Readings for this week
Monday: Acts 15
Tuesday: Acts 16
Wednesday: Acts 17
Thursday: Acts 18
Friday: Acts 19
Saturday: Acts 20
Sunday: Acts 21
Introduction to Acts 15-21
There was a disagreement among the greater church about whether or not male Gentile believers should be circumcised according to the Law of Moses. So the church called for the first council to be established, and delegates from around the Roman Empire gathered to Jerusalem, including Saul and Barnabas who came from the church in Antioch. Paul and Barnabas told everyone they met about how so many Gentiles were becoming believers. The dispute was between those, such as the followers of the "Pillars of the Church," led by James, who believed, following his interpretation of the Great Commission, that the church must observe the Torah, i.e. the rules of traditional Judaism, and Paul the Apostle, who believed there was no such necessity.
At the Council, following advice offered by Simon Peter, the apostle James submitted a proposal, which was accepted by the Church and known as the Apostolic Decree, which requested that Gentiles only follow four Jewish laws: to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.
Then the elders sent two men named Judas and Silas back to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas with the church’s letter of proclamation. They read the letter to the believers, and everyone was encouraged by what the elders had decided. Judas and Silas also offered encouragement to the Gentile believers while they were there.
Some time later Paul asked Barnabas to go back with him and visit the believers in all the towns where they preached to see how they were doing. Barnabas wanted to take John Mark with them, but Paul didn’t think that was a good idea, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took John Mark and sailed for Cyprus, and Paul chose Silas and went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
Paul and Silas visited Derbe and Lystra. In Lystra, they met Timothy, a disciple who was spoken well of, and decided to take him with them. Timothy was considered a half-blood by the Jews because his father was a Greek and his mother a Jew. So Paul circumcised Timothy to prove to the Jews that Timothy was serious about his faith, and that God welcomed both Greeks and Jews. The text says that the Church kept growing, adding believers, and strengthening in faith daily.
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia because the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let them preach the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas.
During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Luke writes that after Paul had seen the vision, “we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” At this point in the narrative, it would seem that Luke is not only narrating the story, but participating in it as well.
They sail from Troas to Samothrace and Neapolis, before going up to Philippi, the main city of Macedonia. On the Sabbath, they went down to the river to pray, and met with many women who were gathered there. One of the women was named Lydia, and she was a worshiper of God. She and her entire family were baptized, and she insisted that Paul and his companions stay with her while they were there. And so… the man from Macedonia turned out to be a woman!
While in Philippi, Paul was followed around by a slave-girl who was possessed by a demon who could predict the future. She kept telling everyone that Paul had come to tell them how they could be saved. This went on for several days until Paul became so annoyed that he turned and cast out the demon in the name of Jesus. The girl’s masters were then unhappy about the loss of income her soothsaying provided, so they turned the city against the missionaries, and the magistrates had Paul and Silas stripped, beaten, flogged, and put in jail.
While locked up, they sang praises to God, much to the astonishment of the other prisoners.
At midnight, there was a severe earthquake, and the gates of the prison fell apart and Paul and Silas could have escaped but remained. The jailor believes he will be executed for letting the prisoners escape, and is about to commit suicide, but Paul and Silas stop him. This leads to conversion of the jailor and the baptism of his entire household.
The next day, the magistrates decide to release Paul and Silas, but Paul calls them out, saying that they were just trying to cover up the fact that they had beaten and imprisoned two Roman citizens. So the magistrates were alarmed, and they gave Paul and Silas an official escort out of town, but let them say good-bye to Lydia and her family first.
Paul and his companions pass through Amphipolis and Apollonia on their way to Thessalonica. Paul taught in the Synagogue and few of the Jews and a large number of Greeks, including many prominent women, were persuaded by his message about Jesus. But some other Jews were jealous, so they rounded up a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason’s house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other believers before the city officials. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go. As soon as it was night, the believers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea.
Paul and Silas went to the Synagogue there and Paul taught the people about Jesus. Luke writes that the Berean Jews were “of nobler character” than the Thessalonians, and they accepted what Paul said after having examined the Scriptures to see if what he said was could be backed up. But when the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, some of them went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. The believers immediately sent Paul to the coast, but Silas and Timothy stayed at Berea.
Paul was escorted to Athens, and he was distressed to see the city full of idols and so he went to the synagogue and the marketplace to preach about the resurrection of Jesus. Some Greeks took him to a meeting at the Areopagus, the high court in Athens, to explain himself. The Areopagus literally meant the rock of Ares, and was a center of temples, cultural facilities, and a high court. It was illegal to preach a foreign deity in Athens, so Paul's sermon was in fact a combination of a "guest lecture" and a trial.
The sermon addresses five main issues:
Introduction: Discussion of the ignorance of pagan worship.
The one Creator God being the object of worship.
God's relationship to humanity.
Idols of gold, silver and stone as objects of false worship.
Conclusion: Time to end the ignorance.
Paul begins his address by emphasizing the need to know God, rather than worshiping the unknown.
Paul then explained concepts such as the resurrection of the dead and salvation… he present the Gospel to them.
After the sermon, a number of people became followers of Paul.
Gospel Message Topics Mentioned:
Jesus’ life: 0
Jesus’ death: 1
Jesus’ resurrection: 1
Jesus’ lordship: 1
Paul travels to Corinth and meets a Jewish couple from Italy named Priscilla and Aquila who had been banished from their homeland, along with many other Jews, during the reign of Claudius. Paul stayed with them and they had a tent-making business together. Every Sabbath Paul would teach in the Synagogue, but the Jews abused him so he declared, “From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.
God told Paul not to be afraid to stay in Corinth, so Paul stayed there for a year and a half, teaching the word of God. However, while Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews of Corinth made a united attack on Paul and brought him to the place of judgment, accusing him of teaching people incorrect worship. Paul was going to speak, but Gallio cut him off and told the Jews to get lost as he was not a judge of religious law. Then the crowd there turned on Sosthenes the synagogue leader and beat him in front of the proconsul, but Gallio couldn’t care less.
Priscilla and Aquila travel with Paul to Ephesus, where Paul teaches in the synagogue. The people want Paul to stay, but he says he needs to move on. He leaves Priscilla and Aquila in Ephesus and sails to Caesarea and travels down to Jerusalem and to Antioch to meet the believers there. He then travels to Galatia and Phrygia, and encourages the disciples he meets.
Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures, and taught about Jesus accurately, even though he only knew the story up until the baptism of John. Priscilla and Aquila invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers and sisters encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him, and he was a great help there.
Paul leaves Apollos in Corinth and travels to Ephesus. There he meets some disciples of John the Baptist who had apparently missed the part of his message about the baptism of the Holy Spirit and had only heard the part about the water baptism of repentance. Paul reminds them of John’s words about the one who would come after him, Jesus, and the disciples believe and receive the Holy Spirit when Paul places his hands on them. So these twelve disciples of John the Baptist became disciples of Jesus.
God did all kinds of miracles through Paul. The text says that even handkerchiefs and aprons that Paul had touched were able to cure diseases and cast out demons. A group of Jews, seven sons of Sceva the priest were going around casting out demons, saying, “In the name of Jesus whom Paul preaches…" But one day a spirit answered them back, saying he knew Jesus and had heard about Paul, but he didn’t know who these jokers were. He then beat them so bad that they ran away naked and bleeding. The whole city was afraid because of this and they began to confess their sins, which included practicing sorcery, and they burned thousands of expensive magic scrolls - about 150 years’ worth of a man’s wages.
After nearly three years of training his disciples and teaching in the synagogues and outdoors in the lecture hall, Paul decided he was going to go back up to Jerusalem. Around that time, a guy named Demetrius who crafted and sold idols in the city stirred up all the other craftsmen against Paul because the people weren’t buying their idols anymore. Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul’s traveling companions from Macedonia, and all of them rushed into the theater together.
Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there. Eventually, the city clerk quieted the crowd down, asking them why they would risk getting charged with rioting just to bring some random guys in who hadn’t really done anything. He then dismissed the crowd.
Paul traveled through Macedonia, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, where he stayed three months. Because some Jews had plotted against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia with Timothy and some others. Paul stopped in Philippi along the way and caught up with the others at Troas later.
Paul stayed with the believers for a week at Troas, and the night before he was to leave he kept talking and talking to the people until midnight. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him, saying, “Don’t be alarmed! He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.
Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost. Paul sends for the Ephesian elders, and when they arrive, he says his good-byes to them, and tells them that the Holy Spirit is leading him to Jerusalem, and that he doesn’t know what will happen to him there. He blesses them and warns them to be on their guard against false teachers who will try to take over their group. Everybody wept when Paul told them that they would never see his face again, and they walked with him down to the ship where he boarded and sailed away.
They sail to Kos, then Rhodes, and then Patara, where they switch ships and sail all the way south of Cyprus and land in Tyre. The disciples at Tyre urged Paul not to continue on to Jerusalem. They all pray together on the beach, and then Paul and his companions set sail for Ptolemais, and then on to Caesarea.
There they stay with Philip the Evangelist, who was one of the original seven chosen by Jesus’ disciples to take their place in serving the Greek-speaking Jews. Here the text mentions that Philip had four unmarried daughters who prophesied. After several days, a prophet named Agabus comes down from Judea. He takes Paul’s belt, ties his own hands and feet with it and says, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” The believers then begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem, but Paul tells them to stop crying and breaking his heart, saying that he is willing not only to be bound but to die for Jesus. And they set out for Jerusalem.
When they arrive, they go to see James and the other elders, and they report to them what God had been doing among the Gentiles. The elders praise God, but then they inform Paul of a rumor going around that Paul denounces not only circumcision among Gentiles, but among Jews as well, telling them to throw out the Law of Moses. And they let Paul know that there are four men among them who are waiting to finish participating in the Jewish purification rites, and they recommend that Paul accompany them and pay for their expenses so that the rumor that Paul is against the Laws of Moses will be put to rest. And they add that they themselves have not forgotten the letter of encouragement they had previously sent to the Gentile believers, saying that they needed only to follow a small handful of laws intended for all of humanity, and not the special laws made specifically for the Jews. And Paul went with the four men and paid for their purification rites.
A week later, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple, and they stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, accusing him of bringing Gentiles into the Temple. They said this because they had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple. While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. The commander came up and arrested him and asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers.
As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he starting asking questions to the commander, and the commander was surprised that Paul could speak Greek. He had assumed that Paul must have been that trouble-maker Egyptian guy he’d heard about that led 4000 terrorists out into the desert.
Paul tells him he is a Roman Jew from Tarsus, and he gets permission to speak the crowd once they settle down. When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.