This account of Paul’s journey to Rome reads something like a travelogue. In this chapter, shipwrecked Paul reaches safety on the Island of Malta, has an adventure there, and then finally sets off to Italy. Paul and his guards embark from Malta in a new boat, stopping at the ports of Syracuse, Rhegium and Puteoli, and eventually arriving at the road leading to Rome. Paul never seems to be alone. Wherever he goes, he gains an audience. It seems as if there are believers and non-believers alike happy to extend hospitality to him. And wherever he goes, Paul is anxious to share the Good News of Christ.
Paul must have been tired of travelling by the time he reaches Italy. He seems to have needed encouragement, and so we read in 28:15, “On seeing them (believers), Paul thanked God and took courage.” Even if the trip had gone smoothly, it would have been long, but this trip had seen lengthy interruptions caused by winter storms and shipwreck. When he sets out again with the other prisoners, this is no express trip. They pull into several places along the way, and I imagine the last part was on foot, marching along the Roman road to the city of Rome.
All along this long journey, Paul steadfastly proclaims the Gospel. He allows the Holy Spirit to make him a witness to Christ in whatever circumstance he finds himself. His proclamation of the Gospel is unstoppable. It does not depend on having ideal conditions of weather, place or even having a receptive audience. Paul proclaims the sovereignty of God over all places and people, encouraging those who open their eyes and ears to hear God’s message, to open their hearts to turn to God for healing. Paul knows that those who look and listen will encounter and experience the salvation of Christ. On this Holy Saturday, let us reflect on the cost of this salvation with open eyes, ears, and hearts.
Beloved Christ, help us follow in the footsteps of Paul as persevering stewards of your message. God, you rule over all things. Open our eyes, ears, and hearts to experience the healing salvation of Christ. Amen.
Prince Albert, SK
This passage recounts Paul’s voyage, as a prisoner on a ship, sailing at a time when they should have stayed put. Paul is captive, going to places that he cannot control, travelling at the mercy of the sea.
We often find ourselves in similar situations; sometimes yearly, monthly, or even daily. We can feel like we’re captives, voyaging to places we had no intention to go, and travelling in a season where it would be much safer to stay put. It is in these times, which come all too often, where we must trust in God’s promises.
We read that “When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest raged, all hope of our being saved was at last abandoned” (Acts 27:20). Paul does not lose faith at this moment. Instead, he trusts in the promise that the Lord gave him. As Paul shares the words he received from God, we learn that it is essential to stay on the boat and stay on the boat together. Paul encourages those on the ship, and then blesses and breaks bread with his fellow prisoners and passengers.
We remember on this day, Good Friday, that Jesus voyaged to a place he did not want to go. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus believed that the Father's plan was better. The disciples abandoned all hope, that being saved was at last lost; but God had a bigger plan. Jesus’ faith in God’s plan is echoed in this story of Paul, that God keeps his promises.
May we remember that in times of hopelessness, and in times where thoughts of being saved have all but been abandoned, that God remains with us. May we draw encouragement from Paul in Acts 27 to trust in the promise of God, to encourage one another, to break bread together, to realize that we are on this ship together. May we come to know that our salvation comes from Jesus and comes from God’s promise that we do not remain in a place where “neither the sun nor the stars appear.”
The ship that Paul was on still ran aground, they did not come calmly and triumphantly into port, but instead washed ashore, battered by the sea. Life was saved, but still, loss occurred. Today, we remember the loss that occurred to bring us life. May we trust in the death and life of Christ!
Somehow it seems fitting that 'God's Not Done with You' by Tauren Wells is playing in the background as I write this. In Acts 26, Paul speaks to King Agrippa and shares his faith and the logic, the truth, behind his beliefs. Paul is ready to share the Gospel to anyone at any time. This should challenge us to be prepared to do the same.
While he shares about his conversion; he puts more emphasis on who he was before, a zealous persecutor of Christ's followers. He does not hesitate to tell of his work to oppose Jesus Christ. He doesn't tell us how Christ changed his heart, soul, and mind to now obey him. We only know that he did follow what he was told. Here Paul focuses on Christ and what God's will is—both for the Jews and the Gentiles.
God had plans for Paul right from the beginning and used every detail of his life to his glory. The fact that he had the knowledge of Scripture, had been fervently against Christ, and had had an encounter with Christ that completely turned his world around should speak volumes to all who also had the same training and knowledge. He speaks boldly about his past, about his faith, about the facts, and he is not afraid to share his prayers for others. He is open and honest.
This chapter speaks to me about God's plan for our lives. God will use our past. It speaks to me about boldness—being ready to share my faith, my past, and why I continue. I haven't always had the strength to stay focused on Christ like Paul. I've questioned God about his plans and told him point blank that he chose the wrong person. But at the same time, I have the hope, the joy, the knowledge that God isn't done with me. He is using my past and my experiences.
Like Paul, who chose to use the intensity of his resolve to persecute Christians to now share the Gospel and to bring others to know Christ; I can take my life—the good and the bad—and the intensity of emotions, including grief, to be used for God and his will in my life. It's his plan, not mine. When you receive that call from God, that swat upside the head or feel your heart grabbed so tightly you can't breathe, it's hard to stay rooted in the old, stubborn thoughts and ways; isn't it? Like Paul, we have to obey. We have to be bold. We have to be prepared.
But when Paul had appealed to be kept in custody for the decision of his Imperial Majesty, I ordered him to be held until I could send him to the emperor. Acts 25:21
Paul has been in prison for years at this point. What is the reason he is in prison? If we boil it down to one word: Jesus.
Jesus was the reason Paul (then Saul) used to round up, beat up, and imprison others in his previous life. Now, as a disciple and witness to Christ’s resurrection, he is the one rounded up, beaten up, and in prison. He is continually being asked to give testimony to the powers that be so they can figure out what to do with him. You’d think by Acts 25, after being beaten up and chained up for so long, he would want to be done with it. But it seems like he’s not! His five words “I appeal to the emperor” have just given him more time in the chains.
Have you ever felt stuck? You may not have ever been in prison, and you certainly have not experienced a first-century prison. But have you ever felt not free? Have you ever felt the chains of indifference, shame, guilt, laziness, depression, unemployment, or broken relationships? Do you feel imprisoned today?
God still wants to use you today.
By the end of Acts Paul is beaten, bruised, battered, and in chains. But over and over again his weary estate brought the opportunity to speak of the resurrection of Jesus. Just read the last few chapters of Acts, and you will see how many opportunities Paul had to witness to different people (many notable!) because of his chains.
Christ’s resurrection means freedom. It means final liberation from all that imprisons us, including death. But it also means freedom for the other. So, I challenge you today weary soul, witness to Christ’s resurrection. You might be surprised how much ministry can be done through your pain, weariness, and weakness. Resurrection is the only story that matters for you today. Live into it, speak of it, and watch as others are drawn to it.
How would you feel to stand before a judge and jury? How would you feel to have false things said and charged against you? A top lawyer is brought in for the prosecution. You are left to defend yourself, and chances are you have no support in this courtroom. Those who are accusing you of these things want one thing, and that is for you to receive the highest punishment, death.
How do you defend yourself? Do you lash out in anger? Then they would just have one more thing to use against you. Or do you defend yourself with integrity and show God’s love.
You now find yourself in prison and will be at the hand of your enemies for two years. Do you change your story so that you are able to gain your freedom? Or do you remain true to your faith and use this time for God’s glory.
Paul is the man we find on trial before Felix. He finds himself falsely accused, but he is able to defend himself well. However, he will find himself in prison for two years as Felix puts off judgement. For the next two years, Paul is brought before Felix and shares the Gospel.
Paul shows us what it means to be an ambassador for Christ. We are told that to be a follower of Christ is not going to be a walk in the park. There will be suffering, but like Paul, we can never compromise the truth even if it means that it would take the suffering away.
Paul faced injustice but stood faithful. Jesus Christ is our greatest example of this. May we also be faithful in the face of injustice.
I just finished reading Max Lucado’s book Unshakeable Hope. And one quote that has stuck with me is, "Death, failure, betrayal, sickness, disappointment- they cannot take your hope, because they cannot take your Jesus." He is all we need as we walk this journey of faith.
“It is no shame to suffer for being a Christian. Praise God for the privilege of being called by his wonderful name.” 1 Peter 4:16
This was a hard section of Scripture to tackle in a devotional in which I usually try to encourage and uplift. A plan to kill and serious commitment to do so by a group of people willing to make significant personal sacrifice doesn't leave a great deal of space for encouragement. But as I've dwelt on this passage, and what might be gleaned from it, I was reminded that this part of Paul's story is just that–a part. Were it the whole of Paul's story, it would be grim and bleak indeed. But this is not the whole of the story.
These days in which Paul's life was being plotted against, he was no less called by God. Paul was no less a child of God. God was no less God. It is so easy for me to lose sight of these realities when the going is tough. Granted, I don't know that there's ever been a plot to kill me, but there have been hard days, challenging seasons, and painful weeks. In those times, the sense can be that those seasons won't ever end–that this will be my reality forever. The bigger picture can fade away, and the immediate reality can threaten to overtake all of the things I know and believe in the more comfortable times.
In these hard and scary moments, days, weeks, or seasons, I must cling to God in the way that Paul did through this time. Paul did not waiver or hide when his life was threatened. He continued living out the calling God gave him, speaking, testifying, and sharing the Gospel. This required a considerable amount of certainty and faith in the goodness and character of God, which no doubt came in part from his life-altering experience on the road to Damascus.
A step back and a look at the bigger picture of our lives, or the lives of those around us reminds us of the times when we have experienced God in life-transforming ways so that we can remember and cling to these experiences during the difficult times. Our God is faithful and unchanging; the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
What happens in this text today is far too similar to much of what is happening in our political (and church) world today. The characters in the scene are playing identity politics. These battles with different names, faces, and identity groupings play themselves out today–much of it in ALL CAPS on social media! Even Paul was not above the fray and joins in on the name calling and political intrigue.
Then there is Ananias, the chief priest (identity forming statement), who according to Josephus, was known for his cruelty, violence, and greed. He wanted to declare Paul guilty before he even had a trial–and to do so violently. If his people hit Paul, Ananias retained the upper hand while naming Paul a heretic, a retrograde and a lawbreaker without a trial.
Paul, in turn, calls him a “whitewashed wall” which most likely reminds readers of Jesus’ use of “whitewashed tombs” for the hypocritical teachers of the law and the Pharisees in Matthew 23. While there is certainly some claim of hypocrisy from Paul to Ananais, this is likely a Hebrew Scripture inference grouping Ananais with the false leaders/prophets in Ezekiel 13 who built “flimsy walls” covered with whitewash. And when Paul is called on this egregious behaviour, he plays coy, “Oh I didn’t see anyone who looks and acts like high priest there. Sorry!” There are a lot of identity games being played here!
At the end of today’s reading, we see Paul is reminded of his true identity when “the Lord stood near him” and said, “Never forget, you are my child, and I am using you for my glory.” Those are not the exact words, but it’s what we should hear when we read the line “Keep up your courage… you must bear witness also in Rome.” The whole book of Acts tells the story of Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth.” Paul is being told that he was right in line with what the Holy Spirit was empowering him to do. That identity pushed him forward in life and ministry.
From where do we receive our identity? Is it from the roles we assume, from our ethnic/cultural understanding or from our religious and/or political groupings? Is it from the names we are called? Is it success based? Is it power based? Or does it come from the quiet whispers of God during our prayers where we hear God say to us, “You are loved! You are my child! And by the power of the Holy Spirit, you are being used for my glory.” That identity should push us forward in life and ministry.
This year’s Lenten Reader is focused on “who we are called to be in response to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.” To do this, I think we need to break that down into “who we are” and “called to be”. Today’s reading from Acts 21:37-22:29 looks at both of these in the life of Paul.
Paul's telling his conversion story to the Jewish crowd likely stands out the most in this passage; it is certainly a familiar story. However, it is what bookends Paul’s conversion story that stood out most to me this time. On either side of Paul’s conversion is so much description of who Paul is. The verses before gives much detail about Paul’s Jewishness. The verses at the end of the passage are about how Paul is a Roman citizen (useful information to get him out of a flogging).
“Who we are”: This passage tells us a lot about who Paul is. He is a Jew and a Roman citizen. He is a Greek speaker and a Hebrew speaker. He was a persecutor of the followers of Jesus and chosen by God to see and hear Jesus.
“Called to be”: Read verses 14 and 15 about Paul’s calling. His brutal past had stopped the spread of the Gospel, and he was called to spread the Gospel in the world. I use the word “and” in that last sentence on purpose. I could have phrased it, “His brutal past had stopped the spread of the Gospel, but he was called…” The word “but” generally negates everything that has been said previously. (Pay attention to your use of that word in conversation. If someone comes up to me with a problem or struggle, how quick am I to “but” my way to a happy ending for them? “But at least you have your health.” “But things will be different tomorrow.”)
Paul doesn’t deny his history. In fact, the details he gives in verses 3-5 of his gruesome past increase his credibility with his Jewish audience. He was a highly educated, zealous follower of the law, known by the high priest and elders AND Jesus showed himself to Paul. That Paul. Jesus didn’t deny Paul’s history either.
The bookends of this passage—the description of who Paul is—help me see Paul’s conversion and calling with fresh eyes this year. Like Paul, we all have a history. Like Paul, Jesus meets us right in the middle of who we are AND calls us to see and hear him. I am learning, in my own life, that I know my calling as a follower of Jesus best when I know who I am.
Has someone ever falsely accused you? Being misrepresented hurts. Paul has just been falsely accused, and the authorities have mistakenly thought he was someone else. He has been beaten, arrested, protected and now he is standing at the steps of the fortress (barracks) and has permission from the Roman authorities to speak. The loud and chaotic mob has gone silent waiting for Paul to speak!
Putting ourselves in Paul’s shoes is hard. We struggle to understand what it would be like to worship at the temple, be under Roman authority, not have the conveniences of today and be at the beginning of this new movement he calls “The Way”.
Yet, as different as our world is today, Christianity and Christians are often misunderstood and falsely accused. Many times I have felt compelled to argue how Christianity is different than other religions or explain my view on a variety of topics! Even though there is much confusion about Christianity today, I wonder what good my explanations have brought about. Have they really helped others grasp what Jesus desires to do in the world, what he has done in me and what he wants to do in them? People can argue opinions all day, but they can’t argue a person’s experience —it is what it is.
Paul, standing on the steps with an angry mob all around, asked the Roman commander permission to speak. I wonder if we asked for permission to speak what difference that would make. How would that change the posture of our listeners? How would that change us? If I were in Paul’s situation I would be screaming to everyone that they had the wrong guy and they didn’t understand. Remember the mob was going to kill Paul until the Roman commander arrived!
Maybe, rather than acting on our compulsion to argue or hiding from conflict, we can first humbly ask permission to speak? We see that when Paul did, that noise turned to silence. The mob, as angry as they were, were willing to listen—at least for a while!
Our world has some misguided ideas about Christians and Christianity. It is easy to be offended. Some of us want to argue, other’s of us want to hide, neither of which are particularly helpful. Let’s set aside our offence and humbly ask permission to speak. In what situations do you need to ask permission to speak? Rather than arguing an opinion, what God-story could you tell?
In our Scripture passage today we find ourselves with Paul, who is travelling from one Mediterranean port to another in attempting to reach Jerusalem before Pentecost in his continuing mission of spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles. He arrives at Tyre, but while staying with some Tyrian disciples, an odd thing happens. In verse four they tell Paul, “through the Spirit not to go up to Jerusalem.” The Message translates it as, “Their message to Paul, given by the Spirit, was, ‘Don’t go to Jerusalem.’” While the instruction is understandable, what’s striking is that Paul chooses to ignore the declaration and carries on in his journey. I find myself asking, “Why would Paul disregard such a strong direction from the Spirit?” No explanation is given. Whatever the reason though, Paul aligns his obedience with the message that has resided in his heart from the beginning, rather than the one he hears that day and continues moving forward in mission. Was God testing him? We don’t know.
As humans, we can look but not actually see, talk but not actually speak and hear but not actually listen. Scripture exhorts us on the act of listening to God, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says.” My wife recently showed me a wonderful expansion on the meaning of the Hebrew word, “Shema”. Literally, it means to listen, but in its fullness, it means so much more. There is no precise word in Ancient Hebrew for “obey”, so when God speaks to his people in the Old Testament and desires them to not only to listen to him but to respond in a covenant of obedience, he uses the word, “Shema”.
Paul was faithful in the “Shema” of his covenanted service to Jesus, putting aside the life distractions around him and therefore bringing the Gospel to the Gentiles. Jesus was faithful in the “Shema” of his covenanted journey to the cross, putting aside the many distractions before him and therefore bringing salvation to the world.
Our God is a covenant keeper, not a covenant breaker. Sometimes he allows distractions around us as a catalyst to reaffirm in our hearts and seek what he has actually called us to. Lent provides each of us with the sanctuary and respite to “Shema” with Jesus to this end. “My child, be attentive to my words; incline your ear to my sayings. Do not let them escape from your sight; keep them within your heart” (Prov. 4:20-21).
I have always loved reading Paul’s writings. Paul’s story, as exciting as it is, is a story of redemption in Jesus Christ and a testimony that no one is outside the saving grace of the Lord. It was said about him that he was ruthless in his pursuit to destroy the Christians, a religious terrorist they called him. Yet, by God’s saving grace he showed such a difference in his life that he was persecuted beyond what we could comprehend. During the latter part of his life he was imprisoned many times, so many that it was said he spent up to almost six years in prison altogether. He was shipwrecked three times, stoned, beaten with rods, and whipped.
I am particularly struck by verses 22 to 24. Paul mentions that he was compelled by the Holy Spirit to go to Jerusalem knowing that the chances of hardship and prison were probably waiting for him. He went anyway. He went because to him his life was worth nothing. What was worth something was to finish the race and complete the task that Jesus had given him. You see he went because being compelled means being driven beyond our capacity to resist the leading prompted by the Holy Spirit. He followed the leading of the Spirit.
I am sure that Paul was hesitant. This was his third missionary journey, he had experienced hardships that I am guessing he really did not want to experience again. He went anyway. He was compelled. I wonder would I do this, having been compelled by the Holy Spirit to go somewhere knowing I will be dealing with hardships and prison? Would I go? I would hope I would. I think I live a life that is being directed by the Holy Spirit, yet I also know I have often hesitated in certain situations. Thinking it would be too difficult, or I somehow just cannot see how that would work out. I feel like they are good reasons, yet sometimes I wonder if my reasons are just excuses.
I want to leave you with this, Is the spirit compelling you today?
Are we open to what he is calling us to without any excuses?
Let us all surrender to him as he leads and directs our life. Let us finish the race and complete the task Jesus has given us. The task of testifying to the Gospel of God's grace, with no excuses. Let’s live a life that is turned upside down because we have Jesus in it.
Imagine a crowded third-floor room late at night. Lamplight dances on the walls. The air presses warm and thick, and someone opens the windows wide to let in the cool night air. How refreshing! A young man perches on the deep windowsill, eager to hear Paul’s final words before he and his entourage ship out of Troas in the morning. But, it’s late, and Eutychus is tired. He blinks a few times, gets comfy on that ledge, and falls, not only asleep but right out the window. Imagine the panic. Imagine the stampede down the staircase to the courtyard. Imagine the hush as those gathering around Eutychus realize he’s dead. And then the wailing begins.
Imagine Paul pushing through the hubbub and embracing the dead man. “Don’t be alarmed,” he says. “He’s alive!” Then Paul returns upstairs, breaks bread with the believers, and resumes teaching until daylight.
The drama is over. Done.
But was it? Really?
Not for Eutychus. Not for the church in Troas. Because, where there had been a tragic death there was now a vibrant life. You don’t forget a miracle like that overnight. You don’t take life for granted when it has slipped away and been restored. While not many people in history have fully died and returned to life (the Bible lists only ten instances, including Jesus and Eutychus), many more have had a close call and lived to tell the tale.
I’ve been there, with a near-fatal heart attack about eighteen months ago. I can attest that a person looks at everything differently when given the opportunity to live again. I can empathize with Eutychus. My family and friends can empathize with those around him who were greatly comforted by his resurrection.
They watched Eutychus, I’m sure, over the following months and years as they pondered Paul’s teachings about Jesus. Did they consider Eutychus’ experience in the light of the great hope Jesus offers?
We were dead in sin, but Jesus’ death and resurrection offer us new life, a life everlasting. He’s alive! And we are greatly comforted.
For everyone who has been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, the Gospel will challenge their culture in significant ways. In Acts 19, we see Paul spend two years in Ephesus. During that time the Gospel challenges both Jews and Greeks. Some respond well to the challenge and repent not only in word but also in action. The most powerful of these moments is when those who practiced magic arts abandon their former spirituality and bring millions of dollars worth of their own occult books to be burned. The Gospel is powerful enough to change lives and reorient humanity into the new humanity found in Christ.
However, others see the Way as a threat. We are told of some Jews who “continued in unbelief, speaking evil of the way before the congregation.” But we also see the craftsmen, motivated by a deadly combination of religious and monetary gain, seethe in their hatred toward this new message. Their hatred occurs because the Christian movement is having such an impact on idolatry. As a result, people are no longer purchasing idols or religious relics. The Christian message undermines their way of life and thus, must be stopped. Even the sons of Sceva who try to take a more neutral position on the “Jesus whom Paul proclaims” are overpowered by the demons because they did not declare Jesus as Lord.
We live in a divided age, and it is understandable why Christians would want to remain neutral on various social issues or on the person of Jesus. However, to preach the “kingdom of God” (v. 8) means that every person must submit to the Lordship of Christ. For the Jews, this meant acknowledging Jesus as the Messiah (or Christ). For the Greeks, this required abandoning their idolatry and witchcraft. For the Church today, it means addressing what King Jesus has declared and commanded in Scripture on several controversial topics including human sexuality, social justice, and even judgement day. This does not mean that Christians have the right to be rude. It was said of the believers brought before the crowd, “you have brought these men here who are neither sacrilegious nor blasphemers of our goddess.” In other words, these believers were known for their love and respect for their neighbours. Let us consider how the Gospel challenges us and our assumptions so that we might powerfully proclaim his kingdom.
As we continue our journey through Lent, the passage before us today features some significant movement, transition, and insights into ministry and more specifically our role in God’s kingdom. God’s desire to use us as his children, not perfect children, but ones who are in the process of becoming more like Christ. My friends, wherever you are on your spiritual pilgrimage let us take great comfort in that God desires to use us for the furtherance of his kingdom.
Notice first, God’s plan for ministry. We clearly see one component of God’s work is verbal discussion of the Gospel to the lost. It is alarming today how many in our communities and districts have not heard of God’s free gift of Salvation through Jesus Christ. God used the apostle Paul in many profound and important ways to bring the Gospel of Jesus to the Gentile world. God also uses the preaching and teaching to build and strengthen his church. In both cases, God uses his created and redeemed people.
Second, God uses a couple of groups of people who are in process for his kingdom work. Paul wrote, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12). The apostle Paul penned these words while in prison, and they show he understood that he was still in process. In Acts 18 we see that Paul held up to a vow he took (18:18) and refused to stay and speak with the Jews in Ephesus (18:20). The secret to Paul’s actions is that he was submissive to God’s will for his life. Paul was being obedient to God as he enjoyed the close fellowship with God.
Third, we also notice how God uses Priscilla and Aquila to reveal the things of Christ to Apollos. They were at the point spiritually to help Paul, they had maturity and knowledge to help a gifted young preacher get the message straight. Verse 24 tells us that Apollos was mighty in the Scriptures, yet they knew of some important truths that he did not yet know. May this be a reminder and an encouragement for us to keep growing in our grace and knowledge of God.
In closing, are you focused on proclaiming the Gospel to the lost? What about your role in strengthening the Church? Are you deliberately doing things to help you grow? I once saw a button that said “PBPWMGINFWMY” which means, “Please be patient with me God is not finished with me yet.” Thanks be to God that he still desires to use us as we are in process.
“When God closes one door, he opens another.” I dislike that saying. Usually, when it’s said, it’s in the face of disappointment when life doesn’t work out as expected, but it does little to comfort.
In this passage, Paul is in Corinth after a mob of Jews forced him to leave Berea. Paul perseveres and does what he usually does—argue with Jews in the synagogue. And as usual, they reject him. Fed up and disappointed, he storms out and goes to the nearest Gentile’s house, departing not just physically from the synagogue but also from preaching to Jews. Paul stays in Corinth though, and many Corinthians believe. A new church of mostly Gentile converts was formed.
Reading this series of events, I wonder—why did Paul preach first to the Jews? There might be a verified reason, but I only found others wondering the same thing. I think it’s because he was once one of them. He likely felt at home in the synagogue and felt a burden for Jews to be saved as he was. Prior to his conversion, Paul planned to save Jews—his people—by stopping the message of Jesus. However, God “closed the door” on Paul’s plans. Instead, God had another plan for his people, Jews and Gentiles alike, to be saved. He “opened a window.”
Nonetheless, when life is different than we expect, it can leave us feeling dejected. When God speaks to Paul in verses 9-10, it indicates that he was discouraged and afraid. However, God’s words are not an overused cliché or some feeble attempt to comfort, but words of truth.
During Lent, I think of how disappointed the group of disciples following Jesus felt when he was crucified. Their expectations of the great Messiah were definitely not met. They expected political victory over their oppressive government, not for their long-awaited champion to die a shameful death.
I’m so thankful Jesus was not the Messiah they expected. Grateful that God does not always meet my own expectations. Sure, at times I’m disappointed and hurt, just like Paul. And, as with Paul, in those moments our Father speaks words of truth, reorienting my heart to his.
Think of some of your expectations that have not been met. Think of the outcomes that happened instead. Ask our Father to speak words of true comfort and hope, and for eyes to see what he is doing instead.
“You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears.” As the Athenians listened to Paul proclaim the story of Jesus and the Christian message, this is how some of them responded—“These are strange ideas.” Today we live in a post-Christian age, in which people are decreasingly familiar with the Christian message and the story of Jesus. Consequently, today many people respond the same way—“These are strange ideas.” Yet there are two ways listeners may respond to strange ideas—with disdain, and so walk away, or with curiosity, wanting to learn more.
In Paul's encounter with the Athenians we see both responses: some responded positively, “We would like to know what these strange words mean;" others responded negatively—“He is advocating foreign gods,” which was the Greek way of saying “We don't want your strange ideas here, so go away.”
During the Lenten season, we focus on self-reflection and self-examination. How are we doing with God? Is our “heart,” our emotions and desires, in healthy and holy shape? Is our volition, our will, deeply submitted to Christ? Are we prepared to receive the Holy Spirit in new ways? Are we able to see where God is at work, even in unexpected places? Such matters are rightfully where our attention lies during Lent. This reading from Acts 17, however, focuses us on rationality and ideas. Paul is speaking to pagans, trying to upset and re-arrange their ideas about the nature of God and God's ways, and he is doing this because ideas matter. Wrong ideas and ways of thinking can lead us away from God just as readily as unrepentant hearts, or selfish wills, or harmful habits.
Missionally speaking, there is much for us to learn from Paul in his Areopagus debates, particularly in terms of communicating the Gospel through ideas. Notice, for instance, that three times he takes ideas from their pagan worldview and uses these evangelistically—either to point the Athenians to their spiritual need of God or to teach by analogy about God and God's ways. In this Lenten season, in which we reflect on ourselves before our heavenly Father, this text teaches us not only that non-believers need to submit their rationality, ideas, and ways of thinking to God, but so too do we who are believers and disciples of Christ. Christ suffered, died, and rose for the transformation of our whole being—including our rationality, our minds, and ideas.
Lord Jesus, this Lenten season I submit to your transforming love not just my heart and my will but also my rationality--please redeem and direct my ideas and my ways of thinking. Amen.
When I first read this passage, I recognized a few themes that run through the book of Acts. First, there are different responses by the Thessalonians and the Bereans. The Thessalonians reject Paul’s message because they couldn’t wrap their head around a suffering Messiah, but the Bereans eagerly search God’s Word and believe. The juxtaposition of the two cities is definitely worth some additional reflection. Second, you have the opposition to the Gospel. Even in Paul’s day, the world was resistant to the way of Jesus. Third, what about Jason’s faithfulness to the Gospel (I must admit I’ve always had a particular interest in his story) and the resulting trouble it brought him. All three worthwhile points for more thought and reflection.
But as I was reading Darrell Bocks Commentary on Acts, I got to thinking about accusations of the zealous Jews of Thessalonica and their raucous group of troublemakers. The way Luke writes these two stories, he gets us thinking one way, only to carefully pull the curtain back to reveal just a bit more. When I read the accusations this mob was making, my first thought was to dismiss them as trumped-up charges of people who were just angry because their “church” (so to speak) was losing its valuable members. But as I was studying their accusations, I slowly (perhaps painfully so) began to think – “you know, their accusations are actually true.” When the mob hauls “Jason and some brothers” before the city authorities, they claim that this group of Christians have “upset the world” and claimed there is rival King – Jesus. I know we “live between the times” and it's sometimes hard to see, but these accusations are Easter realities. As followers of Jesus, we do mean to upset the world, not with rebellions and force, but with the world-upsetting Good News that Jesus is LORD and Saviour. And while the world has acclimated to those titles, “LORD and Saviour” when I say LORD, I also mean King. Jesus is our true King, the one we follow regardless of our earthly governments. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced, these accusations are Easter realities.
So, as you reflect on this passage and keep living out this world-upsetting Good News, smile when you face opposition for your faith. We are people of another kingdom, giving our devotion to another King. King Jesus.