Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Reflections on Acts 25

    Acts 25 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Three days after Festus had become governor, he went from Caesarea to Jerusalem.
  2. There the chief priests and some Jewish leaders told him about their charges against Paul. They also asked Festus
  3. if he would be willing to bring Paul to Jerusalem. They begged him to do this because they were planning to attack and kill Paul on the way.
  4. But Festus told them, "Paul will be kept in Caesarea, and I am soon going there myself.
  5. If he has done anything wrong, let your leaders go with me and bring charges against him there."
  6. Festus stayed in Jerusalem for eight or ten more days before going to Caesarea. Then the next day he took his place as judge and had Paul brought into court.
  7. As soon as Paul came in, the Jewish leaders from Jerusalem crowded around him and said he was guilty of many serious crimes. But they could not prove anything.
  8. Then Paul spoke in his own defense, "I have not broken the Law of my people. And I have not done anything against either the temple or the Emperor."
  9. Festus wanted to please the leaders. So he asked Paul, "Are you willing to go to Jerusalem and be tried by me on these charges?"
  10. Paul replied, "I am on trial in the Emperor's court, and that's where I should be tried. You know very well that I have not done anything to harm the Jewish nation.
  11. If I had done something deserving death, I would not ask to escape the death penalty. But I am not guilty of any of these crimes, and no one has the right to hand me over to these people. I now ask to be tried by the Emperor himself."
  12. After Festus had talked this over with members of his council, he told Paul, "You have asked to be tried by the Emperor, and to the Emperor you will go!"
  13. A few days later King Agrippa and Bernice came to Caesarea to visit Festus.
  14. They had been there for several days, when Festus told the king about the charges against Paul. He said: Felix left a man here in jail,
  15. and when I went to Jerusalem, the chief priests and the Jewish leaders came and asked me to find him guilty.
  16. I told them that it isn't the Roman custom to hand a man over to people who are bringing charges against him. He must first have the chance to meet them face to face and to defend himself against their charges.
  17. So when they came here with me, I wasted no time. On the very next day I took my place on the judge's bench and ordered him to be brought in.
  18. But when the men stood up to make their charges against him, they did not accuse him of any of the crimes that I thought they would.
  19. Instead, they argued with him about some of their beliefs and about a dead man named Jesus, who Paul said was alive.
  20. Since I did not know how to find out the truth about all this, I asked Paul if he would be willing to go to Jerusalem and be put on trial there.
  21. But Paul asked to be kept in jail until the Emperor could decide his case. So I ordered him to be kept here until I could send him to the Emperor.
  22. Then Agrippa said to Festus, "I would also like to hear what this man has to say." Festus answered, "You can hear him tomorrow."
  23. The next day Agrippa and Bernice made a big show as they came into the meeting room. High ranking army officers and leading citizens of the town were also there. Festus then ordered Paul to be brought in
  24. and said: King Agrippa and other guests, look at this man! Every Jew from Jerusalem and Caesarea has come to me, demanding for him to be put to death.
  25. I have not found him guilty of any crime deserving death. But because he has asked to be judged by the Emperor, I have decided to send him to Rome.
  26. I have to write some facts about this man to the Emperor. So I have brought him before all of you, but especially before you, King Agrippa. After we have talked about his case, I will then have something to write.
  27. It makes no sense to send a prisoner to the Emperor without stating the charges against him.

The Roman justice system of the first century seems strange to us compared with the systems of most countries today. By comparison it seems rather unjust that a person could be held prisoner for over two years when there has been little or no investigation into the charges and there has been a trial that failed to prove any charges. But regardless of the Roman justice system, we should keep in mind that Paul's case supersedes the system, for God has a mission for Paul in Rome and there is evidently a purpose in getting him there through the courts rather than by Paul making the trip on his own. Although that purpose is not clear, one possibility is that by going through the court system Paul will have an audience with Caesar himself, an opportunity he would probably not have otherwise. And while the primary leaders in each court setting, such as Felix and Festus and then Caesar, may not accept Paul's witness of the resurrected Christ, there will be others of influence, not even mentioned in scripture, who may accept it.

Felix, governor in Caesarea, to whom Paul was first taken for trial was replaced by Festus, and the Jews attempted a similar approach with him they had tried before. Appealing to Festus for Paul to be brought to Jerusalem for trial, they planned to kill Paul with an ambush on the road to Jerusalem from Caesarea. Such plans reveal both their desperation in being rid of Paul and the weakness of their case against him. Their desperation is made even more clear when we realize the risk they incurred in an ambush to kill Paul, for such an attack would involve an attack on the Roman soldiers who were protecting Paul. They would be unable to kill Paul without also killing some of the soldiers.Such action would bring great displeasure from Roman officials and could mean additional restrictions or hardships for the Jews. Was it worth this risk merely to be rid of Paul? Apparently they thought so.

Festus' conversation with Agrippa in the later part of the chapter is revealing concerning Paul's case. Festus admitted he was incapable of handling the case and his embarrassment at sending Paul to Caesar without legitimate charges to bring against him. He realized by this time that Paul had done nothing deserving of death. It seems that at this point he may have been inclined to release Paul if Paul had not appealed to Caesar. Having heard from Festus of the case, King Agrippa requested a hearing with Paul. That hearing follows in the next chapter, and Paul will be given another opportunity to give witness to the risen Lord.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Reflections on Acts 24

    Acts 24 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Five days later Ananias the high priest, together with some of their leaders and a lawyer named Tertullus, went to the governor to present their case against Paul.
  2. So Paul was called in, and Tertullus stated the case against him: Honorable Felix, you have brought our people a long period of peace, and because of your concern our nation is much better off.
  3. All of us are always grateful for what you have done.
  4. I don't want to bother you, but please be patient with us and listen to me for just a few minutes.
  5. This man has been found to be a real pest and troublemaker for Jews all over the world. He is also a leader of a group called Nazarenes.
  6. When he tried to disgrace the temple, we arrested him. If you question him, you will find out for yourself that our charges are true.
  7. (SEE 24:6)
  8. (SEE 24:6)
  9. The Jewish crowd spoke up and agreed with what Tertullus had said.
  10. The governor motioned for Paul to speak, and he began: I know that you have judged the people of our nation for many years, and I am glad to defend myself in your court.
  11. It was no more than twelve days ago that I went to worship in Jerusalem. You can find this out easily enough.
  12. Never once did the Jews find me arguing with anyone in the temple. I didn't cause trouble in the Jewish meeting places or in the city itself.
  13. There is no way that they can prove these charges that they are now bringing against me.
  14. I admit that their leaders think that the Lord's Way which I follow is based on wrong beliefs. But I still worship the same God that my ancestors worshiped. And I believe everything written in the Law of Moses and in the Prophets.
  15. I am just as sure as these people are that God will raise from death everyone who is good or evil.
  16. And because I am sure, I try my best to have a clear conscience in whatever I do for God or for people.
  17. After being away for several years, I returned here to bring gifts for the poor people of my nation and to offer sacrifices.
  18. This is what I was doing when I was found going through a ceremony in the temple. I wasn't with a crowd, and there was no uproar.
  19. Some Jews from Asia were there at that time, and if they have anything to say against me, they should be here now.
  20. Or ask the ones who are here. They can tell you that they didn't find me guilty of anything when I was tried by their own council.
  21. The only charge they can bring against me is what I shouted out in court, when I said, "I am on trial today because I believe that the dead will be raised to life!"
  22. Felix knew a lot about the Lord's Way. But he brought the trial to an end and said, "I will make my decision after Lysias the commander arrives."
  23. He then ordered the army officer to keep Paul under guard, but not to lock him up or to stop his friends from helping him.
  24. Several days later Felix and his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, went to the place where Paul was kept under guard. They sent for Paul and listened while he spoke to them about having faith in Christ Jesus.
  25. But Felix was frightened when Paul started talking to them about doing right, about self-control, and about the coming judgment. So he said to Paul, "That's enough for now. You may go. But when I have time I will send for you."
  26. After this, Felix often sent for Paul and talked with him, because he hoped that Paul would offer him a bribe.
  27. Two years later Porcius Festus became governor in place of Felix. But since Felix wanted to do the Jewish leaders a favor, he kept Paul in jail.

Although there were many other Christians in Jerusalem, including the apostalic leaders such as Peter, the Jewish leaders seemed intent on eliminating Paul. Since his conversion, Paul had spent little time in Jerusalem, but word must certainly have come to these leaders about his preaching activities in other areas. Paul was the primary person leading the spread of the gospel all through the Roman world. Although the gospel was more quietly spread through many other channels as people went from place to place, Paul was a public spokesperson everywhere he went and he did not simply take the gospel with him as he went from place to place. He went from place to place so he could take the gospel. The increasing growth of Christianity, due significantly to Paul, in light of the increasing rejection of it by the Jews, evidently made Christianity and its leaders an increasing threat to the high priest and the Sanhedrin.

The high priest himself made the trip to Caesarea to bring charges against Paul, taking with him "some elders and a lawyer named Tertullus." A hint of how far these Jews might have been willing to go to put down the Way - the Christian movement - can be seen in the lawyer's introductory remarks. In his flattery of Felix, the governor, the lawyer said that they "gratefully" received his reforms "always and in all places." In light of Felix' reputation for violent use of repressive force and corrupt self-aggrandizement, this was a bold statement. If there was any truth in it at all, these Jews were offering to Felix peaceful acceptance of his policies in exchange for a favorable verdict against Paul. Should this be the case, this gives an even greater understanding of the threat these Jewish leaders perceived Christianity to be.

Their charges against Paul were threefold: (1) He was a worldwide troublemaker. (2) He was a leader of the Nazarene sect. (3) He attempted to desecrate the temple. Though there was a hint of truth in the first of these charges, the other two moved further and further from the truth. Since there had been disturbances concerning Paul's preaching in many of the places he had been, the charge of being a worldwide troublemaker might be convincingly made. But Paul had not intentionally caused trouble anywhere. The charge of leading a Nazarene sect was an attempt to distance Judaism from Christianity. Rome did not tolerate new religions. While Judaism was permitted by Rome, painting Christianity as a religion separate from Judaism - as a new sect - was an attempt to portray it as an illegal movement. The charge of desecrating the temple was a completely trumped up charge. At the time of Paul's arrest in Jerusalem he was accused of bringing Greeks into an area of the temple that was forbidden to Gentiles, an act of desecration. Though Paul had not done this, they presumed he had because they saw him in Jerusalem at one point with a man from Ephesus and at a later time they saw him in the temple. However, at the time they saw him in the temple he was there with two other Jews performing the rite of purification, not with this Greek.

Verse 22 tells us that the governor was "accurately informed about the Way," which was a reference to Christianity. He knew the charges against Paul were not true. But possibly to avoid conflict with the Jewish leaders or to somehow take advantage of this situation, Felix postponed a decision on the case until Lysias, the commander in Jerusalem, would come to Caesarea and Felix could confer with him. This was an indefinite delay of the case. One that was to last over two years. Meanwhile, Paul was held under house arrest and Felix on occasion "listened to (Paul) on the subject of faith in Christ Jesus."

Monday, March 29, 2010

Reflections on Acts 23

    Acts 23 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Paul looked straight at the council members and said, "My friends, to this day I have served God with a clear conscience!"
  2. Then Ananias the high priest ordered the men standing beside Paul to hit him on the mouth.
  3. Paul turned to the high priest and said, "You whitewashed wall! God will hit you. You sit there to judge me by the Law of Moses. But at the same time you order men to break the Law by hitting me."
  4. The men standing beside Paul asked, "Don't you know you are insulting God's high priest?"
  5. Paul replied, "Oh! I didn't know he was the high priest. The Scriptures do tell us not to speak evil about a leader of our people."
  6. When Paul saw that some of the council members were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he shouted, "My friends, I am a Pharisee and the son of a Pharisee. I am on trial simply because I believe that the dead will be raised to life."
  7. As soon as Paul said this, the Pharisees and the Sadducees got into a big argument, and the council members started taking sides.
  8. The Sadducees do not believe in angels or spirits or that the dead will rise to life. But the Pharisees believe in all of these,
  9. and so there was a lot of shouting. Some of the teachers of the Law of Moses were Pharisees. Finally, they became angry and said, "We don't find anything wrong with this man. Maybe a spirit or an angel really did speak to him."
  10. The argument became fierce, and the commander was afraid that Paul would be pulled apart. So he ordered the soldiers to go in and rescue Paul. Then they took him back into the fortress.
  11. That night the Lord stood beside Paul and said, "Don't worry! Just as you have told others about me in Jerusalem, you must also tell about me in Rome."
  12. The next morning more than forty Jewish men got together and vowed that they would not eat or drink anything until they had killed Paul.
  13. (SEE 23:12)
  14. Then some of them went to the chief priests and the nation's leaders and said, "We have promised God that we would not eat a thing until we have killed Paul.
  15. You and everyone in the council must go to the commander and pretend that you want to find out more about the charges against Paul. Ask for him to be brought before your court. Meanwhile, we will be waiting to kill him before he gets there."
  16. When Paul's nephew heard about the plot, he went to the fortress and told Paul about it.
  17. So Paul said to one of the army officers, "Take this young man to the commander. He has something to tell him."
  18. The officer took him to the commander and said, "The prisoner named Paul asked me to bring this young man to you, because he has something to tell you."
  19. The commander took the young man aside and asked him in private, "What do you want to tell me?"
  20. He answered, "Some men are planning to ask you to bring Paul down to the Jewish council tomorrow. They will claim that they want to find out more about him.
  21. But please don't do what they say. More than forty men are going to attack Paul. They have made a vow not to eat or drink anything until they have killed him. Even now they are waiting to hear what you decide."
  22. The commander sent the young man away after saying to him, "Don't let anyone know that you told me this."
  23. The commander called in two of his officers and told them, "By nine o'clock tonight have two hundred soldiers ready to go to Caesarea. Take along seventy men on horseback and two hundred foot soldiers with spears.
  24. Get a horse ready for Paul and make sure that he gets safely through to Felix the governor."
  25. The commander wrote a letter that said:
  26. Greetings from Claudius Lysias to the Honorable Governor Felix:
  27. Some Jews grabbed this man and were about to kill him. But when I found out that he was a Roman citizen, I took some soldiers and rescued him.
  28. I wanted to find out what they had against him. So I brought him before their council
  29. and learned that the charges concern only their religious laws. This man isn't guilty of anything for which he should die or even be put in jail.
  30. As soon as I learned that there was a plot against him, I sent him to you and told their leaders to bring charges against him in your court.
  31. The soldiers obeyed the commander's orders, and that same night they took Paul to the city of Antipatris.
  32. The next day the foot soldiers returned to the fortress and let the soldiers on horseback take him the rest of the way.
  33. When they came to Caesarea, they gave the letter to the governor and handed Paul over to him.
  34. The governor read the letter. Then he asked Paul and found out that he was from Cilicia.
  35. The governor said, "I will listen to your case as soon as the people come to bring their charges against you." After saying this, he gave orders for Paul to be kept as a prisoner in Herod's palace.

God had a mission for Paul that involved being Christ's witness before high officials in Rome. The charges that were to bring him before those officials, however, were initiated by the Jews and were of a questionable nature. As with Jesus' trial, the Jewish case against him was so flimsy it required treachery to accomplish its intent. Though it is not mentioned in these accounts, jealousy had been the motivation behind the Jewish efforts to stop Paul prior to this and is undoubtedly the motivation on this occasion. Thus, it was themselves the Jews were attempting to defend by charging Paul and not God or the law of Moses. But blasphemy against God or breaking the law were the only charges that were within their jurisdiction to bring against him that would possibly accomplish their purpose, and so they sought to make such charges against him. Therefore, with the first words out of Paul's mouth, the high priest had him struck as though he had spoken blasphemy.

Paul understood this crowd since he had previously been one of them, so he used this understanding to throw this group into confusion and to shift their focus away from himself. His ploy worked and immediately the Pharisees and Sadducees were arguing with one another rather than prosecuting him. Soon the Pharisees were actually defending Paul. The melee eventually turned violent and the commander stepped in to rescue Paul and take him back to the barracks. That night Paul had a visit from the Lord who told him, "Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome." This word continued to confirm to Paul that the leading his sensed in coming to Jerusalem was not unfounded, that these circumstances were not just random events, and that God still had a purpose for Paul. It also assured Paul that God would keep him safe in the midst of a dangerous situation. Paul had proven himself a faithful witness that God could use in even more significant ways.

God's protection of Paul was soon borne out when Paul's nephew showed up with word of an ambush plot. Furthermore, the Roman commander did not brush it off but order a large force of soldiers to accompany him under cover of night to escape to Caesarea where the situation was not so volatile. This was also another step forward in God's plan for Paul to be His spokesperson in Rome. Paul's case had been moved a step further up the chain of command from the commander in Jerusalem to the governor in Caesarea.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Reflections on Acts 22

    Acts 22 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. "My friends and leaders of our nation, listen as I explain what happened!"
  2. When the crowd heard Paul speak to them in Aramaic, they became even quieter. Then Paul said:
  3. I am a Jew, born and raised in the city of Tarsus in Cilicia. I was a student of Gamaliel and was taught to follow every single law of our ancestors. In fact, I was just as eager to obey God as any of you are today.
  4. I made trouble for everyone who followed the Lord's Way, and I even had some of them killed. I had others arrested and put in jail. I didn't care if they were men or women.
  5. The high priest and all the council members can tell you that this is true. They even gave me letters to the Jewish leaders in Damascus, so that I could arrest people there and bring them to Jerusalem to be punished.
  6. One day about noon I was getting close to Damascus, when a bright light from heaven suddenly flashed around me.
  7. I fell to the ground and heard a voice asking, "Saul, Saul, why are you so cruel to me?"
  8. "Who are you?" I answered. The Lord replied, "I am Jesus from Nazareth! I am the one you are so cruel to."
  9. The men who were traveling with me saw the light, but did not hear the voice.
  10. I asked, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" Then he told me, "Get up and go to Damascus. When you get there, you will be told what to do."
  11. The light had been so bright that I couldn't see. And the other men had to lead me by the hand to Damascus.
  12. In that city there was a man named Ananias, who faithfully obeyed the Law of Moses and was well liked by all the Jewish people living there.
  13. He came to me and said, "Saul, my friend, you can now see again!" At once I could see.
  14. Then Ananias told me, "The God that our ancestors worshiped has chosen you to know what he wants done. He has chosen you to see the One Who Obeys God and to hear his voice.
  15. You must tell everyone what you have seen and heard.
  16. What are you waiting for? Get up! Be baptized, and wash away your sins by praying to the Lord."
  17. After this I returned to Jerusalem and went to the temple to pray. There I had a vision
  18. of the Lord who said to me, "Hurry and leave Jerusalem! The people won't listen to what you say about me."
  19. I replied, "Lord, they know that in many of our meeting places I arrested and beat people who had faith in you.
  20. Stephen was killed because he spoke for you, and I stood there and cheered them on. I even guarded the clothes of the men who murdered him."
  21. But the Lord told me to go, and he promised to send me far away to the Gentiles.
  22. The crowd listened until Paul said this. Then they started shouting, "Get rid of this man! He doesn't deserve to live."
  23. They kept shouting. They waved their clothes around and threw dust into the air.
  24. The Roman commander ordered Paul to be taken into the fortress and beaten with a whip. He did this to find out why the people were screaming at Paul.
  25. While the soldiers were tying Paul up to be beaten, he asked the officer standing there, "Is it legal to beat a Roman citizen before he has been tried in court?"
  26. When the officer heard this, he went to the commander and said, "What are you doing? This man is a Roman citizen!"
  27. The commander went to Paul and asked, "Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?" "Yes," Paul answered.
  28. The commander then said, "I paid a lot of money to become a Roman citizen." But Paul replied, "I was born a Roman citizen."
  29. The men who were about to beat and question Paul quickly backed off. And the commander himself was frightened when he realized that he had put a Roman citizen in chains.
  30. The next day the commander wanted to know the real reason why the Jewish leaders had brought charges against Paul. So he had Paul's chains removed, and he ordered the chief priests and the whole council to meet. Then he had Paul led in and made him stand in front of them.

Our first inclination in reading this account is to assume that Paul was attempting to make a defense for himself before this Jewish crowd. When they hear how devote a Jew he was himself and how dramatic was his conversion experience they will surely understand and will calm down and let him go. But on second thought, Paul by this time had spoken in many synagogues giving this testimony and had on nearly every occasion been rejected, and on several occasions been beaten or even stoned. Thus it becomes doubtful that Paul spoke for his own defense since he knew reasonably well that this crowd would not accept his defense.

As stated in my reflections of the previous chapter, Paul was resolute in his determination to go to Jerusalem, even though he knew persecution awaited him there. He knew God had a mission for him and he was not going to back away from it regardless of the danger. This leads me to think that Paul's purpose in speaking to the crowd on this day was to use the opportunity given him to speak for Christ. He had on nearly every occasion been rejected by the Jews to whom he spoke for Christ, but also, on most of those occasions, there had been a few who received his message and believed. I suspect it was for those few that he spoke on this day.

Just as Paul was not to be deterred from preaching the gospel message by fear of personal harm, neither was he to be sidetracked by fighting for his personal rights. He spoke up for his rights on more than one occasion when he was beaten and or imprisoned unjustly for his preaching, but he didn't use those rights as a weapon, but rather as a trump card. On this occasion he quietly allowed himself to be arrested and placed in chains in preparation for a flogging before he calmly asked, "Is it legal for you to scourge a man who is a Roman citizen and is uncondemned?" I'm afraid I might have been taken away by the soldiers kicking and screaming that I was a Roman citizen and they couldn't do this to me. Not Paul. At the moment it would have its greatest impact, he calmly brought his citizenship to the attention of the commander. Learning this fact after he had arrested Paul and had also placed him in chains, the commander was then fearful for himself. At that point he was very interested to get to the bottom of this situation, as we see by his order the next day for a convening of the Sanhedrin.

Paul clearly understood his purpose and mission and was not to be swayed from it. There might be an occasion when it would benefit the gospel for Paul to fight for his rights, but if he were to do so, his motivation would be for the benefit of the gospel and not his rights. On this occasion he evidently considered it most beneficial to the gospel not to fight but merely to make strategic use of his rights as a means of prolonging his opportunity to be a witness for Christ.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Reflections on Acts 21

    Acts 21 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. After saying good-by, we sailed straight to Cos. The next day we reached Rhodes and from there sailed on to Patara.
  2. We found a ship going to Phoenicia, so we got on board and sailed off.
  3. We came within sight of Cyprus and then sailed south of it on to the port of Tyre in Syria, where the ship was going to unload its cargo.
  4. We looked up the Lord's followers and stayed with them for a week. The Holy Spirit had told them to warn Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.
  5. But when the week was over, we started on our way again. All the men, together with their wives and children, walked with us from the town to the seashore. We knelt on the beach and prayed.
  6. Then after saying good-by to each other, we got into the ship, and they went back home.
  7. We sailed from Tyre to Ptolemais, where we greeted the followers and stayed with them for a day.
  8. The next day we went to Caesarea and stayed with Philip, the preacher. He was one of the seven men who helped the apostles,
  9. and he had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.
  10. We had been in Caesarea for several days, when the prophet Agabus came to us from Judea.
  11. He took Paul's belt, and with it he tied up his own hands and feet. Then he told us, "The Holy Spirit says that some of the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will tie up the man who owns this belt. They will also hand him over to the Gentiles."
  12. After Agabus said this, we and the followers living there begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem.
  13. But Paul answered, "Why are you crying and breaking my heart? I am not only willing to be put in jail for the Lord Jesus. I am even willing to die for him in Jerusalem!"
  14. Since we could not get Paul to change his mind, we gave up and prayed, "Lord, please make us willing to do what you want."
  15. Then we got ready to go to Jerusalem.
  16. Some of the followers from Caesarea went with us and took us to stay in the home of Mnason. He was from Cyprus and had been a follower from the beginning.
  17. When we arrived in Jerusalem, the Lord's followers gladly welcomed us.
  18. Paul went with us to see James the next day, and all the church leaders were present.
  19. Paul greeted them and told how God had used him to help the Gentiles.
  20. Everyone who heard this praised God and said to Paul: My friend, you can see how many tens of thousands of the Jewish people have become followers! And all of them are eager to obey the Law of Moses.
  21. But they have been told that you are teaching those who live among the Gentiles to disobey this Law. They claim that you are telling them not to circumcise their sons or to follow Jewish customs.
  22. What should we do now that our people have heard that you are here?
  23. Please do what we ask, because four of our men have made special promises to God.
  24. Join with them and prepare yourself for the ceremony that goes with the promises. Pay the cost for their heads to be shaved. Then everyone will learn that the reports about you are not true. They will know that you do obey the Law of Moses.
  25. Some while ago we told the Gentile followers what we think they should do. We instructed them not to eat anything offered to idols. They were told not to eat any meat with blood still in it or the meat of an animal that has been strangled. They were also told not to commit any terrible sexual sins.
  26. The next day Paul took the four men with him and got himself ready at the same time they did. Then he went into the temple and told when the final ceremony would take place and when an offering would be made for each of them.
  27. When the period of seven days for the ceremony was almost over, some of the Jewish people from Asia saw Paul in the temple. They got a large crowd together and started attacking him.
  28. They were shouting, "Friends, help us! This man goes around everywhere, saying bad things about our nation and about the Law of Moses and about this temple. He has even brought shame to this holy temple by bringing in Gentiles."
  29. Some of them thought that Paul had brought Trophimus from Ephesus into the temple, because they had seen them together in the city.
  30. The whole city was in an uproar, and the people turned into a mob. They grabbed Paul and dragged him out of the temple. Then suddenly the doors were shut.
  31. The people were about to kill Paul when the Roman army commander heard that all Jerusalem was starting to riot.
  32. So he quickly took some soldiers and officers and ran to where the crowd had gathered. As soon as the mob saw the commander and soldiers, they stopped beating Paul.
  33. The army commander went over and arrested him and had him bound with two chains. Then he tried to find out who Paul was and what he had done.
  34. Part of the crowd shouted one thing, and part of them shouted something else. But they were making so much noise that the commander could not find out a thing. Then he ordered Paul to be taken into the fortress.
  35. As they reached the steps, the crowd became so wild that the soldiers had to lift Paul up and carry him.
  36. The crowd followed and kept shouting, "Kill him! Kill him!"
  37. When Paul was about to be taken into the fortress, he asked the commander, "Can I say something to you?" "How do you know Greek?" the commander asked.
  38. "Aren't you that Egyptian who started a riot not long ago and led four thousand terrorists into the desert?"
  39. "No!" Paul replied. "I am a Jew from Tarsus, an important city in Cilicia. Please let me speak to the crowd."
  40. The commander told him he could speak, so Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the people. When they were quiet, he spoke to them in Aramaic:

As Paul concluded his third missionary journey, he was focused on a mission that would eventually take him to Rome and an audience with Caesar. He left Macedonia resolute on heading to Jerusalem with the understanding that persecution awaited him there. In addition to what he sensed from the Spirit, he was told on multiple occasions that he should not go to Jerusalem because of the trouble he would encounter there. But as clear an understanding Paul had of the trouble he faced, he apparently had just as clear a leading from God that he was to endure this trouble for the sake of the gospel. As he told the Christians in Caesarea who begged him not to go to Jerusalem, "For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."

In Jerusalem the church elders told Paul of the false rumors being passed among believing Jews who were intent on keeping the law. The rumors, which were totally false, claimed that Paul was teaching Jews to abandon Moses. There was a large number of those who believed these rumors and the elders feared repercussions should these people see Paul in Jerusalem. So a plan was made to placate these Jews. Paul was to accompany some young men who had fulfilled a Nazirite vow and participate with them in the purification rites. In this way he would show his sympathy for the law of Moses. When Paul was seen in the temple trouble did arise but it was not from these believing Jews. It came instead from unbelieving Jews who accused Paul of teaching "everyone everywhere against our people, our law, and this place. What's more, he also brought Greeks into the temple and has profaned this holy place."

When a Roman commander came on the scene he arrested Paul thinking him to be an Egyptian insurrectionist against whom the Jews would also be stirred up. True to character, Paul was not going to be taken away without speaking. He requested to be allowed to speak to the crowd, convincing the commander that he also was a Jew and not this Egyptian. The chapter closes with the hushing of the crowd to hear what Paul had to say.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Reflections on Acts 20

    Acts 20 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. When the riot was over, Paul sent for the followers and encouraged them. He then told them good-by and left for Macedonia.
  2. As he traveled from place to place, he encouraged the followers with many messages. Finally, he went to Greece
  3. and stayed there for three months. Paul was about to sail to Syria. But some of the Jewish leaders plotted against him, so he decided to return by way of Macedonia.
  4. With him were Sopater, son of Pyrrhus from Berea, and Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica. Gaius from Derbe was also with him, and so were Timothy and the two Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus.
  5. They went on ahead to Troas and waited for us there.
  6. After the Festival of Thin Bread, we sailed from Philippi. Five days later we met them in Troas and stayed there for a week.
  7. On the first day of the week we met to break bread together. Paul spoke to the people until midnight because he was leaving the next morning.
  8. In the upstairs room where we were meeting, there were a lot of lamps.
  9. A young man by the name of Eutychus was sitting on a window sill. While Paul was speaking, the young man got very sleepy. Finally, he went to sleep and fell three floors all the way down to the ground. When they picked him up, he was dead.
  10. Paul went down and bent over Eutychus. He took him in his arms and said, "Don't worry! He's alive."
  11. After Paul had gone back upstairs, he broke bread, and ate with us. He then spoke until dawn and left.
  12. Then the followers took the young man home alive and were very happy.
  13. Paul decided to travel by land to Assos. The rest of us went on ahead by ship, and we were to take him aboard there.
  14. When he met us in Assos, he came aboard, and we sailed on to Mitylene.
  15. The next day we came to a place near Chios, and the following day we reached Samos. The day after that we sailed to Miletus.
  16. Paul had decided to sail on past Ephesus, because he did not want to spend too much time in Asia. He was in a hurry and wanted to be in Jerusalem in time for Pentecost.
  17. From Miletus, Paul sent a message for the church leaders at Ephesus to come and meet with him.
  18. When they got there, he said: You know everything I did during the time I was with you when I first came to Asia.
  19. Some of the Jews plotted against me and caused me a lot of sorrow and trouble. But I served the Lord and was humble.
  20. When I preached in public or taught in your homes, I didn't hold back from telling anything that would help you.
  21. I told Jews and Gentiles to turn to God and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
  22. I don't know what will happen to me in Jerusalem, but I must obey God's Spirit and go there.
  23. In every city I visit, I am told by the Holy Spirit that I will be put in jail and will be in trouble in Jerusalem.
  24. But I don't care what happens to me, as long as I finish the work that the Lord Jesus gave me to do. And that work is to tell the good news about God's great kindness.
  25. I have gone from place to place, preaching to you about God's kingdom, but now I know that none of you will ever see me again.
  26. I tell you today that I am no longer responsible for any of you!
  27. I have told you everything God wants you to know.
  28. Look after yourselves and everyone the Holy Spirit has placed in your care. Be like shepherds to God's church. It is the flock that he bought with the blood of his own Son.
  29. I know that after I am gone, others will come like fierce wolves to attack you.
  30. Some of your own people will tell lies to win over the Lord's followers.
  31. Be on your guard! Remember how day and night for three years I kept warning you with tears in my eyes.
  32. I now place you in God's care. Remember the message about his great kindness! This message can help you and give you what belongs to you as God's people.
  33. I have never wanted anyone's money or clothes.
  34. You know how I have worked with my own hands to make a living for myself and my friends.
  35. By everything I did, I showed how you should work to help everyone who is weak. Remember that our Lord Jesus said, "More blessings come from giving than from receiving."
  36. After Paul had finished speaking, he knelt down with all of them and prayed.
  37. Everyone cried and hugged and kissed him.
  38. They were especially sad because Paul had told them, "You will never see me again." Then they went with him to the ship.

When the uproar in Ephesus, stirred up by the silversmith Demetrius, had settled down, Paul determined it was time to leave. This uproar was different from most that Paul encountered, for it was caused by Gentiles rather than Jews. The Jews were usually the ones to become upset with Paul's preaching out of jealousy over what they perceived to be Paul's threat to their religious life. The Gentiles, on the other hand, became upset because of the economic threat posed when people responded to Paul's preaching and left a way of life that offered income to them. In the case of Demetrius it was the loss of profit from making silver shrines of the goddess Artemis. On another occasion Paul caused a disturbance when he cast a demon from a girl, ending her ability to prophecy and bring profit to her owners.

Although Paul left at the conclusion of this trouble in Ephesus, it was not because of the trouble for he had already determined that he must "pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem. (19:21) So it was time for his third journey to conclude, and as was his practice, he concluded it by returning to the towns where he had taken the gospel so he might encourage the churches he had started. So his return trip to Jerusalem began by going through Macedonia and then Greece. From Greece he planned to head directly toward Antioch in Syria until he learned of a plot devised by Jews to assassinate him. They evidently planned to use the opportunity of confined quarters on a ship to kill him and throw him overboard. So Paul decided to go back through Macedonia.

Representative from several churches in Macedonia and Asia met Paul in Troas to return with him to Jerusalem. It is thought that these brothers were bringing with them the offerings from their churches to take to the needy Christians in Jerusalem. In Troas we have the account of Paul restoring life to a young man, Eutychus, who went to sleep in a third story window while Paul was preaching, and fell to his death. Continuing on from Troas, Paul made another stop in Miletus where he called for the elders of the church in Ephesus to join him there. Speaking to these elders, Paul reminded them of his personal cost in bringing to them the gospel and thus their need to guard against wolves coming in to the church and even men from among them who would "rise up with deviant doctrines to lure the disciples into following them." Then he committed them "to God and to the message of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you an inheritance among all who are sanctified." Having prayed for them, they escorted him to the ship for his departure.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Reflections on Acts 19

    Acts 19 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. While Apollos was in Corinth, Paul traveled across the hill country to Ephesus, where he met some of the Lord's followers.
  2. He asked them, "When you put your faith in Jesus, were you given the Holy Spirit?" "No!" they answered. "We have never even heard of the Holy Spirit."
  3. "Then why were you baptized?" Paul asked. They answered, "Because of what John taught."
  4. Paul replied, "John baptized people so that they would turn to God. But he also told them that someone else was coming, and that they should put their faith in him. Jesus is the one that John was talking about."
  5. After the people heard Paul say this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.
  6. Then Paul placed his hands on them. The Holy Spirit was given to them, and they spoke unknown languages and prophesied.
  7. There were about twelve men in this group.
  8. For three months Paul went to the Jewish meeting place and talked bravely with the people about God's kingdom. He tried to win them over,
  9. but some of them were stubborn and refused to believe. In front of everyone they said terrible things about God's Way. Paul left and took the followers with him to the lecture hall of Tyrannus. He spoke there every day
  10. for two years, until every Jew and Gentile in Asia had heard the Lord's message.
  11. God gave Paul the power to work great miracles.
  12. People even took handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched Paul's body, and they carried them to everyone who was sick. All of the sick people were healed, and the evil spirits went out.
  13. Some Jewish men started going around trying to force out evil spirits by using the name of the Lord Jesus. They said to the spirits, "Come out in the name of that same Jesus that Paul preaches about!"
  14. Seven sons of a Jewish high priest named Sceva were doing this,
  15. when an evil spirit said to them, "I know Jesus! And I have heard about Paul. But who are you?"
  16. Then the man with the evil spirit jumped on them and beat them up. They ran out of the house, naked and bruised.
  17. When the Jews and Gentiles in Ephesus heard about this, they were so frightened that they praised the name of the Lord Jesus.
  18. Many who were followers now started telling everyone about the evil things they had been doing.
  19. Some who had been practicing witchcraft even brought their books and burned them in public. These books were worth about fifty thousand silver coins.
  20. So the Lord's message spread and became even more powerful.
  21. After all of this had happened, Paul decided to visit Macedonia and Achaia on his way to Jerusalem. Paul had said, "From there I will go on to Rome."
  22. So he sent his two helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia. But he stayed on in Asia for a while.
  23. At that time there was serious trouble because of the Lord's Way.
  24. A silversmith named Demetrius had a business that made silver models of the temple of the goddess Artemis. Those who worked for him earned a lot of money.
  25. Demetrius brought together everyone who was in the same business and said: Friends, you know that we make a good living at this.
  26. But you have surely seen and heard how this man Paul is upsetting a lot of people, not only in Ephesus, but almost everywhere in Asia. He claims that the gods we humans make are not really gods at all.
  27. Everyone will start saying terrible things about our business. They will stop respecting the temple of the goddess Artemis, who is worshiped in Asia and all over the world. Our great goddess will be forgotten!
  28. When the workers heard this, they got angry and started shouting, "Great is Artemis, the goddess of the Ephesians!"
  29. Soon the whole city was in a riot, and some men grabbed Gaius and Aristarchus, who had come from Macedonia with Paul. Then everyone in the crowd rushed to the place where the town meetings were held.
  30. Paul wanted to go out and speak to the people, but the Lord's followers would not let him.
  31. A few of the local officials were friendly to Paul, and they sent someone to warn him not to go.
  32. Some of the people in the meeting were shouting one thing, and others were shouting something else. Everyone was completely confused, and most of them did not even know why they were there.
  33. Several of the Jewish leaders pushed a man named Alexander to the front of the crowd and started telling him what to say. He motioned with his hand and tried to explain what was going on.
  34. But when the crowd saw that he was Jewish, they all shouted for two hours, "Great is Artemis, the goddess of the Ephesians!"
  35. Finally, a town official made the crowd be quiet. Then he said: People of Ephesus, who in the world doesn't know that our city is the center for worshiping the great goddess Artemis? Who doesn't know that her image which fell from heaven is right here?
  36. No one can deny this, and so you should calm down and not do anything foolish.
  37. You have brought men in here who have not robbed temples or spoken against our goddess.
  38. If Demetrius and his workers have a case against these men, we have courts and judges. Let them take their complaints there.
  39. But if you want to do more than that, the matter will have to be brought before the city council.
  40. We could easily be accused of starting a riot today. There is no excuse for it! We cannot even give a reason for this uproar.
  41. After saying this, he told the people to leave.

The beginning of Paul's third missionary journey began in the accounts of chapter 18 along with the conclusion of his second journey. At the conclusion of the second journey, Paul made a stop in Ephesus before continuing on to Jerusalem and then Antioch to conclude the journey. He arrived in Ephesus on this stop with Aquila and Priscilla and left them there as he went on to Jerusalem and Antioch. His third journey begins then in 18:23 as he set out from Antioch "traveling through one place after another in the Galatian territory and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples." Meanwhile, back in Ephesus, a man by the name of Apollos arrived in town. He is described as a man who "had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit." He knew and taught about Jesus accurately but had experienced only the baptism of John the Baptist. Aquila and Priscilla, who were still in Ephesus, came to know Apollos as he spoke in the synagogue. After hearing him speak, the couple took him home with them so they could explain "the way of God to him more accurately." Apollos then set out, with endorsement from the brothers, to preach in Achaia where he led many to the Lord.

After Apollos had left Ephesus for Achaia, Paul arrived in Ephesus. He soon found some disciples who had not yet received the Holy Spirit. As with Apollos, these disciples only knew the baptism of John. After Paul explained to them that John only pointed to the One who was to follow and who was greater, these disciples were "baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." It was then, after Paul laid his hands on them, that they received the Holy Spirit. As in some other instances, the sign of tongues was given them to verify their receiving of the Holy Spirit. Paul later told the Corinthians, in his first letter to them, that the gift of speaking in other languages was a sign to unbelievers, and this is how we should understand these instances in Acts. In each case, the unbelievers were Jews. Following these events, Paul returned to his practice of speaking in the synagogue. The synagogue in Ephesus allowed him the longest speaking tenure of any place where Paul spoke - a period of three months. Then the usual resistance to the gospel set in and Paul left to take the gospel to the Gentiles.

Unique to Ephesus, Paul used a lecture hall to meet daily with the disciples to conduct discussions. This continued for two years. Over this period there were evidently many besides the disciples who came to these discussions for we are told that during this period "all the inhabitants of the province of Asia, both Jews and Greeks, heard the word of the Lord." Adding to Paul's teaching was the ability he received to heal many of diseases and evil spirits. This power over the occult brought many others to the Lord. An account is given of the sons of a Jewish priest trying to practice exocism. When they heard Paul drive out evil spirits in the name of Jesus, they thought they would try it. But when they attempted it with a man possessed with a spirit, the spirit in the man said, "Jesus I know, and Paul I recognize--but who are you?" Then, empowered by the spirit, the man overpowered the men and they left naked and bleeding. This encounter caused fear to fall "on all of them, and the name of the Lord Jesus was magnified." Then many who had followed the occult burned their cultist books and turned to the Lord.

The last account of the chapter gives a view of how widespread this Christian movement had become in the province of Asia. A silversmith who made "silver shrines of Artemis" became disturbed that with so many turning to the Lord his business would be hurt, so he gatherd a group of craftsmen and stirred them up against Paul and his group of disciples. These craftsmen "filled the city with confusion" and then grabbed a couple of disciples and dragged them into the amphitheater along with a large crowd. They were in a frenzy for over two hours until a city official pointed out that their gathering was illegal and that they had a lawful means of dealing with this is they wished and was thus able to break up the gathering.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Reflections on Acts 18

    Acts 18 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Paul left Athens and went to Corinth,
  2. where he met Aquila, a Jewish man from Pontus. Not long before this, Aquila had come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Emperor Claudius had ordered the Jewish people to leave Rome. Paul went to see Aquila and Priscilla
  3. and found out that they were tent makers. Paul was a tent maker too. So he stayed with them, and they worked together.
  4. Every Sabbath, Paul went to the Jewish meeting place. He spoke to Jews and Gentiles and tried to win them over.
  5. But after Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, he spent all his time preaching to the Jews about Jesus the Messiah.
  6. Finally, they turned against him and insulted him. So he shook the dust from his clothes and told them, "Whatever happens to you will be your own fault! I am not to blame. From now on I am going to preach to the Gentiles."
  7. Paul then moved into the house of a man named Titius Justus, who worshiped God and lived next door to the Jewish meeting place.
  8. Crispus was the leader of the meeting place. He and everyone in his family put their faith in the Lord. Many others in Corinth also heard the message, and all the people who had faith in the Lord were baptized.
  9. One night, Paul had a vision, and in it the Lord said, "Don't be afraid to keep on preaching. Don't stop!
  10. I am with you, and you won't be harmed. Many people in this city belong to me."
  11. Paul stayed on in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching God's message to the people.
  12. While Gallio was governor of Achaia, some of the Jewish leaders got together and grabbed Paul. They brought him into court
  13. and said, "This man is trying to make our people worship God in a way that is against our Law!"
  14. Even before Paul could speak, Gallio said, "If you were charging this man with a crime or some other wrong, I would have to listen to you.
  15. But since this concerns only words, names, and your own law, you will have to take care of it. I refuse to judge such matters."
  16. Then he sent them out of the court.
  17. The crowd grabbed Sosthenes, the Jewish leader, and beat him up in front of the court. But none of this mattered to Gallio.
  18. After Paul had stayed for a while with the Lord's followers in Corinth, he told them good-by and sailed on to Syria with Aquila and Priscilla. But before he left, he had his head shaved at Cenchreae because he had made a promise to God.
  19. The three of them arrived in Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He then went into the Jewish meeting place to talk with the people there.
  20. They asked him to stay longer, but he refused.
  21. He told them good-by and said, "If God lets me, I will come back."
  22. Paul sailed to Caesarea, where he greeted the church. Then he went on to Antioch.
  23. After staying there for a while, he left and visited several places in Galatia and Phrygia. He helped the followers there to become stronger in their faith.
  24. A Jewish man named Apollos came to Ephesus. Apollos had been born in the city of Alexandria. He was a very good speaker and knew a lot about the Scriptures.
  25. He also knew much about the Lord's Way, and he spoke about it with great excitement. What he taught about Jesus was right, but all he knew was John's message about baptism.
  26. Apollos started speaking bravely in the Jewish meeting place. But when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him to their home and helped him understand God's Way even better.
  27. Apollos decided to travel through Achaia. So the Lord's followers wrote letters, encouraging the followers there to welcome him. After Apollos arrived in Achaia, he was a great help to everyone who had put their faith in the Lord Jesus because of God's kindness.
  28. He got into fierce arguments with the Jewish people, and in public he used the Scriptures to prove that Jesus is the Messiah.

At this point in the journey Paul was alone. Prior to Athens he had been in the Macedonian city of Berea where he had found fertile ground to the gospel. However, trouble-makers from Thessalonica came to Berea and stirred up the people and Paul had to leave town. But Silas and Timothy remained in Berea. Some Christian brothers from Berea escorted Paul to Athens where he stayed a short while and debated with the Athenian philosophers as he waited for Silas and Timothy to join him. For some reason Paul decided to move on instead of waiting for his two partners, as we are told in 18:1. He went to Corinth where he found a Jewish couple who helped him by allowing him to stay with them and to join them in their trade of tentmaking which was also Paul's trade. In addition they joined Paul in his gospel witness.

Corinth would prove to be a key city in which to plant the gospel. It was a major trade center that was strategically located to receive commerce both by sea and by land. People came and went from many countries. Planted in Corinth, the gospel could potentially spread to all parts of the world. Paul followed his common practice in Corinth of first going to the local synagogue to share the gospel with the Jews before going to the Gentiles. He was able to preach the message of Christ at the synagogue for quite a while during a period in which he was having to support himself through his trade as tentmaker. Though he was working at his trade, he went every Sabbath to the synagogue "preaching the message and solemnly testified to the Jews that the Messiah is Jesus." (18:5) Eventually the Jews put up a resistance to Paul's preaching and so he left the synagogue and went to the house of a man, Titius Justus, who lived next to the synagogue. From this location he continued to witness to the Jews who would hear him. Even with the resistance of the Jews, the leader of the synagogue became a believer along with his whole household. His coming to faith in Christ was evidently influential in "many of the Corinthians" also believing. (18:8)

The Lord assured Paul through a night vision that he should not be afraid to continue to speak boldly in Corinth for He, the Lord, was with him and no harm would come to him. Because of this, Paul had his second longest stay, of any of his stops, in Corinth. He was there 1 1/2 years. Soon the Jewish resistance to Paul's preaching grew so strong that they "made a united attack against Paul and brought him to the judge's bench." (18:12) As threatening as this appears, it proved to be a significant event in Paul's favor and in favor of the gospel. Being a Roman colony, it was not legal to propagate new religions in Corinth, which the Jews charged Paul of doing, claiming Christianity to be a new and different cult, distinct from Judaism. But Gallio, the proconsul, didn't see it that way. To him it was a part of Judaism making this a matter to be settled in a civil court - a decision that was crucial to legitimatizing Christianity under Roman law. This verdict allowed Christianity to be preached with the blessing of Roman law. Furthermore, even before leaving court the people gathered in the courtroom "seized Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the judge's bench," evidently because of his charges against the Christians. This would indicate that these Christians were in greater favor with the Corinthians at this point than were the Jews.

Whether or not it was a result of this incident, Paul decided at this time to conclude this second missionary journey. Taking Aquila and Priscilla with him, he headed back toward Jerusalem. Along the way he and his travel mates stopped in Ephesus where Paul took some time to preach in the synagogue before continuing on to port at Caesarea. This concluded his second journey. With only a short interim, he soon launched his third journey, starting once again from Antioch.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Reflections on Acts 17

    Acts 17 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. After Paul and his friends had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they went on to Thessalonica. A Jewish meeting place was in that city.
  2. So as usual, Paul went there to worship, and on three Sabbaths he spoke to the people. He used the Scriptures
  3. to show them that the Messiah had to suffer, but that he would rise from death. Paul also told them that Jesus is the Messiah he was preaching about.
  4. Some of them believed what Paul had said, and they became followers with Paul and Silas. Some Gentiles and many important women also believed the message.
  5. The Jewish leaders were jealous and got some worthless bums who hung around the marketplace to start a riot in the city. They wanted to drag Paul and Silas out to the mob, and so they went straight to Jason's home.
  6. But when they did not find them there, they dragged out Jason and some of the Lord's followers. They took them to the city authorities and shouted, "Paul and Silas have been upsetting things everywhere. Now they have come here,
  7. and Jason has welcomed them into his home. All of them break the laws of the Roman Emperor by claiming that someone named Jesus is king."
  8. The officials and the people were upset when they heard this.
  9. So they made Jason and the other followers pay bail before letting them go.
  10. That same night the Lord's followers sent Paul and Silas on to Berea, and after they arrived, they went to the Jewish meeting place.
  11. The people in Berea were much nicer than those in Thessalonica, and they gladly accepted the message. Day after day they studied the Scriptures to see if these things were true.
  12. Many of them put their faith in the Lord, including some important Greek women and several men.
  13. When the Jewish leaders in Thessalonica heard that Paul had been preaching God's message in Berea, they went there and caused trouble by turning the crowds against Paul.
  14. Right away the followers sent Paul down to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed in Berea.
  15. Some men went with Paul as far as Athens, and then returned with instructions for Silas and Timothy to join him as soon as possible.
  16. While Paul was waiting in Athens, he was upset to see all the idols in the city.
  17. He went to the Jewish meeting place to speak to the Jews and to anyone who worshiped with them. Day after day he also spoke to everyone he met in the market.
  18. Some of them were Epicureans and some were Stoics, and they started arguing with him. People were asking, "What is this know-it-all trying to say?" Some even said, "Paul must be preaching about foreign gods! That's what he means when he talks about Jesus and about people rising from death."
  19. They brought Paul before a council called the Areopagus, and said, "Tell us what your new teaching is all about.
  20. We have heard you say some strange things, and we want to know what you mean."
  21. More than anything else the people of Athens and the foreigners living there loved to hear and to talk about anything new.
  22. So Paul stood up in front of the council and said: People of Athens, I see that you are very religious.
  23. As I was going through your city and looking at the things you worship, I found an altar with the words, "To an Unknown God." You worship this God, but you don't really know him. So I want to tell you about him.
  24. This God made the world and everything in it. He is Lord of heaven and earth, and he doesn't live in temples built by human hands.
  25. He doesn't need help from anyone. He gives life, breath, and everything else to all people.
  26. From one person God made all nations who live on earth, and he decided when and where every nation would be.
  27. God has done all this, so that we will look for him and reach out and find him. He isn't far from any of us,
  28. and he gives us the power to live, to move, and to be who we are. "We are his children," just as some of your poets have said.
  29. Since we are God's children, we must not think that he is like an idol made out of gold or silver or stone. He isn't like anything that humans have thought up and made.
  30. In the past, God forgave all this because people did not know what they were doing. But now he says that everyone everywhere must turn to him.
  31. He has set a day when he will judge the world's people with fairness. And he has chosen the man Jesus to do the judging for him. God has given proof of this to all of us by raising Jesus from death.
  32. As soon as the people heard Paul say that a man had been raised from death, some of them started laughing. Others said, "We will hear you talk about this some other time."
  33. When Paul left the council meeting,
  34. some of the men put their faith in the Lord and went with Paul. One of them was a council member named Dionysius. A woman named Damaris and several others also put their faith in the Lord.

Following an overnight jail stay in Philippi, Paul and his team, which included Silas and Timothy, made their next Macedonian stop in Thessalonica. It is of interest to note that although their primary mission was to take the gospel to the Gentiles, they evidently did not stop in towns without a synagogue. From Philippi to Thessalonica they passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, but they stopped in Thessalonica "where there was a Jewish synagogue." Though their mission was to the Gentiles, they still gave the Jews first opportunity to receive the gospel. With few exceptions, such as in Philippi, their trouble came from the Jews, which was the case in Thessalonica. And the motivation behind their trouble from the Jews was jealousy. When jealousy drives our actions other reasons must be found for attacking the focus of our jealousy. In Thessalonica the Jews stirred up the Gentiles against Paul and Silas by saying that they were declaring another king over Caesar. A king named Jesus. They were successful in stirring up a crowd resulting in Paul and Silas' departure from Philippi under cover of night.

Their next stop was Berea where there was also a synagogue. We are told the people there were more open-minded which was evidenced by the fact that they both welcomed their message and examined its truth in Scriptures. An excellent practice! If one will regularly examine Scripture on a daily basis they can recognize upon first hearing whether a message is worthy of further examination. Those who do not examine Scripture will be less apt to recognize truth or error and more prone to respond volatilly to what they don't understand. Because of this openness to both receive and examine Paul's message, many believed. But the closed-minded Jews from Thessalonica heard that Paul and his team were in Berea, and they went there "agitating and disturbing the crowds." Because of the disturbance that was raised, the new believers sent Paul away, although Silas and Timothy remained in Berea a while longer.

The brothers from Berea escorted Paul to Athens where he stayed waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him. Paul was never idle in terms of sharing the gospel. He went regularly to the synagogue and to the marketplace, reasoning with those he found in both places. The Athenian philosophers who heard him thought he was just babbling when he told the "good news about Jesus and the resurrection." But they were curious and brought him into the Areopagus to hear more of his teaching. However, when he told of the resurrection of Jesus, some began to ridicule him, although others said, "We will hear you about this again." Some ended up joining him and believing. There is no record of a church being founded in Athens. Did the seed planted there ever take root? Intellectual centers, such as Athens was at that time, seem more open to strange religious thought than to the gospel.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Reflections on Acts 16

    Acts 16 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Paul and Silas went back to Derbe and Lystra, where there was a follower named Timothy. His mother was also a follower. She was Jewish, and his father was Greek.
  2. The Lord's followers in Lystra and Iconium said good things about Timothy,
  3. and Paul wanted him to go with them. But Paul first had him circumcised, because all the Jewish people around there knew that Timothy's father was Greek.
  4. As Paul and the others went from city to city, they told the followers what the apostles and leaders in Jerusalem had decided, and they urged them to follow these instructions.
  5. The churches became stronger in their faith, and each day more people put their faith in the Lord.
  6. Paul and his friends went through Phrygia and Galatia, but the Holy Spirit would not let them preach in Asia.
  7. After they arrived in Mysia, they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not let them.
  8. So they went on through Mysia until they came to Troas.
  9. During the night, Paul had a vision of someone from Macedonia who was standing there and begging him, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!"
  10. After Paul had seen the vision, we began looking for a way to go to Macedonia. We were sure that God had called us to preach the good news there.
  11. We sailed straight from Troas to Samothrace, and the next day we arrived in Neapolis.
  12. From there we went to Philippi, which is a Roman colony in the first district of Macedonia. We spent several days in Philippi.
  13. Then on the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to a place by the river, where we thought there would be a Jewish meeting place for prayer. We sat down and talked with the women who came.
  14. One of them was Lydia, who was from the city of Thyatira and sold expensive purple cloth. She was a worshiper of the Lord God, and he made her willing to accept what Paul was saying.
  15. Then after she and her family were baptized, she kept on begging us, "If you think I really do have faith in the Lord, come stay in my home." Finally, we accepted her invitation.
  16. One day on our way to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl. She had a spirit in her that gave her the power to tell the future. By doing this she made a lot of money for her owners.
  17. The girl followed Paul and the rest of us and kept yelling, "These men are servants of the Most High God! They are telling you how to be saved."
  18. This went on for several days. Finally, Paul got so upset that he turned and said to the spirit, "In the name of Jesus Christ, I order you to leave this girl alone!" At once the evil spirit left her.
  19. When the girl's owners realized that they had lost all chances for making more money, they grabbed Paul and Silas and dragged them into court.
  20. They told the officials, "These Jews are upsetting our city!
  21. They are telling us to do things we Romans are not allowed to do."
  22. The crowd joined in the attack on Paul and Silas. Then the officials tore the clothes off the two men and ordered them to be beaten with a whip.
  23. After they had been badly beaten, they were put in jail, and the jailer was told to guard them carefully.
  24. The jailer did as he was told. He put them deep inside the jail and chained their feet to heavy blocks of wood.
  25. About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing praises to God, while the other prisoners listened.
  26. Suddenly a strong earthquake shook the jail to its foundations. The doors opened, and the chains fell from all the prisoners.
  27. When the jailer woke up and saw that the doors were open, he thought that the prisoners had escaped. He pulled out his sword and was about to kill himself.
  28. But Paul shouted, "Don't harm yourself! No one has escaped."
  29. The jailer asked for a torch and went into the jail. He was shaking all over as he knelt down in front of Paul and Silas.
  30. After he had led them out of the jail, he asked, "What must I do to be saved?"
  31. They replied, "Have faith in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved! This is also true for everyone who lives in your home."
  32. Then Paul and Silas told him and everyone else in his house about the Lord.
  33. While it was still night, the jailer took them to a place where he could wash their cuts and bruises. Then he and everyone in his home were baptized.
  34. They were very glad that they had put their faith in God. After this, the jailer took Paul and Silas to his home and gave them something to eat.
  35. The next morning the officials sent some police with orders for the jailer to let Paul and Silas go.
  36. The jailer told Paul, "The officials have ordered me to set you free. Now you can leave in peace."
  37. But Paul told the police, "We are Roman citizens, and the Roman officials had us beaten in public without giving us a trial. They threw us into jail. Now do they think they can secretly send us away? No, they cannot! They will have to come here themselves and let us out."
  38. When the police told the officials that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, the officials were afraid.
  39. So they came and apologized. They led them out of the jail and asked them to please leave town.
  40. But Paul and Silas went straight to the home of Lydia, where they saw the Lord's followers and encouraged them. Then they left.

Accounts in this chapter describe the beginning of Paul's second missionary journey. The stage was set for this journey with the decision by the "Jerusalem Council," the account of which is given in the previous chapter. That decision declared that no burden would be placed on Gentile believers by requiring circumcision. The launching of this second journey is told in the closing verses of chapter 15. It began with a desire by Paul for he and Barnabas to return to the towns where they had preached on their first journey to check up on the believers. This did not happen, though, due to a dispute between Paul and Barnabas over taking John Mark who had deserted them on their first journey. So, instead of the return visits to the towns of their earlier trip, Paul took Silas and began a new missionary journey. Barnabas and John Mark went another direction. Since they headed for Cyprus, it is possible they revisited the towns that were on the first leg of the first journey.

Paul and Silas set out north from Antioch through Syria and Cilicia, devoting the beginning of this journey to the strengthening of churches already established. They went as far as Derbe and Lystra in backtracking Paul's first journey. In Lystra they met Timothy, of whom everyone spoke highly, and Paul wanted to take him along as they continued their journey. It is of interest to note that following the decision of the Jerusalem Council not to burden Gentile believers with circumcision, Paul wanted Timothy to be circumcised before joining he and Silas on this journey. Though this might seem confusing, it is not a contradiction. The council's decision was addressing believers and a requirement concerning salvation. Paul's decision to circumcise Timothy was addressing unbelievers and not a requirement for salvation but an offense to Jewish unbelievers that might hinder them from hearing the gospel message. As Paul stated in his first letter to the Corinthians, "To the weak I became weak, in order to win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I may by all means save some."

Setting out from Lystra with a new team member it would seem natural to move their gospel frontier into the next regions to the west - Asia and Mysia. But they were "prevented by the Holy Spirit from speaking the message" in those places. It is important that we should take note of this. The Spirit not only leads us concerning where we should be Christ's witnesses, but also where we should NOT give witness. It is possible to be over zealous in our desire to give witness. We cannot assume that everyone or every place that crosses our path is a person or place to give witness. Asia and Mysia were in Paul's path, and, in fact, the team passed through them going to where the Spirit led them. But the Spirit did not permit them to speak their message in those places. We do not help the cause of Christ to speak where He has not directed us to speak. This is especially true regarding where He has specifically directed us not to speak.

So where did the Spirit direct them to go? Through a night vision, the Spirit directed Paul to go to Macedonia. Here we should note another truth about following the Spirit's leading. We are prone to assume that if the Spirit directs us to go to a place with the gospel message that He has prepare the way ahead of us for an open reception to the gospel. As we read the account of the team's obedience to the Spirit in going to Macedonia, we see an open reception to the message by a small group in Philippi. But we also see resistance to their mission which leads to their imprisonment. Though the Spirit worked miraculously through this experience, it was still necessary for them to leave Philippi when their work there was only begun. Did they succeed or fail? By our normal standards we are tempted to say they failed. Yet, a strong church grew up in Philippi from the gospel seeds they planted. We give ourselves too much credit. Unless we can plant the seed, then both water and cultivate it until a healthy plant comes from it, we feel the effort has failed. God didn't need Paul's team to water and cultivate. Their mission was to plant the seed. Others, among the new believers in Philippi, were used for watering and cultivating.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Reflections on Acts 15

    Acts 15 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Some people came from Judea and started teaching the Lord's followers that they could not be saved, unless they were circumcised as Moses had taught.
  2. This caused trouble, and Paul and Barnabas argued with them about this teaching. So it was decided to send Paul and Barnabas and a few others to Jerusalem to discuss this problem with the apostles and the church leaders.
  3. The men who were sent by the church went through Phoenicia and Samaria, telling how the Gentiles had turned to God. This news made the Lord's followers very happy.
  4. When the men arrived in Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church, including the apostles and the leaders. They told them everything God had helped them do.
  5. But some Pharisees had become followers of the Lord. They stood up and said, "Gentiles who have faith in the Lord must be circumcised and told to obey the Law of Moses."
  6. The apostles and church leaders met to discuss this problem about Gentiles.
  7. They had talked it over for a long time, when Peter got up and said: My friends, you know that God decided long ago to let me be the one from your group to preach the good news to the Gentiles. God did this so that they would hear and obey him.
  8. He knows what is in everyone's heart. And he showed that he had chosen the Gentiles, when he gave them the Holy Spirit, just as he had given his Spirit to us.
  9. God treated them in the same way that he treated us. They put their faith in him, and he made their hearts pure.
  10. Now why are you trying to make God angry by placing a heavy burden on these followers? This burden was too heavy for us or our ancestors.
  11. But our Lord Jesus was kind to us, and we are saved by faith in him, just as the Gentiles are.
  12. Everyone kept quiet and listened as Barnabas and Paul told how God had given them the power to work a lot of miracles and wonders for the Gentiles.
  13. After they had finished speaking, James said: My friends, listen to me!
  14. Simon Peter has told how God first came to the Gentiles and made some of them his own people.
  15. This agrees with what the prophets wrote,
  16. "I, the Lord, will return and rebuild David's fallen house. I will build it from its ruins and set it up again.
  17. Then other nations will turn to me and be my chosen ones. I, the Lord, say this.
  18. I promised it long ago."
  19. And so, my friends, I don't think we should place burdens on the Gentiles who are turning to God.
  20. We should simply write and tell them not to eat anything that has been offered to idols. They should be told not to eat the meat of any animal that has been strangled or that still has blood in it. They must also not commit any terrible sexual sins.
  21. We must remember that the Law of Moses has been preached in city after city for many years, and every Sabbath it is read when we Jews meet.
  22. The apostles, the leaders, and all the church members decided to send some men to Antioch along with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Silas and Judas Barsabbas, who were two leaders of the Lord's followers.
  23. They wrote a letter that said: We apostles and leaders send friendly greetings to all of you Gentiles who are followers of the Lord in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.
  24. We have heard that some people from here have terribly upset you by what they said. But we did not send them!
  25. So we met together and decided to choose some men and to send them to you along with our good friends Barnabas and Paul.
  26. These men have risked their lives for our Lord Jesus Christ.
  27. We are also sending Judas and Silas, who will tell you in person the same things that we are writing.
  28. The Holy Spirit has shown us that we should not place any extra burden on you.
  29. But you should not eat anything offered to idols. You should not eat any meat that still has the blood in it or any meat of any animal that has been strangled. You must also not commit any terrible sexual sins. If you follow these instructions, you will do well. We send our best wishes.
  30. The four men left Jerusalem and went to Antioch. Then they called the church members together and gave them the letter.
  31. When the letter was read, everyone was pleased and greatly encouraged.
  32. Judas and Silas were prophets, and they spoke a long time, encouraging and helping the Lord's followers.
  33. The men from Jerusalem stayed on in Antioch for a while. And when they left to return to the ones who had sent them, the followers wished them well.
  34. But Paul and Barnabas stayed on in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached about the Lord.
  35. (SEE 15:34)
  36. Sometime later Paul said to Barnabas, "Let's go back and visit the Lord's followers in the cities where we preached his message. Then we will know how they are doing."
  37. Barnabas wanted to take along John, whose other name was Mark.
  38. But Paul did not want to, because Mark had left them in Pamphylia and had stopped working with them.
  39. Paul and Barnabas argued, then each of them went his own way. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus,
  40. but Paul took Silas and left after the followers had placed them in God's care.
  41. They traveled through Syria and Cilicia, encouraging the churches.

Traditions are very strong and can sometimes have greater impetus in a person's life than scripture, even though the tradition may go against scripture. A case in point is the problem described in the accounts of chapter 15. It was great that many were believing the good news of Jesus Christ, including the Gentiles, but it was bothersome to some Jewish believers that the Gentile believers did not also observe the law of Moses, a primary observance of which was circumcision. There were some in this group who took it upon themselves to remedy the situation and went to the church in Antioch to teach the need for these Gentiles to be circumcised "according to the custom prescribed by Moses" in order to be saved. How was it possible for something that had been observed for centuries as important in a Jew's relationship with God to suddenly be discarded as unimportant? It was great that Messiah had come and that even Gentiles were included in the kingdom He was establishing, but this surely did not do away with Judaism. However, as Jesus Himself pointed out in an exchange with the Pharisees over observances of the law, it does not work to put new wine in old wineskins, for the new wine will burst the old skins. The kingdom established by the Messiah was new wine and the law an old wineskin. The principles of the law would be observed in spirit as the Holy Spirit worked in a person's life.

It was important that this controversy regarding circumcision be resolved lest it divide the church and halt the spread of the gospel. Although Paul and Barnabas engaged these self-imposed crusaders in serious debate, it was not enough that they defeat their arguments in Antioch. This was an issue that needed to be resolved for the whole church, both Jewish and Gentile churches. Therefore, Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem by the Antioch church. There "the apostles and the elders assembled to consider this matter." (15:6) It is not surprising that the argument for circumcision came from "the believers from the party of the Pharisees." Those speaking against requiring circumcision included Peter, Paul and Barnabas, and James. Their arguments against this requirement were two-fold: 1- The experiences they had in which the Holy Spirit was given Gentile believers as it had been given Jewish believers, and 2- the evidence of Old Testament scriptures. The prophet Amos was quoted by James as representative of the Old Testament prophets.

It was James, evidently the head of the Jerusalem church, who made the closing arguments and then offered a suggestion. In his judgment, "we should not cause difficulties for those who turn to God from among the Gentiles, 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. (15:19-20) The list of things from which all were expected to abstain was a practical expectation. Sexual immorality was not appropriate for Christ's followers under any circumstances, but since sexual immorality was rampant in the Gentile societies, it was likely to leak into the church and this was a guard against such an occurance. As for the other two items on the list, they were obvious offensives to many new Christians and would surely cause problems and therefore should be avoided out of respect for one another.

James' conclusion and suggestion were strongly accepted by the Jerusalem 'council' and wise consideration was given the communication of this decision to the Gentile Christians in Antioch. It was communicated both in writing and by official witnesses. The letter was accompanied to Antioch by "Judas, called Barsabbas, and Silas, both leading men among the brothers." (15:22) The letter was received with rejoicing by the Antioch brothers. Also, a new 'missionary' - Silas - was introduced to the task of evangelizing the Gentiles.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Reflections on Acts 14

    Acts 14 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Paul and Barnabas spoke in the Jewish meeting place in Iconium, just as they had done at Antioch, and many Jews and Gentiles put their faith in the Lord.
  2. But the Jews who did not have faith in him made the other Gentiles angry and turned them against the Lord's followers.
  3. Paul and Barnabas stayed there for a while, having faith in the Lord and bravely speaking his message. The Lord gave them the power to work miracles and wonders, and he showed that their message about his great kindness was true.
  4. The people of Iconium did not know what to think. Some of them believed the Jewish group, and others believed the apostles.
  5. Finally, some Gentiles and Jews, together with their leaders, decided to make trouble for Paul and Barnabas and to stone them to death.
  6. But when the two apostles found out what was happening, they escaped to the region of Lycaonia. They preached the good news there in the towns of Lystra and Derbe and in the nearby countryside.
  7. (SEE 14:6)
  8. In Lystra there was a man who had been born with crippled feet and had never been able to walk.
  9. The man was listening to Paul speak, when Paul saw that he had faith in Jesus and could be healed. So he looked straight at the man
  10. and shouted, "Stand up!" The man jumped up and started walking around.
  11. When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they yelled out in the language of Lycaonia, "The gods have turned into humans and have come down to us!"
  12. The people then gave Barnabas the name Zeus, and they gave Paul the name Hermes, because he did the talking.
  13. The temple of Zeus was near the entrance to the city. Its priest and the crowds wanted to offer a sacrifice to Barnabas and Paul. So the priest brought some bulls and flowers to the city gates.
  14. When the two apostles found out about this, they tore their clothes in horror and ran to the crowd, shouting:
  15. Why are you doing this? We are humans just like you. Please give up all this foolishness. Turn to the living God, who made the sky, the earth, the sea, and everything in them.
  16. In times past, God let each nation go its own way.
  17. But he showed that he was there by the good things he did. God sends rain from heaven and makes your crops grow. He gives food to you and makes your hearts glad.
  18. Even after Paul and Barnabas had said all this, they could hardly keep the people from offering a sacrifice to them.
  19. Some Jewish leaders from Antioch and Iconium came and turned the crowds against Paul. They hit him with stones and dragged him out of the city, thinking he was dead.
  20. But when the Lord's followers gathered around Paul, he stood up and went back into the city. The next day he and Barnabas went to Derbe.
  21. Paul and Barnabas preached the good news in Derbe and won some people to the Lord. Then they went back to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch in Pisidia.
  22. They encouraged the followers and begged them to remain faithful. They told them, "We have to suffer a lot before we can get into God's kingdom."
  23. Paul and Barnabas chose some leaders for each of the churches. Then they went without eating and prayed that the Lord would take good care of these leaders.
  24. Paul and Barnabas went on through Pisidia to Pamphylia,
  25. where they preached in the town of Perga. Then they went down to Attalia
  26. and sailed to Antioch in Syria. It was there that they had been placed in God's care for the work they had now completed.
  27. After arriving in Antioch, they called the church together. They told the people what God had helped them do and how he had made it possible for the Gentiles to believe.
  28. Then they stayed there with the followers for a long time.

In Antioch of Pisidia Paul and Barnabas had both success and opposition. This became somewhat of a pattern for them. Where they received a great response they also received strong opposition, and the opposition always came from the Jews. Though Gentiles were sometimes involved, their involvement was incited by the Jews. In Antioch nearly the whole town had turned out to hear Paul and Barnabas preach, stirring up jealousy within the Jewish leaders. They did not evaluate the message the two preach, only the response to it. Their reaction was not so much an opposition to the message as an opposition to the threat posed to their own religious system by the strong response of the people. They feared everyone would turn away from Judaism to this new movement.

What was happening with these religious leaders is something to which none of us are immune. Rather than recognizing our relationship with God as a journey that takes us wherever He leads, our tendency is to lock in on the first step of the journey to which He leads us and make that the religious standard by which all God-related activity is judged. Anything outside that standard is not legitimate and cannot be given serious consideration. Our eyes, then, are turned from following God and to following this religious system that has become established. And so it seems that the Jewish leaders were not considering that God might be the author of the message Paul and Barnabas preached, only that their system was threatened, and, from their perspective, that anything outside their system was also an act against God.

Those who opposed Paul and Barnabas in Antioch were committed to stopping their activity. Thus, they were not satisfied to merely run the two out of town. When they heard that they were having success in other towns of the region they went to these towns and stirred up opposition against them. So having gone to Iconium after being run out of Antioch, Paul and Barnabas were also run out of Iconium. From there they went to Lystra and Derbe where they also received a favorable response. But Jews from both Antioch and Iconium came to Lystra and stirred up trouble against them. On this occasion, Paul was actually stoned and left for dead. Fortunately Paul had a miraculous recovery and was quickly back into his ministry.

At this point on their first "Missionary Journey," Paul and Barnabas shifted from evangelizing to discipling, or building up new believers in the faith. They quietly returned to the towns where new churches had been started: Lystra, Iconium, Antioch, Pisidia, Pamphylia, Perga, and Attalia. In each place they strengthened "the hearts of the disciples by encouraging them to continue in the faith," and "appointed elders in every church." Finally, they "committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed." Thus, they encouraged and organized these new churches. Having done this, they returned to the church in Antioch that had sent them out on this journey and from where their journey had originated, and there they gave a full report of their activities.