Monthly Archives: June 2019

THE BOOK OF ACTS – A STRATEGIC ENCOUNTER

A STRATEGIC ENCOUNTER

“After spending a considerable time with the Antioch Christians, Paul set off again for Galatia and Phrygia, retracing his old tracks, one town after another, putting fresh heart into the disciples.

“A man named Apollos came to Ephesus. He was a Jew, born in Alexandria, Egypt, and a terrific speaker, eloquent and powerful in his preaching of the Scriptures. He was well-educated in the way of the Master and fiery in his enthusiasm. Apollos was accurate in everything he taught about Jesus up to a point, but only went as far as the baptism of John. He preached with power in the meeting place. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and told him the rest of the story.” Acts 18:23-26 (The Message).

How clever of God to set Priscilla and Aquila up for their encounter with Apollos in Ephesus! They had accompanied Paul on his return journey from Corinth to Antioch but remained in Ephesus while he continued on his journey home. No explanation was given, but God knew that there was to be a meeting with Apollos in Ephesus.

What a treasure Apollos turned out to be! How he came to be a believer from Alexandria is not recorded either. No doubt believers moved about in the empire, taking the message of Messiah wherever they went. Apollos was well trained in the Old Testament Scriptures and a native of Alexandria, a port city in Egypt where he would have grown up in a cosmopolitan culture, meeting people from all over the empire as they brought their goods to trade.

An introduction to the Messiah put a match to the Word, and Apollos was alight with the truth and comfortable in the company of Jew and Gentile alike. His passion and enthusiasm to spread the message took him to Ephesus where he “accidentally” ran into Priscilla and Aquila. They had been in Paul’s company long enough to have an accurate understanding of the gospel. Who better to take him under their wing and bring him up to speed with the things of the Lord?

Apollos was humble enough to be taught by these two “lay” people, sharpening his knowledge and skill as a preacher which he used to great effect in the synagogue in Ephesus, The fact that he was also, like Paul, a Jew who had recognised that Jesus was their Messiah, must have enhanced Paul’s credibility among the Ephesian Jews.

Why was it so important that Apollos be corrected regarding the baptism of John? After all, baptism is baptism, isn’t it? Does it matter into whose name it is done?

Yes, it matters a whole lot because baptism was an initiation into an office or movement, identifying the baptismal candidate with the leader of the movement and what he stood for and practised. John’s ministry was a preparation and introduction to Jesus as Messiah. His baptism was an initiation into and identification with him in what he was preaching. It was a baptism of repentance, preparing his hearers to receive the kingdom of God which Jesus had come to usher in.

The baptism of Jesus was an initiation into and identification with Him and His completed work of atonement for sin and reconciliation with the Father. To be baptised into Jesus meant being identified with the three-in-one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit in what they had done to restore God’s rule in the people’s hearts.

Once Apollos had got that right, he became a fully-equipped and powerful ally of the apostles and the church, using his gift to bring encouragement to the church and enlightenment to his fellow Jews who, in the main, had rejected the gospel and become enemies of God.

THE BOOK OF ACTS – ROUND TWO

ROUND TWO

“Paul stayed a while in Corinth, but then it was time to take leave of his friends. Saying his goodbyes, he sailed for Syria, Priscilla and Aquila with him. Before boarding the ship in the harbour town of Cenchrea, he had his head shaved as part of a vow he had taken.

“They landed at Ephesus, where Priscilla and Aquila got off and stayed. Paul left the ship briefly to go to the meeting place and preach to the Jews. They wanted him to stay longer but he said he couldn’t. But after saying good bye, he promised, ‘I’ll be back, God willing.’

“From Ephesus he sailed to Caesarea. He greeted the assembly of Christians there, and then went on to Antioch, completing the journey.” Acts 18:18-22 (The Message).

Round two completed, and what an eventful journey it had been! As usual, Paul returned to home base at Antioch to report back to his home church the results of his second journey.

During round one he had been dogged by Jewish persecution and round two had been no different. In fact, the opposition had intensified so much that there were times that he had to flee for his life…but he never gave up. He simply went on. He was beaten almost to death by the Gentiles at Lystra on his first journey and miraculously raised up to continue his commission.

The second time around he had pushed on into Europe and encountered bitter opposition at Philippi. This time it was Roman government officials who were influenced by a street gang, roused by angry Jews, who failed to give Paul and Silas a fair hearing, who had them beaten and thrown into jail. Another miracle rescued them and they continued on through Thessalonica, Berea and Athens to Corinth, the most notoriously wicked city in Europe.

It was time to go home, take a break and regain strength to push on again. Paul’s goal was Rome, the heart and pulse of the empire. What a joy it must have been for him, on his return journey to Antioch, to renew ties with groups of believers all along the route he had travelled years before where the gospel had not yet been heard. The whole of Asia Minor and Greece were peppered with churches he had started and left to influence the surrounding areas with the light of God’s kingdom.

It might have been a temptation to Paul to retire in Antioch where he was known and relatively safe, and settle down to a few years of pastoring the home church before he went to be with the Lord. Not Paul! He had been commissioned to go to the nations, and to the nations he would go until his Master instructed him otherwise.

By this time Paul was both seasoned believer and veteran missionary. Retirement was not on his agenda because he was at his most useful and fruitful. There lay ahead for him more suffering, more imprisonment, more experience of God’s love and grace to share with those who were far behind him on their journey. Without those years of experience, we would not have the rich treasures of wisdom he shared through his letters.

In today’s world too many times the elderly are brushed aside and pushed into the backwaters of society because they have outlived their usefulness. With the wealth of life lessons locked up inside them, they are often treated as ignorant and irrelevant. They may not have the technological skills of the younger generation, but many of them have the benefits of a long journey with Jesus.

Fortunately, God has another opinion and agenda for those in the category of “elderly”. Their retirement home is not an earthly one. As long as they have breath, they remain part of the army of souls who live to bear witness to Him.

“The righteous will flourish like a palm tree,

they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon;

planted in the house of the Lord,

they will flourish in the courts of our God.

They will still bear fruit in old age,

they will stay fresh and green,

proclaiming, ‘The Lord is upright;

He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him.'”

Psalm 92:12-15 (NIV)

THE BOOK OF ACTS – CARELESSLY INDIFFERENT

CARELESSLY INDIFFERENT!

“But when Gallio was governor of Achaia province, the Jews got up a campaign against Paul, hauled him into court, and filed charges. ‘This man is seducing people into acts of worship that are illegal.’

“Just as Paul was about to defend himself, Gallio interrupted and said to the Jews, ‘If this were a matter of criminal conduct, I would gladly hear you out. But it sounds to me like one more Jewish squabble, another of your hair-splitting quarrels over religion. Take care of it in your own time. I can’t be bothered with this nonsense,’ and he cleared them out of the courtroom.

‘Now the street rabble turned on Sosthenes, the new meeting place president and beat him up in plain sight of the court. Gallio didn’t raise a finger. He could not have cared less.” Acts 18:12-17 (The Message).

Well done, Gallio! At last one government official with sense!

At first sight, Gallio looked like a welcome champion for Paul and his team. He knew the Jews pretty well. He recognised that they were up to their old tricks again — hair-splitting over religious issues, which was no matter for legal action. They only turned to him because, had they lynched Paul, they would have been liable for arrest and trial themselves for committing a crime.

Gallio turned out to be indifferent to their religious nit-picking. He wisely dismissed their complaint because it was a non-issue for the courts, not realising that he had just given them permission to take the matter into their own hands. The street rabble was always looking for an excuse for a brawl, which these unscrupulous Jews exploited to their own advantage. If they could not get at Paul, anyone else would do as a target for their displeasure, and there were always those who would do their dirty work for them.

Gallio’s true colours were exposed when the hooligans, egged on by the irate Jews, turned on Sosthenes in full view of the governor. He was not committed to keeping law and order, so it seemed. Perhaps it was this “Roman citizen” thing again. As long as Roman citizens were not involved, he didn’t care what the others did to one another. As far as he was concerned, they were not his responsibility.

What is it about religion that causes people to forget to be human? Could it be that it is one of Satan’s most potent tools to destroy anyone who has been rescued from his clutches? Throughout the centuries and around the world, atrocities have been and are being committed in the name of religion.

In the name of the church and ordered by the Pope, millions of believers were murdered during the Inquisition in the Middle Ages. The Crusades were nothing but killing campaigns against people of another religion, sadly in the “name” of Jesus. The slaughter continues unabated today. Christians are being persecuted and killed in countless numbers in the name of some god that feels insecure enough to get rid of those who don’t support him!

Regardless of how hard the devil tries, using people like the Jews used the street rabble, he will never destroy God or His people. The fire of truth burns steadily and will continue to burn in the hearts of those who have embraced it, until Jesus comes. We do not have to defend Him or His cause. He is not insecure on His throne!

THE BOOK OF ACTS – PIGS IN PINK TUTUS

PIGS IN PINK TUTUS

“In the course of listening to Paul, a great many Corinthians believed and were baptised. One night the Master spoke to Paul in a dream, ‘Keep it up and don’t let anyone intimidate or silence you. No matter what happens, I’m with you and no one is going to be able to hurt you. You have no idea how many people I have on my side in this city.’ That was all he needed to stick it out. He stayed another year and a half, faithfully teaching the Word of God to the Corinthians.” Acts 18:9-11 (The Message).

Corinth? Why would Paul need such powerful and personal reassurance when his evangelistic campaign seemed to be going so well? The city of Corinth was not only well known for its style of architecture but also for the nature of its residents, so much so that the word ‘Corinthian’ describes a pleasure loving, debauched and impure person.

It was into this environment, thick with sexual and sensual perversion, that Paul came with the message of Jesus — somewhat like trying to dress a muddy pig in a pink tutu! The response to his preaching was phenomenal! He should have been thrilled and excited but it seems he was not. He was so depressed that he needed a personal visit from the Lord in a dream to encourage and energise him to persevere.

When we marry Luke’s story in Acts with Paul’s letters, we catch a glimpse of what he was up against. Of all the churches he wrote to, this one needed at least four letters to address the issues that were tearing the church apart: factions among the members, gross sexual sins which they tolerated without blinking an eye, lawsuits against each other, eating meat offered to idols, drunken and disorderly behaviour at their love feasts, competition over spiritual gifts and even false doctrines — some were undermining the reality of the resurrection.

Other so-called spiritual “authorities” had come in and turned the church against Paul, so that he had to be harsh with them, reminding them that he had fathered them in the faith and that they were as precious to him as his children. He was not in it for money or prestige as they were led to believe.

All this lay ahead for Paul, but the seeds of these deviations were already in them as citizens of a corrupt city. Even in the early days of the church he was aware of what he was up against and was losing heart about this church becoming anything but a liability. Jesus felt the frustration and misgivings of His faithful servant and came in person to reassure him that his work was not in vain.

At this point it was not the Jews who were his problem but the church itself. The strong words of the Master enabled him to pen these words: “Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.” 1 Corinthians 15; 58 (NIV).

When we read the Corinthian letters, we realise how much poorer we would be had Paul not had to deal with such a variety of issues. His wisdom and experience were written, not only for them but for every succeeding generation including us because these matters are as relevant today as they were then.

1 Corinthians 13, the “love” chapter, is a rare gem in literature, penned for posterity out of the need to correct wrong motives in a church unusually gifted with charismata, spiritual gifts that had caused them to become proud and competitive. 1 Corinthians 15, the “resurrection” chapter, brings comfort and hope to many whose loved ones have passed on.

Jesus not only had many that Paul had to reach in a wicked city, but also many messages to His church which were hammered out in Paul’s own experience before he could write about them to his fellow-believers. Nothing is ever wasted. Even these people, whose lives were corrupted by the sinful environment from which they came, were salvaged, saved and sanctified by the grace of God because, to God, no one is beyond redemption.

THE BOOK OF ACTS – STUMBLING BLOCK

STUMBLING BLOCK

“When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was able to give all his time to preaching and teaching, doing everything he could to persuade the Jews that Jesus was in fact God’s Messiah. But no such luck. All they did was argue contentiously and contradict him at every turn. Totally exasperated, Paul had finally had it with them and gave it up as a bad job. ‘Have it your way, then,’ he said. ‘You’ve made your bed, now lie on it. From now on I’m spending my time with the other nations.’

“He walked out and went to the home of Titius Justus, a God-fearing man who lived right next to the Jews’ meeting place. But Paul’s efforts with the Jews weren’t a total loss, for Crispus, the meeting place president, put his trust in the Master. His entire family believed with him.” Acts 18:5-8 (The Message).

Paul’s ministry to the Jews was like trying to wring blood out of a stone. The same stubborn resistance and unbelief that frustrated God through their entire history was still in them. It seemed that there were few Jews who responded wherever Paul went, until he was forced to shake the dust off his feet and turn to those who welcomed him and received his message with enthusiasm. I guess, had Paul not had a face-to-face encounter with Jesus that shook him out of his stubborn unbelief, he might not have been where he was, doing what he was doing.

How did God weave this wholesale rejection into His plan for the salvation of the nations? Would these Jewish missionaries have so readily gone to the Gentiles had the Jews responded in greater numbers? As difficult as it was for Paul to accept the persecution he experienced at the hands of his fellow-countrymen, it was all in the plan of God to make Himself known to the nations to the ends of the earth.

Try as he might, as he went from city to city he could not persuade the Jews that Jesus was their Messiah. What was the stumbling block? The cross! The very reason why God could invite His people into His presence, apart from the rituals that they had so come to trust in was the reason why they rejected Him in the end. They could not accept a crucified “criminal” as their Messiah, resurrection or no resurrection.

Paul understood this and he also understood that God in His sovereignty used this very rejection to open the door for Gentiles to hear the same saving message.

“Again I ask; did they stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious…Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God: sternness to those who fell, but kindness to you, provided that you continue in His kindness. Otherwise, you also will be cut off.” Romans 11:11-12; 22 (NIV).

Did God make the Jews rebellious and unbelieving? No, it was their choice. But God, in His sovereignty, used what they were to fulfill His purpose for the world. At the same time, He didn’t cast them off as rejects. In spite of those who believe and propagate that God is finished with the Jews, that is not what the Bible says.

“As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, for God’s gifts and His call are irrevocable.

“Just as you who were one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so now they too have become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God’s mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all.” Romans 11:28-32 (NIV).