Acts 18

Vs. 1, “After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth.”  Paul would continue his journey to the third largest city in the Roman Empire: Corinth (vs. 1-17).  Corinth was Paul’s first extended ministry where he would stay for 18 months (vs. 11).  Corinth was a harbor city and was known for the worship of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.  After a rough time in Macedonia, Paul came to Corinth a bit weakened (I Corinthians 2:3).   But God would bring a married couple, Aquila and Priscilla, fellow tentmakers to encourage him until the arrival of Silas and Timothy.  Paul was able to devote to the ministry full-time after some gracious offerings from the Macedonian churches.  The rejection of Paul in the synagogue would lead him into focusing wholly on the Gentiles.  God provided in starting a home church at Titius Justus house, which must have been a fairly large home.  There was great significance of the judgment of Gallio for this would help the continued growth of the Gospel.  After Corinth, Paul would go onto Ephesus in the region of Asia with Aquila and Priscilla (vs. 18-21).  While there was a favorable response in Ephesus, Paul needed to go back to the Caesarea where he probably reported to the church in Jerusalem before he went down to the church in Antioch (vs. 22).  We also see the beginning journey of Paul’s third missionary journey (vs. 23).  The latter half or our chapter introduces us to Apollos (vs. 24-28) in Ephesus.  Apollos was well trained in the Old Testament and would play an important role in the growth of the early church.  Apollos was from the great Egyptian city of Alexandria (which would become a great center for Christianity in the 2nd Century).  Aquila and Priscilla would again play an important role in their hospitality and guidance to help Apollos have a deeper understanding of the Jesus’ fulfillment of the Scriptures.

Regarding application…I Got You.  Vs. 10, “For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”  This was the encouragement that Paul would need and why he would stay as long as he did.  God had a purpose to keep Paul in Corinth for He had many people who would need to hear the Gospel.  He also had people in the right places to ensure Paul would effectively be able to do his ministry.  God has our backs in all situations.  Everywhere I have moved; Indianapolis, In, Portland, OR, Corona, CA, or West Covina, CA, God has always brought people in my life that have been there for me.  Take time today to thank the Lord for being there for you!

Paul's 3rd Missionary Journey

Acts 17

Vs. 23, “For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”  In our chapter today, Paul remained resolute to be a spokesperson to sharing the Gospel to Jew and Gentile.  After leaving Philippi, Paul and the others travel the Egnatian Way and arrive to Thessalonica (vs. 1-10), a city larger than Philippi and was a major commercial route.  The local Jews were jealous at Paul’s ability to influence some of their numbers and local god-fearing Greeks (vs. 4-5).   A riotous mob broke out to detain Paul & Silas, but they only found Jason and some others who had been hosting them.  They escaped and headed towards Berea where the response was much more amiable and positive (vs. 10-15).  I love how Luke describes them of noble character (vs. 11).  However, the Jews from Thessalonica pursued them and started trouble in Berea.  For Paul’s safety, he was sent ahead to Athens.  Paul arrives to the great city of Athens where philosophers like Socrates, Plato and Aristotle taught (vs. 16-21).  The architecture was grand and they had made many statues towards Greek gods.  While most would marvel at such a city, Paul was troubled (vs. 16).  He knew the spiritual ignorance that existed and wanted to use this opportunity to share the Good News (vs. 18).  The philosophers did not intimidate him because he knew God’s word!  When Paul was brought before the Areopagus (vs. 22) the local council in Athens, the Holy Spirit masterfully guides Paul to present the truth in light of their own religious beliefs (vs. 22-34).  Because of this sermon/speech there would be those (Dionysius and Damaris) would be saved!

Regarding application…Noble Character.  Vs. 11, “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”  Question: Are you like the Bereans?  Do you have Berean character?  What made the Bereans stand out for Paul wasn’t that they deserved the Gospel more; but that they were willing to acknowledge their need.  We have a tendency to be independent beings that want to find truth on our own.  There is a need in our life that only the Lord can fill.  In the pursuit of fulfilling dreams and seeking out knowledge, let us not forget to be people humble and ready to receive God’s word in our lives!

Areopagus

Acts 16

Vs. 1, “He came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was a Jewess and a believer, but whose father was a Greek.”  Paul, Silas and others (including Luke) set out for Paul’s second missionary journey.  As they went to each of the churches to pass on the Jerusalem council’s letter and encourage each church, young Timothy would join the team (vs. 1-5).  Don’t misunderstand Paul’s purpose for having Timothy (Half Jew and half Greek) circumcised (vs. 3).  Paul fought hard to ensure circumcision was not a misunderstood requirement for salvation.  Because Timothy would join his team to minister to Jews, it was important that he be circumcised for the sake of the ministry.  Think of it in the sense that many churches ask that a Pastor have or be working on a seminarian degree.  How interesting that Paul had every intention to minister in Asia, but the Holy Spirit prevented him from going (vs. 6-10).  It is here that Paul would have a vision to go to Macedonia.  They would travel inland and find themselves at the Roman controlled colony of Philippi (vs. 11-40).  Paul and his companions went to worship at the synagogue (vs. 13, place of prayer) only to find there were only women near the river.  One of the ladies (Lydia) would come to faith and open her home for them (vs. 11-15).  As they ministered and shared in Philippi, they encounter a young girl who is possessed by an evil spirit (vs. 16-18).  Her ability to predict the future made much money for her owners.  When Paul casted out the demon, her owners were enraged and brought false accusations to the local magistrates (vs. 19-28).  But God would have different plans.  Though they were beaten severely and thrown into the stocks, God would rescue them by bringing an earthquake (vs. 26).  They were in Macedonia to bring salvation and that night, the jailer and his household would come to faith (vs. 25-34).  God works for the good in all situations (Romans 8:28).  Upon their release the next morning, Paul makes sure to let the local magistrates know that they were wrong in the way they treated Paul & Silas (vs. 35-40).  This would be important to let them know they couldn’t just mistreat other believers too.

Regarding application…Responding to Trials.  Vs. 25, “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them.”  Paul and Silas had just been unjustly severely flogged, thrown into painful stocks and faced an unknown future.  Yet, here they were worshipping the Lord in song.  Not many of us have been in such a predicament, yet we can still find incredible courage in this!  I’m reminded of Corrie Ten Boom’s life while she was in prison with her sister in her biography The Hiding Place.  I think a practical application for us today is to remember how powerful singing and praising the Lord is!  That is why worship at any church event or our personal lives can be such a powerful tool to get hour hearts and minds not focused on ourselves, but giving glory to God in all situations.  Worship takes the focus from our minds to our hearts.  Take time to worship the Lord today!

Paul's 2nd missionary journey

Acts 15

Vs. 1, “Some men came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the brothers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.”  Our chapter today is one of the most pivotal chapters in the Bible; the meeting of the Jerusalem Council.  Some men from Judea came unauthorized by the church in Jerusalem (vs. 24) to teach that new Gentile believers must adhere to the customs taught by Moses (vs. 1-2).  Question: What is going on here?  The Jewish Christian’s in Judea felt it was heresy for Paul and Barnabas to allow Gentiles to think they were saved by grace alone; they must adhere to circumcision and the Mosaic laws.  Fortunately, they realize this is serious enough to take to the mother church in Jerusalem (vs. 3-4).  The all gather in Jerusalem to discuss this deep theological issue of salvation (soteriology).  Peter is first to respond and step for the Gentiles and the way of salvation for them (vs. 6-11).  Certainly, we know God spoke to Peter clearly when he visited Cornelius’ house concerning salvation for all (Acts 10).  After more witnessing from Paul & Barnabas (vs. 12), James (half-brother of Jesus) who has now taken the prominent role of leading the Jerusalem church speaks up (vs. 12-21).  His speech affirms that Gentiles were always a part of God’s plan as attested from the Scriptures (Amos 9:11-12).  Jesus’ sacrifice put everyone (Jew and Gentile) on the same level.  The Law was setup to protect the Israelites and point them towards Christ, but it cannot save.  The process of salvation is agreed upon, now they had to make some practical decisions (vs. 20-21) about how to live holy lives as a church (consisting of both Gentiles and Jewish believers).  They also wisely sent Judas and Silas who would accompany Paul and Barnabas to help validate the council’s decision (vs. 22-35).  And lastly, we see Paul and Barnabas split up due to an issue with John Mark.  Fortunately, as the years went on, Paul and John Mark reconciled their differences (Colossians 4:10, II Timothy 4:11).

Regarding application…Accommodating Others.  Vs. 19, “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.”  This is a very difficult topic to address in the church.  Question: Why and how should we accommodate others?  Jesus tells us not to cause others to stumble (Matthew 18).  And in our passage today, the Gentiles should make efforts to not cause the Jewish believers to stumble (vs. 20).  A cultural example today would be the topic of alcohol.  It is not a sin to drink, but we are warned throughout the bible not to get drunk.  There are other cultures, religions, and Christians who choose to completely abstain from alcohol.  As Christians, it would be wise to not drink around them and accommodate their sensitivities.  Question: How can you set aside your freedoms to accommodate others this week?  Whether in the workplace, church or home, we all could be more sensitive to others.

Acts 14

Vs. 27, “On arriving there, they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them and how he had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.”  Barnabas and Paul had successfully completed their first missionary journey.  However, it wasn’t without triumph and trials.  Upon leaving Pisidian Antioch, they travel east into south Galatia visiting the cities of Iconium, Lystra, and Derbe.  They found great success in Iconium, but the enemy had stirred some to plot against them (vs. 1-7) so they had to leave.  When they arrived to Lystra (vs. 8-20), Paul healed a lame man from birth (vs. 8-10).  However, when the crowds witnessed this, their superstitious beliefs assumed Paul and Barnabas were the Greek God’s Zeus and Hermes (vs. 11-13).  Fortunately, Paul and Barnabas realized what was happening and their humility caused them to give credit and glory to God (vs. 14-18).  Paul would nearly lose his life by being stoned and thought left for dead (vs. 20) from the troublemakers of Pisidian Antioch and Iconium.  After moving on to Derbe, they circled back and went through the same towns to go back to the church in Antioch (vs. 21-26).  Question: Why?  It was important to do follow up and ensure the new disciples would stay courageous in trials and appoint leaders.

Regarding application…Remain in the Faith.  Vs. 22, “…strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.”  Even in the face of death and hostile opposition, Paul and Barnabas would encourage the ones who responded to the Gospel.  It’s important to notice that everywhere the Gospel is preached, there will be those who respond and those who become hostile.  I remember taking youth to a Harvest Crusade at the Angels stadium in So. Cal. and many of them shocked to see protesters.  Jesus already told us that going out into the Harvest field are like sending sheep among wolves (Matthew 10:16).  No matter what hardships come our way, let us remain in the faith!  Question: What struggles are you having these days?  Take time to give it to the Lord and be strengthened by His word!

Acts 13

Vs. 1, “In the church at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen (who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch) and Saul.”  We now begin a new phase into the church as we shift from Jerusalem to the city of Antioch.  Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman empire (probably more than ½ million people) and located in modern day Turkey.  Even this list of leaders in the church is full of diversity and a fusion of cultures…I love it!  And now we begin the journeys of Saul now called Paul (vs. 9).  Question: Why did they first go the island of Cyprus?  Barnabas was from Cyprus, so we see his influence to go back and share the Gospel there first.  So it looks like the church sent out Barnabas, Paul and John Mark (nephew of Barnabas) on their first missionary journey (vs. 5).  As they traveled and ministered on their journey, notice how they go first to the Jewish synagogues in keeping with the Gospel first to the Jews and then the Gentiles (Romans 1:16).  As they reach out to the Roman controlled island of Cyprus, they run into the local Roman proconsul (leader) named Sergius Paulus and a false prophet named Bar-Jesus (vs. 4-12).  Where God is working the enemy is too, but Paul filled with the Spirit rebukes the false prophet (vs. 10-12).  From there, they leave the island and sail up northwest to the mainland.  At this point, John Mark deserts (leaves) them and they go there separate ways.  While we are not sure what transpired, we know later that there must have been a restoration (II Timothy 4:11).  The story then shifts to Pisidian Antioch (don’t mistake the Antioch from earlier as the same).  We are given insight to Paul’s strategy of effectively reaching out to both Jews and Gentiles.  Additionally, we see Paul’s vast knowledge of the Old Testament and how it pointed to Jesus (vs. 16-41).  But, the Jews were jealous that this Good News was being offered also to the Gentiles (vs. 50-51).  But this would not deter Paul and Barnabas from giving up!

Regarding Application…Answered Prayer.  Vs. 2, “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.”  Notice how the answer and guidance towards the Antioch church ministry came because they were praying, worshipping and fasting.  Another interesting aspect to this is that Barnabas and Paul were incredibly influential leaders in the church.  What I’m getting at is that the church was willing to let go of these leaders for the expansion of the Gospel.  When God calls us, we must obey and we must be willing to let go of each other.  I was talking to a close Christian brother of mine recently and heard about the leadership changes in his church.  They had two leaders who were quite gifted help grow their church.  Now, one is overseas in missions and the other went to help grow a smaller church.  For me, this is a powerful reminder how we must cherish the times we have together and obey the Lord wherever He sends us.  Just as the Holy Spirit set apart Barnabas and Saul (Paul)…God is seeking to set you apart for His specific will in your life.  Pray specifically for God to give you a peace about where He might take you as your future unfolds today!

Paul's 1st and 2nd Missionary Journey

Acts 12

Vs. 2, “He had James, the brother of John, put to death with the sword.”  Sadly, James would be the first apostle martyred by King Herod (Agrippa I).  Though the Gospel was spreading, there was still much opposition and it seems the relationship between the Jews and Christians worsened.  Herod triumphantly places Peter in prison during Passover and is certain he will be able to also have him successfully tried and killed (vs. 1-4).  However, The Lord is not done working through Peter and another dramatic miraculous prison break with the assistance of an angel transpires (vs. 5-11) .  Question: Why would God allow James to die and not Peter?  We must trust in the sovereignty of God’s timing in all aspects of our life.  The disciples are shocked to see Peter having successfully broke out of prison (vs. 12-18).  It’s interesting to note that James (the brother of Jesus) has now helped to takeover the leadership of the church (vs. 17).  The last section of our chapter (vs. 19-25), Herod’s head gets way too big and his pride takes all the glory from the flattery of the people.  God would not be amused and Herod would meet his end.

Regarding application…Earnest Prayer.  Vs. 5, “So Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him.”  The death of James was a big wake up call to the church in Jerusalem.  Now that Peter was in prison and awaiting a similar fate, all they could do was to pray.   Peter was guarded so well, that the thought of a prison break wasn’t even a possibility.  All they could do is come to the realization that this situation involved prayer all through the night.  Brothers and sisters, many of us know how important prayer is; but very few of us understand the power of prayer.  Even when they were praying, they were astonished to see Peter show up at the door.  That brings me much comfort, for there are times in my life when I pray with small faith.  Yet, God can astonish us!  Question: What circumstances do you face that needs earnest prayer?

Acts 11

Vs. 18, “When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”  Though social networking like Twitter didn’t exist, the word about Peter’s interaction at Cornelius’ house spread quickly (vs. 1-18).  There would initially be many who would have a hard time adjusting to Gentiles being accepted and not adhering to the Jewish customs.  But I’m really impressed that Peter’s testimony would cause any who were skeptical to praise the Lord (vs. 18).  Fortunately, the evidence (Holy Spirit coming to Gentiles) was irrefutable and Peter wisely brought witnesses with him to affirm.  In the latter half of our chapter (vs. 19-30), we begin to see affects of the Gospel spread as Jewish Christians were scattered from the earlier persecutions.  Luke focuses us on the city of Antioch; refer to the map below for the location of Antioch.  Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire with a population of about 300,000 with an estimated 15% Jewish population.  It was a cosmopolitan city and an ideal location for the early church to grow and spread.  The early church was wise to send Barnabas to oversee and spiritually guide the new church in Antioch.  Barnabas realizing he can’t do it alone, employs Paul from Tarsus to come assist him.  We also see one of the reasons (famine) that the church would come together and continue to support each other (vs. 27-30).

Regarding application…Making A Difference.  Vs. 21, “The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.”  Question: Do you see it?  Before Barnabas and Paul would come to further develop the church in Antioch, there were those who were making a difference.  They are not mentioned in Scripture, but they played a vital role!  We do not live for the Lord to hear the praises of men.  There are many (Pastors, Elders, Deacons, Small group leaders, Youth Pastors, Children’s pastors, etc.) who serve faithfully and grow God’s church that will never be known or recognized.  But just as the early Christians in Antioch were not named; most of us will never be known.  I look forward to hearing the Lord tell me, “Well done good and faithful servant, you made a difference.”  Most of us will never be a Barnabas, Paul, Peter; when it comes to being known.  But that should not be the reason we stop making an effort to make a difference in people’s lives.  We may never get a standing Ovation like Mr. Holland, in the movie Mr. Holland’s Opus, but we will hear the applause of heaven!

Antioch

Acts 10

Vs. 34, “Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism.”  This is a crucial chapter in the book of Acts as the fulfillment of the Great Commission is being played out at Cornelius’ house.  Though Cornelius was a Roman centurion, he was a good man and desired to know the God of Israel (vs. 1-2).  While praying, an angel of the Lord came to him in a vision to send for Peter (vs. 3-8).  Question: What’s the big deal?  Up to this point, the Gospel was spreading, but only among the Jews.  Another vision comes to Peter that gives us a vivid picture of all the animals of the earth on a white sheet coming down from heaven (vs. 9-16).  The purpose of this served as a metaphor for opening Peter’s mind to fully understanding the Gospel sees not prejudice or favoritism.  Upon arriving at Cornelius’ house (vs. 17-23), Peter understands that he was sent to share the Gospel (vs. 23-43).  With Peter and the others who accompanied him, there was no doubt that the Holy Spirit also came upon the Gentiles (vs. 44-48).

Regarding application…Preconceived Notions.  Vs. 45, “The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on the Gentiles.”  There is a tendency for us to live by the adage, “Seeing is believing.”  Unless we see evidence of certain things in life, we will come with our preconceived notions.  For many of us who read this passage, we are surprised the Jewish Christians are astonished.  Question: Why are they astonished?  It’s obvious having read Scripture, that Jesus came for everyone.   However, I would caution all of us to consider we may be also just as short-sighted.  When I was a young youth pastor, I’ll never forget one of the first retreats where the Spirit of God was shown so powerfully.  Sure, I had seen guest Pastor’s preach and many respond to the messages.  But, this time was different, because I was the one who was preaching that night.  I remember being astonished at the response of the students that night.  Even though I knew the Spirit of God could do amazing things, I didn’t really realize that God could help use me.  Sometimes, God will nudge us forward in our faith to realize that He can do great things in our lives when we cast away all our human ways of thinking.

Acts 9

Vs. 17, “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”  This is one of the most pivotal moments in the church history; the conversion of Saul/Paul.  What made Paul so effective both as a Pharisee and later a Christian was his zeal and commitment.  It was his zeal that led him to stamp out the Way (vs. 1) and request to go to Damascus.  However, God had different plans for Paul.  Jesus literally intercepts Paul and calls out to him (vs. 5-6).  It must have been quite an encounter on the road to Damascus, for Paul was blind after it (vs. 7-9).  While in Damascus, Jesus comes in a vision to Ananias (a devout Jew) and informs him he must care for Paul (vs. 10-19).  Already, among those who were saved, Paul had quite a reputation of doing harm to the church (vs. 13).  Upon regaining his strength, we see Paul’s zeal as he immediately starts testifying about Jesus (vs. 20-22).  However, the Jews in Damascus began to plot to kill Saul.  By God’s grace Paul escapes and eventually finds his way back to Jerusalem, though it would be three years later (Galatians 1:17, vs. 26).  Question: What was Paul doing?  Most believe it was there that God prepared Saul for the ministry through the Holy Spirit and connecting all the dots he had already learned from OT Scripture to the revelation of Christ on the road to Damascus.  Once Paul finally arrives in Jerusalem (vs. 26), many of the Christians feared him.  But the son of encouragement, Barnabas would live up to his name (vs. 27).  In the last section of our chapter (vs. 32-43), we see Peter healing Aeneas, raising Dorcas back to life and bringing salvation to many.

Regarding application…Standing up For Others.  Vs. 27, “But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.”  While others were skeptical, it was Barnabas (Son of encouragement) that stood up for Paul.  There were many godly people in the church in Jerusalem that had their doubts.  Rather than point out their lack of foresight, the bigger lesson is the actions of Barnabas.  We need people like Barnabas in the church today!  While not everyone is going to have the interpersonal relationship skills and the natural ability to encourage, we should make every effort to prayerfully raise up people that do.  Question: Who is the “Barnabas” at your church?  It could be you!  Whether or not we have a special gift of encouragement, there will be times in our lives where we must be able to stand up for others.

Paul's Conversion