The book of Acts is part 2, so to speak; Luke tells us that the former account (the Gospel of Luke) is just the beginning of all that Jesus began both to do and teach. Jesus will now build His church through His people who are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Jesus tells His followers to wait in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Spirit, and then they would be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth. Jesus then ascends into heaven and the angels testify to the fact that He would be coming again one day, the same way He left. The 120 disciples stay and pray in the upper room. I seriously question whether or not Peter should have chosen an Apostle to replace Judas – I believe Paulwas chosen to replace Judas and he was chosen by Jesus.
“O Lord, please empower me by Your Spirit, please make me a witness that I might reach the people…and please make me a man of prayer, willing to wait on You.”
“God’s desire is that our lives reflect Jesus…but we can’t do that by our own power. We cannot forgive. We cannot love. We cannot be kind and considerate like Jesus. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can be transformed into His image and be witnesses to Him.”– Pastor Chuck
With all the things that have happened in my live, I’ve learned much more about the miracle of forgiveness. Some saints seriously struggle with this, it really is impossible apart from the power of the Holy Spirit…as Pastor Chuck so wisely writes.
How beautiful the way they prayed! (Acts 1:14)
Wiersbe wrote this, “God shares His power with us as we pray and ask Him for His help. Throughout Acts, notice Luke’s emphasis on prayer. The first church was a praying church.”
Peter did his best to be led by the Scriptures and even though I question what his application, I do believe the Lord will use His Word to guide us!
Wiersbe wrote, “If we are faithful to read God’s Word, study it, meditate on it, and obey it, God will guide us when we have decisions to make. The Holy Spirit teaches us (John 14:26; 16:13–14) and directs us when we pray and seek the Lord’s will. The Holy Spirit uses truth, not ignorance; so the more facts we have, the better. We should use our common sense but not lean on it (Proverbs 3:5–6), for we walk by faith and not by sight. If we sincerely move in the wrong direction, the Lord will show us (Acts 16:6–10; Philippians 3:15), so we need not fear. It is good for believers to read the Word and pray together as they seek the mind of the Lord.”
A prayer that came to my heart today as a Senior Pastor, “Lord, please keep me from being disobediently passive or aggressive, please help me to simply be submissive to You.”As a pastor I can easily lean too far in different directions, tempted to stay out of it and do nothing, or tempted to “take the bull by the horns.” I pray that I’d simply listen to the Lord and follow through with His marching orders.
I’ve noticed the powerful presence of unity in the early church. The phrase “one accord” appears eleven times in the book of Acts, and the word “together” is found thirty-two times.
“O Lord please help us to endeavor to keep the unity of the Spirit (Ephesians 4:3).”
What a glorious day, the day of Pentecost; I don’t need a repetition of it, I need an appropriation of it. I need to be filled afresh, daily, with the personal power of the Holy Spirit; “Father please blow away the sin within; please light a fire with utmost desire for passion and purity. And Lord, may You give me utterance to speak the message – Your Word as I should, tongues of truth.”
I also noticed that this chapter emphasizes the importance of backing up any personal experience – Biblically. Peter is able to explain their experience by quoting from the book of Joel. I especially love Acts 2:21 a quotation from Joel 2:32, “And it shall come to pass that whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
Peter then preaches the Lord Jesus Christ offering more Scriptural support out of Psalm 16:8-11 and Psalm 110:1. I like what Sandy Adams said, “Peter, the man who proved chicken when the rooster crowed, now preaches with power. The power of Pentecost turns wimps into witnesses!”
And on that first altar call 3,000 souls were added to them. Wow!
Acts 2:42, “And they continued steadfastly in the Apostles doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.”Acts 2:47b, “…and the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.”
Acts 2:42 is the key to victory, to growth, it’s the practice for us as Christians, individually and congregationally.
- The Word of God (the Bible)
- Fellowship (talking together about the things of God, the deep things of God)
- The Breaking of Bread (taking communion together, centered on the cross)
- Prayer (never give up on your prayer life individually and with others)
First of all, I’m blessed to see the brothers heading out to the Temple to pray – it was the hour of prayer, 3PM.
I can relate to Peter in one sense, “Silver and gold, I do not have…”but I can’t relate to him on another level. I wish I had the faith of Peter, to heal the lame man, even to be used as an instrument to heal any man. “O Father, please work this work in our hearts.”
When the man started walking, leaping, and praising God, the people saw the miracle and started looking at Peter and John thinking they were something special. Peter corrects them.
Acts 3:12, “So when Peter saw it, he responded to the people: ‘Men of Israel, why do you marvel at this? Or why look so intently at us, as though by our own power or godliness we had made this man walk?’
Acts 3:16, “And His name, through faith in His name, has made this man strong, whom you see and know. Yes, the faith which comes through Him has given him this perfect soundness in the presence of you all.”
It’s not our power, and it’s not our godliness; it’s pure and simple childlike faith in Jesus that makes men well. “O Lord, please help us to really remember this!”
Peter goes on to seize the opportunity to preach Jesus to those who were present – Jesus fulfilled all the prophecies – the Christ was called to suffer, He was the Prophet Moses spoke about, hear Him or die! He was the descendant woven into the promise to Abraham that would bless the whole earth (Isaiah 53; Deuteronomy 18; Genesis 12). Over 300 Old Testament prophecies of Jesus, how could they not believe?
One of my favorite passages is Acts 3:19, “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”
Wiersbe said something interesting, “Reach out to the individual (v. 7) and God will give you opportunities for a bigger harvest (John 4:28ff.).”
Wiersbe also notes that, “Peter and John were not so caught up with large crowds that they had no time for individuals. Nor were they so busy in ministry that they could not pray. They had learned their lessons well from the Lord Jesus (Mark 1:35; Luke 8:40ff).”
The Jewish leaders are much more political than they are spiritual, and again, they arrest God’s ambassadors because the Apostles continue to preach the Name of Jesus and the reality of the resurrection. The enemy doesn’t want us to think of either, but we must – yes, we will live after death, but the final destination is our choice, with or without God, heaven or hell, we decide. (Joshua 24:15; Matthew 7:13-14; Revelation 20:15).
The enemy might be able to limit our movement, but he can’t stop the way the message moves others, or the move of the Spirit, and after the healing of the lame man the number of believing men comes to 5,000. Did you notice how Peter is such a different man after Pentecost? So bold and blunt, on fire and unafraid!
Acts 4:10-12, “…let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. ‘This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.’”
After this the religious leaders’ eyes were suddenly opened to a particular truth. Even though Peter and John were untrained and uneducated in their schools, they marveled at their brilliant boldness, and realized (the key to all ministry) “they had been with Jesus.” (Acts 4:13)
“O Lord, please help me to draw near, to stay near, to lean on You, to glean from You, to be with You, that I might be like You, so much so, that it would be evident to all.”
The religious leaders didn’t know what to do, so they commanded them not to speak at all or teach in the name of Jesus, but Peter and John would not concede. On the contrary, when they gathered together to pray, they prayed for more boldness, it’s absolutely amazing to me that they didn’t even pray for protection, even though they were threatened by the authorities.
How beautiful to see in the close of the chapter, not coerced communism, but Christian love and care for one another. This sharing was not mandated by anyone, it was purely voluntary because they were of one heart and soul, and they experienced great power and grace (v. 32).
“O Lord, please move mightily in Your church once again; grant us boldness, fill us with Your Spirit, help us to be more interested in Your glory and the salvation of souls, than even our own safety. May none of us lack anything, simply because we have You, each other, and genuine love.”
Ananias and Sapphira are struck dead for lying to the Holy Spirit. Apparently, they wanted the accolades of men, pretending to give all the money to the church, but in all reality, they kept some for themselves. O how God hates hypocrisy. In His grace God doesn’t kill everyone in the church guilty of this sin, or we would be dropping like flies, but as He begins this new work, He wants us to have a healthy fear that would lead to holiness.
Sandy Adams aptly said, “Peter calls them on the carpet, and they never get up.”
Acts 5:11, “So great fear came upon all the church and upon all who heard these things.”
“O Lord, please make us the real deal; please have all of me, all the time; may I never, ever lie to the Holy Spirit.”
The result was powerful signs and salvation.
Acts 5:14, “And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women.”
Wiersbe comments, “Dealing with sin in the church often results in new power for the church. Can you imagine a church so spiritual that people were afraid to join with them? Even Peter’s shadow had power!”
The religious leaders then arrested the Apostles, but an angel of the Lord set them free and commanded them to go, stand in the Temple and speak to the people all the words of this life. And they did.
They were arrested again and reprimanded by the religious court, but Peter knew the Godly principle to follow, don’t you just love his words in Acts 5:29, “…we ought to obey God rather than men.”
“Lord, may I always have the courage to share Your Word – no matter what!”
Holiness brought power, which brought signs, salvation, and eventually suffering.
Some believe that Gamaliel gave the group of religious leaders good advice, to leave them alone, if it wasn’t of the Lord, it would fade away, and if it WAS of the Lord, they wouldn’t be able to stop it anyhow. They agreed in word, but never really took his advice. Other’s believe Gamaliel’s advice was off. The teaching of some false prophets continues today. He should have looked at the evidence and made a decision for Christ, rather than trying to stay neutral. Gamaliel was indecisive in spite of all the evidence.
“There is no more miserable human being than one in whom nothing is habitual but indecision.”– William James
They beat the Apostles, warned them not to speak in the Name of Jesus, and let them go. I love the Apostles response in Acts 5:41-42, “So they departed from the presence of the counsel, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for His name. And daily in the temple and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ.”
Sandy Adams writes, “Black and blue, bloodied and bruised, their backs a collage of crisscrossed scars – you would expect the apostles to be nursing their wounds and indulging in a little self-pity. But no, they are rejoicing. The followers of Jesus are honored to have suffered a little for the One who suffered so much for them. Soon they are back in the temple preaching about their Savior.”
The church was growing, and with their current infrastructure they weren’t able to meet the practical needs of the people, in this case the Hellenistic widows.
The enemy could easily have used this to weaken the church. One way the church would have been weakened is if the pastor-teachers neglected the ministry of the Word and prayer in order to serve tables. Another way the church would have been weakened is if the enemy used this to divide the church, because the Hellenists were complaining against the Hebrews.
The Lord gave everyone wisdom, and they were able to appoint seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom; they ended up selecting Greek Speaking men (Hellenists) and they prayed for them, laid hands on them, and as a result, the Word of God spread and the number of the disciples “multiplied greatly.”
Pastor Chuck said this, “In ministry, the top priority is teaching the Word of God. The fact that the Apostles delegated the job to ‘serve tables’ to the deacons doesn’t mean it wasn’t important. It simply couldn’t be the top priority of the Apostles. Men who are called to teach the Word of God need time to wait upon Him in prayer and to study His Word.”
“O Lord, please help me in this; I want to be a servant by vacuuming and cleaning toilets, but I read this and wonder. Lord, I pray You would show me Your perfect will day by day.”
What an awesome work God did through Steven! He wasn’t a pastor or high-ranking official in the church, but he was full of faith and power; he did great wonders and spoke with indisputable wisdom – so the enemy came after him.
D. L. Moody said, “They accused Stephen of being unorthodox in his beliefs (Acts 6:13); but yesterday’s orthodoxy had become today’s heresy, and the council was behind the times! The Law had been nailed to the cross (Colossians 2:14), and the veil of the temple had been torn in two. Within a few years, both the city and the temple would be gone, and Hosea 3:4 would be fulfilled. Are you following man’s tradition or God’s truth?”
In Acts chapter 7 we have Stephen addressing the council, but he doesn’t defend himself – it’s not a defense – it’s more of an indictment of Israel. His words are rich with Jewish history, but the main thrust of his message is the fact that the Jewish people had a pattern of rejecting their deliverers, and because of that, they rejected the Holy Spirit.
They rejected Moses (the first time), Joseph (the first time), and rejected Jesus (the first time).
Just as the Jewish leaders were envious of Jesus (Matthew 27:18; Mark 15:10) they had been envious of Joseph (Acts 7:9).
“O Lord, please rid us any and all traces of envy, it’s such an ugly and hideous sin – the resentment of the benefits and blessings of others.”
I love those 5 words we read about Joseph in v. 9, “But God was with him.”It doesn’t mean Joseph was spared all the suffering, it just meant that God would sustain him through it all, and give great purpose to the pain, that’s what happens when you have the Creator as company.
I’ve always been blessed by the fact that God sees our oppression, He hears our cries, and He knows our sorrows (Exodus 3:7) and He’s sent His Son to deliver us, just as He did Moses, who was a typology of Christ.
But the Jews had turned back to Egypt, in their hearts; they were stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, they resisted the Holy Spirit (Acts 7:39, 51). “O Lord, please help us to always be sensitive to the voice of the Spirit, may we never be stiff-necked and stubborn.”
“He retraces Jewish history demonstrating how God was always up to something new, yet each fresh initiative was met with Jewish resistance. Call his sermon a panoramic view of a people’s stubbornness.”– Sandy Adams
Some may say that Stephen’s life was too short, even wasted – he had so much potential. But I believe he finished his race, that God would ultimately use his death to draw a young man named Saul to salvation (7:58), and we remember the maxim, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”
And the first Christian martyr was welcomed home by Jesus, who stood next to His Father to receive Joseph into heave, as he called on Jesus, died like Jesus, and forgave like Jesus.
As a result of Saul persecuting the church and making havoc of it, the church was scattered – but everywhere they went, they went preaching the Word. Perhaps the church had gotten too comfortable there in Jerusalem; they had forgotten, neglected, or even rejected the Great Commission, how they were commanded to go beyond Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and even to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
Sandy Adams observed, “Jesus had commanded His disciples to go into all the world. So far they had been content to hang out at home. In Acts chapter 8 Jesus uses persecution to deploy His troops.”
God did a great work through Phillip in Samaria; there was “great joy in that city”(8:8 – that’s my prayer for El Monte). Later the Apostles came and laid hands on the people that they might receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit, for as “yet He had fallen upon none of them”(8:16).
Again Sandy Adams comments, “There is more to the Christian life than salvation. Salvation is merely the tip of the iceberg.”
Prior to salvation the Holy Spirit is WITH us. At the moment of salvation, the Holy Spirit comes to live IN us; subsequent to salvation the Holy Spirit makes Himself available to come UPON us (John 14:17; 20:22; Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8). Has the Holy Spirit fallen on you? Are you filled with the Holy Spirit? (see Ephesians 5:18).
When Simon the Sorcerer saw the falling of the Spirit upon the people, he offered the Apostles money to buy this ability; maybe he thought it was some sort of magic trick, or spiritual spell, but Peter rebuked him severely.
O Lord, please help me to know, deep, deep, down in my heart, that money and the things that money can buy are not what our church needs the most; we just need You Lord and the Spiritual things that are freely given to us by God(Matthew 10:8; Romans 3:24; 8:32; 1 Corinthians 2:12; Revelation 21:6:22:17). The most important things are the “things” that money can’t buy.
Philip is then called by an angel to Gaza (desert) after which he is led by the Spirit to minister to a man from Ethiopia who just happened to be reading Isaiah 53:7-8. Philip overtakes the chariot, and God overtakes the Ethiopian Eunuch’s life, whose eyes are opened to the prophecy of Jesus. The man is saved and baptized because he believes with all his heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
What an epic chapter, beginning with the conversion and commission of Saul, who would later become Paul, an Apostle of Jesus Christ. As he’s on his way to arrest Christians in Damascus, Saul is the one who gets arrested by his Savior. How merciful God is, goading him, calling him, even asking him, “Why” do you do the things you do? (that’s a whole other conversation; why do people do what they do – the drugs, the alcohol, the violence – usually it’s because there’s so much pain inside).
But there on the dirt road to Damascus, a terrible terrorist is so graciously saved. Jesus appears to Saul, and of course He’s brighter than the sun at noonday. When Saul asks that question, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”he speaks the words of a saved man. Have you asked the Lord that question lately?
Ananias is then commissioned to pray for Saul to receive his sight, and after a slight (yet understandable) resistance, he lays hands on Saul, even calling him brother (when he could have called him a terrible persecutor or murderer). Saul was a chosen vessel, to bear the Name of Jesus, and hence to suffer tremendously. This is the glory of an effective ministry! Acts 9:15-16, “But the Lord said to him, ‘Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.’”
Saul preached Jesus; learned about Jesus by spending 3 years in Arabia with just the Spirit and Word of God (Galatians 1:17-18), he escaped from Damascus, by being let down in a basket from the city wall; he was not welcome in Jerusalem (although Barnabas helped a whole lot) but eventually was shipped back home to Tarsus, where he would spend the next 8 or 9 years, before his calling to Antioch of Syria (Acts 11:25-26).
…and then the church prospered, what a beautiful passage:
Acts 9:31, “Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied.”
God uses Peter to heal a lame man and raise a dear sister who had died. As a result of these miracles people turned to the Lord (9:35) they believed in the Lord (9:42).
O Father, I see what happens when the Spirit uses the Scriptures and Saints who are surrendered – Signs will follow. Please Lord, reignite the book of Acts in my heart, please Lord.
They should have known better, but the Jews had shut their eyes and hardened their hearts to the fact that God loved everyone – every nation, and every person. He wants everyone to be saved (2 Peter 3:9).
In Acts 10, God not only obliterates their misconceptions regarding the Gentiles, He also takes away the dietary laws – from now on it would be okay to eat non-kosher food. Later Paul would write in 1 Timothy 4:4, “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving;”
God was doing a new things and Peter struggled with it initially, “Not so, Lord…”(v. 14) would be considered an oxymoron.“You can say ‘Lord,’ and you can say ‘Not so,’ but you cannot say, ‘Not so, Lord.’” – W. Graham Scroggie
It’s significant the way both of these men were prayer warriors; Peter was praying at noon, and Cornelius was praying till 3PM. It also appears that both of them were men who fasted. Cornelius was a devout man, along with his entire household, his prayers and heart for the poor got God’s attention.
Pastor Chuck comments, “It’s interesting to me how God brings His purposes to pass. On one end, He was working in the heart of Cornelius; on the other end, He was working in the heart of Peter. God works on both ends. He’ll work in your heart, and then He’ll confirm that work by someone coming and sharing with you.”
God used Peter to open the door to the Gentiles. It’s not only a historical event, it’s theologically significant that the Gentiles were saved WHILE Peter preached. When they heard those words in Acts 10:43 – that all it takes is faith in Jesus’ name to be forgiven, they believed, they were saved, and the tongues were a sign for everyone to see and hear – it was true conversion. They didn’t have to go forward to the altar, or say a prayer, or anything else, they were saved and sealed by the Spirit of God, by faith in Christ, they believed and received the Gospel. That doesn’t mean altar calls are wrong, it’s just important to know the simplicity and power of the Gospel and faith. I like what Warren Wiersbe said, “Peter did not get to finish his sermon. When he said, “Whosoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins” (v. 43), they believed and were saved. What a great way to stop a sermon!”
O Lord, I thank You that You love everyone, even me; I still remember the day – the moment I was saved, just like these Gentiles. May I live a life of gratitude and freedom to obey You, enjoy You and share Your message of life and love, wherever You may send me.
When Peter returns to Jerusalem those of the circumcision question him because they heard he broke bread with Gentiles. Peter tells them the whole story, which is interesting that Luke, the author of Acts, repeats the account in such detail, because in those days parchment was bulky and very expensive. This emphasizes how important this is, as we read in v. 18: Acts 11:18, “When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, ‘Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.’”
“In Bible days, writing was not easy. Because parchment was used, and it was scarce, you had to conserve your words. For Luke to tell the entire story twice indicates that God’s extension of grace to the Gentiles was an important juncture for the church.”– Pastor Chuck
As the Gospel continues to spread, a great work begins in the city of Antioch of Syria. Barnabas is sent there and when he saw the grace of God upon the people he encouraged them to stay true to the Lord, with all their hearts. Barnabas is called a “good man.” This is the only time in the New Testament where someone is specifically identified in such a way, and the explanation is that he was “full of the Holy Spirit.” (v. 24)
O Lord, I know that in me there is nothing good but You. Please help me to decrease that You may increase, please empower me to die to self, that others might see You in me…please Father do that “good” work in me.
Barnabas then goes looking for Saul, apparently he needs help in the church; he needs leadership and some solid teaching, and the Lord laid Saul on his heart. What an epic step of faith; truly Barnabas was worthy of his name, “Son of Encouragement”(Acts 4:36).
Acts 11:26b, “And the disciples were first called Christians in Antioch.” “Christian means ‘little Christ.’ The Romans meant it as a derogatory term, but the believers in Antioch accepted it as an honor. Is your life a miniature model of what others can see in the Savior? Are you a ‘Christian’ in the truest sense of the word?”– Sandy Adams
At the close of the chapter, there’s a prophecy regarding a famine on the way – not just for information, but for action. So, they determine to send help, as each one is able, and they sent it by the hands of Barnabas and Saul; this would be Saul’s benevolent ministry for years to come, he remembered the poor (Galatians 2:10).
In Acts 12 we begin and end with King Herod, who stretches out his hand and kills James the Apostle (James had finished his race). After that, King Herod arrests Peter with the same intention (he sees how it pleases the Jews – it’s all politics). Peter is being guarded by 4 squads of soldiers, but he’s also being guarded by God.
Pastor Chuck informs us that, “This King Herod was Herod Agrippa, the First. He was half-Jewish, so he often tried to ingratiate himself with the Jews.”
In Acts 12:5 we read something so important, “…but constant prayer was offered to God for him by the church.”
In answer to their prayers, God sends an angel, who sets Peter free. He walks to Mark’s mom, Mary’s house, where they’re all gathered together praying, and they doubt Rhoda’s report that he’s there (a little lesson on what a mustard seed of faith can do). But sure enough, it’s Peter, who tells them to send the report to James and the others in Jerusalem, and Peter lays low for a while. Peter is only mentioned one other time in the book of Acts (15:7), as God now shifts to the ministry through Paul the Apostle.
Wiersbe writes, “It is always right to pray, even if your faith is so weak you are surprised when the answer comes! Keep knocking—God opens doors.”
Meanwhile, it’s interesting how the Scriptures chronicle King Herod. One day he’s giving a speech to the people of Tyre and Sidon, who flatter him for food. We read in Acts 12:22,that the people kept shouting, “The voice of a god and not of a man.”So, God struck him, because he did not give glory to God, he was eaten by worms and died. Herod tried to stop the work, but no man can!
On the contrary, we read in Acts 12:24 “But the word of God grew and multiplied.”
Apparently, Paul and Barnabas were there at this time; they fulfilled their ministry of benevolence for the poor saints in Jerusalem and returned to Antioch, with Mark by their side.
It all began with such a beautiful work of God in the church at Antioch – they were rich in the Word with many prophets and teachers. They sought the Lord and served the Lord, even with fasting, and then the day came when the Holy Spirit made it clear that He had a mission for Barnabas and Saul. The church laid hands on them, prayed, and being sent out by the Holy Spirit, the 1st Missionary Journey was born! Sandy Adams said, “The Lord picked, the church prayed, and Paul and Barnabas parted.”The church had finally come to the point where they were convinced that Gentiles could be saved, this is now a deliberate attempt to reach them.
They traveled to the island of Cyprus, which was the homeland of Barnabas, they preached the Word, experienced opposition, discerned and dispelled demons, and God did a great work. Saul stepped it up and God raised him up; it didn’t take long for him to be established as the leader, and Barnabas had no problem with it whatsoever. It was at this time also, that his name is changed (he goes by his surname – Paul).
As the mission gets a bit dangerous, Mark abandons them; but they keep going, and God does a great work in Antioch of Pisidia, where we have Paul’s first sermon in the book of Acts! He gives a brief history of Israel, then he makes a beeline to Jesus and we read his words in Acts 13:22-23, “And when He had removed him, He raised up for them David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, ‘I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will.’ From this man’s seed, according to the promise, God raised up for Israel a Savior–Jesus’”
The sermon is inspired by God, filled with history and prophecy and the conclusion is breathtaking: Acts 13:38-39, “Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses.”
On the next Sabbath almost the whole city came out to hear the Word; you would figure the Jewish leaders would rejoice, but they were filled with envy (what an ugly sin) so Paul and Barnabas turned to the Gentiles as the Word had predicted (Isaiah 42:6; 49:6). The Word spread throughout all the region.
Eventually the day came when they were expelled by the leaders of the city. They shook off the dust and simply went to the next city – they weren’t bummed out, they were called out.
Acts 13:52, “And the disciples were filled with joy and with the Holy Spirit.”
Paul and Barnabas continue their first missionary journey. In Iconium they preached the gospel, some believed, others opposed, God was moving, but because the opposition escalated to dangerous persecution, they moved on to the next city.
In Lystra it all began with Paul discovering a lame man who had the faith to be healed, even though this man had never walked. Paul spoke healing words over him, and the cripple from his mother’s womb, not only walked, he leaped! The people saw and in awe deified Paul and Barnabas (Wiersbe calls this a greater danger). Exaltation is a greater danger then persecution.
Paul and Barnabas react appropriately, tearing their clothes as they cry out in protest.James said the same thing about me in James 5:17, and as I’ve always said, “The best of men are men at best.”
Pastor Chuck commented by saying, “God uses common people. God uses ordinary men to accomplish His work. God wants to use you! You say, ‘Oh no, not me!’ Yes you! The men God uses are always surprised that God would use them. Who knows what God could do through your life if you were fully yielded to Him.”
The accolades don’t last too long (men are fickle) and the Jews from Antioch and Iconium come and speak evil against Paul, and they therefore stone him to death (it’s at this time Paul is caught up to the third heaven – 2 Corinthians 12:2). God raises him from the dead and the next day he departs to Derbe, and then does something so amazing! He goes back to those very cities that he’s visited – where his murderers are – where he’s a wanted man! Wow, he must have really cared about those new Christians. Sandy Adams said, “Paul could have avoided danger by returning to Antioch via land, but Paul was not one for taking the easy way out. He returns the way he came. Paul was willing to risk his neck not only to save sinners, but also to strengthen saints.”
Paul’s words carry a little more weight, considering the fact that he was just stoned to death – Acts 14:22, “strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saying, ‘We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.’”
There are no words to adequately articulate the immensity of this first missionary journey! And so the guys return to their home church (their sending church) and we read in Acts 14:27, “Now when they had come and gathered the church together, they reported all that God had done with them, and that He had opened the door of faith to the Gentiles.”
A couple of conflicts are the challenge of Acts chapter 15 – the conflict over circumcision and the conflict over Mark.
Certain men had crept into the church at Antioch saying that in order to be saved you had to be circumcised in accordance with the Jewish law – this was a perversion of the Gospel. Thankfully Paul and Barnabas fought these false teachers vigorously. This debate was taken all the way to Jerusalem, where it was settled by the consensus of church leaders, under the authority of the Scriptures – who decreed that salvation is by grace, through faith, in the finished work of Christ – and not by works.
They wrote a letter and sent it with Paul, Barnabas, and leading men to be delivered to the church.
Things were going well for a while, as gifts of prophecy, exhortation, and teaching were taking place in the church, the brethren were being strengthened…but then the Division took place (even in a healthy church).
Paul wanted to visit the various churches they had planted, to see how the people were doing and he wanted Barnabas to go with him, but Barnabas wanted to bring Mark along. Mark was the man who abandoned them on the first missionary journey, so Paul said absolutely not! The contention became so sharp that this dynamic duo of Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways. Christians and theologians throughout the ages have discussed and debated as to who was right – I have a hunch they both were. Thank God Mark learned his lesson through the necessary discipline of Paul and encouragement of Barnabas, and in the end, Paul found him useful for ministry (2 Timothy 4:11) and the Holy Spirit even inspired Mark to write the Gospel which we have in the Bible.
Sandy Adams said, “This incident proves even apostles have problems. Egos, stubbornness, fiery tempers create broken fellowship; yet God used their divisiveness to double their efforts. Later we will learn that they mend their differences.”
O Lord, how I need to remember that the church belongs to You. Sometimes You add, and sometimes You multiply – You even allow certain subtractions, and even divisions. Please build Your church in El Monte with Your marvelous math-work.
As Paul and Silas continue on, in what is usually referred to as the 2nd Missionary Journey, the Lord shows them a young man named Timothy who would prove to be Paul’s right-hand man for the rest of his life. Thank God for the Timothy’s in the church!
Wiersbe said, “Timothy replaced John Mark and became a true son in the faith to Paul. God has the right person ready at the right time, so be patient.”
I love the way the team just kept going; they tried to go north, but they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit, they tried to go south, and the Spirit did not permit them, but the cool thing is, they weren’t discouraged, they just kept going, and it was then that the Lord made it clear through a vision Paul received, a man from Macedonia was pleading for help (a good description of ministry – I always pray, “O Lord, please help us to genuinely help others”).
Wiersbe said, “He was an Apostle, yet he did not always know the direction God wanted him to take. He took steps, God closed doors, so he waited; and then God showed him the way.”
Sandy Adams adds, “Jesus told us to go into all the world and preach the gospel, but it is the Spirit’s job to tell us where in the world to go.”
As they make that quantum leap to Macedonia, the Lord does such a beautiful work in Philippi, a place where there weren’t even 10 Jewish men to start a Synagogue, there was a wonderful group of women who prayed each Sabbath. I’ve learned over the years that ministries are birthed through prayer. And sure enough, the Lord opened Lydia’s heart to receive the Gospel, and God raised up a church in Philippi that turned out to be a big-time blessing to Paul.
It wasn’t easy though (good things never are) and before you know it, Paul and Silas are beaten bloody, and thrown into prison – not just jail, but the bottom of the dungeon! I still trip out on how they were praying and singing songs from that place – at midnight (see also Job 35:10; Psalm 42:8). Such pure praise brought forth an earthquake, and led to the salvation of the Philippian jailer, who was just about to kill himself; and not only was he saved, but his entire household.
So simple, so beautiful, so wonderful is the gospel as we read in Acts 16:30-31, “And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’”
The missionary team continues to travel – Thessalonica, Berea, and then on to Athens. Paul’s custom was to find a Synagogue and reason with the people, explaining and proving from the Scriptures that the Christ had to suffer, die for our sins, and rise from the dead; that Jesus is the Christ, and by faith in Him, people were saved and set free.
In Thessalonica a great multitude believed, but the Jews became envious – ah, there’s that ugly word again! Imagine that, they were envious of the crowds that came to hear the message of truth. The same thing happened in Antioch of Pisidia (Acts 13:45) and envy is the real reason they handed Jesus over to Pilate (Mark 15:10).
God help us to beware of envy – that bitter, ugly, hideous resentment when others are blessed or preferred! May we be blessed and rejoice when others prosper!
In their opposition is the most wonderful accusation, “These who have turned the world upside down have come here too.” Oh Lord, please help us to be guilty of the same thing, please help us to turn the world back to You.
The persecution simply moves them on to Berea, where the people have been examples to the Christian world over the ages in that they received the Word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures to make sure that their preachers and teachers were lining up with God’s Word.
Persecution again moves Paul – this time to Athens where he reasoned in the Synagogue, witnessed in the marketplace with whoever happened to be there, and he even preached in the Areopagus, an ancient version of social media – this is where the philosophers hung out, where new things were explored, and they relished in novelty.
Wiersbe comments, “How like our world today! The quest for novelty overshadows the search for reality.”
Paul lectured at their level. Personally, I believe it was a great message, some have even called it a masterpiece of tact and teaching, but there’s a chance it had too much philosophy, intellectualism, and Paul have even trusted in his message and delivery. The only reason I wonder about this sermon,is because there didn’t seem to be a lot of fruit in Athens and when Paul arrives in Corinth, he determines to preach a very, very simple message – just Jesus (1 Corinthians 2:1-2).
It’s just so beautiful to see the way the Lord keeps building His church (Matthew 16:18).
Next on His list is the great city of Corinth, with close to 200,000 citizens. God orchestrates the events to bring more help for Paul the Apostle, with this amazing couple, Aquila and Priscilla who also are tentmakers. Paul worked with them and even lived with them.
Sandy Adams comments, “When Paul’s funds ran low, he didn’t send out a letter begging for bucks. The Apostle got a job! Why don’t modern ministers do the same? God would rather us work than weasel.”
As usual, Paul reasons in the Synagogue, but then when Silas and Timothy come, Paul preaches with an even greater passion – maybe it was the good news from Thessalonica, or perhaps it was just a blessing having his friends with him.
But even Paul had his ups and downs, and in one of those “down” times, Jesus spoke to him in the night by a vision, “Do not be afraid, but speak, and do not keep silent; for I am with you, and no one will hurt you; for I have many people in this city.”(Acts 18:9-10)
So, Paul taught there for a year and six months – that’s a great length of time for a traveling missionary!
God protects and directs His servant Paul every step of the way, as he heads to Jerusalem for the Feast, and then he’s on the road again, “strengthening all the disciples.” The Greek word translated strengthening has a lot to do with infusing confidence and encouragement into the church. How important it is to tell the people, “You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you!” (Philippians 4:13)
Paul is not the only one being used by God, next thing you know there’s a man named Apollos, who’s gifted and passionate, and mighty in the Old Testament Scriptures, but needs some guidance on the New Covenant. So, there’s Aquila and Priscilla, so faithful, and loving, taking him aside and taking the time to teach him accurately. Afterwards, when he’s got the gospel down, they vouch for him as he heads to Corinth, where God will use him mightily.
Paul finally arrived in Ephesus. It was a great city, some say it had over 300,000 inhabitants. Paul had tried to minister there during his 2nd Missionary Journey, but he was forbidden by the Holy Spirit (Acts 16:6)…finally, it’s God’s perfect timing.
When he arrived in Ephesus, Paul found some men who claimed to be disciples, but Paul noticed that there was something missing in their lives. He asked them if they’d received the Holy Spirit when they believed, they hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit. It turns out they had only gone as far as the baptism of John – so Paul shared the Gospel with them, the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. They believed and were baptized; afterwards Paul prayed, and the Holy Spirit came upon them.
I’ve learned ever so clearly that this is the key to the Christian life; that prior to conversion, the Holy Spirit is withyou when He attempts to convict and draw you to the Lord. At the moment of conversion, the Holy Spirit comes to live inyou and the believer becomes the Temple of God. But there is also a distinct experience of the Holy Spirit coming uponyou this is the daily Personal power we need to overcome the world, the flesh, and the devil (Luke 24:49; Acts 1:8; Ephesians 5:18).
O Lord, please fill me afresh.
God began to do such a great work through Paul and these Spirit-filled men in Ephesus, and the word of God spread, as Paul taught daily (imagine that) in the school of Tyrannus for 2 years (he taught in Ephesus for a total of 3 years – Acts 20:31)! No wonder we read what we read in Acts 20:10b, “…so that all who dwell in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” And later in Acts 19:20, “So the Word of the Lord grew mightily and prevailed.”
The Lord did such a great work in Ephesus that there was a riot of over 20,000 men opposing Paul due to the economic and spiritual impact of the Gospel.
O Lord, that You would move like this again, in my heart, my family, and the city of El Monte.
After 3 years in Ephesus, the Lord leads Paul on to Greece where he would check on the churches, strengthen the saints, and receive an offering for the poor in Jerusalem. It’s such a blessing to read of all these guys who were representing their cities and providing that accountability, ensuring that the funds do indeed go to the people they were intended to go to – and not some bureaucracy of brothers, or a choice chariot for Pastor Paul.
Paul was a follower of God – and that made him a leader.
Paul was a Philanthropist – and that made him a helper.
We get a glimpse into what it was like in the various cities as Paul preaches into the wee hours of the morning. It’s a bit understandable that the young man Eutychus fell asleep and fell out the window. It almost ended in tragedy, but thankfully Paul was there, who mimicked the ministry of Elijah and Elisha, he fell on the young man, embraced him, and brought him back to life.
Paul was a Physician – and that made him a healer.
Of course we know that God was the one with the healing power – Paul was merely a vessel, but what a blessing to know that the Lord used him to bring healing throughout his ministry – body, soul, and spirit.
Paul has set his heart to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost, he therefore has to hurry past Ephesus, so he calls the elders of the church to meet him at Miletus (a 30-mile trek) and in the process gives us the greatest pastor’s conference ever.
Paul had been an example to them; he humbly served the Lord. Ministry is not easy, so there were many tears and trials, but it didn’t stop Paul from preaching and teaching God’s Word. His hands were clean from the blood of all men for he had not shunned to declare to them the full counsel of God. The past had been tough, and the future was going to be even tougher, but it didn’t stop him or even slow him down, he was bound in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem and finish his race.
Paul was fearless and that made him a finisher.
Paul looks to his past, he looks to his future, but he also considers the future of the church, the elders needed to be ready. In v. 28 we have the ministry of heeding, leading, and feeding the church, for which Jesus died, bleeding there on Calvary, purchasing the church with His own blood. Wolves would come in and wolves would rise up – Paul had warned them night and day with tears.
Sandy Adams said this, “False prophets will come from two directions – from within and without. Make sure the flock is well grazed and well-guarded.”
Paul commended them to the Word, which is the scepter by which King Jesus leads His church; Paul had provided them a genuine example – to be givers, and not takers.
What a beautiful relationship they had with each other, for we read in Acts 20:37-38, “Then they all wept freely, and fell on Paul’s neck and kissed him, sorrowing most of all for the words which he spoke, that they would see his face no more. And they accompanied him to the ship.”
Wiersbe wrote, “One day, life will end, and we will have to give our farewell speech. Can we look back without regret and look ahead without fear?”
Paul the Apostle is on his way to Jerusalem, and every step of the way he is being warned – by prophets even – that chains and tribulations await him. In light of that, everyone is begging him not to go.
There are some who believe Paul was not using wisdom, that he was testing God. I’m of the inclination that he, like Jesus, knew that this was his call, to suffer and one day lay down his life for the Gospel. We read a good balance there in Acts 21:13-14, “Then Paul answered, ‘What do you mean by weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’ So when he would not be persuaded, we ceased, saying, ‘The will of the Lord be done.’”
Sandy Adams said, “It was Paul’s love for the Jews and his desire to see them saved, that caused him to throw caution to the wind.”
When Paul finally arrives in Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders encourage Paul to sponsor some Jewish men in Jewish practices, so that the Jews of that area will know that Paul is not anti-law (sounds a bit too Jewish to me). Paul was willing to comply.
Sandy Adams commented, “Paul refused to force the law on Gentiles. But Jews were free to observe rituals out of respect, as long as the law was not made a requirement for righteousness.”
Although Paul complied, the truth is, a stand had to be made. If it weren’t for Paul, the Christian faith may have just ended up as a branch of Judaism, or a Jewish sect, when in all reality Christianity is a completion of Judaism, it’s the fulfillment of the law in the Lord Jesus Christ – and Paul had the faith and courage and to answer that call.
The result? He had done too much damage to their religious rules and regulations, they were old wineskins and sought to kill him. The Romans saved him from the mob, but they also arrested him. He would spend the next 5 years in chains – but – he would go to Rome, just a little different than he’d expected. He’d go as a prisoner of Rome, but primarily as a prisoner of Christ, bound in the Spirit.
We leave the chapter with Paul pleading and being permitted to speak to the people, this would be the dream of his life, to speak to the Jews like this in Jerusalem.
We read his heart for the Jews in Romans 9:3,“For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh.”Paul said I’d be willing to die and go to hell if Israel would be saved! How would it all pan out – would the so called “people of God” listen to the man of God?
This is Paul’s dream come true, to be able to testify to the Jews – there on the Temple grounds – wow!
Wiersbe said this, “The starting point of Paul’s defense was his identification with the Jews (vv. 1–16; 1 Cor. 9:19–23). His birth, training, and early ministry as a rabbi were strictly orthodox. He associated his conversion with Ananias, “a devout man according to the law”(v. 12). IT TAKES TACT TO HAVE CONTACT.”
This is the second time we hear the testimony of Paul’s conversion (we’ll hear it again in chapter 26). How glorious to see the way he was arrested by Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, the light of the Lord, brighter than the sun at noon-day, and then there’s that pulling conviction (goads) and deep pressing question, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
As Christians, we all have a Damascus Road story, how Jesus appeared to us, knowing it was “hard” for us; we then had a decision to make, is He the Lord of my life? Thank God Paul made that decision there on the dusty road to Damascus.
Paul is blinded in order to see more deeply – he did a lot of thinking those 3 days, and would later blind a man for a time, knowing the benefit of it firsthand (Acts 13:9-11). Ananias went and laid hands on him, restoring his sight, baptizing him with water, and with the Spirit (Acts 9:17), mentioning the ministry.
As Paul shares his testimony, he does okay until he mentions the Gentiles. At that one word the Jewish mob goes mad. We read in Acts 22:22, “And they listened to him until this word, and then they raised their voices and said, ‘Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!’”How tragic that there was an influential sect of Judaism who believed that the only reason the Gentiles were made, was to fuel the fires of hell – how wrong they were.
As the mob goes mad, Paul is taken away and about to be scourged in order to be examined, but he reminds them that it’s unlawful to do such a thing to a Roman citizen without due process of law. The centurion and commander are taken aback, Paul had been born a Roman citizen. It’s all part of God’s plan, before time began (Jeremiah 1:5; 2 Timothy 1:8-9).
Paul, now in the Roman custody of Claudius Lysus, must stand before his accusers in order for the commander to know for certain what the charges were. So, the next day they meet with the council.
Paul’s opening statement has always blessed me because a life lived with a clean conscience is indeed a noble goal. The court day was very dramatic, as Paul is struck, Paul lashes back verbally but mistakenly; and then Paul wisely divides his accusers so that they fight each other over the issue of the resurrection. It didn’t free him, but it worked to his advantage and they were not able to condemn Paul after all – and back he goes to jail.
Sandy Adams said that, “Paul had preached to the Jew, but no one had listened. It is good to know as witnesses of Jesus we are not rewarded on commission. We are evaluated not on how many deals we close, but whether we are faithful to make the calls.”
We can assume that Paul was down and discouraged, which is why we read those beautiful words in Acts 23:11, “But the following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Be of good cheer, Paul; for as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also bear witness at Rome.’”What a comfort to know, God knows our struggles, He’s always there…He’s here, standing by us, to encourage us, even in the difficult times.
I noticed that God didn’t comfort Paul by changing his circumstances or setting him free from jail, He comforted him with He is presence and His promise that the pain was not in vain, God would use his life!
Of course, the enemy wants Paul dead, so 40 men band together to neither eat nor drink, til they kill Paul – wow! Such hatred, but such resolve! My stomach turns at the thought of these men murdering Paul with malice, but I’m also super convicted that often times I’m not willing to do for God (deny my stomach) what they’re willing to do for the enemy – some serious full-on fasting! Help me Lord.
Paul’s nephew gets wind of their evil plan, he informs his uncle, who has him tell the commander. So, God protects Paul and ushers him out of town, down to Caesarea with an escort of 470 soldiers. Claudius Lysus includes a letter to Governor Felix, explaining Paul’s predicament, and the governor keeps Paul in Herod’s Praetorium until he can hear both sides of the story.
When you’re God’s man, you can safely say, it’s all part of God’s plan.
Paul now stands before Governor Felix as the charges are brought before him in a public setting, led by an orator named Tertullus, the High Priest, and the Jewish elders. Tertullus might be compared to a high profile, modern-day slick and successful attorney.
Wiersbe comments, “Tertullus started with flattery (vv. 2–4), knowing that many people in high places are susceptible to it (Acts 12:20–24). Flattery appeals to our pride. If we did not flatter ourselves, others could not successfully flatter us.”
The charges against Paul are condensed in Acts 24:5, “For we have found this man a plague, a creator of dissension among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.”Of course, Paul wasn’t a plague, he was a Prophet. He wasn’t a creator of dissension among the Jews, he loved them and brought the message of reconciliation to Jews and Gentiles. Paul WAS guilty of the third charge, he was a ringleader of those who followed Jesus the Nazarene – the Greek word translated “ringleader” refers to one who stands in the front rank; a leader, a chief, a champion.
Paul defends himself, by simply saying they have no proof that I’m a plague, or a rebel against Rome. He admits to the third charge in Acts 24:14, “But this I confess to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect, so I worship the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets.”
Governor Felix procrastinates and decides to wait for Commander Lysias to come down, in order to get his side of the story, before he makes a decision. In the meantime, Felix and his wife Drusilla (who’s Jewish) call for Paul and hear him concerning the faith in Christ, but (at least on the surface) it doesn’t seem to go too well: Acts 24:25, “Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, ‘Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.’”Don’ you just love the boldness of Paul? Wiersbe noted that, “Actually, Felix was the prisoner, and Paul was the prosecutor. Felix knew he was guilty; but instead of accepting Christ, he delayed. The convenient time to be saved is now (2 Cor. 6:1–2; see also Isa. 55:6–7).”
Perhaps Felix’s main motive was to get a bribe from Paul and his friends.
Jesus had predicted such opportunities – Matthew 10:18, “You will be brought before governors and kings for My sake, as a testimony to them and to the Gentiles.”
Festus, the Governor of Judea, went up to Jerusalem, probably a typical political visit. While he’s there the Jews petition him to summon Paul to Jerusalem. They may have told him it was to conduct a trial, but their real reasoning was to kill Paul on the way.
Festus decided to have them come down to Caesarea instead, that they might accuse him there, to see if there was any fault in him.
When the Jews came down, Paul defended himself against his accusers. Festus knew the charges against Paul were weak, but “wanting to do the Jews a favor,”he asked Paul if he was willing to go up to Jerusalem and be judged there.
Paul was 100% sure that he wouldn’t receive a fair trial in Jerusalem, and that’s all he was asking for – justice among men. Paul even said in 25:11, “…if I am an offender, or have committed anything deserving of death, I do not object to dying…”but because he knew justice wasn’t possible in Jerusalem, and he probably wouldn’t even make it to Jerusalem alive, he asked for something that he’d probably been praying about the last 2 years – he appealed to Caesar. Because he was a Roman citizen, Paul had that right.
After some days King Agrippa II (King of the Jews from 53-100) came to Caesarea to greet Festus. While there, Festus asked King Agrippa about Paul’s situation, telling him the whole story. Since he was sending Paul to the Emperor and didn’t know what to write, Festus was a bit concerned, because he was unable to specify the charges against Paul.
Agrippa wanted to hear Paul, so they set up a great hearing, with grand pomp and pageantry, the king, his sister Bernice, and other dignitaries were there, most likely in the massive Amphitheater in Caesarea.
What a great opportunity for Paul to preach, all made possible literally through the trials of life.
This chapter is Paul’s Arraignment, Paul’s Appeal, and Paul’s Audience. O God, help me to not only face, but embrace trials. Please help me to not only go through them, but to grow through them. Please remind me Lord, that often times what I perceive as a tragedy is actually an opportunity to testify of You.
Wiersbe wisely comments, “Being a prisoner and enduring the hearings were difficult for Paul, but he used his opportunities wisely. He believed Jesus’ words: ‘But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony’’ (Luke 21:13).”
For the third time in the book of Acts we hear the story of Paul’s conversion; this time he’s testifying to King Herod Agrippa II, his sister Bernice, Governor Festus, and many others (more than likely this is in the Amphitheater in Caesarea).
Paul was raised with an exceptional Jewish upbringing. Everyone knew he was a strict Pharisee, so committed to the Jewish religion that he was enraged with Christians. Paul persecuted them in Jerusalem and to foreign cities (plural). Paul compelled them to deny their faith, he imprisoned them, and even had them put to death. Thus occupied, the Lord Jesus arrested him on the road to Damascus.
I’m always amazed at the question Jesus posed to him, “WHY are you persecuting Me?” Paul was a young man filled with rage – I have a hunch there was pain deep inside – and here he is taking it out on Christians. There are so many people “out there” doing scandalous things – we might immediately judge them, but it might be wise to ask them, “Why? Why are you doing these things?” Maybe even enter their world compassionately, “…it is hard for you…”isn’t it?
When Paul was saved he was immediately commissioned to ministry, to both Jews and Gentiles, “…to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins…”Talk about grace!
Wiersbe wrote, “When Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus, he made some important and life-changing discoveries: his religion was out-of-date; his zeal for God was only hurting God; Jesus was alive; and Jesus had a job for Paul to do. Talk about a rude awakening!”
I love what Paul said in 26:9a,“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision…” O Lord, please help me to obey Your vision for my life!
Paul shared the Gospel brilliantly, the cross and resurrection (v. 23) and the words of Jesus in v. 18, “…that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.”
Festus thought Paul was crazy, but Agrippa may have been touched by the testimony of the Apostle; we read their exchange in Acts 26:28-29, “Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘You almost persuade me to become a Christian.’ And Paul said, ‘I would to God that not only you, but also all who hear me today, might become both almost and altogether such as I am, except for these chains.’”
Sandy Adams warns us, “Agrippa admitted he had almost become a Christian. I wonder how many of hell’s inhabitants will say the same.”
Charles Spurgeon said, “Almost persuaded to be a Christian is like the man who was almost pardoned, but he was hanged; like the man who was almost rescued, but he was burned in the house. A man that is almost saved is damned.”
After his testimony, Paul quite possibly would have been let go, but he had already appealed to Caesar, it’s all part of God’s plan!
Paul had appealed to Caesar, so he was placed into the custody of a Roman centurion, and off to Rome he goes. Typically, it was a 36-day voyage, from Syria, it was well over 2,300 miles.
By the time they reached Fair Havens it was very dangerous to sail, so Paul warned them not to sail, perceiving looming disaster on the horizon, but they ignored him, and off they went.
Sandy Adams said, “Paul warned the captain not to take the 45-mile voyage up the coast of Crete, but the tiny hamlet of Fair Havens would be a boring place to spend the long, cold winter. They set sail for a more luxurious layover. But they should have heeded Paul’s warning. The 45-mile voyage turns into a 645-mile detour.”
Sure enough, a tempestuous headwind arose, and they were driven out to sea; they battled vigorously, securing the skiff, undergirding the ship with cables, lightening the ship by throwing things overboard, including the ship’s tackle, and later the wheat. It didn’t look good – we read in Acts 27:20, “Now when neither sun nor stars appeared for many days, and no small tempest beat on us, all hope that we would be saved was finally given up.”
After a long abstinence from food, Paul stood up in the middle of everyone and spoke, for he had been praying. He told them how an angel had appeared to him, encouraging him not to be afraid, for he must be brought before Caesar, and that’s not all, the angel also told Paul that God had granted him all those who sailed with him, all 275 souls. Paul believed and received the promise! I love what he said in Acts 27:25, “Therefore take heart, men, for I believe God that it will be just as it was told me.”
They finally reached the shores of an island called Malta, but the stern was being broken up by the violence of the waves. The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, but the centurion wanted to keep Paul alive, so he commanded those who could, to swim to the shore, and he instructed that the others float on pieces of wood. Sure enough, they all escaped safely to land. Wiersbe offers some insight, “Although Paul started the voyage as a prisoner and passenger, he ended it as the captain of the ship. The ship was lost; but by the grace of God, Paul’s presence saved all the passengers. Can the Lord depend on you to sail by faith when you face the storms?”
O Lord, please help me to sail by faith, to bring You glory, and to somehow, someway, make a difference for good, in the lives of the people.
In this final chapter of the book of Acts we find Paul shipwrecked on the island of Malta. Paul shows his servant’s heart by gathering sticks for the fire. I’m reminded of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ who said He came to serve, and not to be served (Mark 10:45).
Suddenly a snake attacks Paul. It doesn’t just strike and split, this viper attaches itself to Paul’s hand, but Paul just shakes it off into the fire. The natives of Malta initially think Paul is being judged by the gods and expect him to swell up and die. But they soon discover that Paul is unfazed by the snake, so they change their minds and conclude he’s a god. It’s funny how fickle people can be.
Paul goes on to pray for people, and no doubt preach the Gospel to them. God does the rest, healing both bodies and souls.
Three months later they sail to Rome in a ship that had wintered there at Malta, and upon Paul’s arrival in Rome, he’s put under house arrest, and calls for the Jewish leaders to come to him. Paul shares the Lord with them from morning till evening. I love the way Paul simplifies it and calls Christianity the “Hope of Israel” (v. 20). The gospel of Jesus Christ is simply, and in all reality, the Hope of the world!
Some were persuaded, and others refused to believe (seems like it’s always that way). Paul sent them away with a warning from the prophet Isaiah 6:9-10. They weren’t open, they shut their eyes, covered their ears, and hardened their hearts. If only people would look, listen, and be open to the Lord, He would heal their broken hearts.
Paul stayed in Rome for 2 more years, under house arrest, and he received all who came to him, “…preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him”(28:30). Praise God for this servant of the Lord, who not only ministered to those who came to him, but he also wrote some pretty important letters during this time when God forcibly slowed him down – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon – 4 books of the Bible – wow!
The book of Acts does not end with a closing statement or doxology by Luke – because the book of Acts continues to be written today; chronicled and recorded by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus is still in the process of building His church through people like Paul, Peter, and all the others who are filled with the Holy Spirit and yielded to His Word.
O Lord, please use my life.