June 16, 2019
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June 23, 2019
14 In Iconium they entered the Jewish synagogue, as usual, and spoke in such a way that a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed. 2 But the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. 3 So they stayed there a long time and spoke boldly for the Lord, who testified to the message of his grace by enabling them to do signs and wonders. 4 But the people of the city were divided, some siding with the Jews and others with the apostles.5 When an attempt was made by both the Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat and stone them, 6 they found out about it and fled to the Lycaonian towns of Lystra and Derbe and to the surrounding countryside. 7 There they continued preaching the gospel.
8 In Lystra a man was sitting who was without strength in his feet, had never walked, and had been lame from birth. 9 He listened as Paul spoke. After looking directly at him and seeing that he had faith to be healed, 10 Paul said in a loud voice, “Stand up on your feet!” And he jumped up and began to walk around.
11 When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted, saying in the Lycaonian language, “The gods have come down to us in human form!” 12 Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. 13 The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the town, brought bulls and wreaths to the gates because he intended, with the crowds, to offer sacrifice.
14 The apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their robes when they heard this and rushed into the crowd, shouting: 15 “People! Why are you doing these things? We are people also, just like you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. 16 In past generations he allowed all the nations to go their own way, 17 although he did not leave himself without a witness,since he did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.” 18 Even though they said these things, they barely stopped the crowds from sacrificing to them.
19 Some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and when they won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead.20 After the disciples gathered around him, he got up and went into the town. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe.
21 After they had preached the gospel in that town and made many disciples, they returned to Lystra, to Iconium, and to Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith and by telling them, “It is necessary to go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” 23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church and prayed with fasting, they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
24 They passed through Pisidia and came to Pamphylia. 25 After they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. 26 From there they sailed back to Antioch where they had been commended to the grace of God for the work they had now completed. 27 After they arrived and gathered the church together, they reported everything God had done with them and that he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they spent a considerable time with the disciples.
REACH: In the last chapter, Paul and Barnabas justified their pivot toward the Gentiles by quoting Isaiah 49:6, “I have made you a light for the Gentiles to bring salvation to the end of the earth” (Acts 13:47). Words concerning the Messiah were now fleshing out through the Messiah’s missionaries. Light was dispelling darkness. Salvation was enveloping the ends of the earth.
Iconium was engulfed by the light. There, “a great number of both Jews and Greeks believed” (14:1b). Despite harsh opposition, Paul and Barnabas “spoke boldly for the Lord” and some residents continued to welcome the message. The impending danger of death eventually necessitated Paul and Barnabas fleeing to the surrounding countryside where “they continued preaching the gospel” (14:7). Only death could keep them from declaring. That’s why the opposition picked up stones to stop them. But they were undaunted, and the gospel flowed unhindered.
The light then entered Lystra. A lame man was healed, and immediately the messengers were thrust into the spotlight, so much so that the people of Lystra were ready to sacrifice to them! Outraged, Paul and Barnabas rushed into the crowd, shouting: “People, why are you doing these things? We are people also, just like you, and we are proclaiming good news to you, that you turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven, the earth, the sea, and everything in them. In past generations He allowed all the nations to go their own way, although he did not leave himself without a witness, since he did what is good by giving you rain from heaven and fruitful seasons and filling you with food and your hearts with joy” (14:15-17). Deflecting attention to their Maker almost did not work as Luke concluded, “they barely stopped the crowds from sacrificing to them” (14:18).
Did you notice where Paul began his outline of the gospel with this Gentile audience? The creator God. Peter’s early messages of Acts began with “God of our ancestors” whereas Paul preached this message to Gentiles that began with the “living God, who made the heaven, the earth…” The implication is clear: Gentiles don’t get a pass for being far from the promise. The people of Lystra had a witness through God’s acts of creation and providence, but they needed the witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection like Paul and Barnabas. Lystra had some light but needed more than providence afforded. They needed the “light” that brought salvation. The knowledge of God through creation was enough to condemn them, but not enough to save them.
Reflect: Imagine you lived in Lystra in the first century and Paul and Barnabas never came to town. What would your earthly life look like? What would you know about God? What would your eternity look like?
RESISTANCE: In secluded corners of this world, and even in modern urban centers, people grow up and experience God’s providential care. He gives them rain from heaven, fruitful seasons, food, and joy (14:17). These reinforce the innate trigger in everyone that God exists, and He is powerful. That knowledge, however, only suffices to render them accountable.
Everyone, from your neighbor to the most remote island on the planet, must and will give an account to the living God. No human being can receive a pass due to ignorance. Why? Because ignorance of God is impossible. That knowledge can be suppressed, as atheists do, or supplanted with created things as in all forms of idolatry. But it is the inescapable reality. We exist by Someone else’s doing and on Someone else’s terms. No one is beyond the need for the gospel because no one exists apart from the Creator. That truth undergirds the universal need of all people to hear the gospel.
We live in a pluralistic society. We can be duped into assuming the nations will be okay without ever hearing the gospel. But it is simply not true. Eternal hell awaits anyone who never believes in Jesus. Everyone is without excuse. To put it positively: everywhere we take the gospel, we will find an audience that needs the gospel.
REALITY: The world is without excuse before their Maker. There is one Mediator between God and man, only one. We will be without excuse if we keep that message to ourselves.
Reflect: Gather some friends and family together and spend a few minutes watching the joy of a people group who had never had the gospel welcome it with joy: Ee-Taow: The Mouk Story.
Afterward, spend some time praying for that joy to be the fruit of the Roots & Reach Mission Projects.
15 Some men came down from Judea and began to teach the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved.” 2 After Paul and Barnabas had engaged them in serious argument and debate, Paul and Barnabas and some others were appointed to go up to the apostles and elders in Jerusalem about this issue. 3 When they had been sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and they brought great joy to all the brothers and sisters.
4 When they arrived at Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, the apostles, and the elders, and they reported all that God had done with them. 5 But some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses.”
6 The apostles and the elders gathered to consider this matter. 7 After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them: “Brothers and sisters, you are aware that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe. 8 And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as he also did to us. 9 He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”
12 The whole assembly became silent and listened to Barnabas and Paul describe all the signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.13 After they stopped speaking, James responded: “Brothers and sisters, listen to me. 14 Simeon has reported how God first intervened to take from the Gentiles a people for his name. 15 And the words of the prophets agree with this, as it is written:
16 After these things I will return
and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
I will rebuild its ruins
and set it up again,
17 so the rest of humanity
may seek the Lord—
even all the Gentiles
who are called by my name—
declares the Lord
who makes these things 18 known from long ago.
19 Therefore, in my judgment, we should not cause difficulties for those among the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but instead we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood. 21 For since ancient times, Moses has had those who proclaim him in every city, and every Sabbath day he is read aloud in the synagogues.”
22 Then the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, decided to select men who were among them and to send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: Judas, called Barsabbas, and Silas, both leading men among the brothers. 23 They wrote:
“From the apostles and the elders, your brothers, To the brothers and sisters among the Gentiles in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia: Greetings. 24 Since we have heard that some without our authorization went out from usand troubled you with their words and unsettled your hearts, 25 we have unanimously decided to select men and send them to you along with our dearly loved Barnabas and Paul, 26 who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we have sent Judas and Silas, who will personally report the same things by word of mouth. 28 For it was the Holy Spirit’s decision—and ours—not to place further burdens on you beyond these requirements:29 that you abstain from food offered to idols, from blood, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. You will do well if you keep yourselves from these things. Farewell.”
30 So they were sent off and went down to Antioch, and after gathering the assembly, they delivered the letter. 31 When they read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 Both Judas and Silas, who were also prophets themselves, encouraged the brothers and sisters and strengthened them with a long message.33 After spending some time there, they were sent back in peace by the brothers and sisters to those who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas, along with many others, remained in Antioch, teaching and proclaiming the word of the Lord.
36 After some time had passed, Paul said to Barnabas, “Let’s go back and visit the brothers and sisters in every town where we have preached the word of the Lord and see how they’re doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take along John Mark. 38 But Paul insisted that they should not take along this man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not gone on with them to the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company, and Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed off to Cyprus. 40 But Paul chose Silas and departed, after being commended by the brothers and sisters to the grace of the Lord. 41 He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
REACH: The church sensed the “prodding power” of the Spirit as He expanded their missional horizons in the recent scenes recorded in Acts. Gentiles, like Cornelius and others in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra were no longer far from the promise as the Spirit engaged the church to bring it near. The good news had officially gone global.
But with expansion came tension. This time, the opposition did not come from the outside, but arose from within. New endeavors collided with the old, and old paradigms do not die easily. The threat needed resolution, so a council was convened. Some Jewish believers desired to cram the new work into the old, saying to the Gentiles, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom prescribed by Moses, you cannot be saved” (v.1). This extended to the culture of the church itself, as they thought it necessary “to circumcise them and to command them to keep the law of Moses” (v.5). The issue: how Gentiles were reconciled to God and how they relate to the world as God’s people. Basically, was there one name under heaven given to mankind by which humanity could be saved, or was it two, Jesus plus Moses? And once they were on the inside, was one culture, the Jewish one, God’s preferred expression of holiness?
Essentially, it boiled down to whether the cross was enough and if the Jewish culture was God’s chosen medium for His mission. Did the new need the structures of the old covenant? If these claims were affirmed, a massive dam for the gospel’s worldwide ambition would have been erected. Unhindered would have been a pipe dream. The message of release for the world would be locked up within the Jewish system.
The council debated and decided, and the mission was not derailed. The leadership rallied behind the gospel of grace, equally accessible to all peoples, and equally expressible in all cultural forms. The world didn’t need two mediators, Jesus and Moses. One was enough: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 2:5). Grace prevailed over the council. The unity of the church was preserved. The broadness of the mission maintained.
The Spirit even helped them avoid serious error without overcorrecting. Indeed, Gentiles need not come under the yoke of the law to be saved, nor should they unnecessarily offend their Jewish neighbors from being saved or cause a stumbling block for Jewish disciples. The Spirit protected the church from misunderstanding the gospel and misapplying the missional moment.
Pray: If grace does not take deep root in us and in pioneer areas where the good news is just beginning to penetrate, we gravitate toward a works-based salvation. Pray for the new churches among people groups like the Somalis and the Khmer of Cambodia, to be deeply rooted in the sufficiency of grace so they do not drift back into a works-based mentality.
RESISTANCE: Change is hard. Maintaining the status quo gives us a sense of normalcy and feeds our lust for control. The Pharisees in the church at Judea live within us as well. We prefer to confine the new within the old. But as Jesus said, new wine necessitates new wine skins.
The gospel of grace resists our confining, dam-erecting impulses. To be on mission means we don’t negotiate the terms and we don’t control how much is asked of us. It will stretch us. It will be a strain on us. It will mean relinquishing some comfort for the sake of Christ and the nations. Grace is grace.
Are we hindering its expression?
REALITY: Being sensitive to the missional moment in which we find ourselves is critical to the progress of the gospel in our day. Every church has a culture to it that embodies the gospel in the here and now of their existence. Every church contextualizes the gospel. Some churches across the world seclude themselves from their surrounding culture, like the Coptic church of Egypt, distancing themselves from their Muslim neighbors who need the gospel. Some movements have sought to remove the offense of the gospel by immersing themselves into the surrounding religious culture. Neither is right.
Acts 15 gives a good model for contextualization, calling the Gentiles within the church to make loving adjustments to their freedoms in order to remove unnecessary offenses for both those on the inside and outside of the new community. As one writer said, “Biblical contextualization…involves avoiding cultural practices that genuinely offend others so as to remove all unnecessary offense from the gospel” (https://www.9marks.org/answer/why-are-so-many-church-leaders-today-talking-about-contextualization/).
This is why missionaries that live in Muslim contexts may abstain from eating pork. The clarity of the cross, in both word and deed, is the heartbeat of good contextualization.
Pray: Pray for wisdom for churches in pioneer areas as they discern where to be flexible and where to be firm in their context. Pray for them to be bold with the message of the cross and find ways for making it clearer to their neighbors. Pray for efforts to strengthen churches, like the Coptic church of Egypt, to faithfully embody the gospel and to engage their Muslim neighbors with its good news.
16 Paul went on to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a believing Jewish woman, but his father was a Greek. 2 The brothers and sisters at Lystra and Iconium spoke highly of him. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to go with him; so he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, since they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they traveled through the towns, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem for the people to observe. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.
6 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia; they had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 When they came to Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. 8 Passing by Mysia they went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision in which a Macedonian man was standing and pleading with him, “Cross over to Macedonia and help us!” 10 After he had seen the vision, we immediately made efforts to set out for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
11 From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, the next day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, a Roman colony and a leading city of the district of Macedonia. We stayed in that city for several days. 13 On the Sabbath day we went outside the city gate by the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and spoke to the women gathered there. 14 A God-fearing woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, was listening. The Lord opened her heart to respond to what Paul was saying. 15 After she and her household were baptized, she urged us, “If you consider me a believer in the Lord, come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
16 Once, as we were on our way to prayer, a slave girl met us who had a spirit by which she predicted the future. She made a large profit for her owners by fortune-telling. 17 As she followed Paul and us she cried out, “These men, who are proclaiming to you the way of salvation, are the servants of the Most High God.” 18 She did this for many days.
Paul was greatly annoyed. Turning to the spirit, he said, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her!” And it came out right away.
19 When her owners realized that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. 20 Bringing them before the chief magistrates, they said, “These men are seriously disturbing our city. They are Jews 21 and are promoting customs that are not legal for us as Romans to adopt or practice.” 22 The crowd joined in the attack against them, and the chief magistrates stripped off their clothes and ordered them to be beaten with rods. 23 After they had severely flogged them, they threw them in jail, ordering the jailer to guard them carefully. 24 Receiving such an order, he put them into the inner prison and secured their feet in the stocks.
25 About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 26 Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the jail were shaken, and immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s chains came loose. 27 When the jailer woke up and saw the doors of the prison standing open, he drew his sword and was going to kill himself, since he thought the prisoners had escaped.
28 But Paul called out in a loud voice, “Don’t harm yourself, because we’re all here!”
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He escorted them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him along with everyone in his house. 33 He took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds. Right away he and all his family were baptized. 34 He brought them into his house, set a meal before them, and rejoiced because he had come to believe in God with his entire household.
35 When daylight came, the chief magistrates sent the police to say, “Release those men.”
36 The jailer reported these words to Paul: “The magistrates have sent orders for you to be released. So come out now and go in peace.”
37 But Paul said to them, “They beat us in public without a trial, although we are Roman citizens, and threw us in jail. And now are they going to send us away secretly? Certainly not! On the contrary, let them come themselves and escort us out.”
38 The police reported these words to the magistrates. They were afraid when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. 39 So they came to appease them, and escorting them from prison, they urged them to leave town. 40 After leaving the jail, they came to Lydia’s house, where they saw and encouraged the brothers and sisters, and departed.
REACH: The Gentiles welcomed the news of the Jerusalem Council’s decision, “So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers” (16:5). With the gospel clarified, unity preserved, and the mission established, more work had to be done. The Spirit sovereignly redirected Paul’s travel plans, and Macedonia, modern-day Europe, came into view.
When the gospel came to town, Macedonia was shaken to its core. A “violent earthquake” shook the city, yet Luke focused his attention on a different sort of shaking. A series of tremors rumbled the very foundations of Roman society: wealth and authority. Two responses to the gospel-induced crisis emerged as alternatives: suppression or submission. Some responded with repentance and found refuge, while others resisted and true security eluded them.
Lydia, a woman of wealth, and her household, accepted Paul and Silas’s message and welcomed them into their home. One group of businessmen, however, wanted them gone. Paul cast a spirit out of a woman who “for many days” had annoyed him by announcing their identity to everyone. The real annoyance hit the businessmen that had built their wealth on her fortune-telling. They realized their “hope for profit” had disappeared, so they dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities, claiming they would destroy the Roman way of life. The gospel generated an economic crisis for some who held onto life as they knew it. For others, like Lydia, the Lord opened her heart and her hand.
The local authorities felt the tremors as well. Attempting to find stability, the authorities had Paul and Silas beaten and locked up under careful surveillance by a jailer. Everything seemed to be under control, but the calm was interrupted by no small earthquake. It was so violent Paul and Silas were freed from the chains that bound them, but, oddly, they refused escape. The jailer panicked, assuming the prisoners had run free. Suicide seemed like the best option in light of his coming judgment, so he withdrew his sword. At the last second, Paul shouted to him to not harm himself. He was absolutely shocked. He “fell down trembling” before Paul and Silas with one question begging for resolution: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Think of the irony: Paul’s words should have been sweet relief, but it only deepened his crisis. The dumb prisoners stayed inside! But wait a minute, “Why?” he must have wondered. That earthquake had shaken him but now, eternity shook him. The impending judgment of his employers was eclipsed by the impending judgment of God. The jailer realized he needed deliverance!
And he found it. He and his household believed the gospel and were baptized. The incentive to surrender to the shaking could not have been clearer: the very hands that bound Paul and Silas were now washing their wounds. The narrative concludes with the authorities fearful and seeking to appease Paul.
The shaken who submit find real refuge. The shaken who suppress forfeit real refuge.
Pray: Ask the Spirit to reveal any areas of our lives where we suppress His activity. Do we resist His work because we are afraid of losing our sense of control?
RESISTANCE: The gospel causes tremors at the core of our lives. Jesus resists being the back-up plan if our earthly securities fail us. What we fear and what we hold most dear - the gospel wants it all. That is, to some, a terrifying thought, but to others, the “most comforting thought the heart can entertain” (AW Tozer).
Lydia found her heart opened by the Lord and responded with an open hand. Are we welcoming the economic overhaul the gospel produces in our lives like her, opening our homes and stewarding our resources? Are we leveraging our jobs for the kingdom as the jailer exemplified?
REALITY: The motives of mankind are on display when the gospel moves into town. The depth of our greed comes to light. The “love of money” and the desire for control spawns all kinds of evil. The desire for more triggered the series of injustices Paul and Silas endured, and that is no different today.
The poorest nations see wealth as their savior. The affluent nations see wealth as their security. Both need a Savior.
Pray: Pray for the purity of the gospel around the globe, particularly as the prosperity gospel has diluted the true gospel in places like Africa.
17 After they passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. 2 As usual, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Messiah to suffer and rise from the dead: “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Messiah.” 4 Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a large number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women.
5 But the Jews became jealous, and they brought together some wicked men from the marketplace, formed a mob, and started a riot in the city. Attacking Jason’s house, they searched for them to bring them out to the public assembly. 6 When they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some of the brothers before the city officials, shouting, “These men who have turned the world upside down have come here too, 7 and Jason has welcomed them. They are all acting contrary to Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king—Jesus.” 8 The crowd and city officials who heard these things were upset. 9 After taking a security bond from Jason and the others, they released them.
10 As soon as it was night, the brothers and sisters sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. Upon arrival, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. 11 The people here were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, since they received the word with eagerness and examined the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so. 12 Consequently, many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men. 13 But when the Jews from Thessalonica found out that the word of God had been proclaimed by Paul at Berea, they came there too, agitating and upsetting the crowds. 14 Then the brothers and sisters immediately sent Paul away to go to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed on there. 15 Those who escorted Paul brought him as far as Athens, and after receiving instructions for Silas and Timothy to come to him as quickly as possible, they departed.
16 While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was deeply distressed when he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with those who worshiped God, as well as in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also debated with him. Some said, “What is this ignorant show-off trying to say?”
Others replied, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign deities”—because he was telling the good news about Jesus and the resurrection.
19 They took him and brought him to the Areopagus, and said, “May we learn about this new teaching you are presenting? 20 Because what you say sounds strange to us, and we want to know what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners residing there spent their time on nothing else but telling or hearing something new.
22 Paul stood in the middle of the Areopagus and said: “People of Athens! I see that you are extremely religious in every respect. 23 For as I was passing through and observing the objects of your worship, I even found an altar on which was inscribed: ‘To an Unknown God.’ Therefore, what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it—he is Lord of heaven and earth—does not live in shrines made by hands. 25 Neither is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives everyone life and breath and all things. 26 From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live. 27 He did this so that they might seek God, and perhaps they might reach out and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28 For in him we live and move and have our being, as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are also his offspring.’ 29 Since we are God’s offspring then, we shouldn’t think that the divine nature is like gold or silver or stone, an image fashioned by human art and imagination.
30 “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”
32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some began to ridicule him, but others said, “We’d like to hear from you again about this.” 33 So Paul left their presence. 34 However, some people joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them.
REACH: Remember the words of the Lord Jesus to those early disciples after His resurrection: “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8).
It seemed like news of a miracle so grand would create enough momentum on its own to reach the ends of the earth. But the miracle alone wouldn’t suffice to send them that far. The barriers would have proven too insurmountable.
The disciples needed power. They needed the Spirit, as straining to the end of the earth would be no easy endeavor. In this chapter alone, these witnesses endured ridicule, riots, distress, attacks, false accusations, and suspense-filled escapes. Accused of turning the world upside down, they kept proclaiming Jesus as King, which they knew was the only message that could turn the world right side up.
Hostilities and hurdles multiplied but the pervasive impact of the gospel could not be overcome. In spite of opposition, the gospel made its way into every strata of society in the three cities mentioned in Acts 17:
- In Thessalonica, “Some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, including a large number of God-fearing Greeks, as well as a number of the leading women” (17:4).
- In Berea, “Many of them believed, including a number of the prominent Greek women as well as men” (17:12).
- In Athens, “Some people joined him and believed, including Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them” (17:34).
The gospel penetrated both cultural barriers and gender lines. Hindered, yet unhindered, the gospel forged on.
Pray: Pray for the gospel to prevail in the pervasive fashion we read about in Acts 17. Pray particularly for Muslim women to hear and believe the gospel in cities like Dubai and Kuala Lumpur.
RESISTANCE: The gospel evokes polarizing responses: for some it becomes life to life and for others, death to death (2 Cor. 2:16). That death, on some occasions, can take the form of indifference, or on others, it can evoke the strongest emotions. The vehemence of the opposition in Acts 17 might sound foreign to us in the West, but for many brothers and sisters around the globe, they identify with attacks, threats, riots, false accusations, bribes, and injustices. Persecution seeks to put a stranglehold on gospel advance. Around the world, its tightest grip typically comes when pressure is applied both from the top-down and the bottom-up. Government oppression allied with social and family pressure present formidable opposition to gospel growth.
REALITY: Judgment, for every single person on the planet, is inevitable. Let that sink in. Paul’s words should awaken us to this reality: “Therefore, having overlooked the times of ignorance, God now commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has set a day when he is going to judge the world in righteousness by the man he has appointed. He has provided proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). Every person you encounter today will meet Jesus as their judge. Who knows? Some of them may come to know Him as their Savior because of your interaction today.
God has determined who will judge the world. The verdict is still out as to how they will be judged.
Pray: Is your posture hopeful when you consider all the potential challenges for church planting in resistant areas like the Middle East? Meditate on how hope colors Luke’s narration, despite the obstacles. Unbelief in the power of the gospel will undermine our global engagement for the gospel. Pray for us to believe, really believe, that the gospel “is the power of God for salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16b).
18 After this, he left Athens and went to Corinth, 2 where he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul came to them, 3 and since they were of the same occupation, tentmakers by trade, he stayed with them and worked. 4 He reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath and tried to persuade both Jews and Greeks.
5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself to preaching the word and testified to the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. 6 When they resisted and blasphemed, he shook out his clothes and told them, “Your blood is on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 So he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God, whose house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, along with his whole household. Many of the Corinthians, when they heard, believed and were baptized.
9 The Lord said to Paul in a night vision, “Don’t be afraid, but keep on speaking and don’t be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.” 11 He stayed there a year and a half, teaching the word of God among them.
12 While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack against Paul and brought him to the tribunal. 13 “This man,” they said, “is persuading people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.”
14 As Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or of a serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to put up with you Jews. 15 But if these are questions about words, names, and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of such things.” 16 So he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal, but none of these things mattered to Gallio.
18 After staying for some time, Paul said farewell to the brothers and sisters and sailed away to Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. He shaved his head at Cenchreae because of a vow he had taken. 19 When they reached Ephesus he left them there, but he himself entered the synagogue and debated with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer time, he declined, 21 but he said farewell and added, “I’ll come back to you again, if God wills.” Then he set sail from Ephesus.
22 On landing at Caesarea, he went up to Jerusalem and greeted the church, then went down to Antioch.
23 After spending some time there, he set out, traveling through one place after another in the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native Alexandrian, an eloquent man who was competent in the use of the Scriptures, arrived in Ephesus. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he was speaking and teaching accurately about Jesus, although he knew only John’s baptism. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. After Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained the way of God to him more accurately. 27 When he wanted to cross over to Achaia, the brothers and sisters wrote to the disciples to welcome him. After he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. 28 For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating through the Scriptures that Jesus is the Messiah.
REACH: It’s easy to sanitize the scenarios recorded in Acts, as if the first century knew nothing of the complexities we face today. Yet Luke’s writing consistently broadens our perspective to challenge the underlying unbelief that the Spirit’s work in Acts happened in a vacuum. Luke refused to justify the modern excuses we make for having low expectations for His work in our day by anchoring his story in the broader historical landscape of the first century.
The Spirit’s transformation occurred in the challenges and changing dynamics of the real world. The gospel made an impact in a world that had not rolled out the red carpet to welcome it. Idols captivated people’s adoration, as in Athens and Lystra (Acts 14, 17). Religious people didn’t just resist the gospel message, but “blasphemed” the gospel message, and some even went so far as to travel fifty miles to hunt its messengers down (18:6, 17:13). Governments oppressed certain ethnicities and forced them to flee, as in Rome where “Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave” (18:2). Even disgruntled politicians dictated policy, as Gallio refused to appease the Jews to sentence Paul yet turned a blind eye when a Jewish synagogue ruler was beaten illegally (18:17). Idolatry, oppression, injustice. Sound familiar? The message was and is for the messed-up world.
Right in the middle of the push and pull of a dog-eat-dog world, the Lord directed human history for the advancement of the gospel. Claudius’s forced exile of Jews from Rome happened to set the stage for a pivotal meeting between Paul and a couple who would become a critical ministry partner, Priscilla and Aquila (18:2). This couple ended up becoming deeply entrenched in gospel work wherever they went. Their names frequent Paul’s concluding greetings (Rom. 16:3-4, 1 Cor. 16:19, 2 Tim 4:19). While in Ephesus, Apollos arrived, and they strengthened his teaching so that he more accurately taught the Scriptures. God had indeed determined the nations’ “appointed times and the boundaries of where they live” and designed the twists and turns of providence to serve the progress of the gospel (Acts 17:26b). Priscilla and Aquila were along for the ride. They leveraged their jobs, their travel plans, their homes, and their knowledge for the progress of the gospel.
Pray: Pioneer church planting efforts are particularly strengthened when a couple, not just individuals, believes in Christ. Pray for married believing couples like Priscilla and Aquila who are strong in the Word and engaged in the work among the Kurds of Turkey, the Baloch, the Syrian refugees of Jordan, and the peoples of Oman.
RESISTANCE: One familiar obstacle to gospel expansion emerged in Corinth: Jewish opposition. But this time, night was not the covering Paul needed to escape persecution as it had been before (17:10). This night, the Lord appeared with the message of protection to endure: “Don’t be afraid but keep on speaking and don’t be silent. For I am with you, and no one will lay a hand on you to hurt you, because I have many people in this city.” Paul heeded the message, staying there a “year and a half, teaching the word of God among them” (18:11).
Gospel laborers all over the world face the perplexing decision of whether to flee or stay. Is night the cover to escape or is it the time to cling to God and endure?
REALITY: Multiple house churches were planted in the eighteen months Paul remained in Corinth. Paul had become for these churches their “father in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (1 Cor. 4:15). Despite the time invested, First and Second Corinthians reveal a troubling trend: sons often stray from their fathers. These churches began to err in both doctrine and practice, and to be estranged from their father, drifting from the gospel he deposited there. Paul refused to give up on them, writing heart-wrenching letters to re-establish them in the gospel. Paul’s concern wasn’t merely to plant churches, but to plant healthy churches.
Church planting is a painful, messy process that requires patience and prodding over the long haul. It’s like parenting. A father’s job isn’t over after leaving the hospital with a newborn. His job is just beginning.
We have a responsibility not only to engage in pioneer efforts of church planting but also to protect the churches we plant with sound doctrine and healthy leadership.
Pray: Please pray for the growing churches of China and Iran. Pray for them to be established in sound doctrine and for good leadership to emerge by God’s grace. Please pray for the Roots & Reach Mission Project Team to have wisdom as to how to help the global church have good resources that preserve good doctrine for future generations.
19 While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled through the interior regions and came to Ephesus. He found some disciples 2 and asked them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”
“No,” they told him, “we haven’t even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.”
3 “Into what then were you baptized?” he asked them.
“Into John’s baptism,” they replied.
4 Paul said, “John baptized with a baptism of repentance, telling the people that they should believe in the one who would come after him, that is, in Jesus.”
5 When they heard this, they were baptized into 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 to speak in other tongues and to prophesy. 7 Now there were about twelve men in all.
8 Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly over a period of three months, arguing and persuading them about the kingdom of God. 9 But when some became hardened and would not believe, slandering the Way in front of the crowd, he withdrew from them, taking the disciples, and conducted discussions every day in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. 10 This went on for two years, so that all the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord.
11 God was performing extraordinary miracles by Paul’s hands, 12 so that even facecloths or aprons that had touched his skin were brought to the sick, and the diseases left them, and the evil spirits came out of them.
13 Now some of the itinerant Jewish exorcists also attempted to pronounce the name of the Lord Jesus over those who had evil spirits, saying, “I command you by the Jesus that Paul preaches!” 14 Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish high priest, were doing this. 15 The evil spirit answered them, “I know Jesus, and I recognize Paul—but who are you?” 16 Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them, overpowered them all, and prevailed against them, so that they ran out of that house naked and wounded. 17 When this became known to everyone who lived in Ephesus, both Jews and Greeks, they became afraid, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high esteem.
18 And many who had become believers came confessing and disclosing their practices, 19 while many of those who had practiced magic collected their books and burned them in front of everyone. So they calculated their value and found it to be fifty thousand pieces of silver. 20 In this way the word of the Lord flourished and prevailed.
21 After these events, Paul resolved by the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem. “After I’ve been there,” he said, “It is necessary for me to see Rome as well.” 22 After sending to Macedonia two of those who assisted him, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.
23 About that time there was a major disturbance about the Way. 24 For a person named Demetrius, a silversmith who made silver shrines of Artemis, provided a great deal of business for the craftsmen. 25 When he had assembled them, as well as the workers engaged in this type of business, he said: “Men, you know that our prosperity is derived from this business. 26 You see and hear that not only in Ephesus, but in almost all of Asia, this man Paul has persuaded and misled a considerable number of people by saying that gods made by hand are not gods. 27 Not only do we run a risk that our business may be discredited, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be despised and her magnificence come to the verge of ruin—the very one all of Asia and the world worship.”
28 When they had heard this, they were filled with rage and began to cry out, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!” 29 So the city was filled with confusion, and they rushed all together into the amphitheater, dragging along Gaius and Aristarchus, Macedonians who were Paul’s traveling companions. 30 Although Paul wanted to go in before the people, the disciples did not let him. 31 Even some of the provincial officials of Asia, who were his friends, sent word to him, pleading with him not to venture into the amphitheater. 32 Some were shouting one thing and some another, because the assembly was in confusion, and most of them did not know why they had come together. 33 Some Jews in the crowd gave instructions to Alexander after they pushed him to the front. Motioning with his hand, Alexander wanted to make his defense to the people. 34 But when they recognized that he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”
35 When the city clerk had calmed the crowd down, he said, “People of Ephesus! What person is there who doesn’t know that the city of the Ephesians is the temple guardian of the great Artemis, and of the image that fell from heaven? 36 Therefore, since these things are undeniable, you must keep calm and not do anything rash. 37 For you have brought these men here who are not temple robbers or blasphemers of our goddess. 38 So if Demetrius and the craftsmen who are with him have a case against anyone, the courts are in session, and there are proconsuls. Let them bring charges against one another. 39 But if you seek anything further, it must be decided in a legal assembly. 40 In fact, we run a risk of being charged with rioting for what happened today, since there is no justification that we can give as a reason for this disturbance.” 41 After saying this, he dismissed the assembly.
REACH: Outsiders labeled the church the “Way” in Acts. That label obviously stuck with Luke as well (Acts 9:2, 19:9, 23, 22:4, 24:14, 22). The “Way” is an interesting word to use to describe any group, but this was the banner over this new community of Jesus’ followers called the church.
Luke reserved the “Way” terminology for the tension-filled moments when distinctions between those inside what God was doing and those on the outside became apparent. Back in Acts 9, Saul requested search warrants from the high priest that gave him the authority to imprison “any men or women who belonged to the Way” (9:2). The church was the “Way,” especially in situations when that demarcation carried consequences. It was weighty to be a part of the “Way.” It put a target on your back.
Ephesus became one of those places where that delineation mattered. This new movement had roots in the promises of the Old Testament, but it was distinct from the people of the Old Covenant. It was a new “Way” to do life under the new covenant.
Everyone took notice. A demon got the message. In an odd scene, a demon prevailed over seven Jewish exorcists only to lose ground in the end as both Jews and Greeks held the name of the Lord Jesus in high esteem, and an outbreak of confession resulted (vv.17-18). That demon felt the sting of unhindered as he prevailed over some only to watch how “the word of the Lord flourished and prevailed” in the end (19:17b, 20). Demetrius, a silversmith propping up the idol industry of Ephesus, also saw the writing on the wall. His livelihood was in jeopardy if his sales of man-made gods continued to plummet because of Paul’s message. He rallied his associates together to defend Artemis and keep their profits flowing (19:26-27). The people of the city got involved, becoming so enraged they almost became guilty themselves for holding an illegal assembly (19:40). This “Way” caused a ruckus.
Pray: Pray for us, as a church, to stick to our roots as the “Way.” May we be content to be distinct and to embrace the awkward space between us and the world. We cannot influence the world if we intermingle with the world.
RESISTANCE: However confused the crowd was as to why they were gathering (something Luke mentioned over and over [vv.29, 32]), one thing was clear: Artemis held the hearts of the people of Ephesus. Their collective conscience boasted that they were the “temple guardian of the great Artemis” and this was “undeniably so” (17:35-36). The whole silver industry existed because of her. Demetrius and his partners’ prosperity was “derived from this business” (vv.25-26). Book sales plummeted as 50,000 pieces of silver worth of magic books were burned publicly in light of the gospel.
Religious idolatry, collective identity, and earthly prosperity allied themselves against gospel advance at Ephesus (even though their alliance was tenuous at best). Whole societies, like Ephesus, may not realize all the factors feeding their resistance to the gospel, but that same evil partnership between prosperity, idolatry, and identity exists all over the world today.
Yet, “All the residents of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord” (19:10). No alliance can ultimately prevail against the unhindered Word.
REALITY: Whole industries exist on the backs of idolatry. John Calvin wrote that the human heart is an idol-making factory. This chapter shows that factory is a money-making machine. Scores of people unknowingly rally behind idolatrous causes. Many horrors that exist in our world today derive from this inordinate desire for more. Money drives the sex-trafficking and illegal drug industries. Idolatry intermingled with prosperity is a lethal enemy to the human race and a significant hurdle the gospel must overcome in order to penetrate deeply into a society.
Pray: Pray the Word would flourish and prevail as it did in Ephesus in areas of Birmingham like East Lake. Pray for evil spirits, idols, and industries used for evil to buckle under the prevailing power of the gospel and for churches to be planted where broken sinners can find healing. Pray for the Roots & Reach Mission Project Team to have wisdom about which avenues to engage in areas of our city like these.
20 After the uproar was over, Paul sent for the disciples, encouraged them, and after saying farewell, departed to go to Macedonia. 2 And when he had passed through those areas and offered them many words of encouragement, he came to Greece 3 and stayed three months. The Jews plotted against him when he was about to set sail for Syria, and so he decided to go back through Macedonia. 4 He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. 5 These men went on ahead and waited for us in Troas, 6 but we sailed away from Philippi after the Festival of Unleavened Bread. In five days we reached them at Troas, where we spent seven days.
7 On the first day of the week, we assembled to break bread. Paul spoke to them, and since he was about to depart the next day, he kept on talking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were assembled, 9 and a young man named Eutychus was sitting on a window sill and sank into a deep sleep as Paul kept on talking. When he was overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 But Paul went down, bent over him, embraced him, and said, “Don’t be alarmed, because he’s alive.” 11 After going upstairs, breaking the bread, and eating, Paul talked a long time until dawn. Then he left. 12 They brought the boy home alive and were greatly comforted.
13 We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul on board, because these were his instructions, since he himself was going by land. 14 When he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went on to Mitylene. 15 Sailing from there, the next day we arrived off Chios. The following day we crossed over to Samos, and the day after, we came to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, because he was hurrying to be in Jerusalem, if possible, for the day of Pentecost.
17 Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and summoned the elders of the church. 18 When they came to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with tears, and during the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews. 20 You know that I did not avoid proclaiming to you anything that was profitable or from teaching you publicly and from house to house. 21 I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.
22 “And now I am on my way to Jerusalem, compelled by the Spirit, not knowing what I will encounter there, 23 except that in every town the Holy Spirit warns me that chains and afflictions are waiting for me. 24 But I consider my life of no value to myself; my purpose is to finish my course and the ministry I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of God’s grace.
25 “And now I know that none of you, among whom I went about preaching the kingdom, will ever see me again. 26 Therefore I declare to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, 27 because I did not avoid declaring to you the whole plan of God. 28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them. 31 Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I never stopped warning each one of you with tears.
32 “And now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified. 33 I have not coveted anyone’s silver or gold or clothing. 34 You yourselves know that I worked with my own hands to support myself and those who are with me. 35 In every way I’ve shown you that it is necessary to help the weak by laboring like this and to remember the words of the Lord Jesus, because he said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
36 After he said this, he knelt down and prayed with all of them. 37 There were many tears shed by everyone. They embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 grieving most of all over his statement that they would never see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.
REACH: Paul’s missionary journeys had a boomerang-like trajectory to them. He would be sent out to plant churches and then work his way back to strengthen the new disciples. He resolved, by the Spirit, to get to Jerusalem, but only after passing through Macedonia and Achaia because churches had been planted there. After checking in on these disciples, he “offered them many words of encouragement” before departing toward Jerusalem (20:2-16). Paul was a pioneer church planter with the heart of a pastor. In his mind, church planting was not divorced from church health.
Nowhere does Paul’s shepherding heart evidence itself more clearly than his address to the elders from Ephesus. The sober earnestness that marked his ministry among them and his departing address to them revealed his love for them and for the flock entrusted to them. Tears characterized his service among them (v.19), his exhortation to them (v.31), and his departure from them (v.37). He may have counted his own life as no value to himself, but it was clear whom he did value: the church of God, bought with the blood of Christ.
This passing of the baton transferred both the solemn responsibility and the privileged accountability of guarding the flock to the elders. Take the time to slowly take in these words: As the sacredness of the church settles in, the impulse to take off your sandals may arise. The church feels like holy ground.
“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as overseers, to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Men will rise up even from your own number and distort the truth to lure the disciples into following them. Therefore, be on the alert, remembering that night and day for three years I never stopped warning each one of you with tears” (20:28-31).
Pray: Thank God for the elders of The Church at Brook Hills and pray for their leadership. Pray for faithful shepherding as they know, feed, guard, and lead the sheep.
RESISTANCE: Church leadership will always remain a target to derail the mission of the church. The possibility of wolves rising from within awakens us to the inherent vulnerability of church leadership. Alertness should characterize eldering. Paul would write to Timothy that the very requirements of maturity and integrity for elders are meant to thwart Satan’s tactics toward elders. Internally, Satan induces conceit; externally, he instigates scandal (1 Tim. 3:6-7). We are in a war, and our elders are on the front lines.
REALITY: The church of every nation is always one generation away from a leadership void. Thankfully, ministries and other churches exist to strengthen future elders so they can more faithfully teach God’s word and shepherd God’s flock. Paul outlined the need to Timothy, “What you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, commit to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).
One can see this trend in Paul’s list of travel companions in Acts 20:4: “He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia.” These places were the previous targets of Paul’s mission efforts. Pioneer areas had now become deployment centers. Paul’s missionary team grew from the harvest. God was raising up leaders for future faithfulness in mission. May He do the same in our day.
Pray: New church plants around the globe often face the hardship of ill-equipped or under-qualified leadership. Pray for grace upon these churches, and pray for the Roots & Reach Mission Project Team to discern which efforts to support for the development of healthy, national leadership. Pray for near-culture churches to send out missionaries to the unreached next door to them.
21 After we tore ourselves away from them, we set sail straight for Cos, the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. 2 Finding a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, we boarded and set sail. 3 After we sighted Cyprus, passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria and arrived at Tyre, since the ship was to unload its cargo there. 4 We sought out the disciples and stayed there seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go to Jerusalem. 5 When our time had come to an end, we left to continue our journey, while all of them, with their wives and children, accompanied us out of the city. After kneeling down on the beach to pray, 6 we said farewell to one another and boarded the ship, and they returned home.
7 When we completed our voyage from Tyre, we reached Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and sisters and stayed with them for a day. 8 The next day we left and came to Caesarea, where we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the Seven, and stayed with him. 9 This man had four virgin daughters who prophesied.
10 After we had been there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him over to the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, both we and the local people pleaded with him not to go up to Jerusalem.
13 Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”
14 Since he would not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done.”
15 After this we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 Some of the disciples from Caesarea also went with us and brought us to Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay.
17 When we reached Jerusalem, the brothers and sisters welcomed us warmly. 18 The following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present. 19 After greeting them, he reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry.
20 When they heard it, they glorified God and said, “You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law. 21 But they have been informed about you—that you are teaching all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to abandon Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or to live according to our customs. 22 So what is to be done? They will certainly hear that you’ve come. 23 Therefore do what we tell you: We have four men who have made a vow. 24 Take these men, purify yourself along with them, and pay for them to get their heads shaved. Then everyone will know that what they were told about you amounts to nothing, but that you yourself are also careful about observing the law. 25 With regard to the Gentiles who have believed, we have written a letter containing our decision that they should keep themselves from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from what is strangled, and from sexual immorality.”
26 So the next day, Paul took the men, having purified himself along with them, and entered the temple, announcing the completion of the purification days when the offering would be made for each of them. 27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw him in the temple, stirred up the whole crowd, and seized him, 28 shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place. What’s more, he also brought Greeks into the temple and has defiled this holy place.” 29 For they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with him, and they supposed that Paul had brought him into the temple.
30 The whole city was stirred up, and the people rushed together. They seized Paul, dragged him out of the temple, and at once the gates were shut.
31 As they were trying to kill him, word went up to the commander of the regiment that all Jerusalem was in chaos. 32 Taking along soldiers and centurions, he immediately ran down to them. Seeing the commander and the soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. 33 Then the commander approached, took him into custody, and ordered him to be bound with two chains. He asked who he was and what he had done. 34 Some in the crowd were shouting one thing and some another. Since he was not able to get reliable information because of the uproar, he ordered him to be taken into the barracks. 35 When Paul got to the steps, he had to be carried by the soldiers because of the violence of the crowd, 36 for the mass of people followed, yelling, “Get rid of him!”
REACH: Underneath the Gentile missions of the apostle Paul, a tension had been simmering, and it reached its boiling point in Acts 21. Relative freedom to roam had marked the journeys of the apostle and his companions up until this chapter. But not anymore. As John Stott noted, “So far Luke has portrayed his hero on the offensive, taking bold initiatives under the leading of the Holy Spirit to evangelize most of Asia Minor and Greece” but now would find “himself on the defensive” (The Message of Acts, p.335). Wide open fields of Gentile harvest were exchanged for the narrow confines of legal proceedings with government officials.
It’s as if the gospel train was trucking along through the ancient world, but post-Ephesus, it came to a grinding halt. What happened and why did it matter to Luke to spill so much ink narrating about it?
Recall the Spirit’s first move in Acts. He emboldened Peter to proclaim the gospel, and that message formed the basis of the new community, the church. The gospel birthed the church by the outpouring of the Spirit. The Spirit broke down the walls that separated people from one another. That day, he formed a prophetic community that commended the gospel for its uncommon unity, not merely courageous people who declared the gospel in word only. The advancement of the mission to the ends of the earth preoccupied the last few chapters of Acts but now, in Acts 21, the unity of the church was threatened. Did the Gentile mission mean Paul just ran over the Jews to get to those “far off”? Did a priority on Gentiles create an attitude of superiority toward their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ?
The tension of unity, unity of mission and unity of the people of God, had reached a boiling point. Thus, the Spirit made it clear that Paul, the Gentile apostle, needed to circle back to Jerusalem, even though that meant hardship, and the ends of the earth would have to wait. The warmth of the meeting between the members of the Jerusalem church leadership evidenced they were on good terms with Paul, and how the elders worshiped when they heard Paul’s report on what “God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry” were good signs of oneness in the mission (21:19).
Lingering over this story was another one. Luke masterfully overlaid Jesus’ trial over Paul’s story. Paul, like Jesus, was tossed around in Jerusalem between Gentile and Jewish authorities. Paul, like Jesus, was falsely accused of wrongdoing by his own people. The subtle merging of Jesus’ journey with Paul’s was intended to bring a not-so-subtle message to the church. The unity of the people of God ultimately grounded itself in the church’s union with Christ. The Gentile missionary, Paul, embodied a zeal for Jerusalem that exuded Christ’s heart to unify the people of God. The Spirit was poured out so the church might be one as she poured out her life for the world.
Paul’s posture to heed the elder’s advice to take a Jewish vow to preserve an already fragile situation embodied the mindset Gentiles must embrace if they were to preserve the “unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (Eph. 4:3).
Pray: Pray for the humility of believers across the world to address tensions of ethnic strife within their own hearts. Particularly, pray for the ethnic strife that exists between the Han Chinese and Hui that blinds even believers from seeing their needy neighbors.
RESISTANCE: Paul’s passion for unity was blood-earnest. As some well-intended believers, including Luke, tried to convince him to steer clear of Jerusalem because they knew suffering awaited, Paul responded, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus” (21:13). It pained Paul that other believers would put his personal well-being over the health and unity of the church. Paul’s zeal for Jesus’ glory to reach the ends of the earth did not squash his zeal for the unity of the people of God. The Spirit constrained both passions.
What about us? Is there a fragmented relationship with someone in the body that needs to be mended? Are we embodying a mindset that puts the needs of others above our own? Are we one, for the glory of God and the mission of Jesus? A fragmented people will not further the progress of the gospel.
REALITY: Churches that embody an uncommon unity give glory to the peace-making activity of the Spirit and the peace-creating work of the cross. Unity in diversity is hard for us in Birmingham and hard for the global church around the world. But it is a must. Paul didn’t go to Jerusalem to address a secondary issue. Jesus spilled his blood just outside Jerusalem to make us one, and Paul was willing to spill his as well.
Pray: Pray for the Spirit to unify local churches and international churches in Kuala Lumpur, Dubai, and other urban centers, by embracing one another and proclaiming the gospel boldly together.
Pray for the Church
Praise God for His grace extended to us through His Son, Jesus Christ. Ask Him to grow our graciousness toward one another and the world around us. Pray for us all to see our ongoing need for God's grace in our lives and to freely extend His grace to all those we encounter.
Pray for the City
This week we are praying for Awaken (awakenrecovery.com), a gospel-based recovery ministry dedicated to helping individuals and ministries navigate through the painful waters caused by sexual brokenness and addiction. One of the specific desires of Awaken is to establish relationships with local churches to help them better understand and respond to these issues within their local church. We are also praying for Mountain Brook Community Church and Pastor Tim Kallam.
Day 1: Pray for the community of men and women who attend weekly recovery meetings. Pray those who attend will find hope and freedom, and for them to utilize the resources offered to help with the process of recovery.
Day 2: Pray for men and women who have been keeping their unwanted sexual behavior a secret to take the risk of letting someone know and asking for help.
Day 3: Pray for Awaken as they continue to develop their RECLAIM initiative which focuses on helping the next generation reclaim a future with healthy sexuality, free from the influence of pornography.
Day 4: Pray for Awaken’s staff: Greg & Stacey Oliver and Clark Hasler. Pray for God to protect their marriages and give them sufficient grace and energy as they walk alongside men and women through some of their darkest days.
Day 5: Pray for them to be able to establish more relationships with local churches so that ministry leaders can be made aware of the resources available and how they can better shepherd sexually broken people within their congregations.
Day 6: Pray for God to stir more hearts to financially partner with Awaken to fill the gap in monthly support and sustain ongoing ministry efforts.
Pray for the World
This week we are praying for the Roots & Reach Mission Project Team as they explore opportunities and areas of ministry for Brook Hills to participate in through our Roots & Reach Initiative. Please join us this week as we pray and ask God to continue to move among us during this time of deepening our roots in Jesus and extending our reach to those who need Him. We are also Praying for our short-term teams serving in East Asia and Thailand.
Day 1: The Roots & Reach Mission Project Team has been meeting to discover the current realities in our city and our world. Pray for God to open their eyes to the areas of needs that can be met that will most glorify Him and give in roads for the gospel to spread.
Day 2: Pray for God to give wisdom to each member of the Mission Project Team as they review opportunities to engage.
Day 3: Pray for God to help identify people, places, and projects that Brook Hills could engage with through the Roots & Reach Initiative. Pray for God to make His ways clear and for the Mission Project Team to walk in obedience to participate.
Day 4: Pray for each member of the Mission Project Team to be faithful to pray and seek God in His word each day. Pray for God to bless our corporate times of prayer and fasting as a church.
Day 5: Pray for the Word of God to be the foundation of everything as the Mission Projects Team reviews the many opportunities there are to engage.
Day 6: Pray for the Roots & Reach Mission Project Team to glorify God and make disciples of Jesus. Pray for this unique season in our faith family to be one that is marked by a desire to know God more through His Word and by a desire to see more disciples of Christ formed and strengthened.