjoying the grace of God. That grace is as much available to anybody, anywhere, as it is to us. We have the responsibility to share it! The last section shows the protection God provided for his apostle: But when they had tied him up with the thongs, Paul said to the centurion who was standing by, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen, and uncondemned?" When the centurion heard that, he went to the tribune and said to him, "What are you about to do? For this man is a Roman citizen." So the tribune came and said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?" And he said, "Yes." The tribune answered, "I bought this citizenship for a large sum." Paul said, "But I was born a citizen." [A bit of one-upmanship here.] So those who were about to examine him withdrew from him instantly; and the tribune also was afraid, for he realized that Paul was a Roman citizen and that he had bound him (Acts 22:25-29). The law of Rome said explicitly that no Roman was to be bound without due process of law. Furthermore, they were not to be beaten under any circumstances, even if convicted. The penalty for doing so was death. So this tribune knew he was in trouble. He was very frightened when he learned that Paul was a citizen and realized that he had both bound Paul and was on the very verge of beating him with the terrible, bloody scourge. Here God used the state to protect his apostle. The state is also the instrument of God, and we must remember that. The powers that be are ordained of God, and God uses them--as he did in this case to preserve the life of Paul. 159

As we review this account I cannot help but think of the phrase Paul uses in his second letter to the Corinthians: "struck down but not destroyed." God will sometimes let us stumble in our folly into disasters from which we must suffer, sometimes for days and weeks and months and years. But he never abandons us. He never leaves us all alone. He finds a way to work it all out and he brings us back. In our next study we will see how graciously the Lord Jesus restores his mighty apostle. Though he must remain a prisoner of Caesar, in the hands of the Roman authorities, nevertheless he will be permitted to carry on his great ministry in power and blessing, with renewed influence throughout the Roman empire. God never abandons his people!

Chapter Three Love That Never Lets Go Acts 22:30-23:35
At the end of chapter 22, Paul is in the hands of a very puzzled Roman tribune who cannot figure out what to do with this civilized, cultured man with the ability to speak in several languages, a Roman citizen from the honored university city of Tarsus. Every time Paul comes in contact with the Jews there is an explosion. Like putting steel to a grinder, putting Paul in the presence of these Jews makes sparks fly. The tribune does not understand this strange reaction, but he is going to try again. But on the morrow, desiring to know the real reason why the Jews accused him, he [the Roman tribune] unbound him, and commanded the chief priests and all the council to meet, and he brought Paul down and set him before them (Acts 22:30). The tribune summons the high priests and the elders--the Sanhedrin--to the Roman fortress of Antonia. Then he brings Paul down and sets him in their midst. And now Paul has an occasion to address the leaders of the nation, the representatives of the people. We get his introduction at the beginning of chapter 23: And Paul, looking intently at the council, said, "Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience up to this day." And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, "God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall! Are you sitting to judge me according to the law, and yet contrary to the law you order me to be struck?" Those who stood by said, "Would you revile God's high priest?" And Paul said, "I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, 'You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people'" (Acts 23:1-5). What a left-footed beginning! There is a noticeably reckless audacity about the apostle's introduction. He seems to be careless, almost, of the consequences of what he says--like a man burning his bridges behind him. I rather suspect that he is aware by now that he has blundered into a very untenable situation, so he is trying to bull his way through. You will notice that he does not begin with his usual courtesy. The customary address to the Sanhedrin was a standardized form which began, "Rulers of Israel, and elders of the people..." Paul does not employ that, as he normally would, but instead puts himself right on a level with these rulers, doubtless because he was once one of them, and he addresses them simply with the familiar term, "Brethren." Now that was an offense to these Jews. It was true that Paul once belonged to them. Perhaps he knew many of them personally. But it had been many years since he had ever sat with them. And he well knew, as they did, that a longstanding enmity had arisen between them. And now to have him come and rather brashly address them as his equals was offensive. In addition, he implies that there is no possible ground of complaint against him. He says, "I have lived in all good conscience before God up to this day." This was certainly true. Yet it seemed to imply that there was no reason for this meeting at all--that it was absurd and ridiculous to have called this council together. Insult and Retort So for this seeming impudence and impertinence, the high priest commands that Paul be slapped across the mouth. That was an unusually degrading form of insult to an Israelite. The law commanded that no Israelite should ever be struck in the face, and so this was certainly wrong. We Gentiles don't appreciate it very much either. Paul's anger flashes out at this 160

offense. He whips back the caustic retort, "God shall strike you, you whitewashed wall!" That was a typically Judaistic way of calling the high priest a bare-faced hypocrite. The only whitewashed walls in Israel were tombs. Jesus used this figure when he said to the Pharisees, "You are like tombs, whitewashed on the outside, but within full of dead men's bones." So the apostle is calling him a stinking hypocrite, and this is not lost upon the high priest. It certainly is not the most tactful way for a prisoner to address a judge! It is very likely that Paul recognized who Ananias was, but not what his position was. Paul knew that Ananias had a reputation as a glutton, a thief, and a stool-pigeon to the Romans. So Paul is offended by the fact that this notorious hypocrite would command him to be struck like this, contrary to the law. But what he did not know was that Ananias had recently been appointed high priest. The council had been convened rather summarily and the priest had probably not had time to dress in his robes. The moment it is pointed out to him that Ananias is indeed the high priest, Paul is instantly repentant, for he recognizes that he is in the wrong. He apologizes, for the law says that the office deserves respect, even if the man does not. But it is too late; he has already blown his chance. We are accustomed to seeing Peter with his foot in his mouth, but it is rather unusual to find Paul in this condition. But here he is. He has insulted the ruler of the tribunal, making it impossible to receive anything approaching a fair trial. And yet, it is only what we might have expected. We must bear in mind through this whole study that the apostle has gone to Jerusalem in direct disobedience of a command of the Holy Spirit. He has thereby put himself in the position of being mastered and controlled by the flesh, that principle of evil inherent in every one of us. Remember that the Apostle Paul himself is the one who tells us, in his letter to the Romans, that if we yield ourselves as servants to the flesh, we become the servant of that which we obey. In other words, if we give way to our insistence on our own stubborn will as opposed to something God has made clear, no matter in what area, we have fallen victim to the flesh, and the flesh rules. Then, even when we want to walk in the Spirit in other areas and relationships of our life, we cannot. As a result, the manifestations of the flesh come out, unbidden and against our will. The flesh always carries us farther than we want to go. It sits at the controls of our life and rules us, whether we like it or not. As Paul Says in another place, we thus give Satan an advantage over us; no matter what we try to do, it all comes out fleshly. Prideful Disdain That is what is happening here. Though Paul is trying to walk in the Spirit he cannot, because the flesh is in command. There are certain unmistakable marks of fleshliness which you see right here in this account. One is a certain prideful disdain of others. Paul is usually the most sensitive of men to the requirement for normal courtesies. But here he sets that aside as he roughly addresses the Sanhedrin. Ordinarily, recognizing that their position was given by God, he would have used the courteous address their office demanded, as Jesus always did when he spoke to them. But now, with that little touch of disdain, revealing that he obviously thinks of himself as the equal of these men, he addresses them as brethren--much to the offense of these officials, who regard him as a prisoner awaiting judgment. And there is his obvious testiness, his irritability and quick temper, the flash of anger with which he retorts. His reply is not that of a man in control of his emotions. I well know from my own experience that this is a mark of the flesh in control. There are times when I am resistant to the will of God but try to walk in the Spirit anyway, without settling the matter. At such times I find myself quick of temper, impatient, and caustic. I do not want to be, but I am. That is how Paul is here. Then you notice that he relies now upon his own wits to get out of this dilemma instead of resting upon the wisdom of God: But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, "Brethren, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees; with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead I am on trial." And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose; and some of the scribes of the Pharisees' party stood up and contended, "We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?" And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn in pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him by force from among them and bring him into the barracks (Acts 23:6-10). 161

I do not think this attempt to divert the subject a deliberate trick by the apostle. It was not was some cunning stratagem that he employed to get himself off the hook by dividing the assembly. He simply realized that he was in deeper than he had intended and saw that his cause was lost. So, hoping for some support from the Pharisees, he cried out this way, identifying himself with them. The Pharisees represented at least some adherence to the letter and teaching of the law. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were what we would call modernists, liberals. They denied the supernatural. They refused to recognize the existence of angels or spirits, and certainly not the resurrection from the dead, whereas the Pharisees were more fundamental in their understanding, recognizing that these things were realities. So they were ready to defend Paul on the ground that, in his conversion, a spirit might have spoken to him, or an angel. They were not ready to acknowledge that it was indeed the Lord Jesus, but they were at least willing to acknowledge that perhaps something supernatural had occurred. Another Screaming Squabble Paul is simply trying his best, using his wits to get out of his circumstance. But when the flesh is in control, things always work out wrong. We try to take advantage of the situation as we see it. But we always get deeper and deeper into trouble. Paul succeeds only in polarizing the council. His hopes for a testimony before the leaders of the nation fly out the window, and he finds himself in the middle of another screaming squabble of Jews. They are yelling theological arguments at one another and threatening to tear Paul apart as they literally pull and tug at him like a bone of contention. Once again this puzzled Roman tribune must rescue Paul. Three times now he has pulled him out of the fire. He is getting to be an expert at it, but it completely baffles him. What is it about this man that precipitates an explosion every time he comes into contact with the Jews? And poor Paul! I think that out of friendship for him Luke hides some of the painful details from us. But you can imagine how Paul must have felt. He had his chance, and he blew it! Now he sits in his cell--utterly humiliated, dejected, defeated, deflated, disenchanted. All his dreams of testimony to the Jews lie in ashes around his feet. Paul is utterly discouraged. Now that is always God's hour. God waits for a man to arrive at that place. This is the way He heals us after we have moved forward in the self-sufficiency of the flesh. He always lets it run its course until we find ourselves broken, deflated, wallowing in an awful sense of shame and dejected--utterly bankrupt. That is God's hour. Remember how Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount: "Happy are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Happy are you when you arrive at personal, spiritual bankruptcy, when you do not have any resources left, when you have come to the end of yourself. I have been there; haven't you? I have said to God, "Lord, I quit! I'm not going to be a Christian anymore. I can't make it. I've tried. I've done everything I know how, and I just can't make it. I'm going to quit." I didn't realize it at the time, but the Lord was standing there saying, "Great! That's just where I wanted you to come, just what I've been waiting for. Now it's my turn." Restored to Usefulness That is what happens here. We have seen Paul before the council. Now we see him before the Lord: The following night the Lord stood by him and said, "Take courage, for as you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome" (Acts 23:11). Literally, what the Lord Jesus says as he appears to him is, "Be of good cheer. Cheer up, Paul." That is certainly a revelation of the state of Paul's heart at this time. He is anything but of good cheer. He is defeated and discouraged, failure, but he is not abandoned. Isn't it wonderful that the Lord comes now to restore him to his ministry? I am sure that, as in other places, Luke does not give us the full account of what transpired between Paul and his Lord on that night. But there is enough here so that we can see what our Lord is after. He restores Paul to usefulness. He says to him, "As you have testified about me at Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also at Rome." Thus he promises Paul success in the desire of his heart which was second only to his desire to win his kinsmen. He was to have his chance to bear witness for Christ at the heart of the empire, the very capital of the Gentile world. 162

And yet the very form of expression used by the Lord contains a hint of the limitation resulting from Paul's disobedience. The Lord Jesus puts it this way: "As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must bear witness also in Rome." In other words, the emphasis here is upon the manner in which this witness will go forth. "In the way you bore witness to me in Jerusalem, in that same way you must bear witness in Rome." How had he testified in Jerusalem? As a prisoner--chained, bound, limited. If Paul had obeyed, he would yet have been free to travel around the Roman world, preaching the gospel. But he disobeyed, so he was permitted to bear witness, but only as a prisoner. This encounter with the Lord Jesus must have been a wonderful moment in the apostle's experience. The Lord restored him to spiritual health, as he often must do with us. Have you ever disobeyed God, knowing that you shouldn't have but wanting something so badly that you've gone ahead anyway? How wonderful to have the Lord ready to restore us. I have been there too, so I know how God can patiently, tenderly deal with us and bring us back to the place of yieldedness. After this Paul is his usual self again, and yet he is bound. Ahead of him, before he even comes to Rome, lies two years of confinement in Caesarea. (Nothing is recorded of his ministry during this time, although I am sure he had one.) And after he arrives at Rome he is a prisoner there at least another three years. And yet in this moment the power of Paul's ministry is given back to him. From here on the things he says and does have that same wonderful infusion of the Spirit's power which makes unusual things happen. And from Rome Paul is to write some of his greatest letters--letters filled with power, letters which are still changing the history of the world. The joy of the Lord is back in Paul's heart; the glory returns to his ministry. The love of Jesus Christ is filling him and flooding Paul, empowering and enriching him. The Scar Remains The limitation of chains is the resulting scar of sin, the consequence of Paul's disobedience. Young Christians often feel that there is no great problem involved when they deliberately do something wrong. They feel that they can simply confess and come back, and the Lord will forgive them and everything will be fine again. And this much is true: they can be forgiven; they can come back immediately. God does not hold their sin against them; he does not deprive them of their power or of the love, the joy, the fellowship, and the glory of their Christian life. He never wants us to look back upon our past with guilt, in self-abnegation and shame. He wants us to accept the forgiving hand he offers us in the moment of restoration. That is the glory of being a Christian. You do not have to wait to be forgiven, and you do not have to pay for anything. You do not have to go back and try to placate God in some way because of what you have done. You must make it right, as far as you can, with any people you have wronged, but you can be forgiven and all the glory of your relationship with the Lord restored. But there is one thing you cannot do: you cannot take away--and God does not take away--the natural results which follow evil. Certain limitations and weaknesses are there, and you must work within them from then on. You can see this also in the story of Moses. Moses lost his temper in front of the children of Israel and spoke out hastily. As a result God's cause was greatly damaged. And God said to him, "Because you have done this, you cannot enter the land." Moses was forgiven. His heart was made strong in the Lord again, and the power of his ministry was given back to him. But he was never permitted to enter the land. And even though Moses longed to do so, and asked God to take that restriction away, yet God never rescinded that limitation. The same kind of thing happened to David. David committed the twin sins of murder and adultery. He was awfully torn by this himself, and he damaged the whole nation by this behavior. God came to David, forgiving and restoring him. He allowed him to keep his throne, and he gave back his power, his joy, his peace, and his love. But God said to him, "David, because you have done this, you will never again have peace in your household." And he never did. His family was fragmented from that moment on, and there was unending trouble in the palace from then on--because of David's evil. Yes, sin does leave scars. Paul's situation is another example of this truth. His disobedience means that he must be a prisoner. And though he can exercise power and love and joy and peace again with all the fullness he ever had, it will be within the limitation of being bound to a Roman soldier day and night for the next five years or more. 163

Luke resumes the account and shows us how God's hand now starts to work out his purpose for his restored apostle. A plot begins to develop: When it was day, the Jews made a plot and bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they had killed Paul. There were more than forty who made this conspiracy. And they went to the chief priests and elders, and said, "We have strictly bound ourselves by an oath to taste no food till we have killed Paul. You therefore, along with the council, give notice now to the tribune to bring him down to you, as though you were going to determine his case more exactly. And we are ready to kill him before he comes near" (Acts 23:12-15). This certainly underscores the hopelessness of Paul's attempt to witness to these Jews. They are not only unwilling to listen, they are intent upon killing him. So they concoct a plot by which they can get Paul away from the protection of the Roman guardhouse and down into the streets of Jerusalem on his way to the high priest's palace. There, in the narrow, tortuous alleyways of that old city, they have a band of forty men who have vowed never to eat or drink until they have over-powered Paul's guards and put him to death. It looks as if the plot might work. But in the next section you see God's protection of his apostle, first in private: Now the son of Paul's sister heard of their ambush; so he went and entered the barracks and told Paul. And Paul called one of the centurions and said, "Bring this young man to the tribune; for he has something to tell him." So he took him and brought him to the tribune and said, "Paul the prisoner called me and asked me to bring this young man to you, as he has something to say to you." The tribune took him by the hand, and going aside asked him privately, "What is it that you have to tell me?" And he said, "The Jews have agreed to ask you to bring Paul down to the council tomorrow, as though they were going to inquire somewhat more closely about him. But do not yield to them; for more than forty of their men lie in ambush for him, having bound themselves by an oath neither to eat nor drink till they have killed him; and now they are ready, waiting for the promise from you." So the tribune dismissed the young man, charging him, "Tell no one that you have informed me of this" (Acts 23:16-22). Notice that Paul knows nothing about the tribune's response. But that is all right; there is no need for him to be concerned. The Lord Jesus is watching over him, and he has his man in the right place. The man happens to be Paul's nephew, and "by accident," we might say, he is right there. "Coincidentally" he is at the right spot to overhear the plans being laid, and he comes to the tribune with the story. Small Army Then you see how the protection of God extends into an open, public display: Then he called two of the centurion and said, "At the third hour of the night get ready two hundred soldiers with seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go as far as Caesarea. Also provide mounts for Paul to ride, and bring him safely to Felix the governor" (Acts 23:23,24). Two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen, and two hundred spearmen--that is four hundred seventy armed men to protect one Christian! That is a small army, and no band of Jewish zealots is going to attack any force like that. When the plot was laid, God relied upon Paul's relative, his nephew, to help him. If you will permit a very bad pun, he was "relatively" safe. But now Paul is absolutely secure in the midst of this force as he goes down to the coastline. Letter of Acquittal Now notice the preparation for Paul's appearance before the governor--again part of the protection of the Lord, provided by the letter that the tribune wrote: And he wrote a letter to this effect: "Claudius Lysias to his Excellency the governor Felix, greeting. This man was seized by the Jews, and was about to be killed by them, when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman citizen. And desiring to know the charge on which they accused him, I brought him down to their council. I found that he was accused about questions of their law, but charged with nothing deserving death or imprisonment. And when it was disclosed to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to you at once, ordering his accusers also to state before you what they have against him" (Acts 23:25-30). 164

It is obvious that this letter was designed to make the tribune look as good as possible in the eyes of the governor. He handles the truth rather loosely. He implies that he rescued Paul because he learned that he was a Roman citizen. This would certainly look good on his record. But actually, as we know, he rescued him because he was in danger, and then learned that he was a citizen just before he was about to scourge him unlawfully. But he did not put that detail in; this is a politician's letter. But it is also virtually a letter of acquittal of any serious charge against the apostle. The garrison commander goes on record in black and white that as far as he can determine Paul has done nothing that is worthy of death or even imprisonment. And so he prepares the way for Paul to appear before the governor, laying the groundwork for careful handling of this case. This is evidence of that marvelous, amazing hand of God, which can work through non-Christians, nonbelievers, anyone, to accomplish His will and purpose without their even being aware that they are being used in any way. He simply works through their normal reactions and feelings. Finally we have Paul's presentation before the governor: So the soldiers, according to their instructions, took Paul and brought him by night to Antipatris. And on the morrow they returned to the barracks, leaving the horsemen to go on with him. When they came to Caesarea and delivered the letter to the governor, they presented Paul also before him. On reading the letter, he asked to what province he belonged. When he learned that he was from Cilicia he said, "I will hear you when your accusers arrive." And he commanded him to be guarded in Herod's praetorium (Acts 23:31-35). It was sixty miles from Jerusalem to Caesarea. They covered the first forty by a rapid forced march. Fortunately it was downhill almost all the way. But nevertheless it was a hard night's march to travel the forty miles to the fortress of Antipatris. The next morning the horsemen brought Paul the remaining twenty miles to the governor's palace in Caesarea. Felix was Pilate's successor as governor of Judea. He had been in office several years now. When he reads the letter he is obviously affected by it and kindly disposed toward Paul. All he asks, literally, is, "What kind of province does he come from?" There were two kinds of provinces in the Roman empire. There were those under the control of the Roman senate, and those which reported to the emperor--the imperial provinces. He learns that Paul is from Cilicia, which, like Judea, is an imperial province under the direct control of the emperor himself, responsible to him. And so the steps are being laid, as God is operating behind the scenes to pave the way for bringing Paul and the emperor, Nero, face-toface. God will accomplish it his way.

Chapter Four The Discipline of Delay Acts 24:1-27
Felix is an interesting character. From secular history we know that he had been governor of the province of Judea for five years by the time of the events recorded in this chapter, and that he had previously lived for two years in the city of Samaria. He knew something about the Jews and their nation. Felix had been born a slave, but his brother Pallas happened somehow to become a favorite of the emperor in Rome. Through the influence of Pallas, Felix was freed from slavery and was somewhat later appointed governor of this province. He was the first slave in history to become governor of a Roman province. Felix had been married by this time to three different princesses. The first one we know nothing about, except that she was a princess. His second wife was the granddaughter of Antony and Cleopatra, whose names have been made famous by Shakespeare and Hollywood. The third wife, Drusilla, appears with Felix in this account. She was a Jewess, the daughter of Herod Agrippa, the king who had put the Apostle James to death. She had been the wife of the king of Emesa, but Felix had seduced her and now she was living with him as his wife. 165

This man was completely unscrupulous. He was known to hire thugs to eliminate people--even friends--who happened to get in the way of his political ambitions. It is before such a judge that the Apostle Paul was to appear. The first nine verses of chapter 24 set forth the charges that are leveled against this apostle. First Luke lists the participants on this occasion: And after five days the high priest Ananias came down [to Caesarea] with some elders and a spokesman, one Tertullus. They laid before the governor their case against Paul; and when he was called, Tertullus began to accuse him (Acts 24:1,2a). Luke is careful to record that the high priest himself is here, because Ananias had been so mortally offended by the apostle when Paul had unwittingly insulted him, not knowing that he was the high priest, that he is thirsting for revenge. With him comes a delegation of elders, probably representing both the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and also an officious little Latin lawyer named Tertullus. We know that he was short of stature because his name is the diminutive of Tertius. It means "little Tertius." Can't you see him in your imagination?--short, fat, and pompous, busily strutting around the courtroom, trying to establish the case. The Charges Luke gives us an eyewitness account; he captures the very atmosphere of this scene. He probably wrote the account from notes he took on the spot. Here is the introduction to Tertullus' speech: ...Tertullus began to accuse him, saying: "Since through you we enjoy much peace, and since by your provision, most excellent Felix, reforms are introduced on behalf of this nation, in every way and everywhere we accept this with all gratitude. But, to detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly" (Acts 24:2-4). If you read between the lines you can see what is happening. The lawyer begins to praise the governor with fulsome flattery. He starts out in this flowery way: "O most excellent Felix, we know that all these great things are happening in our nation because of you..." Both he and Felix know that this is a bald-faced lie. The governor evidently indicates his impatience, perhaps with a frown or gesture, so the lawyer suddenly changes his tactics. He says, "To detain you no further, I beg you in your kindness to hear us briefly." Then he gets down to the point and sets forth the charges against Paul: For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, an agitator among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. He even tried to profane the temple, but we seized him. By examining him yourself you will be able to learn from him about everything of which we accuse him. The Jews also joined in the charge, affirming that all this was so (Acts 24:5-9). Undoubtedly Luke has given us merely a brief summary of what this man said. Yet it is clear that he leveled three particular charges against Paul, charges particularly designed to arrest the Roman governor's attention and to arouse his antipathy against the apostle. The first charge was that Paul was a revolutionary pest, a troublemaker, stirring up difficulties and riots all through the Empire. This lawyer knew that such an accusation would have an effect, because the Romans had a far-flung empire to administer, and the one thing they dared not tolerate was civil disorder. Any uprising could be a spark that would light a fire which would be very difficult to put out. The Romans dealt with any troublemaker with a heavy hand. Second, Paul was labeled a religious radical, a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes. Of course Felix, having been governor, had heard of the Nazarenes. Furthermore, he knew that there were a lot of false messiahs around who were ready to catch this fanatically religious nation up in a wave of enthusiasm which could spell nothing but trouble for Rome. Remember that this was just a few years before the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman armies under Titus. And, as Jesus had predicted, a wave of false messiahs had come on the scene, false christs, who claimed to be the true one. Tertullus was implying that Paul was one of these.


The third charge leveled against Paul was that he was a sacrilegious fanatic who had tried to profane the temple, to defile it by bringing in Gentiles. That again was something to which the Romans would pay attention. Do you remember when, a few years ago, an Australian in a frenzy of religious fanaticism set fire to the Aqsah Mosque in the temple area of Jerusalem? How the nations of the world trembled, lest that single act of desecration precipitate a holy war which would embroil the Middle East, and perhaps the whole world, in conflict! That temple area was just as sensitive in the days of Rome. The Romans knew that to the Jews it was such a sacred precinct that anything that happened to their temple was apt to inflame the entire nation. So all these charges were particularly designed to be of intense concern to the Roman administration. And yet there was not a word of truth in them. The Jews who came along simply affirmed them, but they did not offer any proof; they couldn't. The Defense Now Luke gives us the apostle's masterful defense: And when the governor had motioned to him to speak, Paul replied: "Realizing that for many years you have been judge over this nation, I cheerfully make my defense" (Acts 24:10). He begins, you see, with the only nice statement an honest man could make about Felix. "You've been governor here for a number of years." That is about all he could say. "I know you've been around a long time. You know this nation, and I hope you'll listen to me." And he proceeds from there. With that careful, methodical logic which we have come to expect from the apostle, he answers these charges one by one. To the first charge, that he was a revolutionary troublemaker, Paul says, As you may ascertain, it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship at Jerusalem; and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues, or in the city. Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me (Acts 24:11-13). Paul's arguments are simple: "First, I have had no time to incite a riot. It is only twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem, and I've been absent from the province for years before that. You can't get a riot going in twelve days. Second, I made absolutely no effort to do so. I've never even been seen disputing with anybody, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. I've made no attempt anywhere to stir up any difficulty, to arouse a crowd or incite emotions in any way. And third, no proof whatsoever has been offered for any of the claims made against me. You have merely the affirmations of these Jews that I did these things. But no evidence has been advanced at all." And so he completely demolishes this charge, exposing its emptiness. Next he moves to the charge of being a religious radical. To this he answers: But this I admit to you, that according to the Way, which they call a sect, I worship the God of our fathers, believing everything laid down by the law or written in the prophets, having a hope in God which these themselves accept, that there will be a resurrection of both the just and the unjust. So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward God and toward men (Acts 24:14-16). To the second charge he pleads guilty. "But," he says, "I want to point out that though I am indeed a follower of this Way, a member of what they call a sect, nevertheless it is most interesting to note that this 'sect' accepts the law and the prophets, just as these members of the Sanhedrin do. Furthermore, it stresses the hope which the Old Testament teaches, that of the resurrection of the dead, both just and unjust, and many of these Jews standing here believe it just as I do. And third, it results in a conscientious life, a life lived in good conscience before God and man. Now what can be so wrong with that?" He continues, "I admit I'm a member of this 'sect,' but so what? It simply agrees with all that these people themselves affirm to be the truth. What violation of Roman law is involved in becoming a member of this Christian group?" And with that he again demolishes the accusation against him. The third charge was that of profaning the temple. To this the apostle replies: Now after some years I came to bring to my nation alms and offerings. As I was doing this, they found me purified in the temple, without any crowd or tumult. But some Jews from Asia--they ought to be here before you and to make an accusation, if they have anything against me. Or else let these men themselves say what wrongdoing they found 167

when I stood before the council, except this one thing which I cried out while standing among them, "With respect to the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you this day" (Acts 24:17-21). His argument is very simple. "Rather than defiling the temple," he said, "I was bringing gifts of money and offerings to my people." Remember the collection for the saints at Jerusalem that he had brought there from Macedonia? "And," he says, "I also went into the temple and I worshiped there, as any Jew should. That is where they found me. But I wasn't disturbing anyone or profaning the temple. I was fulfilling its purpose." "Furthermore," he points out, "the men who accuse me are not even present here. Certain Jews from Asia are the ones who brought the charges against me, and they're not even here." He waxes a little indignant. Here you can see how careful Luke has been in recording this. Paul's syntax gets a little mixed up. He starts out talking about the Jews from Asia but loses the thread of his thought, and ends up simply pointing out that they ought to be there to make an accusation. He never completes his sentence. Finally he sums it all up, saying, "The most that I have done, the very most that can be charged against me, is that when I stood before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem I said something that divided them among themselves. I cried out to them, 'With respect to the resurrection of the dead I am on trial before you this day.' Now if that is wrong then that is what I am guilty of." You can see how marvelously and completely he has dismissed these unfounded charges against him. What a masterful defense this is, made in a relatively few words, and how unanswerable are his arguments. He completely exonerates himself before the governor. Unaccountable Delay There is no question but that at this point the apostle legally should be released. But he is not, and as we go on to see, a strange and almost unaccountable delay occurs. This is where the story reaches out to include us. This is an account of one of God's inscrutable delays, which often afflict us as well. We think that something we want to happen is just around the corner. Then as we move toward it we find that it seems to recede from us, eluding our grasp. Sometimes it takes us months or years to reach a point which we thought was imminent. These circumstances raise questions in our minds and hearts, as they did with the apostle. Here we begin to see God's discipline of delay. In the remaining section it is brought before us by Luke: But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, "When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case." Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but should have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs (Acts 24:22,23). Felix really does not need to have Lysias come down, for he has already received a letter from him exonerating Paul. But Felix uses this as an excuse, in order to hear something more from the apostle. Felix's curiosity has been awakened, and, as Luke tells us, he had "a rather accurate knowledge of the Way." He knows something about Christianity and wants to hear more. So he retains Paul in custody, even though he has every legal reason to set him free. Now do not blame Felix unduly, for he is being used as an instrument to carry out God's purposes with Paul. The first evidence of that is Paul's continuing opportunity for witness to the governor: After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess; and he sent for Paul and heard him speak upon faith in Christ Jesus. And as hesitantly unveiling before men the purpose of argued about justice and selfcontrol and future judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, "Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity I will summon you." At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him (Acts 24:24-26). Paul is under "house arrest," the term we would use today, with access to friends and with some liberty. But he is still in the custody of the Romans and unable to go about freely. After a few days the governor sends for him. You can see the Spirit of God working in this man's life. A Terrified Governor


Paul's message had a profound effect upon Felix. As the governor listened he was literally "terrified"; he trembled. He felt the impact of the logic of the apostle's presentation. Paul reasoned with him of righteousness (not justice; the word should be righteousness), of self-control, and of future judgment, judgment to come. When he finished, Felix trembled. Let's take a good look at what Paul said, basing our discussion on Luke's summary. He began, first, to talk to Felix about righteousness--that is, about God's expectation of humanity, his rightful demand upon us. Here he is dealing, basically, with the purpose of life. Why are you here? What has God put you into the world to do? All through the Gospels you find Jesus constantly unveiling before men the purpose of human life: it is to produce true manhood and womanhood, the righteousness of God, the proper behavior expected of mankind. Men were designed to behave in love and understanding, with tolerance and forgiveness, with all the characteristics that we instinctively know belong to manhood and to womanhood. But the problem is that man is behaving unrighteously. Ask anybody on the street, "What's the matter with life today? What do we lack?" Everyone will say, "It's because other people don't behave as they should." They seldom point to themselves; it is the fault of "other people." Everybody blames everyone else. That is the lack of righteousness! And Paul, with his keen perception of human life, laid all this before the governor. Then he went on to talk about self-control. This word appears only one other time in Paul's letters--in the listing of the fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5. If the Holy Spirit is in us, then he is producing the life of Christ in us, and we will be characterized by love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control. That is the word used here. So when Paul talked with Felix about self-control he was talking about the fruit of the Spirit, and of the provision which God makes to meet the demand for righteousness. In other words, God not only asks men to behave rightly, but he also gives the power to do so. Hidden Secrets Finally, Paul told Felix about the judgment to come. A time is coming when every life will be evaluated, when each human being without exception will suddenly find himself standing naked before God, with all his life laid out for everyone to see. Then the value of that life, or the lack of it, will be evident to all. That is the judgment to come. Jesus spoke of a time to come when whatever is spoken in secret will be shouted from the housetops, and whatever is hidden will be revealed. All the secrets of the heart, and everything done in secret, will be openly displayed. Undoubtedly Paul pointed out to Felix that God is aware of the hearts of men. He does not merely read the outside. We seem to be content if we can fool people by the exterior of our lives. If we look all right to them, that satisfies us. But Paul laid before the governor the fact that he was dealing with a God who reads the heart. I have often said to audiences, "Wouldn't it be interesting if we had a television camera which could record thoughts? Suppose that as you came in this morning the camera was working on you, and all the thoughts you have had running through your mind this last hour were recorded on videotape. What would you think if we announced a public screening of that tape?" That is exactly what is coming someday for us all--a time when everyone will see the life of everyone else, exactly as it was, with nothing hidden, nothing covered over. Then the great question will be: "In the face of God's demand for what did you do about the provision he made to grant it? What did you do with Jesus Christ?" When Paul reasoned this way before the governor, he trembled. And well he might! It all came to him. The logic of it hit him right between the eyes. But his response was: "Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will summon you." He procrastinated because he had a problem. The fact that he delayed Paul's release, and then sent for him and even brought his wife to hear him, indicates that this man had a hunger for God. But, Luke says, he also wanted money from Paul. Jesus said, "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all other things shall be added to you." But you can't put them on the same level of priority. You can't want God and money. That is what destroys men. That is what blinded this man so that he could not see the exceeding importance of this moment. Think of it! Felix had one of the most unusual opportunities ever afforded a human being--to spend hours with the Apostle Paul, to hear the clarity of his revelation of the nature of reality, of the way things really are, and to understand 169

the truth as it is in Jesus. But Felix passed it by, turned his back and walked away. "Go away," he said, "until I have a more convenient season, a better opportunity." Do you know anything sadder, more pathetic, than those words? And though Felix called Paul to him and talked with him often, he never trembled again. That is the danger that men face when they are confronted with the reality of Jesus Christ and do nothing about it: their hearts are hardened. The last sentence sums it all up for us: But when two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison (Acts 24:27). There was absolutely no legal reason for this delay; it was only political expediency. Felix desired to do the Jews a favor, but it wasn't because of his love for them. Rather, as history tells us, he went too far once too often. We know from other records that at this time there was a clash in Caesarea between the Jews and the Greeks who lived there over the question of whether Caesarea was a Jewish or a Gentile city. The Jews won the encounter, and Felix therefore sent in troops to aid the Greeks. These Roman soldiers fell upon the Jews, killed thousands of them, looted the homes of the Jewish leaders, and burned them to the ground. As a result, the Jews complained to Nero, and Felix was relieved as governor and summoned back to Rome to answer for his conduct. He prepared for this as best he could, and, in order to retain as much favor among the Jews as possible, he left Paul in prison. A Time to Learn That was a tough situation for Paul to accept. Here is the apostle, eager to get on with his ministry, and yet he is in jail through no fault of his own. Legally, he ought to have been set free. But remember that Paul had chosen this course, and God is simply fulfilling that choice. Now Paul must accept delay in the fulfillment of his hope to get to Rome. Yet God's delays are always times of learning. Though we are not told any more about what happened to the apostle here, we can nevertheless surmise that out of this time came many of the great truths which are reflected in Paul's letters. His letters to the Ephesians, to the Colossians, to the Philippians, and to Philemon were all written after this time. And in Philippians there is a passage which I think grew out of this situation. In the fourth chapter the apostle says, Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secrets of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13). That is what you learn in a time of waiting. Dr. F.B. Meyer has written these words: So often we mistake God, and interpret his delays as denials. What a chapter might be written of God's delays. It is the mystery of the art of educating human spirits to the finest temper of which they are capable. What searchings of heart, what analyzings of motives, what testings of the Word of God, what upliftings of the soul, "searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of God signified." All these are associated with these weary days of waiting which are, nevertheless, big with spiritual destiny. But such delays are not God's final answer to the soul that trusts him. Are you in prison right now? Do you find yourself locked into circumstances which you are helpless to change? Are you, by your own folly perhaps, in a situation you cannot get out of? It may be ill health, or a bad job. It may be a poor marriage, or low finances, or something else. Remember, God has given that you in order that you might learn the secret which Paul learned: "I can do all things in him who strengthens me."

Chapter Five The Gospel and King Agrippa Acts 25&26
The Apostle Paul is about to fulfill the great prediction which Jesus himself made about him when he called him to be an apostle. The Lord had said to Ananias, whom he had sent to Paul to pray with him and welcome him into the Christian family, "[This man is] a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel" (Acts 9:15). In Acts chapters 25 and 26, we will see that prophecy fulfilled. 170

First Paul appears before another pagan Roman governor. This part of the story serves as an introduction to Paul's appearance before King Agrippa, Luke's major focus in this section. Now when Festus had come into his province, after three days he went up to Jerusalem from Caesarea. And the chief priests and the principal men of the Jews informed him against Paul; and they urged him, asking as a favor to have the man sent to Jerusalem, planning an ambush to kill him on the way. Festus replied that Paul was being kept at Caesarea, and that he himself intended to go there shortly. "So," said he, "let the men of authority among you go down with me, and if there is anything wrong about the man, let them accuse him" (Acts 25:1-5). We do not know much about Porcius Festus from secular history, except that most historians record him as a just man. But it is noteworthy that the Jewish authorities waste no time when Festus takes office. They immediately meet with him and propose that he bring Paul up to Jerusalem, laying a plot to assassinate him on the way. It seems almost as if this is where we came in, does it not? That is exactly what was happening when Paul was taken down from Jerusalem to Caesarea, back in chapter 23. I have often wondered what happened to those forty men who vowed, some 2 1/2 years earlier, neither to eat nor drink until they had killed Paul. Either the ranks of Paul's enemies were reduced considerably, or they found some sneaky way to get out of their vow! I suppose the latter is true, for they are probably among this group who again plot to ambush Paul. The Same Old Charges But Festus is a Roman, and he is determined to carry out Roman justice. So he refuses to bring Paul up without at least having had a chance to talk with the prisoner himself. Luke now tells us about that hearing: When he had stayed among them not more than eight or ten days, he went down to Caesarea; and the next day he took his seat on the tribunal and ordered Paul to be brought. And when he had come, the Jews who had gone down from Jerusalem stood about him, bringing against him many serious charges which they could not prove. Paul said in his defense, "Neither against the law of the Jews, nor against the temple, nor against Caesar have I offended at all." But Festus, wishing to do the Jews a favor, said to Paul, "Do you wish to go up to Jerusalem, and there be tried on these charges before me?" But Paul said, "I am standing before Caesar's tribunal, where I ought to be tried; to the Jews I have done no wrong, as you know very well. If then I am a wrongdoer, and have committed anything for which I deserve to die, I do not seek to escape death; but if there is nothing in their charges against me, no one can give me up to them. I appeal to Caesar." Then Festus, when he had conferred with his council, answered, "You have appealed to Caesar; to Caesar you shall go" (Acts 25:6-12). Luke obviously gives us a very condensed description of this second trial. Evidently the arguments were all the same, the charges as unfounded as in the original trial, and Luke simply gathers it all up in two brief sentences. But still that politician's phrase creeps in here, not only with Felix but with Festus as well: "wishing to do the Jews a favor..." It is evident that Paul had become a political pawn, bandied about for political purposes between two ideologically divided parties. Surely Paul has been hoping, all through these two long, weary years, that God would open the door to set him free. Yet he could not help but remember the Holy Spirit's words about what would happen if he went up to Jerusalem. Here we see the faithfulness of God in carrying out this limitation. Even though the apostle's heart and soul is one with the Lord once again, and there is nothing blocking the power of his ministry, nevertheless that ministry must be exercised only within the limitation of this otherwise-inexplicable inability to secure his freedom. But now, I suspect, Paul is fed up with provincial justice. He knows that he will never stand a chance for justice in Jerusalem at the hands of the Jews. Nor has he ever forgotten that the Lord Jesus had appeared to him and told him he would go to Rome. So at last, reluctantly I think, Paul says, "I appeal to Caesar." Perhaps he felt that this would be the way God would work out his promise to bring him to Rome. Festus has no choice, according to Roman law, but to send him there to the emperor. Thus the fine hand of God is visible in the background of these events, carrying out his purposes. Paul is going to go to Rome, and God will take him there. At this point an interesting development occurs. A Jewish king comes onto the scene: 171

Now when some days had passed, Agrippa the king and Bernice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. And as they stayed there many days, Festus laid Paul's case before the king, saying, "There is a man left prisoner by Felix; and when I was at Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews gave information about him, asking for sentence against him. I answered them that it was not the custom of the Romans to give up anyone before the accused met the accusers face-to-face, and had opportunity to make his defense concerning the charge laid against him. When therefore they came together here, I made no delay, but on the next day took my seat on the tribunal and ordered the man to be brought in. When the accusers stood up, they brought no charge in his case of such evils as I supposed..." (Acts 25:13-18). You can see that the Roman governor is troubled here. He thought that certain political charges would be leveled against Paul, since he was a political prisoner. But the accusations were of an entirely different nature. As he says, "...but they had certain points of dispute with him about their own superstition and about one Jesus, who was dead, but whom Paul asserted to be alive. Being at a loss how to investigate these questions, I asked whether he wished to go to Jerusalem and be tried there regarding them. But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of the emperor, I commanded him to be held until I could send him to Caesar." And Agrippa said to Festus, "I should like to hear the man myself." "Tomorrow," said he, "you shall hear him" (Acts 25:19-22). Entertainment for the King Thus the foundation is laid for Paul to appear before King Agrippa. We must realize, as we read this account, that this is not really another trial. It is more like an entertainment planned for Agrippa and Bernice. They had come to pay their respects to the Roman governor, to visit him at his capital city of Caesarea. It was the custom in those days, whenever a king arrived, to drum up a great deal of pomp, ceremony, and entertainment. In that spirit, Festus arranged to bring Paul before the king. The Roman governor, knowing Agrippa's religious background, suspected that he would be intrigued by the apostle's case. King Agrippa was the last of the Herods. The Herodian kings belonged to the Jewish faith, although they were not exactly Jews, but Edomites, descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob. The first of the line was Herod the Great, who killed the babies in Bethlehem when our Lord was born, in an attempt to slay the Messiah, whom he regarded as a rival to his throne. His son, Herod Antipas, had John the Baptist beheaded in prison. His grandson, Herod Agrippa I, put the Apostle James to death with the sword. Now his great-grandson, Agrippa II, has been appointed the high priest in Jerusalem, and to administer the temple. He was a Roman vassal, but all Jewish and Roman historians agree that he was a man of great mental acumen, expert in the affairs of the Jews. With him was his wife Bernice. She was the sister of Drusilla, the wife of the previous Roman governor, Felix, and was also her own husband's sister. Agrippa and Bernice were full brother and sister! And yet, contrary to every law of the Jews, they were living in incest together as man and wife. It is before this morally profligate couple, enslaved by their own lust and passion, that the Apostle Paul is to appear--the enthroned prisoner appearing before the enslaved king. Last Chance As Luke goes on to paint this highly dramatic scene for us, we will see that there is a dawning hunger in Paul's heart to reach this king for Christ, despite his dark past. This is Paul's last chance to reach Israel, and he hopes against hope that perhaps the king will turn, so that the nation might follow. So on the morrow Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp, and they entered the audience hall with the military tribunes and the prominent men of the city. Then by command of Festus Paul was brought in. And Festus said, "King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both at Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death; and as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to send him. But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, that after we have examined him, I may have something to write. For it seems to me unreasonable, in sending a prisoner, not to indicate the charges against him" (Acts 25:23-27). 172

Paul continually puzzled these Roman officials. Festus is particularly on the spot here because, by Roman law, he has the responsibility of sending Paul to the emperor to answer for charges. But he does not know what to write, for all the political charges have long since been disproved, as Paul has recently reminded him: "You know very well that I have done nothing against the Jews." And yet he has to say something, because if he sends a prisoner without a charge he himself will be criticized for governing ineptly. So he has elicited the aid of King Agrippa to find something that will hold water before the emperor. Now Paul is brought in, chained to a Roman guard, and given the opportunity to make his defense: Agrippa said to Paul, "You have permission to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: "I think myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, because you are especially familiar with all customs and controversies of the Jews; therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. "My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and at Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial for hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem; I not only shut up many of the saints in prison, by authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them, And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme; and in raging fury against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities" (Acts 26:1-11). The substance of the apostle's argument before King Agrippa is that he stands condemned because he was a good Jew. He is trying to appeal to the Jewish background and the Jewish sympathies of this king, in order to help him understand that there are no grounds of accusation against him and to use this as a way of reaching the soul of the king himself. Notice how neatly he does it. First he points out that even the Jews present could testify to his Pharisaic background, to the fact that he was raised according to the strictest sect of the Jews. And second, he states that he believes nothing now, basically, that he did not believe then. He has not changed his faith at all--he is still a good Jew. He points out that the Jews were looking for the Messiah--that is the "promise made by God to our fathers"--and so was he. Furthermore, the Jews believe in a resurrection. "And for this hope," he says, "I am accused by Jews, O king!" And then, addressing himself to the whole court, he says, "Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?" That is a good question! Certainly a Jew should not think it incredible, because God had said he would do this. Even Gentiles should hardly question the power of a Creator who brought forth life in the beginning to restore it if he wants to. It is perfectly unreasonable for man to think of raising the dead. Nobody has ever been able to achieve that. But it surely ought not to be unreasonable to expect God to be able to do so. You see how earnestly he is trying to appeal to the intelligence, the rationality, and the Jewish understanding of this king. His third argument is that he demonstrated how sincere he was in his commitment to his beliefs by the way he persecuted the church. All this is to show Agrippa that he is a true Jewish believer in every sense of the word, that basically he has changed none of his fundamental beliefs, except with regard to the character of the Christians that he persecuted. The only thing that he concedes was wrong is that he was persecuting people whom he ought not to have persecuted. The Citadel Assaulted Now he marshals his forces and moves on to assault the citadel of Agrippa's will by telling him about his own conversion: "Thus I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining round me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads'" (Acts 26:12-14). 173

Goads were sharp spikes often mounted on the front of chariots. If a horse kicked back he would hurt himself against them. The Lord said, "That is what is happening to you, Paul. You're kicking against the spikes, resisting the moving of the Holy Spirit." Paul continues, "And I said, 'Who are you, Lord?' And the Lord said, 'I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from the people [the Israelites] and from the Gentiles--to whom I send you to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me'"(Acts 26:15-18). Here is the heart of Paul's message--his own transforming experience with Jesus Christ. Notice that in verse 18 he lays the Good News out before the king in a nutshell. What a marvelous declaration of the gospel! Here from the words of Jesus himself, as Paul recalls hearing them on the Damascus road, is an accurate analysis of the problem with humanity. Here is his description of humanity in its lost, broken, fragmented condition. What is the matter with people? "They are blind," Jesus says, "blind and living in darkness." And then the Lord Jesus analyzes why men are blind. "Because," he says, "they are under the power of Satan." Behind the darkness is the great enemy of mankind, who is twisting and distorting the thinking of men, clouding their eyes, and spreading abroad widespread delusions. He has loosed into this world a great flood of lying propaganda. And everywhere today men and women have believed these delusions and lies. You hear them on every side. All the commonly accepted philosophies of our day reflect the basic satanic lie that we are capable, adequate, and independent--able to run our own affairs. You also hear that if you live for yourself, take care of "number one," you will find advancement and fulfillment in life. And you hear that material things can satisfy you, that if you get enough money you will be happy. All these lies permeate our society. That is the power and blindness of Satan. But the power of the gospel is to turn men from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to the power of God. The gospel is the good news that God has found a way to forgive men's sins, to wipe out all guilt from the mistakes of the past, from all that they have done in their ignorance and enslavement to the lying propaganda of Satan, and to give them a resource from which they may live in fulfillment and strength. That is what Jesus means by "an inheritance among those who are sanctified." And how do you get this? Jesus says precisely: "By faith in me." This is why Christians insist that it is only through Jesus that men must find God. Why can't they find him through Buddhism, or Hinduism, or Islam, or some of the other great religions of the earth? Why aren't these equally acceptable? Their adherents are devout, sincere, religious people. Why do Christians insistently maintain that Jesus is the only way? Jesus Says So The answer is, that is what Jesus himself says. If we are to be Christians, we must follow him. We believe that he knows what he's talking about. We believe it because he has demonstrated that he understands life better than anyone else who has ever lived. The supreme proof of the fact is that he rose from the dead. He has solved the problem of death. He has unscrambled the great riddle with which we constantly struggle, this mystery of death. And, until I find someone else who has solved that problem and who has those credentials, I personally am going to follow Jesus. If we are Christians, we believe him when he says, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man can come unto the Father but by me." We Christians have no other choice, because it was Jesus himself who said that all this happens "by faith in me," And of course, through the course of the centuries, wherever men have turned to him, they have indeed turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to the power of God. Now the apostle continues by stating that his ministry consisted in declaring this great liberating truth, but that thereby he has evoked the wrath of the Jews and they have tried to kill him for this reason. He also stresses again the two essential facts of the gospel--the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ:


"Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those at Damascus, then at Jerusalem and throughout all the country of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer, and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to the people and to the Gentiles" (Acts 26:19-23). The Sober Truth At this point there is an interruption. We read, And as he thus made his defense, Festus said with a loud voice, "Paul, you are mad; your great learning is turning you mad." But Paul said, "I am not mad, most excellent Festus, but I am speaking the sober truth. For the king knows about these things, and to him I speak freely; for I am persuaded that none of these things has escaped his notice, for this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe." And Agrippa said to Paul, "In a short time you think to make me a Christian!" And Paul said, "Whether short or long, I would to God that not only you but also all who hear me this day might become such as I am--except for these chains." Then the king rose, and the governor and Bernice and those who were sitting with them; and when they had withdrawn, they said to one another, "This man is doing nothing to deserve death or imprisonment." And Agrippa said to Festus, "This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar" (Acts 26:24-32). Isn't it remarkable that Paul seldom ever got to finish a sermon? He was usually interrupted. In this case, Festus the skeptic, Festus the rationalist, could not take it when Paul referred to the resurrection. This was more than his Roman materialism could stand, so he said, "Paul, you're mad, you're crazy! Talking about raising the dead!" But Paul answered, "Most excellent Festus, I am telling you the cold, sober truth. That is what Christianity is all about. That is the tremendous, stupendous declaration which is at the heart of Christianity! Christ has solved the problem of death! It seems absolutely incredible perhaps, but it is true! God has broken through death and in Jesus Christ he has made life available to men once again, as God intended life to be." Then he turns and looks at Agrippa. You can see that he is longing to reach this man, for this is his last chance, and he knows it, to reach the Jewish people as a whole. He says, "I am persuaded that none of these things have escaped King Agrippa's notice, for this was not done in a corner." That is, "Everything is open, nothing is hidden. The Lord preached and taught, lived and died, right out in the open before everyone, and I know the king knows the story." And then, speaking directly to Agrippa, he says, "King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe." He is saying, "You know the historical facts of Jesus' life. And you believe the prophets. So put the two together. What did the prophets say the Messiah would do? Where does that lead you? Jesus fulfilled what the prophets wrote." At this point this enslaved king, mastered by his own lusts, living with his own sister, is faced right into the issue. You can see him squirming there on his seat. Unfortunately, his answer is to turn his back on what Paul says. It is a little difficult to understand exactly what he replied, because the Greek is a bit obscure. Certainly he did not say what we have in our King James Version: "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian." He is not saying, "You've almost got me, Paul. You almost have me convinced." Many a message has been preached on that theme, as though Agrippa had come to the point of becoming a Christian. It is much more likely that he said what is recorded in the Revised Standard Version. With almost sneering sarcasm he says, "Do you really think, Paul, that in this short a time you're going to make me a Christian? You've got to do a lot more than that if you're going to make me a Christian." But Paul's reply is magnificent. With a heavy heart he says, "King Agrippa, whether I had to spend a short time or a long time with you, I just want you to know that the hunger of my heart is that not only you, on your throne with your wife beside you, but that everyone in this room could be like I am--except for these chains." Paul's answer is hardly that of a prisoner. As he stands there he says, "I wish you could be like I am. I wish you had the peace, the liberty, the power, the joy, the gladness of my heart and life." What an appeal out of a great heart! What a revelation of the greatness of the gospel! It can rise above very circumstance, every situation, and fill the heart with joy. 175

But remember that Agrippa is a Herod. He is an Edomite, a descendant of Esau, and he is true to his heritage. God had said through the prophet Malachi, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." Esau stands throughout Scripture as a mark of that independent spirit which refuses help from God. It turns its back upon all the love of God poured out to reach us, and in independent arrogance refuses the proffered hand of God's grace. That is what this king does. So now he fades from history; he is the last of the line of the Herods. But Paul's great words ring in our ears down through the centuries. There is nothing like the liberty of Jesus Christ. No external condition of wealth or prestige or power is worth a snap of a finger compared with the freedom and power and joy and gladness that a man can find in Jesus Christ.

Chapter Six God and Shipwrecks Acts 27
If you are a sailor or lover of the sea, I know you will be particularly interested in this passage. Acts 27 is a fascinating account of Paul's voyage to Rome and of the shipwreck that occurred on the way. Luke was not a sailor; he was a landsman, and yet he was such a careful historian that the details he gives in this chapter about ancient methods of sailing afford more insight into sailing practices on the Mediterranean in the first century than all other ancient manuscripts put together. The chapter divides itself readily into four major movements. The first one reads almost like a page out of a ship's log. It gives us the list of the important passengers on this voyage and also explains some of the problems they faced as they began to sail from Caesarea to Rome. Thus the story begins on a note which is characteristic of the entire voyage. There are difficulties and delays all the way through. Paul is now on his way to Rome to appear before the emperor, Nero. Paul is still a prisoner, still in the custody of the military, still chained for much of the time to a Roman guard. Luke tells us: And when it was decided that we should sail for Italy, they delivered Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion of the Augustan Cohort, named Julius. And embarking in a ship of Adramyttium, which was about to sail to the ports along the coast of Asia, we put to sea, accompanied by Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica. The next day we put in at Sidon; and Julius treated Paul kindly, and gave him leave to go to his friends and be cared for (Acts 27:1-3). Here are the major personalities we will meet in this chapter. Paul, of course, is central in all of the latter portion of Acts. He is delivered to the charge of a centurion named Julius, whom we have not met previously. Julius appears to be a very kindhearted individual who treats Paul with great courtesy and respect throughout this voyage. He obviously does not regard Paul as a common criminal but as a political prisoner worthy of consideration. The centurion belonged to the Augustan Cohort of the Roman military establishment. This was a very prestigious unit, a picked body of soldiers responsible directly to the emperor himself. As such, the centurion had considerable authority. With them traveled Dr. Luke, who as Paul's personal physician was permitted to go along. Many scholars have felt that this fact confirms the theory that the apostle was suffering from physical difficulty and needed a physician with him. The other person Luke mentions is Aristarchus, a young man whom Paul had met in Thessalonica on his second missionary journey and who now faithfully accompanies the apostle wherever he goes. The interesting thing about his presence here is that because Paul was a prisoner it was necessary, most scholars feel, for Aristarachus to be Paul's slave in order to accompany him on this voyage. So great was his love for Paul and so strong was his desire to minister to his needs that he volunteered to serve in that capacity. Against the Wind Their little vessel is beating its way up the coast of Palestine toward what we call Asia Minor, or Turkey. The voyage continues as they sail from Sidon: 176

And putting to sea from there we sailed under the lee of Cyprus, because the winds were against us. And when we had sailed across the sea which is off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we came to Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found a ship of Alexandria sailing for Italy, and put us on board. We sailed slowly for a number of days, and arrived with difficulty off Cnidus, and as the wind did not allow us to go on, we sailed under the lee of Crete off Salmone. Coasting along it with difficulty, we came to a place called Fair Havens, near which was the city of Lasea (Acts 27:48) At this particular time of year the winds usually blew from the northeast, which would have helped them on their way to Rome. But for some reason this time they met nothing but a constant, strong northwest wind, making it necessary for them to duck behind the island of Cypress and to hug the Asian coast, tacking against the wind. They finally arrive at the Lycian port of Myra, where they find a much larger vessel, probably 120 feet long or more--fairly large even by modern standards. This was a grain ship carrying wheat from Egypt, the granary of the Roman Empire. Driven also by the contrary winds, it had been forced to put into port here on this coast. The centurion evidently leases the vessel, because he is in charge of it for the rest of the voyage. But once again they run into contrary winds, and with great difficulty they make slow progress, having to tack back and forth, zigzagging in their course. After several days of sailing they have come only a couple hundred miles and must slide down under the lee of the island of Crete in order to make any headway at all. The difficulty they met raises a question which becomes increasingly pertinent as we go through this chapter: why would the apostle experience such grave difficulty from natural forces when he is obviously in the center of the will of God, on the way to Rome, where the Lord wants him to be? Paul is not being disobedient; he is moving right in God's purpose. Nevertheless, the winds are contrary and everything else seems to go wrong on this voyage. God, who controls the winds and the waves, could surely have made it easy for Paul to get to Rome. We all face this question from time to time. Even when we are doing what we take to be God's will for us, why do we often still have such great difficulty in accomplishing it? We will face the implications of that before we get to the end of the chapter, but there is still a lot more difficulty ahead. The second major movement takes us through verse 20 and tells us of the divisions and dangers that they encounter on the voyage: As much time had been lost, and the voyage was already dangerous because the fast had already gone by, Paul advised them, saying, "Sirs, I perceive that the voyage will be with injury and much loss, not only of the cargo and the ship, but also of our lives." But the centurion paid more attention to the captain and to the owner of the ship than to what Paul said. And because the harbor was not suitable to winter in, the majority advised to put to sea from there, on the chance that somehow they could reach Phoenix, a harbor of Crete, looking northeast and southeast, and winter there (Acts 27:9-12). You notice that even though Paul is a prisoner he is given considerable freedom. In fact, when he gives some advice about the voyage he is heard very courteously. His counsel is based not upon an exercise of the gift of prophecy but simply upon basic common sense. He says that it is too late in the year to try to make it to Rome. The fast he mentions is the great fast on the Day of Atonement of the Jews, which means that it is early October. They are soon to face the blast of late fall and winter, when sailing on the Mediterranean is very dangerous indeed. Sudden storms can rise without warning and can sometimes last for days. Paul, knowing this, advises that they winter in the little port where they are. A Boring Place But he is met immediately with a difference of opinion. The captain and the owner of the ship, as well as the majority of the crew, differ with him. Luke is careful to record the reason why. They had taken one look around at the dinky little town of Fair Haven and had decided that this was a boring place to spend a winter. They would have no way of amusing themselves, so they want to get out of there and into a more exciting place. They obviously have their own comfort and convenience at heart rather than the safety of the ship. So they prevail upon the centurion, who evidently has the last 177

word, to head for the city of Phoenix, a harbor about fifty miles up the coast of Crete. But as the modern song reminds us, a lot of things can happen before you get to Phoenix. The next section brings us the account of the storm that arose: And when the south wind blew gently, supposing that they had obtained their purpose, they weighed anchor and sailed along Crete, close inshore. But soon a tempestuous wind, called the north-easter, struck down from the land; and when the ship was caught and could not face the wind, we gave way to it and were driven. And running under the lee of a small island called Cauda, we managed with difficulty to secure the boat; after hoisting it up, they took measures to undergird the ship; then, fearing that they should run on the Syrtis, they lowered the gear, and so were driven. As we were violently storm-tossed, they began next day to throw the cargo overboard; and the third day they cast out with their own hands the tackle of the ship. And when neither sun nor stars appeared for many a day, and no small tempest lay on us, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned (Acts 27:13-20). What a tremendous gale! And yet it had all begun so encouragingly with the south wind blowing softly. You can see that human nature has not changed one bit. As soon as these sailors found a fair day they immediately cast all caution to the winds and believed what they wanted to believe. How many times we have been similarly fooled by seemingly favorable circumstances. They had no sooner sailed outside the limits of the harbor than a tremendous tempest blew in, a northeaster blowing away from the land, one of the sudden storms that spring up in the late fall on the Mediterranean even to this day. The violence of the storm is underscored by Luke's account. The wind was so strong right from the beginning that they could not sail against it and get back to the island even though they were still close to shore. So they had to let the ship be driven before the wind. Then they had a hard time hoisting the lifeboat into the ship. They didn't carry them aboard in those days, but pulled them behind until a storm came up. But the sea was so violent that they could not secure it. It was only when they ran under the lee of a small island and got out of the wind a bit that they were able to do so, and even then only with great difficulty. They even found it necessary to take cables and slide them under the ship and tie it up like a package in order to hold it together. The weight of the grain, shifting in the wildness of the storm, threatened to tear the ship apart, and without this undergirding they never would have survived as long as they did. Finally, Luke tells us, they lowered all the sails so that the wind would have as little purchase as possible, and in this way they tried to ride out the storm. But they were still afraid that they would be driven onto the great sand banks called the Syrtis, which lined the coast of north Africa, where the ship would be marooned miles out from shore. This was one of the most feared hazards of sailing on the Mediterranean. As the storm increased in fury their despair began to grow. They threw overboard much of the cargo and then even the mainsail and its tackle. They Gave Up Hope As Luke tells us, "when neither sun nor stars appeared for many a day," they gave up hope. The absence of the sun and stars was a terrible handicap to them because these ancient navigators had no compass or any other instrument. The only way they could guide the ship was by the sun and stars. When they could not see them for many days they lost all knowledge of their whereabouts. They were driven helplessly before a howling gale in the midst of a turbulent sea with no idea where they were headed. And so at last they gave up all hope of being saved. Luke's account suggests that even the Apostle Paul gave up hope of surviving this voyage--at least on this ship. Along with the rest of them he despaired of avoiding shipwreck, although of course he knew that he would get to Rome in some way or other because God had promised him that. But it was a perilous situation. Again we must ask, Why all this difficulty when the apostle is fulfilling the will of God? The situation gets worse and worse as it goes along! What is happening? Why do these discouraging circumstances keep piling up? Well, the third movement will answer this, at least in part. Here we have the sudden interjection of encouragement and promise: As they had been long without food, Paul then came forward among them and said, "Men, you should have listened to me, and should not have set sail from Crete and incurred this injury and loss. I now bid you take heart; for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood by me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, 'Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and lo, God 178

has granted you all those who sail with you.' So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told. But we shall have to run on some island" (Acts 27:21-26). Luke has taken note of the distress of these men. They had for many days been so upset and anxious over the outcome of this voyage that fear had destroyed their appetites and they had not eaten. In the midst of that, our version says, the apostle came forward. But in Greek the words are literally "he stood forth"--he stood out among them, with a different attitude and point of view. A Startling Message When Paul stands before these men and says, "You should have listened to me," he is not merely indulging in an "I told you so." He is trying to awaken them to the obvious evidence that what he had said before was right, and thus he is encouraging them to pay attention to what he says now, because it is a very startling message. Despite all the contrary evidence around them on every side, Paul announced with absolute conviction, "There will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship." His reason for saying so, he says, is that an angel had come to him just the night before and had encouraged him with the message that he was going to stand before Caesar and that he was not to be afraid. This indicates that fear had begun to creep even into the apostle's heart. But he is reassured by the angelic messenger. Furthermore the angel said, "God has granted you all those who sail with you." In the phrase "God has granted you," you can see what Paul has been doing. He has been praying for these others, praying that the sailors and soldiers accompanying him would be spared as well as that his own object would be accomplished on this trip. God heard his prayer and granted him their lives. This incident is given to us to show us the tremendous power that a man of faith exercises. I wish I could get this across to people today. I have a feeling that none of us, myself included, has any idea of the power God has committed to us in the instrument of prayer. He does mighty things if we will only ask him. Remember that James says, "You have not because you ask not." God stands ready to grant us much more than we have ever dreamed about. The church is really the secret government of earth, for it has power to control the current events which happen around us, the events reported in our newspapers. We sometimes feel that we are only helpless pilgrims drifting through this age, waiting to get to heaven someday. But the Scriptures never portray a Christian that way. He is intimately related to the events happening around him, and he has great control over them. That is why James also says, "The prayer of a righteous man [literally] releases great power." Here God granted this one man, because of his prayer, the lives of the 275 individuals who sailed with him. They were spared because Paul prayed for them. What a revelation of the power of prayer! Secret Help Notice also the secret help given to the believer in time of distress. Paul was exposed to the same peril as these other men, and yet God strengthened him with a word of encouragement in the midst of the trial. He didn't take him away from it; the storm was no less severe for Paul than it was for anyone else. The danger was just as evident, the waves were just as high, the darkness as just as intense, the apparent hope was just as absent from the circumstances for him as it was for them. Everything was exactly the same except that God granted to Paul an encouraging word, a secret knowledge that the others did not possess. He did not lessen the pressure but he gave an inward reassurance that enabled Paul to stand out from the rest of them and be different. That is what the Christian faith is all about. It is a way of discovering hidden resources, secret resources which others do not know about, which make it possible for you to live and act and react differently from those around you. That is the characteristic of Christianity; that is what it is supposed to be like all the time. Some time ago I was at Fuller Theological Seminary and heard Mr. Bill Pannell, a black evangelist associated with Tom Skinner, speak at the chapel. He reminded us all that Christianity does not operate on the same principles upon which the world lives. He illustrated this by the remarkable event in our Lord's life which we call the "triumphal entry." This was 179

the day during our Lord's last week when he entered Jerusalem. Mr. Pannell said that if he had been in charge it would have looked much more like the Rose Parade. He would have brought Jesus in on a white horse with a beautiful silvermounted saddle, accompanied by a long retinue. And there would have been a band, perhaps even a Scottish bagpipe band, to go before him and introduce him. But our Lord did not choose that kind of ceremony. His method was to ride into town on a jackass. He did it that way to illustrate that he operates on a totally different basis. The values which the world places upon something are rejected by God. Luke tells us in his Gospel that Jesus once said, "The things which are highly esteemed among men are an abomination in the sight of God." The Christian lives by a different principle. In the midst of circumstances which would panic others, the Christian is expected to be calm. We are not to reflect the panic, the anxiety, and the troubled countenance which others display when they get into difficulty. As Rudyard Kipling describes it in his famous poem, "If you can keep your head when all about you men are losing theirs and blaming it on you..." then that is true manhood; a resource is granted to Christians which others know nothing about. I am afraid that today too many Christians follow the modern version of that line: "If you can keep your head when others are losing theirs...you just don't understand the situation!" But Paul understood the situation, yet still kept his head and stood out among them, distinctive because of his faith. Notice his confident word: "So take heart, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told." That is faith. The remainder of the chapter gives us the story of the disaster that occurred and the deliverance which followed: When the fourteenth night had come, as we were drifting across the sea of Adria, about midnight the sailors suspected that they were nearing land. So they sounded and found twenty fathoms; a little farther on they sounded again and found fifteen fathoms. And fearing that we might run on the rocks, they let out four anchors from the stern, and prayed for day to come. And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the boat into the sea, under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved." Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the boat, and let it go (Acts 27:27-32). Things seem to get worse and worse as this story goes on. Not only do they face the terrible dangers of the storm, but as they drift on through the blackness of night they hear the frightening roar of breakers in the distance. They do not know where they are nor what kind of strange land they might be coming upon nor what kind of shore it will have. (We know today that they were approaching the island of Malta, but they did not know that.) As they hear the breakers pounding against the rocks they are that afraid the ship will be broken to pieces and all their lives will be lost. So they cast out some anchors from the stern to slow the drift of the ship and pray that they will hold it offshore at least until daybreak, when they can see the kind of peril they are coming upon. Then, to make matters worse, the sailors hatch a little plot to abandon ship and save their own skins, leaving the rest to get by as best they can. They decide that they will get into the boat, and, under the pretense of letting out more anchors, they will simply row ashore and leave the ship to its fate. We are not told how, but somehow (again, God's man in the right place at the right time) Paul learns of this plot and says to the centurion, "Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved." He knows that the ship cannot be beached properly unless the sailors who know how to handle it are there. And, military man that he is, the centurion acts promptly. He commands the soldiers to cut the rope and let the boat drift off. So they all remained in the same ship together. Man's Activity Included The interesting thing about this is that God had promised Paul that every life would be spared. Yet Paul could say to the centurion, "Unless these men stay in the ship, you will not be saved." God's promise includes man's activity. Man's actions are the means by which God works out his promises, for God's announced purpose never cancels out man's activity. The fact that God announces the end result does not mean that men are permitted to fold their hands and say, "Well, it's all going to work out some way or another." He intends for us to exercise considerable understanding of a situation and to 180

act in line with common sense in carrying out his purpose. Paul knows that he must work toward that end and that the decisions along the way are part of God's means of accomplishing it. So he insists that the sailors stay aboard the ship. In the next section we read of still another danger: As day was about to dawn, Paul urged them all to take some food, saying, "Today is the fourteenth day that you have continued in suspense and without food, having taken nothing. Therefore I urge you to take some food; it will give you strength, since not a hair is to perish from the head of any of you." And when he had said this, he took bread, and giving thanks to God in the presence of all, he broke it and began to eat. Then they all were encouraged and ate some food themselves (We were in all two hundred and seventy-six persons in the ship.) And when they had eaten enough, they lightened the ship, throwing out the wheat into the sea (Acts 27:33-38). Fourteen days without any food! That is quite a diet. It had reduced this ship's company to a state of physical weakness bordering on helplessness. We saw earlier that they had lost their appetite through fear. They were so frantic about their situation that they had no desire for food. Their physical condition was due to spiritual despair. This is an interesting revelation of the tie between the physical and the spiritual within us. Because the physical weakness is due to spiritual despair, it is therefore a spiritual cure which permits them to eat. Paul reminds them of the promise of God. He encourages their faith, saying, "Not a hair is going to perish from the head of any of you." And, suiting actions to words, he takes bread himself, gives thanks, then breaks and eats it in front of them. This encourages them all to eat and strengthen their lives. Here again is the action of the man of faith. In the midst of discouraging circumstances and discouraged people, he acts on a different basis than they. The result is that they are all encouraged. One man with hope in his heart and encouragement on his lips was able to change the attitude of 275 other people, so that they ate and were physically prepared for the rigors that lay immediately ahead. That again is the power of faith. In the last section we see the final threats from nature and from man: Now when it was day, they did not recognize the land, but they noticed a bay with a beach, on which they planned if possible to bring the ship ashore. So they cast off the anchors and left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that tied the rudders; then hoisting the foresail to the wind they made for the beach. But striking a shoal they ran the vessel aground; the bow stuck and remained immovable, and the stern was broken up by the surf. The soldiers' plan was to kill the prisoners, lest any should swim away and escape; but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their purpose. He ordered those who could swim to throw themselves overboard first and make for the land, and the rest on planks or on pieces of the ship. And so it was that all escaped to land (Acts 27:39-44). The bay that they saw when dawn finally came under the heavy skies is now called St. Paul's Bay on the island of Malta. They decided that it was there or nowhere, and that their only chance was to beach the ship in this little harbor. So they threw overboard everything that would hinder the ship from going in as far as possible, and, hoisting the foresail to the wind, they made for the beach. But another natural obstacle looms when they run aground in a shallow area where two seas meet. The boat is stuck some distance from shore and begins to break up in the surf. They have to abandon ship and jump overboard, those who can swim going first, and the others making it on planks and other pieces of the ship. But that still is not the last peril, especially to the prisoners, for the soldiers decide to kill them all. This is understandable in view of the Roman law, which said that any soldier who allowed a prisoner to escape was himself subjected to the same penalty the prisoner would have received. These soldiers were not willing to take that risk, and it was customary to kill prisoners if there was no longer any possibility of guarding them properly. But once again it is Paul who indirectly saves the situation. The centurion--kindhearted, authoritative Julius--because he had come to respect Paul takes the entire responsibility upon himself, countermands the plans of the soldiers, and thus saves the lives of these prisoners, Paul included. 181

Finally, through the storm and the surf and everything else, they make their way to shore. And, as Paul had been told by God, not a single life is lost. Verse 44 reads almost as a sigh of relief at the end of this chapter: "And so it was that all escaped to the land." We can heave that sigh along with them. Now we have to answer the question, Why do shipwrecks come to us in the midst of doing the will of God? Why is it that Christians face this kind of difficulty? I recently talked with a man who shared with me from his own experience the shipwreck that had occurred in his first marriage. He told me how he had begun it with deep high hopes and dreams and deep commitment to God for its success. And yet it had broken, foundered, and been shipwrecked. He shared with me how this tore him, how he did not know what to make of it, how it shattered his faith and challenged his concepts. What searchings of heart this brought to him! What painful re-evaluation it had meant! I could empathize with him as he unfolded to me the bitterness and resentment that stirred in his heart as he struggled with the question which all of us must face at times: "Why do these difficulties come when we are doing the right thing? We could understand it if they hit us when we were doing wrong, but why when we are doing right?" Satanic Opposition The Scriptures give several answers. First of all, these difficulties are clearly the result of satanic opposition. In Paul's letter to the Romans he said that he had tried many times to go to Rome and had been prevented, hindered. Paul always said it was Satan who had put those hindrances in his path. The enemy did not want Paul in Rome, for that was the strategic center of the empire and also the very headquarters of evil. Satan did not want this mighty apostle, coming in the strength and power of a risen Lord, to move into this city and start breaking down the strongholds of darkness by which Satan held in grip the entire civilized world. So Satan delayed Paul every way he could, fighting every step of the way. He sent the contrary winds, the storm, and all the other difficulties that this chapter recites for us. And yet, having said that, it is also well to remember that God had permitted all this. God is greater and stronger than Satan. His might and power could have canceled out this opposition. He could have made the winds blow in the right direction. He could have said to Satan, "This far and no farther. Take your hands off. Stop this hindrance!" But he deliberately did not do it. Again, Scripture suggests some reasons why God sometimes does not intervene to prevent Satan's work. One is that there were lessons in this for the others who sailed with Paul. Imagine what they learned of a different way of life as they watched this man of faith in the midst of the same perils they were facing. His reaction was so different from theirs. There was a baffling element guiding and guarding this man, keeping him stable in the midst of these circumstances. Those watching were impressed by it. And how encouraging Paul could be, how reassuring he was to others. Again and again he was the man in the critical moment who saved the day. They owed their lives to him time and time again before the voyage was over. He showed them that there is a new way of life, different from that by which the world lives. There were also lessons for Paul in this. He too grew in faith as he learned how faithful God could be and how he could move in so that things would go only so are, and then at the critical moment a line would be drawn. Paul tells us that God's strength is made perfect in man's weakness. "So," he says, "I glory in my infirmity." He grew to understand more about the love and grace of God as he went through these dangerous times. Any Questions? Finally, of course, the great story of the Book of Job shows us that even when there is seemingly no explanation at all, in terms of this life, for the shipwrecks and disasters which believers go through, there is still that unseen victory in realms far beyond the visible, which honors and glorifies God and makes possible great progress and advance in the kingdom of God. You remember that in the Book of Job, Satan and God and Job are all there at the beginning. But at the end there are just God and Job. And God says to Job, "I'm responsible for all of this. Do you have any questions?" How are we ever going to understand what is happening to us unless we accept our circumstances in the light of the reality which Scripture reveals? As I read this account a verse of Scripture from the Psalms rings over and over in my mind. It is from Psalm 34, verse 19: Many are the afflictions of the righteous; but the Lord delivers him out of them all. 182

That is the story of life, isn't it? We must expect these shipwrecks. But the Lord delivers us out of them all. The next verse in that psalm is a prophecy of the crucifixion. It says of Jesus, He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. Even through the disaster and shipwreck of the Cross, God's forestalling hand was there, allowing it to go only so far, limiting it, controlling it, permitting much darkness and disaster, agony and bloodshed, but nevertheless solidly in control, undergirding and carrying Jesus through. So, as we look at this story of the shipwreck of Paul, and at the voyage of life which all of us are taking, we have to say, as many of us have learned to say through the years, "Everything went wrong, but it all turned out right."

Chapter Seven The End of the Beginning Acts 28
We have arrived at the last page of the first chapter of church history--the last chapter of the Book of Acts. Luke's unfinished book introduces us to the whole record of the history of the church which continues to this day. In this chapter the suspenseful account of Paul's voyage to Rome continues: After we had escaped, we then learned that the island was called Malta. And the natives showed us unusual kindness, for they kindled a fire and welcomed us all, because it had begun to rain and was cold. Paul had gathered a bundle of sticks and put them on the fire, when a viper came out because of the heat and fastened on his hand. When the natives saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, "No doubt this man is a murderer. Though he has escaped from the sea, justice has not allowed him to live." He, however, shook off the creature into the fire and suffered no harm. They waited, expecting him to swell up or suddenly fall down dead; but when they had waited a long time and saw no misfortune come to him, they changed their minds and said that he was a god (Acts 28:1-6). They spent some three months on Malta waiting for the winter to pass so that navigation could resume. The impressive thing about their stay is that it was a time characterized by healing. It began with this amazing healing of the apostle himself from the bite of a poisonous snake. Notice that this event occurred in the midst of what we would call a rather primitive, uncivilized society. The word translated "natives" in our nation today is not that we are returning to version is really the word "barbarians" in Greek. The Greeks called anybody who spoke in a tongue other than Greek a barbarian. That is because any other language sounded to them like a cacophony of sounds. They could distinguish no words. We have all had the experience of listening to a language utterly foreign to us and wondering how anybody can understand anything in it. It sounds to us like an unintelligible jumble of syllables. The Greeks thought the noises they made sounded like "bar-bar," or meaningless syllables. To them "bar-bar" was the mark of someone who had not yet learned to speak the civilized language, Greek, so they called them "barbarians." But these were not naked savages. Primitive societies are often more complex and advanced in their own way than what we fondly (or unfondly) call civilization. These natives treated their guests with unusual kindness and courtesy. Literally, in Greek, it was "kindness more than ordinary." This indicates that the Holy Spirit was preparing the hearts of these barbarians, these pagans, to hear the gospel. Here was a people prepared to receive the message of God, disposed by the effect of the Spirit upon their hearts to be open and receptive. That is almost always characteristic of paganism. Pagans are what C.S. Lewis calls "pre-Christians"; that is, they are very open to the gospel. They have been prepared for it by the emptiness of their pagan faith. Our problem as a nation today is not that we are returning to paganism but that we are going beyond it to a more deadly peril--the setting aside of light. We are not returning to paganistic darkness but going on into even more profound darkness. But the courtesy which these people showed is an indication of the work of the Holy Spirit in preparing them to hear the word that Paul preached. 183

Paul's witness began with the remarkable incident involving the viper. It is noteworthy that the Apostle Paul was gathering sticks along with everyone else in this ship's company. He did not draw himself up and (as some might be inclined to do today) say, "I beg your pardon! I'm a man of the cloth. This kind of work is beneath me. While you work I'll direct the activity." Paul took up a bundle of sticks in which, unknown to him, was a snake torpid with cold. When he laid the bundle on the fire the snake suddenly came to life and bit him on the hand. Luke describes it very vividly. He says that the snake was dangling from Paul's hand. It is clear that it was a severe bite which punctured the skin and allowed the poison to enter Paul's body. Theological Explanation The natives immediately recognized the snake as a poisonous viper. They expected to see Paul soon fall over dead or at least to swell up--the normal results of snakebite. Of course they had a theological explanation for why he was bitten. These were religious people, as all primitive men are, and they believed that calamity is always proof of evil. So they surmised that this man was a murderer; that must be why he was a prisoner. He had escaped from the sea, but justice, in the hands of the invisible fates, had not allowed him to escape. Now it had laid hold of him and he was bound to die. But as they watched and saw no harm coming, they changed their minds and decided that he was a god. What should we make of this? Why did this incident occur on this occasion? No doubt here we have one of the "signs of an apostle" which Paul refers to in Second Corinthians 12. This links very clearly with the passage at the close of Mark's Gospel, which appears as a footnote in the Revised Standard Version. The Lord Jesus, appearing to his disciples after his resurrection, said to them: And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover (Mark 16:17,18). In this last chapter of Acts we have two of those signs manifested by the Apostle Paul: he picked up a serpent and it did not harm him, and he laid hands on the sick, as we will see in a moment, and they recovered. Many have misread that passage in Mark and have taken it to mean that this series of miraculous wonders ought to accompany anyone who believes in the gospel. But that is to read it without careful recognition of the context. The passage begins with our Lord, risen from the dead, rebuking these disciples because of their unbelief, specifically their unbelief in his resurrection. It is a great commentary on the power of unbelief that these men were gathered around with the Lord standing there in front of them and yet some of them were still troubled about the resurrection. Isn't that amazing? The Lord rebuked them because they would not believe the evidence so clearly set before them. Then he added these words: "These signs will accompany those who believe...", i.e., "...those among you who believe in my resurrection..." He means this group immediately before him. These signs will accompany them as confirmation that they have believed in a risen Lord and will confirm the message that they speak. It was necessary for the apostles to preach the gospel of the Lord Jesus in resurrection power. Therefore it was necessary first that they really believe in his resurrection. And so our Lord indicated, these signs would confirm it to those among them who believed. Mark concludes the account by saying, So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven, and sat down at the right hand of God. And they went forth [who? These disciples who heard him] and preached everywhere [in obedience to the great commission], while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it (Mark 16:19,20). So we have here what Paul calls the signs of an apostle. They established his right and authority to speak to these people, and he demonstrated two of these signs on this occasion. The second is recorded in the next section--the healing of Publius' father: Now in the neighborhood of that place were lands belonging to the chief man of the island, named Publius, who us and entertained us hospitably for three days. It happened that the father of Publius lay sick with fever and dysentery; and Paul visited him and prayed, and putting his hands on him healed him (Acts 28:7,8). 184

"They shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover." So this again was one of the signs of an apostle which was to accompany those who had seen the risen Lord and who believed that he was indeed risen from the dead. It may also be a manifestation of the gift of healing which Paul mentions in First Corinthians 12. It is a clear-cut case of the instantaneous healing of an individual by prayer and the laying on of hands. Luke tells us that Publius was the "chief man" of the island. That was not merely a description of his standing in society; it was an official title given him as the head of the Roman government on Malta, and the title should perhaps be capitalized: "Chief Man." Publius owned certain lands near where the shipwreck occurred. It is likely that Julius told this Roman governor what kind of man Paul was, and so Publius welcomed the apostle and his party into his home with kindness. Wherever you find kindness demonstrated, the grace of God is always behind it, so Publius also shows evidence that the Spirit had prepared his heart. While there, Paul learns that Publius' father is ill. Luke, as a physician, diagnoses the case. He says he was sick with fever and dysentery, which sounds very much like the common symptoms of the flu today. So Paul went in to see him and received prayed with him. Then he laid his hands on him as an act of identity, and he was instantaneously healed. Notice that this is very similar to the case we read of in Mark's Gospel in which the Lord Jesus went to see Peter and found his mother-in-law sick with fever. And taking her by the hand he raised her up and healed her instantaneously. The healing of Publius' father confirms that Paul is an accredited servant of the same Lord Jesus. Gradual Cures In the next section we have a most interesting corollary to this. We read of the healing of many on the island: And when this had taken place, the rest of the people on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. They presented many gifts to us; and when we sailed, they put on board whatever we needed (Acts 28:9,10). There is a very interesting use of words here. When Luke says that Publius' father was healed, he uses a Greek word which means instantaneous healing. But when he says that these people were cured, he uses another Greek word which refers to a more gradual cure. It is an entirely different word. Not all of them were instantaneously healed. Therefore many scholars have felt that we have here a unique combination of medical skill and divine healing, that Luke was involved as a physician in these cures which took place during their three-month stay on the island. There is a beautiful blending, without any contradiction, of these two gifts of God: the skill of medicine in curing, and the divine power of God at work in direct healing. The two stem from the same wisdom and power of God and can work together beautifully, as we see in this account. At any rate, many were cured, and as a result, when they came to leave, the people gave them, literally, many "honorariums." The people expressed their gratitude by stocking the ship with supplies. Now we read of the remainder of the journey to Rome: After three months we set sail in a ship which had wintered in the island, a ship of Alexandria, with the Twin Brothers as figurehead. Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed there for three days. And from there we made a circuit and arrived at Rhegium; and after one day a south wind sprang up, and on the second day we came to Puteoli. There we found brethren, and were invited to stay with them for seven days (Acts 28:11-14a). With characteristic attention to detail, Luke gives us a description of the ship. It had as its figurehead carved images of the Twin Brothers, Castor and Pollux, the twin sons of Zeus, or Jupiter. Thus it was obviously a ship dedicated to a pagan deity. They traveled in this ship from Malta some eighty miles north to the Island of Sicily, where they put in at the port of Syracuse. They stayed there for three days and then sailed across the Straits of Messina to Rhegium, which is at the very tip of the toe of the Italian boot. Then, a south wind blowing them directly north, they made their way quickly up the coast and landed at Puteoli, the great port in which all the ships unloaded as they brought grain from Egypt to Rome. It was 130 miles from Rome, near the present city of Naples. There Paul disembarked and began the final stage of his journey. Here we get a wonderful note: at Puteoli he was met by Christians. This is a remarkable evidence of the spread of Christianity even this early, probably about A.D. 60. Paul had never been to Italy before. Nor, to our knowledge, had any 185

of the other apostles. And yet there were Christians in many of the cities of Italy as well as in Rome itself. Here are some who are waiting to greet Paul when he lands, still 130 miles from Rome. And so we came to Rome. And the brethren 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. And when we came into Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier that guarded him (Acts 28:14b-16). Rome at last! And two companies of Christians came out from Rome to meet him: one came as far as the Forum of Appius, which was forty miles from Rome; another came thirty miles out to the Three Taverns. If you want to walk in the footsteps of Paul you can go to Rome and walk this same road. The Appian Way is still there, and you can see these very places. What an event this must have been! And what a delightful note is added by the way the body of believers met Paul and encouraged his heart. As he approached the city he evidently felt some fear and trepidation. He did not know what was going to happen to him when he appeared before Nero. He must have been very uncertain as to whether he would ever again be free from imprisonment. But what a comfort it was that these early Christians eagerly welcomed Paul and prayed with him and strengthened him, thus encouraging his heart as he came at last to Rome. When he arrived in Rome he could see God's hand still at work in the fact that he was given courteous and lenient treatment and was allowed to stay by himself in his own house, with the soldiers who guarded him. Last Appeal to the Jews The last major episode of this account occurs now in the final section. In his letter to the Romans Paul said, "I am not ashamed of the gospel: it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Paul always maintained that it was his responsibility to go to the Jew first and then to the Greek. Here we have the last account in Scripture of that process and priority: After three days he called together the local leaders of the Jews; and when they had gathered, he said to them, "Brethren, though I had done nothing against the people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. When they had examined me, they wished to set me at liberty, because there was no reason for the death penalty in my case. But when the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar--though I had no charge to bring against my nation (Acts 28:17-19). As Paul had always done, he began with the Jews. He invited the local Jewish leaders to come and see him. He could not go to them, because he was bound to a Roman guard. It is interesting that they responded. They did not know him, though perhaps they had heard of him. But because he had been a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish colony was at least willing to listen to him. He simply explained his predicament, pointing out that he was an innocent victim of this strange hostility of the Jews toward him. He had done nothing against his nation. He himself was a Jew who longed to bless his people and help them. But he found them strangely hostile. Even the Romans, when the Jews turned him over to them, wanted to let him go because they could find no cause of death in him. But the Jews objected. And Paul makes clear that it was the Jews who were against him, not he against them. He had no charge to bring against his nation. How amazing! How gracious is his forgiving spirit! As we read this book we have seen how Jewish zealots had hounded him and caused trouble for him in every city. They had aroused the populace against him, had beaten and caused him to be scourged and stoned. But he speaks not one word of resentment against these people, not one word of indictment or vindictiveness. He freely absolves them of any charge. Because of the Hope He then points out the real reason why the Jews so consistently opposed him: For this reason therefore I have asked to see you and speak with you, since it is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain (Acts 28:20). He means by that phrase the promised coming of the Messiah. Now, almost two thousand years later, this is still the crucial issue in Israel--the promise of the Messiah. This issue has never been settled and never can be. It remains a 186

constant thorn in the side of any Jewish community. If you want to cause disturbance and arouse argument, to evoke resentment and curiosity, you merely have to raise the issue of the Messiah and you will find the same kind of reaction that Paul experienced. Jews immediately become deeply concerned and involved. Many, as Paul did, are turning to Christ these days, as they re-examine this question. Now we get the response: And they said to him, "We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brethren coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are; for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against" (Acts 28:21,22). It is rather revealing that these Jews in Rome had received no word about the apostle. It is possible, of course, that they could not have received word before this any more than Paul could have reached Rome before this. The news may have been delayed. But it is much more likely that the Jews in Jerusalem had given up trying to trap Paul by legal means, by Roman authority. And perhaps the reason he was detained as a prisoner in Rome for two more years was that the Romans were waiting for some kind of accusation to come from Jerusalem. This situation left his case undecided--no one knew what to do. But the Jews in Rome were eager to hear his views. Their curiosity had been aroused because they had heard that this strange sect which had gathered around Jesus of Nazareth was spoken against everywhere in the Jewish communities. So they appointed a day: When they had appointed a day for him, they came to him at his lodging in great numbers. And he expounded the matter to them from morning till evening, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the law of Moses and from the prophets (Acts 28:23). What a magnificent Bible study this must have been! What an opportunity these Jews in Rome had as this mighty apostle began to go systematically through the Scriptures. Obviously their curiosity was greatly aroused and they gathered in large numbers. They set aside an ample period of time, taking the whole day from morning till evening to debate and discuss and examine the Scriptures. And they certainly had a competent teacher. Who could have interpreted these Old Testament passages better or known them more thoroughly than this former Pharisee, trained as a scholar, who knew the Old Testament almost by heart? And they had a most fascinating subject--Jesus in the Old Testament. Paul spoke to them about the kingdom of God, that is, God's rule over all the earth, and about Jesus, the way to the heart of God. He tried desperately, by patiently expounding to them many of the great passages in the law and the prophets, to convince them that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Nothing is more fascinating than to see how these amazing predictions of the Old Testament focus upon one Person in all of history and upon the events of his 33 1/2 years of life on earth. He is the fulfillment of prophecies stretched over hundreds and hundreds of years of previous history. The writings of the prophets center around this one brief moment in history when a Man should be born in Bethlehem, live in Nazareth, tread the hills of Judea, do mighty works, and finally die on a cross as predicted, but then be raised again from the dead exactly as predicted. Discouraging Results We can guess some of the passages Paul must have used on this occasion. How vivid and clear they are! How many people yet today are still arrested by the accuracy of these great Old Testament predictions! What tremendous, compelling proof he set before these people. And yet look at the discouraging results: And some were convinced by what he said, while others disbelieved. So, as they disagreed among themselves, they departed, after Paul had made one statement: "The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: 'Go to this people, and say, you shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive'"(Acts 28:24-26). Why? The passage goes on to tell us why: "For this people's heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them'" (Acts 28:27).


The perversity of human nature! This passage predicts that people would deliberately close their minds because they did not want to hear the ultimate message. Many of us have done this. We have anticipated, at the gut level, where it was all going to come out, and it has been different than what we have wanted, and so we have shut our ears and eyes and minds, and have not listened. And Paul says that is what happened here, as Isaiah had predicted. The amazing thing is that he uses this passage from Isaiah in exactly the same way that Jesus himself had used it in his last encounter with the Jews. In the twelfth chapter of John's Gospel we read: When Jesus had said this, he departed and hid himself from them. Though he had done so many signs before them, yet they did not believe in him; it was that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled: "Lord, who has believed our report, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?" Therefore they could not believe. For Isaiah again said, "He has blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, lest they should see with their eyes and receive with their heart, and turn for me to heal them" (John 12:36-40). And then John adds this amazing word: Isaiah said this because he saw his glory and spoke of him [i.e., of Jesus] (John 12:41). And if we read the sixth chapter of Isaiah, from which that quotation comes, we find that it is the passage in which Isaiah said, In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and his train filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim...And one called to another and said: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:1-3). Thus John says that Isaiah saw Jesus and beheld his glory and spoke of him. And yet Paul must say to these Jewish leaders: Let it be known to you then that this salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen (Acts 28:28). With sad hearts the apostle and his friends saw these Jews turn away once again. This is the last time in Scripture in which you find the appeal of the gospel officially set before the Jewish people. One of the great mysteries of all time is Jewish unbelief. How can this people miss these tremendous passages, this clear-cut delineation of their Messiah? And yet what happened here as recorded in this passage is nothing other than what is happening in much of the church today. What was the reason these people refused to move? As you analyze the account you can see that it was because it meant change. They had worked out a comfortable theological explanation of who the Messiah would be. When God moved in ways different from what they had expected, even though he had predicted it, they refused to move with him. They hung back and clung to their tradition and refused to be disturbed in the comfort of their lives. They did not want to be changed. And that is the problem today. Many Christians are doing the same thing. Having misunderstood much of Scripture and applied it in ways that are not warranted, and having developed a very comfortable pattern of life--when the Spirit of God moves in fresh and vital ways, we do not want to change and will not follow. We resist anything that disturbs the tranquility of an accepted and commonly practiced tradition. We want to cling to the comfortable dead rags of the past even though the Word of God has always marked out the pathway by which the Spirit works. What a lesson this ought to be to us! As God bypassed the Jews, so he bypasses any who continually refuse to move with the creative power of the Spirit of God. And so we come to the last two verses: And he lived there two whole years at his own expense, and welcomed all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ quite openly and unhindered (Acts 28:30,31).


This is what I like to call the end of the beginning. The Book of Acts is just the beginning of the record of the operation of the body of Christ at work in the world since his resurrection and ascension. It is just the first chapter. We have come now to the last page of that chapter. The rest of the record is being written as history unfolds. Fresh and wonderful chapters are now being written in our own day, ultimately to be incorporated into this account. It is a tremendous privilege and joy to be a part of this divine record. The Gospel Unhindered One of the most impressive things about this last section is the last word. Do you notice how the Book of Acts ends? With the word "unhindered." That word describes the freedom of the gospel. You see, Paul was hindered. He could not go about the city. He was still chained day and night to a Roman guard. But he could welcome friends in. And he could walk around his house and yard and he could minister and teach there. Paul never chafed under this restraint. His letters from this period are filled with joy and rejoicing. He never fretted about his condition, but instead welcomed all who came, and sent letters back with them--letters that have changed the world. It was during this time that Paul wrote Philippians, Ephesians, Colossians, and the letter to Philemon. What tremendous truths are set forth in these letters which he had time to write because he could no longer travel abroad! You and I can be grateful that God kept Paul still long enough to write them; otherwise we might have been deprived of these great messages which have changed the history of man time and time again. Still, Paul had yet to appear before the emperor. In the next year or so a great persecution broke out under the vicious emperor Nero, one of the greatest persecutions that Christians have ever experienced. But the Word was not hindered. No matter what the condition of the church, the Word of God is never bound. We must remember that. Tradition and other Scripture suggest to us that at the end of this two-year period, which brings us up to the time Luke wrote this book, the apostle was released. Apparently he did appear before the Emperor and his case was dismissed. He went back to the Island of Crete, where he left Titus in charge, as the letter to Titus tells us. And he probably visited Ephesus once again, even though he had said to them as he left, "You'll never see my face again." It is very likely that Paul did come back, and that he left Timothy in charge there. It is also very likely that he went to Spain, as he hungered to do. And some scholars feel that Paul may even have visited Britain and preached there. In any case, it is clear that Paul was eventually arrested again. This time, instead of being allowed to live in a hired home, he was thrown into that dark and slimy dungeon called the Mammertime Prison, which you can still visit in Rome. There he wrote his second letter to Timothy, which reflects the conditions of that confinement--cold and dank, lonely and isolated. And finally, according to tradition, Paul was led out one day in the early spring and taken outside the walls of Rome. There he knelt down and a sword flashed in the sun. His head was cut off and the apostle went home to be with the Lord. If we will be obedient to what is set forth in such clear language in the Book of Acts, God will supply all the power and vitality we need. And the sweeping changes made possible by the life of Christ in his body can occur among us today just as they occurred in that first century. The principles by which the church is to operate are declared here. The power available to us is exactly the same. The conditions of the world in which we live are exactly the same. Therefore nothing needs to be changed in the record of the Book of Acts. The life of the body of Christ is to go on in this twentieth century exactly as it was lived in the first. May God grant that we will be men and women of faith, with vigor and vision, willing to move with the creative, innovative Spirit in our day and age, so that we might share in the triumphs of the gospel.


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