Saturday, June 30, 2012

Video Sermon - Acts 13-18 - "Paul - Powerful Missionary and Petulant Toddler"

I'm going to try something new. I had my sermon notes done this afternoon, so I thought I'd try preaching to a camera for practice.

So now, you get to watch my sermon before I even preach it. Lucky you!

Paul - Apostle. Servant. Petulant toddler. - Acts 18

(Click to read Acts 18)
Acts 18:5-7 (ESV)
5  When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshipper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue.

Oh Paul.

Certainly this man had a great deal of good to say. Most of the New Testament's epistles were written by Paul. From them we derive a good portion if not a majority of contemporary Christian theology. In his defense against those who criticize him in preference to the teachings of Jesus in the gospels or the epistle of James, I encourage the reader to consider Paul in the context of these other portions of scripture, not in opposition to them. Paul had a targeted mission to reach the Greek world of the 1st century. I believe that Paul's theology is quite harmonious with the rest of the New Testament when one realizes that he is interpreting the same messages through a different culture's lens. Let's give Paul a break on that front.

However, we need not take any of Paul's actions as justified, and certainly not as good Christian example.

So let's call this what it is. Paul is being a child. At best. Really, he's being racist, hateful, manipulative, selfish, and cruel.

I mean, come on. Just imagine for one moment how you would respond if this were to happen in your city. A Christian man enters your neighbourhood from out of town. He goes to a Jewish synagogue to preach to them about Jesus. On that point we can be a little gracious, since Paul is Jewish himself, these are his people, and going to Jews first was from an attitude of respect, not bigotry. But now imagine that person responding to the Jews in the synagogue as Paul does here. Imagine, starting a Bible Study next door to the synagogue, right after speaking and acting this way.

Even if you claim to love Paul's doctrine and writings, and have Romans 1:16 tattooed on your neck, you wouldn't support someone who acted this way in your city. In Canada, he'd likely be charged with hate speech. And it would be a right judgment if he were declared guilty. This is indefensible.

Evidence in the same chapter suggests this is so. 

Acts 18:19  (ESV)
And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews.

Here Paul is, later in the same chapter, probably less than two years later, reasoning with the Jews in an Ephesian synagogue. I love the use of the word "reason", suggesting a healthy and respectful dialogue, back and forth.

This is the same man who ungraciously rejected John Mark from being among his company. The man made one mistake (in Paul's perception), by leaving Paul and Barnabas during a mission. Paul refuses to rejoin company with John Mark after this, and even breaks relationship with Barnabas over it, possibly his closest friend in Christendom.

Barnabas himself had even been the one to bring Paul into the Jesus Community to begin with, soon after Paul's conversion from a murderer who targeted the church itself. That a man who had been shown so much grace was so unwilling to offer any is astounding.

Back to Acts 18, we must further consider that this was a synagogue of Jews that had likely experienced persecution themselves. In verse three it says that Paul was staying with tentmaker friends Priscilla and Aquila, Jews who had been displaced in Corinth by Rome for their ethnicity. Many of these Jews in the Corinthian synagogue likely found themselves there under similar circumstances. Later in chapter 18, there is an incident with the Jews before a Roman court that shows a blatant disregard by Rome to consider seriously the needs or judgments within the Jewish community (vv12-17). These are a people under persecution and denied justice, treated as second citizens by their government. One can hardly imagine a more insensitive approach than Paul's  when sharing about Jesus, Lord of love.

If we dig even deeper, we can even criticize the timing of Paul's outburst. It seems convenient that he should willingly reason with Jews and Gentiles while dependent on Jewish hospitality, and working as a tentmaker, likely among the Jewish community (vv3-4). But when his friends rejoin him in verse five, he suddenly starts working in ministry full time, probably generously supported by his friend's dime. It isn't until he finds himself financially independent of the Jewish community that he pulls this stunt. I recognize that this last part is taking some leaps, but Paul is hardly less guilty even if I am incorrect.

Still, despite all of this, he end up remaining in the city for over a year and a half (vv11). Verses nine and ten tell us that it was God that leads him to stay. God continues to use this joker in the city of Corinth, even after this episode. I suspect that between the lines some peace may have been made between him and the Jews at Corinth. He did enter the Ephesian synagogue without hesitation, and those Jews even asked him to stay (vv19-20). In verse eighteen, it says Paul had taken a vow. I hope that the details of the vow included some opportunity for him to grow in his demonstration of God's Grace.

This is the end of Paul's second missionary journey. This is the same mission in which he showed remarkable wisdom and cultural sensitivity to the Aropageus, the Greek philosophers at Mars Hill in Athens just one chapter ago.

Ministry is hard. Very hard. Speaking about eternity and faith and scripture is a sober and weighty task. Doing so graciously among those with whom one disagrees, as Paul does, is even more difficult. It is my inclination to extend Paul the grace he refuses others when it comes to his attitudes and actions demonstrated here and toward John Mark. It seems this man who at this point in the story has already suffered a beating, imprisonment, stoning, and several arrests, was also quite a bear to be around.

And I relate.

I'm a minister of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. And I can be a bear sometimes. I'm not excusing myself, anymore than I excuse Paul. This is confession, not justification. I can get frustrated sometimes when things in community don't go as I expect. Church community is people, so that means things frequently do not go as one might expect. It's an irony that preachers like myself are often people of deep conviction, yet must also be blessed with great patience, grace, and flexibility. It's a tension that sometimes can result in a stumble. I'm sure Paul's experience was many times more difficult than my own. I don't judge Paul, neither do I envy him.

Instead, I am encouraged. Paul is small, weak, and prone to make mistakes, like me. But Paul's God is big. Jesus continues to speak to Paul at the end of this journey, despite his failures. We may even be witnessing Paul's ministry burnout at the end of a long mission. Still, he stays put in Corinth and is used by God, even in his weakness. If God can use a person as messed up as Paul, former murderer, perhaps he can use me as well.

Finally, I want to draw attention to Paul's good friends, Priscilla and Aquila. We have to read between the lines to see it, but I easily imagine this couple as a key to Paul's success at the end of his mission. At the end of chapter 18, these two patiently and graciously correct and teach a zealous young preacher, Apollos, who was preaching in the community half-cocked, needing further instruction in scripture and the person of Jesus (vv24-28). They handle the difficult task of correction well, as Apollos receives from them and continues to preach with their instruction. I imagine these Corinthian believers may have also been a guiding hand in the spitfire Paul's life when he stayed with them in Corinth. Perhaps it was their kind and loving ministry toward Paul in their home that gave him the rest he needed to continue in ministry.

Paul later wrote a letter to the church in the city of Corinth, where he had his outburst and questionable hone ministry. 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most well known passages of the entire Bible. In it, I hear very little of Paul's example. I imagine that if Paul ever had love demonstrated to him as he describes in 1 Corinthians 13, it may have been in the home of Priscilla and Aquila, displaced Jewish tentmakers.

Love grew Paul up.

Thank God for every Priscilla and Aquila demonstrating love and grace and rest in the life of every Paul ministering Jesus today. Thank God for my Priscillas and Aquilas. You look like Jesus to me. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-13 (ESV)

Love is patient and kind;
love does not envy or boast;
it is not arrogant or rude.
It does not insist on its own way;
it is not irritable or resentful;
it does not rejoice at wrongdoing,
but rejoices in the truth.

Love bears all things,
believes all things,
hopes all things,
endures all things.
Love never ends.

As for prophesies, they will pass away;
as for tongues, they will cease;
as for knowledge, it will pass away.
For we know in part and we prophesy in part,
but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.

When I was a child,
I spoke like a child,
I thought like a child,
I reasoned like a child.

When I became a man,
I gave up childish ways.

For now we see in a mirror dimly,
but then face to face.
Now I know in part;
then I shall know fully,
even as I have been fully known.

So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.


v3 – Paul Makes tents with Priscilla and Aquila. They become his dear friends, who he often mentions in his letters later
v4 – Tent maker during the week, reasoning in the synagogue on the Sabbath
v5 – Once his friends arrived, he no longer needed to make tents. They supported him to do full time ministry
v6 – Paul is mad but this is untrue. He’s blowing steam. See v19
v19 – See. He’s back (v6) Paul loves the Jews.
v24 – Apollos is mentioned in 1 Corinthians. Many came to faith by him.
v28 – Apollos was a smart man

(Click to read Acts 18)

Friday, June 29, 2012

Representing the Kingdom of God on Mars Hill - Acts 17 – Kingdom Missions in a post-Christian World

(Click to read Acts 17) 

Acts 17:26-28 (ESV)
(God made) every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27  that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way towards him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for

“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;

as even some of your own poets have said,

“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’

Good News, me hearties. We’ve been set free.

Through faith, in the eyes of God we have been given the righteousness Jesus. He is now our high priest, and King of kings. He is the only mediator we need to go straight to God. We don’t need a special secret method, and we don’t need another special human being to confess to or to hold our faith in their hands.

We are now invited to be citizens of the Kingdom of God. Through Jesus, all the corrupt powers of empire around us and within is have been defeated. We may now have renewed hearts, and the very Spirit of God living inside us, the living seed of the Kingdom growing in us, through us, changing the structures of the world around us.

We may now live for the King of kings, and no lesser authority in Earth or Heaven holds sway over that authority. Our King says we are free.

Our life in as free citizens of the Kingdom starts by faith, and it continues by faith. It’s all free, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit within and through us that manifests Kingdom Justice and Love in the world.

Acts 17:24-25 (ESV)
24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

The King is a giver, me hearties. He doesn’t need our efforts. He doesn’t need our works. There is nothing we can do to impress him. There is nothing that we have that we can give him. Everything we have is from him. The Kingdom growing in the world around us is turning everything right, toward his just and loving purpose for which it was created.

This is good news for us that are weak. This is good news for us who struggle with anxiety or addiction. This is good news for the poor, the oppressed, those in the margins.

This is difficult news for those with power, for the rich, for the violent. It was hard news for Paul, the man who spoke these words from Acts 17.

Before he had received the freedom and grace Jesus offers the world, he had lived for and preached an entirely different message. Before Jesus, he taught others to take the religious code of law, put it on like a chain, and pull it as a weight to show God you were good enough for the Kingdom.

Paul heard the message of Jesus. He heard it straight from the mouth of Stephen as he stood and watched approvingly at his murder (Paul's words in verses 24-25 closely match Stephen's last words in Acts 7:48-50). The free entrance into the Kingdom of God offered by Jesus and his followers was so different that Paul felt his entire life threatened by it. That's why he hated the new Kingdom Communities and violently persecuted them.

Paul needed to be blinded, weak, and vulnerable before he was able to accept this freedom in which these communities shared. Once he did, he became the first and most effective missionary preacher the church had had since Jesus.

Here are Paul's words on his new life in the Kingdom:

Galatians 2:20 (ESV) 
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

Paul now li
ved in Jesus’ resurrected life, by faith.
Paul also said this:

Romans 6:14
For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Jesus did not promise that we would see the end of poverty in our lifetime, but we will continue to be generous and stand for justice for the poor and oppressed in the hope of the completion of his will and his Kingdom come on Earth, as he did promise.

In that same hope, we walk in faith, and without any condemnation, believing that God’s work in forming us and the Just Kingdom in the world will be completed.

With the authority of this message of freedom and grace, a truly humbled and gentled Paul found himself in the bustling and lively and progressive capital city of Athens, among a people who had never before heard it.

Paul found himself in Athens with some time on his hands, having been escorted there for his own protection. He and his friends Silas, Timothy, and Luke (author of the book of Acts) had caused trouble in the last two cities they’d visited, and Paul had to leave quickly.

They had some success in Thessalonica, where people wanted to hear the things they said. But things soon turned ugly, and they were accused of treason against Ceasar for proclaiming that Jesus was the new King (v7). They fled to Berea, where the religious faithful were happy to explore scripture to see if the things they said were true. But when agitators who followed from Thessalonica tracked them down, Paul had to flee again for his physical safety.

Now Paul was in Athens alone, waiting for his friends to arrive.

The city of Athens was a major metropolitan centre. Though it wasn’t at the peak it had achieved about four hundred years before, it was still at the centre of philosophical and artistic influence of its era. It had a leading university, and attracted thinkers and students from all over the neighbouring territories. Philosophy and literature were a major point of the cultural identity.

(A capital city valuing arts, literature and a progressive University campus culture could describe my neighbourhood in Edmonton, frozen capital of Alberta.)

In this major urban centre, Paul found himself alone and without influence.

Consider the power dynamic of this image compared with our ideas of missions today. If we take away our privilege and our wealth and our ability to give aide, are we still able to share the Good News of the Kingdom of God with the poor and the outsider, locally or internationally? What does this mean for missions? Can poor people share the message of the Kingdom?

Before Jesus, Paul was a privileged man of great influence. After Jesus, he finds himself alone in a strange city with no apparent need for his story of Jesus.

As we, the world's most privileged, seek to give our aide to the needy, we should remember that it is not the blanket we give, or the orphanage we build, or the soup kitchen we run that is going to lead people to understand or accept the Kingdom of God. At best, when we have this attitude we become arrogant and selfish in our own abilities and strength, and forget the God who saved us. At worst, we set ourselves up as gods and idols ourselves in the lives of the people we serve, and use our influence to create converts from indebtedness. This is not honouring to God.

The rich and powerful, like us, are just as in need of the freedom of the Kingdom as the poor we serve. The most oppressive and hateful of the most powerful class has as much need to be freed from their oppression and hatred as the poor does from their poverty.

What Paul has to offer Athens is the gospel of the Kingdom, and the Holy Spirit inside of him. He had faith that God was the one who changed hearts and gave grace. He walked humbly in Jesus’ authority, not his own.

When we find ourselves in the position to give generously to those in need, or we find that we ourselves are the ones in need, either way it is the the power of the Holy Spirit that is the strength in our mission, not ourselves.

We are citizens of the Kingdom of God, demonstrating and speaking Justice and Love wherever we go, spreading seeds of the Kingdom in the cracks of the empire's foundation. We are ambassadors of the Kingdom to the empire, speaking truth to false power, inviting anyone who would to join the movement that will change the world.

Acts 17:17 (ESV)
So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the market-place every day with those who happened to be there.

To effectively serve people as citizens of the Kingdom, we need to be where people are.

Both the synagogue and marketplace were places of meeting, where people went at their leisure to hang out, do business, spend time with each other, and to talk. Our equivalent may be a pub, coffee shop, mall, or library.

Acts 17:18 (ESV)
Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection.

To effectively serve people as citizens of the Kingdom, we need to know who they are.

Paul found himself among Epicureans and Stoics. The Epicureans were material empiricists. All that is and can be known can be measured and tested, and the chief end of life is to seek pleasure. The Stoics believed in a divinity called “Logos”, which they described as an impersonal supreme intelligence that was the force of all reason and fated everyone to whatever lived they found themselves in. For them, the greatest participation in the divine was to live for pure reason.

These two philosophies are remarkably similar to the common ideologies of atheistic empiricism and postmodern pantheism.

Not only was Paul aware of these philosophies before he arrived, as we can see by how he addressed the people in his speech, he was observant of his surroundings, seeing the idols all around him in the city, and becoming provoked by them. When he looked around the city, he didn't just see great architecture, he was moved by the things that moved God.

Kingdom ambassadors know people as God knows them.

Paul had a biblical worldview, and spiritually sensitive eyes. Paul understood the full spectrum of the gospel. He knew God as holy, and that the sin of the people of Athens would move God to fierce justice. He knew God as love, and that the sin of the people of Athens would move God to gracious forgiveness.

The more we live according to God's Kingdom, the more we will see with Kingdom eyes.

Kingdom ambassadors sensitively seek to know people as they know themselves.

Paul was well educated in the culture and philosophies of the people to whom he he was speaking.

In verse 26 Paul describes God as determining times and places of people’s lives, in a language that would not be unfamiliar to the fatalism of the Stoics.

In verse 28 he quotes two different Greek poets that they would have been familiar with. One of them is actually a quote that describes the Greek God, Zeus.

Paul read books, met and listened to lots of people, and observed the architecture around him in order to better know and understand the people he was speaking to. Paul entered the culture of the people of Athens, becoming an Athenian to the greatest degree he could, and shared the gospel with them in their cultural language.

Paul was not a sectarian. A sectarian is afraid of the culture around him, and seeks to isolate himself in a bubble of his faith, lest he be infected by the contagious culture surrounding him. Far from being afraid of the culture, Paul faced it head on with humility and in the light of the gospel.

In the marketplace, he did not simply declare his message, as from a soapbox. He reasoned with people. He had an engaged, respectful give and take dialogue with them.

When invited to speak to the Areopagus (or Mars Hill – the council of philosophical authority in the city), he began very gently with what they knew, and then clearly brought them to what they didn’t know.

He acknowledged their idols specifically. He spoke in the language of their philosophies when they were congruent to the message of Jesus. He quoted their poets.

But he did not compromise the essential elements of the gospel.

Paul was not a syncretist. He did not seek to marry his “Jesus philosophy” to the common philosophies of his day, hoping to slip some Jesus in when people weren’t looking. He had the boldness and the humility to present himself and what he believed exactly as they were. He did not compromise for fear or for pride.

The philosophers of Mars Hill were looking for a new idea. Paul did not present the gospel as such. His message commanded not a change of mind or philosophy, but an entire change of being.

At the centre of his message was the truth that God did not and does not need the service and work of religious people.

This is Good News for the weak, but difficult for the self-sufficient.

God made us, and to raise ourselves or anything else up as a god instead of him is ignorant.

Imagine the offense of that word, “ignorant” to the council of great philosophers of Athens.

Paul called them to repent, to turn around and leave the Spirit of empire, and act entirely different, as an agent of the Kingdom of Grace. Exactly as many as were ready to receive Paul's message did, including members of the Aropageus itself.

Let us live as ambassadors of Justice, Love, and Grace.

Let us engage with people around us,

sympathetically knowing them as they know themselves,

and as God knows them.

Let us humbly live, share, and proclaim Jesus and the Kingdom in our cultural context without compromise.


v4 – Paul’s company gets bigger
v5 – Jealousy. The gospel requires humility because it really is for everyone. It makes Donald Trump no better than a homeless drug dealer.
v10 – The diligence of the Bereans
vv16-34 – Paul preaches at MARS HILL in Athens
He saw the idols.
He reasoned
He had compassion
He spoke with wisdom and Grace
He did not compromise the truth

(Click to read Acts 17)

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Acts 16 – Citizens of the Kingdom vs Authorities of the Empire

(Click to read Acts 16)

Acts 16:19-23 (ESV)
When her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the market-place before the rulers. 20 And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. 21 They advocate customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practise.” 22 The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. 23 And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely.

Paul has embarked on his second missionary journey, joined this time by Silas as a partner in the place of Barnabas. Together the two men travel to visit some of the churches that had started as a result of Paul's first mission with Barnabas. On their journey they acquire two more comrades, both of them Greek. Timothy is the first to join them, a young man of good reputation who has become part of these new churches.

Acts 16:3-4 (ESV)
3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.


The irony of verses three and four illustrate a tension of cultural sensitivity in missions. Part of Paul's purpose in traveling is to deliver a letter about circumcision from the Jerusalem church to the churches abroad. Together they had decided that it should be made official that Christians should never require new community members to follow any religious code of covenant, including circumcision. Anyone, anywhere, from any background or ethnicity would be welcome in the Kingdom of God, without restriction. This decision opened the door for the new churches to be alive with diversity. Much of the New Testament deals with the challenges that face these new churches because of this diversity, and their conviction to include.

So, while Paul carries the letter condemning required ritual circumcision for which he personally advocated so strongly, he also has Timothy the Greek circumcised so as not to offend the people to whom he carries the letter. Contemporary Christians would be wise to consider seriously the lengths that Paul and Timothy are both willing to take in order to preserve unity and smooth the way for their message to be received.

Timothy would later become a pastor under Paul's mentorship, and the recipient of two of Paul's letters - the pastoral letters Timothy 1 and 2.

The other new comrade is Luke himself, the writer of both this book (Acts), and the Gospel that bears his name (Luke).

Luke's entrance into his own book is far more subtle than Timothy's, first appearing in the tiny word "us" in the tenth verse.

Acts 16:10 (ESV)
And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.

Luke was a Greek doctor who likely had joined the churches that sprang from Paul's first mission. He becomes a witness to Paul's work, and continues to appear in the "us" and "we" verses that come up in the rest of the book.

These four, and possibly others, travel until they come to Philippi, a colony city of the Roman empire. Paul had received a vision that they should travel this way, after being led by the Spirit away from other cities he'd planned to visit. In Philippi they first have some success as a woman they share with quickly accepts their message and then provides them with lodging.

But fortunes change when the missionaries collide with the spirit of the corrupt empire of Rome. A slave woman doubly oppressed begins following Paul and Silas everywhere they go. She is first oppressed and bound demonically, and it is this demonic influence that leads her to be an annoyance and distraction to the missionaries. But this demonic influence has also given her some unnatural revelation ability, which is being manipulated by her slaveowners for their financial gain. Very little could be more contrary to the Spirit of the Kingdom of God that Paul and his comrades preach. Citizens of the Kingdom are freed from all oppressive powers, spiritual, legal, financial, and otherwise. In the Kingdom all citizens live in complete equality, sharing generously what they have with others. No one takes advantage of another for their own gain, and no one can claim ownership or superiority under the flag of the cross of Jesus.

Later, Paul will write these radical words to the believers in this very city:

Philippians 2:1-4 (ESV)

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, 2  complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. 3 Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. 4 Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.  

It is in this Spirit that Paul and Timothy were willing to endure the personal physical and philosophical compromise of circumcision for the sake of the Jewish believers to whom they ministered. Even to Timothy's own pain and against Paul's own zealously held convictions they were willing, in love and unity, to act according to the interests of their brothers. This is the Spirit of God's Kingdom, and the love that binds its citizens.

In the authority of Jesus' name Paul commands that the demonic oppression of this woman be lifted. She is freed completely as her life manifests Kingdom reality. When her owners realize the personal financial consequence that their slave can no longer make them money, their control and racism are stoked. In their anger, they drag Paul and Silas before the authorities and demand revenge.In the spirit of empire, they appeal to fear and racism, using Silas and Paul's Jewish ethnicity as evidence against them. That both the Greek Luke and Timothy are spared is quite telling. Paul and Silas are thrown beaten and thrown in prison without a trial.

It is in chains, at its weakest and most vulnerable, that the spirit of the Kingdom of God is able to be seen most clearly. Just as Jesus had taught in Luke 12, Paul and Silas are without anxiety, even when locked away. They sing hymns in the prison, praising their King and living as free citizens though in shackles.

Just as the Kingdom was manifest in the doubly oppressed slave woman, it is manifest again here for Paul and Silas as they sing. An earthquake shakes the prison, and the doors are opened. Still, the missionaries remain to encourage the frightened jailer not to harm himself. Kingdom love is large enough to reach even an enemy. The jailer responds to the love of Paul and Silas by receiving their words and believing in Jesus as his King. The jailer brings the men to his house where he washes the wounds of his newly adopted brothers, and all of his family is baptized.

Such is it in the Kingdom of God. In this Upside-Down Kingdom, slaves are freed and enemies become brothers. All are equal, and each considers others even before themselves.

In the final act, Paul and Silas receive a free pass from the racist Roman authorities to leave the city. Still, Paul does not receive the injustice inflicted upon him without calling for an appeal. In their rush to condemn these Jewish resistors, the Roman authorities had not thought to even consider their citizenship. Both Paul and Silas were citizens of Rome. Their beating and imprisonment had been illegal.

Paul knew his standing as a citizen of the Kingdom of God. But as a free citizen of that eternal Kingdom, he lived in resistance to the empires of the world. Paul knew the legal rights offered him as a citizen of this temporary empire as well, and freely used its legal system for his advantage. The corrupt authorities would not submit to the Law of true justice, but Paul held them accountable to their own.

Paul and Silas receive a personal apology from the Roman magistrates themselves before being reunited with Luke and Timothy. They leave the city strengthened and encouraged, with freedom, justice, and loving community in their wake.


Acts 16:37-40 (ESV)
37 But Paul said to them, “They have beaten us publicly, uncondemned, men who are Roman citizens, and have thrown us into prison; and do they now throw us out secretly? No! Let them come themselves and take us out.” 38 The police reported these words to the magistrates, and they were afraid when they heard that they were Roman citizens. 39 So they came and apologized to them. And they took them out and asked them to leave the city. 40 So they went out of the prison and visited Lydia. And when they had seen the brothers, they encouraged them and departed.



v1 Paul meets TIMOTHY
v1 – Timothy is HALF GREEK and UNCIRCUMCISED, but Paul ministers with him anyway
v3 – Paul circumcises Timothy even though he clearly does not believe it is necessary for Salvation (15:10)
The author is using the pronouns “US” and “WE” now.
v17 – Paul and his company; Paul and the rest of us. Clearly, there are a few people working together on this ministry team.
v33 – No miraculous jailbreak. The miracle was the Salvation of the jailer.
v39 - awkward

(Click to read Acts 16)

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Acts 15 – Circumcision, Grace, Controversy, and Disagreement

(Click to read Acts 15)
Acts 15:1 (ESV)
But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.”

Having returned from a dramatic but successful missionary journey, Paul and Barnabas remain in Antioch and share the news of all the diverse peoples who have received the message of the Kingdom of God and have now begun to live and share together in the freedom and grace Jesus gave. Those who received their message were people previously with and without faith, pagans and devout, all classes and creeds and cultures.

But some of the old community still resist the idea that the freedom of Jesus really can be received by anyone, regardless of their background, without any code of religious law applied to them. Circumcision was the oldest of the requirements of covenant, the first and most ancient symbol that one had dedicated their life to God. Paul and Barnabas had been welcoming uncircumcised pagans into the fellowship, without any requirement of body modification to represent their dedication to God's Kingdom.

Paul and Barnabas testify boldly that Jesus' freedom has been and should continue to be offered freely to all people, with no conditions of religious code attached to the invitation (vv8-21). They should not need to be circumcised. They should not be required to keep the Law of Moses. Their welcome into the family of God should be hindered by nothing but their repentance of their old way of life, their participation in the spirit of empire and control, and their belief in Jesus.

Paul describes the demonstration of their repentance as abstinence from idolatry and sexual immorality (v20). These are not restrictions to be placed on new believers based on some religious code, as circumcision would be. They are specific symbols that represented the lifestyle of the corruption and control of the pagan witchcraft practiced in the Gentile cities. If the new believers have left the spirit of the world behind, they would leave the practices of their old temples as well. This would be a demonstrated result of their faith, not a requirement for inclusion.

This is not the first time the church has been confronted with such a controversy. In Acts 10, Peter is the first to share Jesus with a Gentile, a Roman Centurion who receives the Holy Spirit. The first response of his community is to condemn him for eating with and entering the home of an uncircumcised Gentile. After hearing Peter's testimony of God's grace to the Roman, they relent. Paul and Barnabas are later sent by their church to go and preach the Good News to diverse communities, whatever their religious background.

Here for the first time, it is officially recorded by the early Christians that they should not and will not apply a religious law as a requirement for anyone to receive the Kingdom of God (vv22-29). The cost of the Kingdom will require a change of lifestyle. These early communities will live in resistance to the powers of their day, and therefore must live separate and share in community. But it is not a religious code that will be required for their faith in Jesus.

Entrance into the Kingdom will be freedom from and out of religious bondage, not into bondage to another code and hierarchy. Jesus sets people free.

All of this is written down and carried by letter from the first church in Jerusalem by Paul and Barnabas to their church in Antioch.

Acts 15:30-35 (ESV)
30 So when they were sent off, they went down to Antioch, and having gathered the congregation together, they delivered the letter. 31 And when they had read it, they rejoiced because of its encouragement. 32 And Judas and Silas, who were themselves prophets, encouraged and strengthened the brothers with many words. 33 And after they had spent some time, they were sent off in peace by the brothers to those who had sent them. 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord, with many others also.


Paul and Barnabas Part Ways (Acts 15:36-41)

Luke did not give us a hint as to why Barnabas' nephew, John (Mark), left the mission with Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:13. He gives no further clue here.

The following is from my notes on Acts 13:13:

John (Mark) leaves them, but we are not told why. This parting of ways later becomes very significant to Paul and Barnabas' relationship, so we can assume their has been some sort of falling out between Paul and young John (Mark). Even among brothers and sisters, citizens of the Kingdom sharing in ministry together, offenses and broken relationships can occur. We are still broken people, living by faith in the promises of God. Until he returns, we can all make mistakes, and from those mistakes offenses may come. The Good News is not that we will never be hurt again, but that we may be redeemed to one another in grace and forgiveness.

In Acts 15:36, Paul suggests to Barnabas that they return to the communities that started because of their first mission together. When Barnabas suggests bringing his nephew “John called Mark” (v37), Paul sharply disagrees (v39). Though Paul had advocated strongly for the church to extend great grace to anyone anywhere who would join the Jesus movement, no matter what their background or faith, his grace does not extend to (John) Mark, with whom he holds offense for having abandoned them (v39). Barnabas, called “the Encourager” (Acts 4:36) had demonstrated his name by advocating for Paul, helping him join the community even after having murderously violent toward them before believing in Jesus (Acts 9:26-30). Had it not been for the grace and boldness of his friend, Barnabas, Paul may never have been received by the church.

Barnabas once again acts according to his name, siding with (John) Mark, the outsider, and offering grace and forgiveness to someone who had failed. He is doing for his nephew exactly what he had done for Paul.

It is a tragedy that this disagreement should end in the separation of these two brothers (v39), a tragedy that Paul should not recognize and demonstrate the grace of Jesus in this circumstance.

It is a demonstration of the Grace of God that he should still choose to powerfully use both of these men as they each leave for separate missions. Though he is still imperfect, still flawed, still demonstrating the spirit of control and corruption and empire, God continues to use Paul to grow his Kingdom on Earth.

It is the Grace of God, and not our own works, that receives us into his Kingdom. It is entirely by the Grace of God, and not our own worthiness, in which we continue in it to abide.


v2 – Paul hated this teaching
v10 – The law is impossible to bear
The elders in Jerusalem, including PETER, Jesus’ disciple, and JAMES, Jesus’ brother, agree to send Paul and Barnabas as missionaries to the Gentiles, believing that God wanted them also to be saved.
v39 – see 13:13 – This shows that even committed and maturing Christians can have personal disputes.

(Click to read Acts 15)

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Acts 14 – Paul and Barnabas, the First Christian Missionaries (part 2 of 2)

(Click to read Acts 14)

PART 2 - (continued directly from previous post on Acts 13)

Paul and Barnabas in Iconium (Acts 14:1-7)

Paul and Barnabas begin their ministry at the synagogue once again, just as they did in the previous two cities. Just as in Cyprus, their message of the Good News of the Kingdom of God is demonstrated with miracles. Many of both the religious faithful and the pagan Gentiles believe the message, and begin to live as free Kingdom Citizens. Others of both groups reject the message, and Paul and Barnabas along with it. As tension rises to potential violence. Paul and Barnabas leave the city and move on to Lystra.

Paul and Barnabas in Lystra (Acts 14:8-23)

Lystra is a Greek city, and does not have a synagogue. This puts Paul and Barnabas completely out of their element as they begin to preach of a Just and Loving God of which the citizens do not know. While he shares the Good News of the upside-down Kingdom, a man unable to walk is healed by the Holy Spirit's power. The demonstration of the Kingdom is misunderstood by the people who see it, and they believe that Paul and Barnabas are gods. The missionaries are distraught, tearing their clothes when they realize what the people are doing. They do all they can to correct them, explaining that it was the power of the Holy Spirit through them, not themselves that could heal a man.

Meanwhile, the agitators from the other cities they left arrive in Lystra to oppose the message. The agitators have Paul stoned, throwing rocks at him until they believe him dead. After being dragged outside the city, he gets back up and reenters Lystra. Later he would write about this and other persecutions as part of the cost of following Jesus.

Paul and Barnabas Travel Back to Antioch (Acts 14:21-28)

After being stoned nearly to death, Paul retreats with Barnabas back to their home church in Antioch. All along the way back, they return to each of the cities they had visited. In each, communities of new Christians have formed new churches, Kingdom Outpost Communities of Love, Justice, and resistance. Paul and Barnabas encourage and teach in each one, and help them organize by choosing elders from among them. Paul also brings another messagee. He tells the young communities that they should expect tribulation as Kingdom citizens. No doubt his scars and bruises testified loudly to these communities that resistance to the spirit of corruption, empire, and control would come at great cost.

Upon returning home to Antioch, the good news they have to share is that the message of Jesus has indeed continued to be received by Gentile and pagan outsiders.

Acts 14:27-28 (ESV)
27 And when they arrived and gathered the church together, they declared all that God had done with them, and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles. 28 And they remained no little time with the disciples.


The pattern of this first Christian mission communicates much of the message Paul (Saul) and Barnabas carried.

  1. Respect for the Local Community of Faith - When possible, the missionaries always began in the local synagogue, among people who already knew and had faith in God and scripture. These houses of worship and the communities they represented would be their base of operations, and they encouraged the people of the city to come to these communities.
  2. Bold Proclamation of Jesus – Whether they are received or rejected, the missionaries boldly declare the freedom, love, and justice offered in Jesus. They preach repentance, a complete change of life and practice toward the Kingdom of God. Even when it may mean violent persecution, or misunderstanding, they continue until they have clearly communicated their message.

  1. Demonstration of Holy Spirit Power – When led, the message of the Kingdom is demonstrated through the missionaries by miracles and healing. They are away from home, so the people are unable to see the practice of Kingdom Life as demonstrated by the churches. The Holy Spirit manifest demonstrates the true and practical and immediate nature of the Kingdom. This is not just an idea or philosophy. This is Good News for right now.
  2. No Manipulation or Coercion – When rejected, the missionaries simply move on. They do not intentionally remain to coerce or incite. Their message in given as invitation, not manipulation.

  1. Church Planting – Wherever they go, the missionaries help the new followers organize themselves into local, autonomous communities from which ministry and blessing to their cities will continue.

  1. Submission to their own Local Community – The Missionaries go as ambassadors of Jesus, sent by their local church. They are not rogue travelers or tourists. They are not seeking followers for themselves. Their ministry is an extension of their community, willingly supports the communities they visit, and helps establish the new communities they will leave behind. When they are done, they return to their own community to share the news of their ministry abroad.

v3 – confirmed message with signs
v15 – All glory to God.
v19 – a crowd turned to a mob very quickly
v20 – He went back in. He followed God, whatever the consequence
v27 – Good News

(Click to read Acts 14)

Monday, June 25, 2012

Acts 13 – Saul and Barnabas, the First Christian Missionaries (part 1 of 2)

Acts 13:1-3 (ESV)
Now there were in the church at Antioch prophets and teachers, Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius of Cyrene, Manaen a lifelong friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. 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.” Then after fasting and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off.

The Good News of The Kingdom of God has been spreading far and wide, to people of all ethnicities, religions, and classes. Boldly have the followers of Jesus preached that the Good News is not just hope for some distant future, pie-in-the-sky reality, but a real, tangible participation in the coming Kingdom of Justice and Love that begins here and now. In the execution and resurrection of Jesus, the age of empire was ended and the Kingdom inaugurated. From that point until his return, the gates have been swung open for all people to enter.

As more and more people live the Holy-Spirit empowered life of God's Just Kingdom, he also works a Great Reversal in the world. Rulers are removed, and the humble exalted. The poor rejoice and the rich mourn. Prisoners are set free. Mountains are brought down, and valleys raised. The last will be first and the first, last. The freedom offered in Jesus is freedom from the oppression of the world's empires, and freedom from the consequences of the spirit of empire within us. In it's place he gives believer's the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God dwelling within them and empowering them to live free, and in resistance to the corrupt patterns of the world.

These resisters have formed communities where they share their things radically with one another, living in equality and harmony in opposition to the striving and hierarchies of the world's systems. These believers were first called followers of “The Way”, and were badly persecuted for their faith. As they scattered to escape persecution, they spread like living seeds, and more communities grew in the cities where they settled. Wherever they go, they continue to demonstrate Kingdom love and justice, and share the story of Jesus and forgiveness. Here in Antioch, the believing communities are fist called Christians.

Among the believers in Antioch is Saul. He once violently persecuted the Christians, but has since been transformed by the power of God, turned away from his violence, and joined the Kingdom communities, all at great cost to his old rank and reputation. He has counted all his previous life rubbish in comparison to the truth of the Good News he now lives.

The church in Antioch is a diverse one. By now, the gospel has been presented without hindrance to anyone who would receive it, so the church is made up of a diversity of peoples in all areas of its life. Here we see five men named, called prophets and teachers, intentional and necessary roles fulfilling church life. There is great diversity among them alone.

Barnabas is one of the first Jewish converts, called the encourager. He is often described going out of his way to include outsiders, and may be partly responsible for diversity in this group.

Simeon and Lucius are both black, and Lucius is an immigrant.

Manaen is an old friend of the ruler Herod, who presided over Jesus' trial on the day of his execution, had one of Jesus' original disciple's executed, and threw another in jail. He was likely a wealthy and influential man before joining the Christians.

Saul is the infamous violent persecutor of the church, radically transformed by Jesus into one of their greatest advocates. Barnabas was one of his first friends among the Jesus followers, and had helped him enter the community.

From here in Antioch, Saul and Barnabas are sent out as the first intentional Christian missionaries. They will travel together with the express intent to share the Good News of freedom in Jesus to people away from their home. Chapter 13 records their travels to Cyprus and Pisidia. In chapter 14, they travel to Iconium and Lystra. Their experiences on this first short journey illustrate a pattern in travelling ministry that continues through the rest of Acts.

Saul and Barnabas with John (Mark) in Cyprus (Acts 13:4-12)

Saul and Barnabas sail to Cyprus with John (Mark), nephew of Barnabas. They enter the Jewish synagogue first, a starting point that makes good sense since their message is rooted in Jewish faith, scripture, and practice. They would be received well but for one agitator, described as a magician. Saul calls him out, rebukes him, and prophesies judgment. The man goes temporarily blind, a miracle that represents the blindness he communicates and practices. The demonstration of Holy Spirit power results in people receiving the message that Saul and Barnabas share.

In verse 9, Saul (his Hebrew name) begins to be called Paul (his Greek name), as he begins to intentionally reach out to the Greek outsiders with the Good News.

Paul (Saul) and Barnabas in Pisidia (Acts 13:13-52)

Paul (Saul) and Barnabas continue on. John (Mark) leaves them, but we are not told why. This parting of ways later becomes very significant to Paul and Barnabas' relationship, so we can assume there has been some sort of falling out between Paul and young John (Mark). Even among brothers and sisters, citizens of the Kingdom sharing in ministry together, offenses and broken relationships can occur. We are still broken people, living by faith in the promises of God. Until he returns, we can all make mistakes, and from those mistakes offenses may come. The Good News is not that we will never be hurt again, but that we may be redeemed to one another in grace and forgiveness.

In Pisidia, Paul and Barnabas again begin their ministry in the synagogue. This time they are unopposed, and the people gladly and enthusiastically receive their bold message of freedom, hope, and love. They are asked to return the following week.

But when they return one week later, they bring with them most of the Greek outsiders who also live in the city. Before this time, the religious Jews of Pisidia would have faithfully excluded the Gentiles in obedience to their law code. But the Good News that Paul and Barnabas preach is for everyone, regardless of their cultural or religious background. The two new missionaries have probably been spending the last week inviting everyone in town to come and hear what they have to say. This radical practice of inclusion has been controversial and difficult for the church so far. Here in Pisidia, the religious faithful are not ready to open the doors to the masses.

Still, many of the religious faithful do receive the message, as do many of the pagan Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas shake off the dust of those that rejected them. They do not press the issue or try to manipulate or coerce those who do not want what they offer. They simply move on. Meanwhile, they also rejoice in the freedom received by those in Pisidia who believe and follow the message of freedom.


vv2-3 – The sending of Saul (Paul) and Barnabas
v5 – JOHN MARK was with them
v12 – preaching to men of power
v13 – JOHN MARK LEFT THEM at Perga
vv16-41 – Paul (Saul) preaches in the synagogue
v42 – He’s invited back.
v44 – They must have spent the week inviting people to church
v52 – Joy

(Click to read Acts 13)

Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Death of Kings and Growth of the Kingdom - Acts 12 - The Kingdom of God is Bigger Than Us part 7 (conclusion)

(Click here to read Acts 12)  
(please see the introduction to Acts 6-12)

Acts 12:21-24 (ESV)
21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.

  24 But the word of God increased and multiplied.

The Kingdom of God has been rapidly spreading like weeds along the countryside. The empire of Rome itself is soon to take notice of these resistance communities of free and just citizens, generously sharing equally and without coercion. The name of Jesus is on their lips, he who was executed by the empire as an insurrectionist only a scant few years before. All boundaries to enter this Kingdom have now been transcended, and anyone regardless of gender, ethnicity, or religion is welcome to freely enjoy the benefits of Kingdom life.

The cost of citizenship is one's own power and privilege. In the Kingdom, no one holds control or rank over another. All come to the table as equals, rich an poor, citizens of all nations. For the poor, this is good news. For those who hold power in this age, it is also good news, for the power of the world is corruption, and the only authority with any value is that which is submitted to Jesus, the chosen one, the King of kings.

In Acts 10, Peter the Jesus Follower is led to share this Good News with an unlikely audience, the household of a wealthy and high ranking Centurian of the Roman army. Upon entering the Roman's house, this backwoods, undereducated, former fisherman gets a surprise welcome.

Acts 10:25-26 (ESV)
Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. When Peter entered, Cornelius met him and fell down at his feet and worshiped him. But Peter lifted him up, saying, “Stand up; I too am a man.”

In the Kingdom, all honour and glory and praise goes directly to the one who is the source of all life, God alone. We are united in our common humanity, each of us made equally in God's image, each of us rescued from the violent empires of the world and the empires within by Jesus our only true King. Peter had no need to receive praise or use such adoration for his own gain. As a child of God, his eternal value had already been affirmed, and his authority came from Jesus, not human acclaim.

But in the world's system, power and authority must be earned. Once acquired, it must be kept by violent force or manipulation. This is a it was for Herod, the tetrarch and puppet-authority of Rome who had presided over one of Jesus' trials on the day of his execution.

Herod had rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem, a political act intended to impress and appease the people who were being oppressed Rome. It was the courtyard of this impressive fifteen story building that Jesus and the crowds had occupied in the week before his execution (see Occupy the Temple in Luke 19). It was near this courtyard that Peter had preached his first sermon, on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) when 3000 heard the news of the Just Kingdom and received Jesus as their King. Now, Herod is tracking down the most influential of these new communities, and commanding them arrested and killed. Like the temple he built, he does so to impress, appease, and control the people.

The first to die by Herod's hand is James. He is the first of the original twelve Jesus Followers to be officially executed. Next he arrests Peter. Herod had a high opinion of his own power, but Peter sleeps in prison on the night before he is likely to be executed. The community prays for his release from prison, though they had just lost a brother the same way very recently. Their confidence is in the hand of God's will, to whom they appeal, not Herod's authority.

Peter is miraculously freed from prison as he slept and returns to the praying community.

Herod responds in the only way he knows how, the violence and control of empire. He has Peter's guards killed.

Shortly after, Herod dies as he responds to worship in exactly the opposite way to which Peter had responded in Acts 10. When called a god, he has no argument. The only true authority, the one that breaks chains, removes walls, and builds his temple in the hearts of the poor, struck Herod down dead.

Such is it in the Kingdom of God. While rebels who deign to call themselves kings plot to kill the righteous, those righteous sleep soundly as God works justice for them. While the world appeals to earthly authorities to act on their behalf, God's community recognizes the work of the one true authority in the world, and participates in the justice and peace of the coming Kingdom. We resist the rebels of the world, no matter what title or rank they may give themselves. God's Kingdom and will shall be done on earth, no matter how the corrupt nations may plot and strive.

May all glory and honour go to the only wise King. Amen.

v2 – First recorded death of a disciple (the 12)
v7 – Peter was set free from prison, but later Paul was not. To each God acted according to his own design and purpose.
vv14-16 – Funny
v24 – No matter the circumstance within or outside in the main culture, the gospel continued to move.
v24 – Barnabas and Paul return WITH JOHN MARK, after a year of ministry
 (Click here to read Acts 12)