Friday, January 30, 2015

God Shows Grace

11 And God was doing extraordinary miracles by the hands of Paul, 12 so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them and the evil spirits came out of them. (Acts 19:11-12 (ESV)

Miracles and miracles. We don’t see things like this happening today. I think too often we want to dismiss things such as this. But the generation brought out of Egypt were given to see many miracles and great deeds. Even then many  of them disbelieved. The generations that followed were not given to see the same things. But they would remember the deeds of old, and were not so quick to dishonor their fathers, but accepted their stories and remembered that the God who showed them such grace also shows us grace, to a thousand generations of those that love him. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Paul Accommodates the People

8 And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became stubborn and continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the Way before the congregation, he withdrew from them and took the disciples with him, reasoning daily in the hall of Tyrannus. [3] 10 This continued for two years, so that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks. (Acts 19:8-10 (ESV)
We don’t know who Tyrannus was. Perhaps a Christian. But some texts indicate that Paul preached in the hall of Tyrannaus between 11 and 4. That is a long time, but this was the time of the siesta. This wasn’t a time when people would just eat and nap. But rather they would find time to go listen to lectures, and take some free time for themselves. Paul made the most of this time, when even slaves would have a bit of time off. Paul accommodated the people whenever he could. He found the people where they were.

I recently read an article that people were beginning to attend services during the week more in England, rather than on Sunday morning. My experience has been if people aren’t willing to show up on Sunday, they probably won’t show up during the week. But if they do come on Sunday they are more likely to want to come during the week too.  Yet, I think there is something to meeting people where they are at, and trying to accommodate as much as possible. Pastors often think the people should be making it a priority in their lives, and if they don’t then there is nothing we can do for them. Yet, if it should be such a priority in their lives, and it often is more of a priority than they are given credit for, should it be equally as big a priority for us pastors to accommodate them with the word? This was the practice of Paul, and much can be learned from it. 

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The Necessity of Baptism

“ 19:1 And it happened that while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul passed through the inland [1] country and came to Ephesus. There he found some disciples. 2 And he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” And they said, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” 3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, “Into John's baptism.” 4 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.” 5 On hearing this, they were baptized in [2] the name of the Lord Jesus. 6 And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying. 7 There were about twelve men in all.” (Acts 19:1-7 (ESV)
It seems Apollos was not the only one to be a disciple or Jesus, and yet only have the baptism of John. Paul runs into some disciples like this in Ephesus, as it seems Apollos and Paul pass each other changing places. These disciples have not even heard of the Holy Spirit, and because of this Paul knows that they have not been baptized. Christian baptism comes with the Holy Spirit.

However, we see here that baptism is not an optional thing in the life of the Christian. One who believes cannot refuse to be baptized. One who believes will want to be baptized.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Priscilla Teaches Apollos

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, [3] he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28 (ESV)
“Though he knew only the baptism of John.” It’s a curious thing, in some way Apollos had come to believe in Jesus Christ, and even spoke, that is preached, and by all accounts he taught accurately, that which he taught. More than that, he was a highly educated man and very eloquent. It seems he taught the truth, but not the whole truth. Evidently, not knowing the baptism of Christ he did not know the whole truth.
This serves also to show that John’s baptism was not Christian baptism, but something very different from what Christ would baptize with, as John himself proclaimed. Therefore, Christ’s baptism by John doesn’t serve as a model for Christian baptism.
Now Priscilla and Aquila hear Apollos in the synagogue of Ephesus. They had to have been shocked, amazed and comforted to hear Apollos speak, but they are quick to note that his teaching is deficient. The text doesn’t come out and say what it was that was lacking from Apollos’s teaching, yet one can imagine that the most obvious is that Apollos didn’t teach concerning baptism, which is pretty central to Christian teaching and proclamation as can be seen by Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost. It is in baptism that the gospel is applied to the subject and they become Christians.

Priscilla and Aquila, Paul mentions Priscilla first because she seems to be the most influential where this is concerned, they take Apollos to the side and instruct him more accurately concerning the Christian faith. Apollos himself seems to have received this instruction, even from a woman, humbly. This made him all the more powerful a preacher and an encouragement to the saints both in Ephesus and in Achaia. Both the fact that Paul praises Aquila so often, and that Apollos so willingly accepted instruction from her, show the Christian openness to women that was not so well known among Jewish circles. A willingness to accept truth no matter what its source.This should also be brought into account when in other letters Paul prohibits women from teaching men or speaking in the churches. It is notable that Priscilla and Aquilla took Apollos aside, outside the context of worship, which is the context in which Paul prohibits women from speaking or teaching. Sometimes these verses are divorced from their context and become nothing more than a cover for misogyny. But this was not only on account of Christian teaching concerning the role of women in worship, but also in consideration that reproof is often more ably accepted in private then in front of a crowd where one may lose more face than he is comfortable losing, by accepting the reproof. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Kingdom of God is at Hand

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.” (Mark 1:14-20 (ESV)

“Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God, and saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  
So Mark gives us a summary of Jesus sermon, his message of grace, good favor, the joyous and good news he preached to the people. News that they received as good, that comforted their souls in the wake of John’s imprisonment. That had to hurt, to see a man of God imprisoned, and everyone knew it was just a matter of time before he was beheaded.  Just isn’t the way we expect things to go for God’s prophets. And yet it is the way it goes every time for his prophets! Most dangerous job in the Bible. Jesus calls Jerusalem the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to you. It was a recurring theme. A theme that not even Jesus will escape.
Yet no matter how many times, the natural inclination is, if this person is sent from God it will go well for him, God will protect him from the trials and tribulations of the world. And then it touches home, if a man like John can be thrown in prison for speaking God’s word, if he can be put to death for it, what will happen to me? You can imagine all the quiet of the land who had gone down to the river to hear the man preach. Those who had confessed their sins in the waters. A slap in the face, a knife to the soul as the news was heard. The big question hanging over their heads, “now what?” The confusion, and anxiety, the fear for the future. Their rulers turning on them and shunning their religion. Perhaps they wondered how much more God would take before he abandoned them all.
And then Jesus comes. Jesus comes preaching the gospel. The good news. The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand.  The forerunner had gone, he who came to prepare the way had been removed because the way was prepared, and now Jesus was walking it. For John the way leads to a prison cell and a silver platter. He bulldozed the path alright. The path to death, to martyrdom. And now Jesus takes it follows the steamroller straight up Golgotha. Now the one for whom the path was blazed, now he takes it. The kingdom of God is at hand. It’s ready for the taking. The time is fulfilled. What seemed like bad news was good news, because Jesus couldn’t really start until the way had been prepared, and now the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe.
Repent and believe the gospel. See the thing that is being said here, is repent for not believing the gospel. You repent by believing the gospel. You repent by trusting God. You repent by listening to his word, his joyous news, the forgiveness of sins. I mean this is at the heart of repentance, and people hardly ever think of it this way. They always think repentance is making amends for your life, walking the straight and narrow, keeping your nose clean. They almost always think it is about them and what they have to do. Sometimes even believing they aren’t worthy of the gospel until they have managed to do it! That they don’t belong in church, unless they have managed to clean up and walk the straight line. But it isn’t like that. You don’t have to change to become a disciple of Christ, but when Christ calls you your life will change. You may not even notice it at first. But it will happen. No repentance is finally killing that old Adam, drowning him dead in the waters of baptism, letting go of yourself and saying, I’m forgiven. Because the kingdom of God, it isn’t found in what you do. It is found in what God does for you. It is at hand. It is right here, in the church, where his word is proclaimed, where he comes to you in bread and wine to give you the body and blood he broke and shed for you on the cross at the end of the road, John had prepared for him.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Vow of the Nazarene

18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers [2] and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus.
 22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. (Acts 18:18-23 (ESV)
So aside from Priscilla and Aquila going with Paul as he returns to Antioch, the curious thing in here is the vow that Paul takes. This would be the vow of a Nazarene which requires a person to cut his hair at the beginning and not drink wine or cut his hair again until the vow was over. This was the vow that Samson had been born into, a Nazarene from birth.

The Book of Acts covers a time of transition between the Old and the New Testament.  During this time Christians were more or less a Jewish sect. Paul who was free was perfectly free to take on Jewish vows or not. The Christians would often worship in the synagogues with the Jews, and it seems in Corinth, even after the leaders of the synagogue converted to Christianity they still oversaw Jewish worship. But also during this time hostilities escalated between Jews and Christians, and it was normally the Jews persecuting Christians. But this period of transition comes to an end with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 Ad.  Christians took this as a sign that God would no longer consider such worship to be a valid form of devotion. Now, because they reject Christ as the Messiah, and refuse to see him as God, we cannot acknowledge that they worship God, but now it is they who worship God contrary to the law. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Worship God Contrary to the Law

12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 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.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. (Acts 18:12-17 (ESV)
A year and a half passed. We know Gallio as the older brother of the famous Roman Philosopher  Seneca. We also know that he became proconsul in Achaia in 52. Corinth was the capital of this province. This is one of those things that allows us to date Paul’s work with quite a bit of accuracy.
But now when he becomes proconsul the Jews decide they have a chance to make a united effort and silence Paul. Gallio seems to have taken some of his younger brother’s wisdom though, and really could careless to hear the complaint. However in order to keep the peace, he doesn’t pay any attention as the disappointed crowd beats Sosthenes. Paul doesn’t get a chance to speak at this time but he will have his day in court soon enough.

The Jews complain that Paul is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law. This wouldn’t be anything against Roman law, not yet. .. The Jews had special permission to carry on with their customs and worship and refrain from worshiping Roman gods, or the emperor which would otherwise be considered impious. But the thing that bothered the Jews was the worship of Jesus who was a man. For them this was against the Torah, the law they speak of. The only problem is that Jesus is God. And deserves to be worshiped as such. He is the one who died and rose from the dead for our salvation. And the whole gospel is tied together with him being God.