They believed not for joy

cant believe it flatRecently something happened to me that was so amazing and, Lord help me, so unexpected that when it happened, I almost didn’t believe it. It did happen, no question about that. But I just was saying afterwards to myself, “Did that really happen?”

It’s like when the disciples saw Jesus after His resurrection and “they believed not for joy”. (Luke 24:41) It’s a funny experience, not normal at all. In Acts 12 is another example. Peter’s brother, James, had already been killed by Herod and Peter, the head of the church at that time, was kept in prison, evidently waiting execution from the way the narrative reads.Peter and angel flat “But prayer was made without ceasing of the church” (Acts 12:5). Then what happened? It says an angel of the Lord appeared to Peter in his prison cell, “smote him on his side” (Acts 12:7) and told him to get up quickly. The prison door opened and then the next ones until they were out on the street and the angel disappeared. Somewhere around here it says that Peter realized that it was real what was happening.this is real flat Evidently he just thought he was dreaming or that it was a vision he was seeing.

Sometimes the Lord really does “exceedingly above all can we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20). Yes, I know it doesn’t seem to just happen all the time, every day of our lives. But it does happen.

A man came to Jesus, asking him to heal his demonic son who had been in that condition a long time. Jesus said to the father, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him that believes.” “And straightway the father of the child cried out with tears, Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief.” (Mark 9:23 & 24) And the beautiful answer to all this is that the Lord did answer his prayer and healed his son. The Lord saw “the glass half full” and healed the child, even though the father confessed that he was struggling with belief about the whole thing.

I guess I think of myself as a person with faith in God and faith in Jesus. That’s what my life has been about. But every so often something happens or comes along that shakes our foundation to the core. It can be something “bad”; but equally it can be something “good”. Maybe it’s like what happened with one of my children when they were very little. One day one of them ran through the house almost screaming, “So happy! Can’t believe it!”

Or it’s like the story I heard which is supposed to be true about a prayer meeting years ago in Oklahoma. A Christian man there had been asking for prayer for his son for years because he was such a scoundrel and a fallen human being. Sure ‘nuf, at a prayer meeting one night the young man answered the alter call and turned his life over to the Lord.

Those there were eager to tell the father what had happened. But when the father was reached at the back of the meeting and told the news, he said something like this. not my son flatOh, no, that couldn’t be my son; you must be mistaken. There’s another young man in the community with a similar name. I’m sure it must be him.” The father had been praying all that time but when the answer came, he just refused to believe that his prayer had been heard. And it can be that way for any of us.

I’ve been reminded recently that He really can answer prayers like that, above all we ask or think. The Lord can come along with “new wine” that “breaks our bottles”, or new changes in our lives that are almost like entering into another life from the one we have been living.

Not only was I noticing my potential unbelief, I was also noticing one of my first reactions was to try to do things in the flesh and my own spirit to confirm and make sure that the act of God that He was doing was something I was going to take care of now. “Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:3)

Sometimes the Lord just does something for His purpose and plan. And you just know it’s all Him, not something of yourself. It may be a long awaited answer to prayer but also it can just be what He was planning all along. And you’re humbled to know how little you had to do with it, besides just being what He wanted you to be and needed you to be.

mary and angelThink about young Mary the night the angel Gabriel appeared to her. Do you think she was all cool with that and it was like she was expecting it all along? I don’t think so. I’ll bet she was just at the very edge of reality with what was happening with her. But also she was His chosen vessel so the Lord gave her the grace for that event.

Or the centurion Cornelius in Acts 10 when the angel appeared to him after his years of faithfulness and told him to “send men to Joppa and call for one whose surname is Peter“. (Acts 10:5) The whole conversion of the Gentiles ensued from that event. Peter and CorneliusDo you think it was just another day at the office for Cornelius? I don’t think so. I’ll bet he was a pretty shook up guy. But he kept it together as this was the hour of his destiny and that of the Gentile world as well.

At times in our lives, God can do things with, for and through us that take us to the very edge of our belief and even abilities to believe. That’s how much He loves us and wants to do for us. That’s one of the reasons why we have “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” (I Peter 1:8)

Acts 26 Live Class Audio

Appeal to ceasar flatAt the beginning of our live class on Acts 26, we were looking at the chapter before when Paul had to think and pray fast when he was asked if he wanted to go to Jerusalem and be judged there. Paul knew with virtual certainty that he’d be killed along the way if he went back to Jerusalem. So, to get out of that desperate situation, he said, “I appeal to Caesar” (Acts 25:11), rather like ones nowadays can appeal to the highest presiding court. And since he was a Roman citizen, he had the right to appeal to Caesar in Rome.The live class audio on Acts 26 can be heard here.

And we talked about destiny and how some things just are evidently “ordained”. This was in relation to how the prophet Agabus had told Paul much earlier, in warning him not to go to Jerusalem, that he would be delivered to the gentiles.

So I told a testimony about a time years ago when I was in Romania and how destiny seemed to get involved in my life. I was single and was getting close to a Romanian Christian sister. I liked her, she liked me, everyone was telling me how great this was and things seemed to really be moving a direction.

Going to Russia flatBut then, when I checked in with the Lord about it, He kind of startlingly reminded me that He’d already told me a year or two before that I was going to go to Russia. I’ll admit this wasn’t what I wanted to hear from the Lord. At the time I had no “burden” for Russia, I didn’t see anything I could do there and there were other factors that made it so that I just really was peeved that the Lord was not going along with this really good thing that was happening right then in Romania.

But as it worked out, circumstances change and as I was leaving Romania unexpectedly, I had the first of two dreams in which the Romanian Christian sister I was close to had two sons who were not by me. Sure ‘nuf, not long after I left the country, she fell in love with a guy I knew there and… they had two sons! And around 2 years later circumstances changed again so that I was invited to Moscow. I spent one of the toughest years of my life in that city, but also one of the most fruitful. “Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.” (Acts 15:18) Some things at least seem to be foreknown and planned by God.

Back to the book of Acts. We talked about how King Agrippa was much more knowledgeable of Jewish affairs, his wife being Jewish and he being brought up in Israel. And this is all like Jesus had said years earlier.

You shall be brought before governors and kings for My sake, for a testimony against them and the gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what you shall speak for it shall be given you in that hour what you shall speak, for it is not you that speak but the Spirit of your Father which speaks in you.”(Matthew 10:18-20)

Here was a perfect example and fulfillment of those words of Jesus.

So Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself” (Acts 26:1). It was a private council, it sounds like his accusers from Jerusalem where not there. And Paul told Agrippa that his accusers actually knew him well, because he came from the Jewish Pharisee hierarchy. He went on to say, as he had said at other times, that he was being accused and judged “for the hope of the promise God made to our fathers.” (Acts 26:6)

And in verse 8 Paul asks Agrippa, “Why should it be thought an incredible thing to you that God should raise the dead?” (Acts 26:8) For the Greeks and Romans, raising the dead was a new and strange idea. But for Agrippa, who knew Jewish customs and history, he would know that this was found within the history of the Jews. Paul ends up giving his testimony to Agrippa so that it is much the same story as what we read in Acts 9 where Paul’s conversion is recorded

And this chapter actually includes the words Jesus spoke to Paul in his encounter on the road to Damascus years before. Here’s a famous ringing part of Jesus’ charge to Paul, what Paul was to do with his life from them on. Not disobedient flatJesus told Paul that He was sending him to the Gentiles, “…to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in Me.” (Acts 26:18) What a charge of God that man had on his life.

Then Paul next said, “Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.”  (Acts 26:19) God help us all to be able to say that in our own hearts with a clean conscience.

much learning flatAnd it’s a fascinating sequence of events because, after Paul has shared these things that had happened to him, Festus, not Agrippa, blurts out. “Paul, you are beside yourself! Much learning has made you mad!”  (Acts 26:24) Those are some nice old English terms from the King James Bible. But in our times, he would have just said, “Paul, you’ve gone crazy!”

So it’s pretty amazing. Paul had boldness but he also had humility. When Festus said that, Paul didn’t back down but neither did he get provoked. He “stuck to his guns” but with humility. What a lesson for us all. It’s another great chapter from the book of Acts, full of the jewels found in His Word. The live class audio on Acts 26 can be heard here.

Acts 25 Live Class Audio

Paul and accussorsAs we’ve done at other times in our book of Acts classes, we started out by going over the last verse in the chapter before, chapter 24, and again zeroed in on where Paul “reasoned with him” (Acts 24:25). That’s actually a really good verse about sharing our faith with others. Paul didn’t start berating and condemning him but he “reasoned with him”. The full audio class on Acts 25 can be heard here.

And we got off into a rollicking discussion at the beginning about witnessing and someone mentioned “the Roman road”, a phrase used to describe the use of verses in the book of Romans which can be used to explain to people how the Bible says “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). And subsequent verses show “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) These are verses that were shown to me on the day I received Jesus as my Savoir.

Even that phrase right there, “receiving Jesus”, is directly from Scripture, one of my favorite verses. “But as many as received Him, to them gave He power to become sons of God, even to them that believe on His name.” (John 1:12) That’s what I did, I received Jesus.

Well, this is quickly developing into a basic salvation class and a witnessing class but we all need plenty of those. Going along with John 1:12 that I just quoted is the super famous verse from Revelation 3:20, Jesus at doorBehold I stand at the door and knock” [this is Jesus speaking about His standing at the door of your heart.] If any man hears My voice and opens the door, I will come into him and will sup with him and he with Me.” Simple salvation. And sometimes you have to “reason” with people, as Paul did here at the end of Acts 24

And we talked about how even the word “sin” and the concept of sin in our world today is virtually a lost word in almost every segment of society except perhaps some churches. We related that to how things are actually in our world today and how Jesus said, “If the light that be in you be darkness, how great is that darkness” (Matthew 6:23). Regardless of the technical advancements we’ve experienced, if a society no longer retains the light of God’s Word, then there‘s an immense darkness upon it.

Actually, we had a little difficulty getting this class started because we just kept getting deeper on some of these first subjects. We even got into where there are things you can find on line that will tell us that the Apostle Paul led people away from God because Paul didn’t exalt and stay submitted to the Torah, the ancient laws given to Moses.

But did only Paul do that? What about when this all came up in Acts 15? The Apostle Peter settled the argument of that time when he said,Peter Acts 15Why do you tempt God to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples that neither we nor our fathers were able to bear? [He’s speaking here to his Jewish Christian brethren in Jerusalem about the Mosaic Law and he went on to say…] But we believe that through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.” (Acts 15:10 & 11)

We talked about the importance of Paul and how it seems he had a better grasp and understanding of what Jesus did and had done, and the vast significance of it all. It’s been said that without Paul and his writings, quite possibly the early Christian movement would have ended up faltering, being absorbed back into Judaism and would have just been another branch of it, like the Sadducees, the Pharisees and the Essenes. And someone in the class rightly mentioned that it all wasn’t really Paul but the power of the Holy Spirit which used Paul. Absolutely. But believe it or not, there are websites that say Paul was a false apostle that led away Christianity from the laws of Moses. Whew!

And then we finally got going into the chapter. The new governor, Festus, after two years, heard Paul again at the judgment seat. But something new happened. “Willing to please the Jews…” (Acts 25:9), Festus asked Paul if he would be willing to go back to Jerusalem and to be judged there by Festus. And undoubtedly Paul knew what would await him in Jerusalem or even along the road there, as 40 of his enemies had sworn to kill him a few years earlier.

So Paul told Festus, “I stand before Caesar’s judgment. To the Jews I have done nothing, as you know.” And then the big thing, Paul said, “I appeal to Caesar.” To which Festus said, “Have you appealed to Caesar? Unto Caesar you shall go.” (Acts 25:12)

It’s amazing the twists and turns of all this. Some days later, the next level up in the hierarchy of the Romans, King Agrippa and his wife Bernice came to Caesarea and Felix explained Paul’s cause to them.  Paul in prison3And we could almost think like that Paul made a mistake or God made a mistake. Because Agrippa and Bernice wanted to let Paul go. But he’d already appealed to Caesar. However, like Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good to them that love the Lord.

And the Lord had already told Paul back in chapter 23, “As you have witnessed for Me in Jerusalem, so shall you witness for Me in Rome.” So it was another rousing, at times debate-filled Bible class we had on the Book of Acts. The recording of the class can be heard here.

Acts 24 Live Class Audio

Paul before FestusIn our live class on Acts 24, we started out by setting the stage for where we had come to in the story. Paul had been delivered from the 40 men in Jerusalem (whom we saw in Acts 23) who had “bound themselves with a curse” (Acts 23:14) that they would kill Paul at a judicial hearing they were engineering to have the Romans hold. The full audio class on Acts 24 can be heard here.

The point was made in the class that, nowadays, we can think of the Romans as being the persecutors of Christians and the bad guys. But at this point in the early days of Christianity, Paul was safer with the Romans than with his brethren who were persecuting Christians at that time. As Jesus had told His disciples, “The time will come when whosoever kills you will think he does God service.” (John 16:2) That’s how Paul had been before his conversion and plenty of his fellow countrymen were still adamantly that way.

Again in Acts 24 it’s a court scene and a whole gaggle of accusers had journeyed to Caesarea to stand in condemnation against Paul, accusing him of sedition (a very serious crime against the state in the eyes of the Romans)  “throughout the world” (Acts 24:5) and “a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes”. (Acts 24:5)

Martin Luther

Martin Luther

We mentioned briefly how that this is one of two places in Acts where the early Christian movement was called a “sect” by its detractors. Virtually every move of God, the early Christians, the followers of John Huss and later of Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformation, the Baptists of the 1500 and 1600’s, John Wesley and the Methodist, William Booth and the Salvation Army, all were called a sect in their earliest days. But many of those went on to be the major established religious of our times.

Then Paul stands to speak for himself, explaining that he’d actually barely been in Jerusalem a week and that the numerous false accusations made against him were just that: false. But he then did confess that he’d lived his life in full faith in the teachings of the Jewish Law and prophets. Paul defends himself by referring to his faith, saying that he believed in a coming “resurrection of the just and the unjust”  (Acts 24:15). He didn’t attack his accusers, he didn’t pander to Roman ways; he just basically stood up for Jesus, for his faith and what he had been doing in his life, taking the conversation into the things of the Spirit and away from politics, nationalism and secularism.

And here again, when the chips were down, Paul would refer to how he had lived in a good conscious. In fact, that was one of the first things he said at his hearing in Acts 23:1, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” And he immediately was slapped by order of the high priest. But to Paul, living from a clean conscious was of utmost importance.

Paul and accussorsAnd there’s a great verse around here that sums up some witnessing experiences that we have. Paul “reasoned with him of righteous, temperance and judgment to come,” (Acts 24:15), at which point the Bible says Felix “trembled” and then kind of gave Paul the nervous brush-off by saying. “Go your way Paul; when I have a convenient season, I will call for you.” (Acts 24:15)

There’s a real lesson for us all here. Paul didn’t argue doctrine, he didn’t get into politics; he often just shared what had happened to him. Our own personal story and testimony are one of the most powerful things we can share with others.

happened to me“This is what happened to me.” When you tell people your own personal experience, and if you share it with sincerity in the power of the Holy Spirit, people will believe you. And if they believe it happened to you, then they’ll realize it can happen to them also.

So Felix got really under conviction. But he didn’t want to yield to the nudging and urgings of the Holy Spirit so he basically asked or told Paul to leave. This kind of thing still happens today when some people recognize the tug on their heart and soul but don’t want to yield to the Lord.

Then also we find out in the next verse that it seems like Felix was kind of holding out for or expecting some kind of bribe before he would release Paul. Things haven’t changed much, have they? And the chapter ends around there, Paul still in bonds, his fate still undecided by the Roman authorities. But in Acts 25, things come more to the climax as the “buck stops here” head of the Romans in that part of the world, King Agrippa, gives Paul an audience.

Paul and soldierWe’ll see in the next class that King Agrippa would actually have pretty much wrapped up the case against Paul. But instead, the seemingly “cruel hand of fate” had Paul end up being shipped off to Rome and ultimately to his martyrdom. Was it “the cruel hand of fate”? Actually no, since the Lord had already told Paul “Be of good cheer Paul. For as you have testified of Me in Jerusalem, so must you also testify of Me in Rome.” (Acts 23:11) It was all part of God’s plan, His much greater vision for Paul’s life and ultimately for the world as a whole.

Exciting stuff, no? The live class audio on Acts 24 can be heard here.

Acts 23 Live Class Audio

Paul on stepsIn our previous class, on Acts 22, we read about the traumatic moments in Jerusalem when Paul addressed his countrymen after he’d almost been torn in pieces by a religious mob there. In our class on Acts 23, we see the continuation of Paul’s new condition of being incarcerated by the Romans, almost as much as anything for his own protection and safety. The live class audio on Acts 23 can be heard here.

Paul and all the Jews in Israel were living under Roman rule but then he had been accused by the Jews. So the Romans held a local court in Acts 23 to find out what Paul was being accused of by the Jewish authorities. It all doesn’t really start so well. Paul opened by saying, “I’ve lived in all good conscious to this day.” (Acts 23:1) It’s hard to believe what happened next. “The high priest ordered those standing by Paul to slap him on the face.” (Acts 23:2)

Paul before the councilIt quickly became a very tense situation and Paul was accused of speaking evil against the ruler of the people when he somewhat hastily answered back to the high priest that he was breaking the laws of Moses by having him slapped. We talked about how Paul not only had a strong heart and spirit in the Lord but also he had a good mind. And when he had to use it, even to outwit his adversaries in emergencies like this one, he did.

We talked about the background of the Sadducees and the Pharisees and how those two groups developed during the period of the Jewish return to Israel from Babylon and later during the rule of the Greeks over the Jews who’d returned to their land and city. Actually it was the Pharisees who ended up coming to faith in Jesus after the resurrection, more than the Sadducees.

In our class we had a pretty large discussion as to whether or not Paul was in the highest will of God by going to Jerusalem where he got arrested. The way I’ve seen it and taught it is that Paul was first directly told “by the Spirit” (Acts 21:4),  that he should not go up to Jerusalem. Then later the prophet Agabus bound Paul’s hands and feet and told him that would happen to him in Jerusalem. Then there was the scene in Jerusalem where the Lord told Paul, “Make haste and get quickly out of Jerusalem for they will not hear thee”. (Acts 22:18)

True and rightious-flattenedBut some in the class felt there were other ways of looking at all this. They asked why the Lord stood by Paul in Acts 23 if he’d not been in God’s Will. So we talked about how “a just man falls seven times and rises up again”. (Proverbs 24:16) We talked about other examples in the Bible of men of God who made big mistakes, John the Baptist and King David to name but two, but who still were servants of the Lord who God didn’t abandon. It got to be a big discussion and not everyone saw it the same way.

In fact this whole discussion became a major subject of the class. One verse we looked at was “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Romans 11:29). Some people have incredible gifts from God, gifts as soul winners and witnessers. Some have the gift of music and can play and sing in such a way that they melt and break hardened hearts and inspire people to draw closer to the Lord. Some have the gift of not only winning souls for the Kingdom of God, they have the gift of challenging people to serve the Lord and dedicate their lives to Him. They’ve won people to the Lord who went on to a lifetime of Christian service themselves.

Looking back flatBut sometimes these ones with such incredible gifts can somehow drift out of the beam of light that shines in the direction of His highest and best. They even have “put their hand to the plow and looked back” (Luke 9:62) or been discouraged or “grown weary in well doing”. (Galatians 6:9)

But those gifts and that calling are still there. And I’ve seen a few like this come back from turning aside from His will for a while to again take on His high calling. And they find that those gifts from Him are still there and functioning when they turn back to full commitment to Him

But there just was a lot of discussion about whether or not Paul was in the will of God in going to Jerusalem. If he wasn’t, why did the Lord stand by him and say, “Be of good courage, Paul”? (Acts 23:11) Because we all fall, we all make mistakes, “All we like sheep have gone astray” (Isiah 53:6). And my view is that Paul, because of his zeal and love for his countrymen, was determined to go to Jerusalem when the Lord repeatedly told him that that was not His highest and best. But Paul was still a disciple and pretty much the top apostle for the Lord when it came to reaching the Gentiles. So He stood by him, even when he’d not kept to the very highest path that the Lord would have had him follow. That’s what I believe and taught in this live class audio. But not all of my friends were totally on board with me on that, ha! The live class audio on Acts 23 can be heard here.


Acts 22 Live Class Audio

Paul and Jewish mobIn our class before this, on Acts 21, we saw that this chapter was one of the most pivotal in the life of Paul. From this time, he was never a free man again, at least according to the rule of the Roman Empire. Acts 22 is an immediate continuation of the narrative of the events that began in Acts 21. The live class audio can be heard here.

The chapter begins with Paul addressing his brethren the Jews who had just before this almost torn him limb from limb in the temple compound in Jerusalem. But as he was led away, after being saved from death by the Roman garrison there, he asked if he could be allowed to address the mob from whom he had just been rescued. The leader of the Roman band granted his request and Paul turned to address the crowd, as he had done so many other times in other circumstances.

To me, it is one more example of Paul’s ability to “share his testimony”, simply to quell the crowd by telling them “this is what happened to me”. Everyone loves a story and most people will listen if you tell them what happened to you. This is still a lesson to us all of how to win souls or at least to try to, by sharing what happened to you in your coming to the saving knowledge of a relationship with Jesus.

Paul on stepsDid they all repent, like what had happened in the same neighborhood many years before, as recorded in Acts 2, 3 and 4? Not at all. That was an earlier time and hearts had very much hardened in Jerusalem towards the people who were by now called Christians.

One of the things we spoke about in our live class on this chapter was how Paul was able to shift from language to language and even culture to culture and this was a great advantage to him in his calling as a missionary. In this particular situation in Jerusalem, it may have helped save his neck as he was able to speak to the Roman centurion that was overseeing his arrest and his protection from the Jews and then to immediately shift into speaking Hebrew as he addressed the crowd.

It’s another example of something that’s always spoken to me from I Corinthians 9 when Paul said, “To the Jew I became as a Jew and to the Greek as a Greek. I am become all things to all men, that I might by all means win some”. (I Corinthians 9:20-22) We can learn from this to be adaptable from one culture or society to the other in order to be understandable to all people and to share the love of God with them.

Another subject we talked about in our live class was how Paul was told he was to be a witness. (Acts 9:15) We talked about how that’s seldom emphasized in most churches and how so many Christians don’t know how to witness or how important it is. We talked about how the Bible says that the endtime church, before the coming of the Lord, will be a witnessing church. (Daniel 12:3). We also talked about Ezekiel 3:17-19 and “delivering our souls”. Paul said “I am clean from their blood” (Acts 18:6) So he knew he had a responsibility to delivery his soul as a witness.

Paul surroundedAnd we had a lively discussion about what Paul tells us in this chapter when he literally argued with the Lord when he was in Jerusalem. The Lord told Paul to “get quickly out of Jerusalem” (Acts 22:18), that the Jews would not listen or hear his testimony.

But Paul talked back to the Lord and disagreed with Him. The question came up, was this something that happened in Acts 9 or had it just happened right then when Paul had come back to Jerusalem when the Lord had been telling him not to go back there? If it had happened years before, why was Paul then going back there again, even as the Holy Spirit had been admonishing him not to? One way or the other, something certainly seemed amiss. And the normally ultra-obedient Paul we find in conflict with the Lord who appeared to him and commanded him to quickly leave Jerusalem and go “far hence to the Gentiles“. (Acts 22:21)

I feel these two chapters, Acts 21 and 22, are some of the most significant and poignant ones in the New Testament. Our beloved Paul, who probably did more to further the cause of Christ than any other disciple who ever lived, is taken captive and it appears as if some disobedience of his at least in part is a factor in it all. These are very emotional chapters for me and our live class on the subject was a reflection of the feelings that come from reading about these events, as well as the seriousness of the lessons that are there to be learned. I hope you’ll be fed by the things we discussed; the live class audio can be heard here. God bless you.

Acts 21 Live Class Audio

If the Apostle Paul is one of the main characters of the book of Acts, then Acts 21 is one of the most pivotal chapters in his life. Up until Acts 21, Paul was a free man and had done an incredible amount of work to win souls and establish churches throughout the part of the world he was from. From Acts 21 on, he was a Roman prisoner. This focus on the life of Paul was the main subjects of our live class audio on Acts 21. The recording can be heard here.

Paul, protected by Romans from the Jerusalem mob

Paul, protected by Romans from the Jerusalem mob

In our class we discussed how we found that the Holy Ghost was clearly speaking to Paul through prophets that “he should not go up to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4). And unlike other times in the Bible where Paul was very yielded and sensitive to God’s voice and will, it seems here his steadfastness and zeal was at cross purposes with the revealed will of God in His life.

Reacting to the plea of the brethren not to go up to Jerusalem, after a prophet had again warned Paul of his plans, Paul said, “What do you mean to weep and break my heart? I am ready to die at Jerusalem.” (Acts 21:13) Very commendable indeed and Paul was such a light and testimony to his generation and to all generations after that. But it seems in this case his willingness to lay down his life as a martyr interfered with God’s specific instructions for him to not proceed in the direction he was going.

“What do you mean to weep and break my heart? I am ready to die at Jerusalem.”

“What do you mean to weep and break my heart? I am ready to die at Jerusalem.”

We talked briefly before the class started on what it might have been that caused Paul to miss the Lord’s highest and best, what He was leading. For David it was Bathsheba, for Samson it was Delilah. But with Paul, it seemed to be something totally different.

Rather than being a “traditional” temptation like a woman, alcohol or something like that, it seems it had to do with Paul’s loyalty to his physical nation and Jewish heritage that caused him to miss what the Lord was calling him to do at that time, which was to remain true to the calling of God in his life to be a light to the Gentiles.

And on another subject we discussed in our class (when we got to the place in the chapter about Philip the evangelist and his 4 daughters that prophesied) about prophets and prophetesses of the early church and of the culture of those times, as well as the verse, “On my servants and on my handmaidens I will pour out in those days of My Spirit and they shall prophesy.” (Acts 2:18)

That of course raises the question of where Paul wrote, “Let the women keep silent in the churches.” (I Corinthians 14:34) How can the women keep silence in the churches if God has poured out His Spirit on them and given them the gift of prophecy? Which then led on to a large discussion about women in the Bible and the different ones who’d been used of God in Bible times, Deborah, Ester, Rehab the harlot and others.

So in Jerusalem Paul ran into something that had been coming on all the time and growing, but he’d been far away from it. James and the elders of the church in Jerusalem told him, “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law.” (Acts 21:20)

Zealous of the laws of Moses? Do think those Christians he’d just left in Ephesus or the ones in Corinth and Philippi were zealous of the law? In case you don’t know the answer to this, it’s “no”.

This small blog article won’t suffice for space to delve into the very deep implications of those Jews who’d been converting to faith in Jesus in Jerusalem but were still fully holding on to the Jewish laws of Moses. But we did get into this more in our live audio class. For those who don’t know about this, this subject of whether Christians are obligated to keep the Mosaic Law is one of the most continuous issues there is, certain among many Christians today and it’s been that way off and on for 2000 years.

This is one of the somewhat longer live classes we had and the reason may be that it contains some of the most significant, personal and far reaching lessons in the book of Acts that we can see and learn from concerning Paul’s life and even his mistakes.

There’s more. Actually there are passages in this chapter and the next that are some of the most heart breaking in the Bible and to me reveal the heart of God and of Jesus, more than almost anything anywhere else does. We talked about this towards the end of our study. I hope you’ll have the time and a chance to listen to the class, it can be heard here.

God bless you, thanks for your prayers and the comments some of you have sent.

Your friend in Him, Mark

Acts 20 Live Class Audio

When I think of Acts 20, I always think of Paul’s last talk and farewell near Ephesus with the ones he loved so much, and who loved him so much. There are many striking, stirring verses in that talk. These were some of the things we discussed and highlighted in our live class on Acts 20. The full audio of the class can be heard here.

Paul sailingThis is all taking place in Paul’s third missionary journey. After the uproar at the end of Acts 19, Paul and his company departed for Macedonia and further travels, ending up back at the ancient city of Troy, by that time called Troas. Paul had plans to make it back to Jerusalem before the day of Pentecost so he had some traveling to do. Still, duty called. He and his entourage were in Troas, “ready to depart on the morrow” (Acts 20:7) and it says “he continued his message till midnight.” (Acts 20:7)

Back then, without electricity, this wasn’t so common at all. But Paul, in his love for his flock and the people of the Lord, kept pouring out his heart and the Lord’s teachings to them.

And from reading this chapter, there are a number of things that can raise questions about how it all was and what was the situation at the time. From several verses it says that Paul was “bound in the spirit” (Acts 20:22) to make it to Jerusalem for the feast of Pentecost. But since that word “spirit” there is not capitalized, it raises the question of whether it was actually the Holy Spirit pushing Paul back to Jerusalem. Or was it Paul’s love for his own nation and Jewish heritage that was influencing his emotions? More on this in the next class.

map of third missionary journeyTo me the highlight of the chapter is the second half. They had been continuing their journey along the coastline of modern Turkey, on their way back to Jerusalem. And as they neared a town on the coast, Miletus, close to Ephesus, Paul called for the elders of the church in Ephesus that he might have one more talk and class with them.

As you may know, I memorize Bible verses. And I have 3 memorized from this place in Acts 20 because they’re so significant. In verse 20, Paul said to the elders, “And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house.

Paul Acts 20Then in verse 28 he said, “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.” His greatest call and charge to them was the same that Jesus gave to Peter, to feed the flock of God. And that certainly still rings true for all us today, to feed His sheep.

Two other extremely significant verses are Acts 20: 31 and 32: “Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified.

Paul huggingIt can get to be a pretty emotional chapter. At the end of the chapter, which is the end of Paul’s talk to them, it says in verse 37 “And they all wept sore, and fell on Paul’s neck, and kissed him.

This is the kind of Early Church Christianity that moved men’s hearts, enveloped their souls and gave them the fullness and abandonment that strengthened many of them to face ultimate martyrdom. In our live class on Acts 20, we looked at more of these verses and how they should still resonate with us and impact our lives for Him and His flock in our day and lives. The full audio class on Acts 20 can be heard here.

Acts 19 Live Class

map of EphesusI was thinking about it, there’s not hardly one chapter in the book of Acts that is not significant, full of momentous verses and truth. But perhaps Acts 19 is one of the chapters that is most like that. The audio recording of our Acts 19 live class can be heard here.

One of the first things we talked about was Acts 19:2. When the apostles first came to Ephesus, the main city of this chapter, they said to some they had met, “Have you received the Holy Ghost since you believed?” And we stayed on that subject for a while because it strongly seems to indicate that the experience of being born again (the experience of salvation) and the experience of receiving or being filled with the Holy Ghost are not necessarily the same things and can be two different experiences.

Ephesians burned their occult books after becoming Christians.

Ephesians burned their occult books after becoming Christians.

If you are really new to the Lord or maybe don’t even know if you believe in God, this could sound like something that is over your head or not even interesting. But for those who are at least a bit further along, what exactly the Holy Spirit is, which Jesus spoke so much about, is really a major thing.

So when they asked the ones in Ephesus if they had received the Holy Ghost, their reply was, “We’ve not even heard that there is a Holy Ghost!” So then the apostles asked them, “Unto what were you baptized?” And they said, “Unto John’s baptism.” (Acts 19:2&3)

To me this is fascinating stuff. It shows how fast and how far Christianity and the knowledge of Jesus had been spreading, much further and faster than the apostles themselves were moving. But in this very rapid spread, it was a somewhat hazy and incomplete gospel. The truth of the resurrection of Jesus and the name and power of Jesus were spreading like wildfire. But the full message, understanding and teaching of it all was not really there until the apostles of the Lord began to catch up with the wave that was spreading so fast.

Each city seemed to have different characteristics. This chapter deals with the witness at Ephesus and it could easily be said that this group of people and this place seemed to be one of the most spiritual that Paul ministered to. The book of Ephesians is filled with references to the spiritual world and our lives within it. Like Ephesians 6:12, for example: “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.

We talked in the class about a little of early church history and how that one of the earliest offshoots of Christianity, which was deemed a sect at that time, sprung up in the area of Ephesus around 115 AD. The Montanists were a group of people with beliefs and customs that many see as being similar to the modern Charismatic movement, with an emphasis on spiritual gifts and prophecy. But at the time they evidently broke away from what was becoming the main body of believers, even though in later times other movements seemed to try to bring back the earliest days of the Church where the manifestations of the Holy Spirit were more a part of life of the lives of the believers.

An idol maker stirred up a city-wide riot against Paul’s teaching.

An idol maker stirred up a city-wide riot against Paul’s teaching.

This chapter has a number of somewhat “out there” verses in it. Later in the chapter there is the part where some “exorcists”, people who attempted to cast out evil spirits but were not saved Christians, attempted to try to do the same thing Paul did, but without the power and protection of God. It says in Acts 19 “The man in whom the evil spirit dwelt leapt on them and said, ‘Jesus I know and Paul I know but who are you?’”. (Acts 19:15) This is all so deep, a whole class or more could be made on just those verses. And again it’s a subject that hardly any modern church will even touch. But it’s in the Bible.

A reading of Acts 19, along with a study of the book of Ephesians, can be a really deep study and give you a perspective on how different were the places that Paul visited in his journeys. I hope you’ll be able to listen to the live class on Acts 19; it can be heard here.

Acts 18 Live Class

Acts 18Our live class on Acts 18 actually went on longer than almost any of the other classes before that. Which is only fitting as Paul wrote more to the Corinthians than to any other church. And there’s just really a lot there, in Acts 18, in the books of Corinthians and in our live class. The audio recording of our Acts 18 live class can be heard here.

And it says Paul stayed there a year and a half, the longest he’d stayed in any one place till then. But it must have been a special time and place as the Lord did something He didn’t usually do, specifically instructed Paul to stay on there in Corinth. Act 18, verses 9 & 10 say,  “Then spake the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace: For I am with thee, and no man shall set on thee to hurt thee: for I have much people in this city.’”

One of the things we talked about for a while is where Paul said, “Your blood be upon you, I turn to the Gentiles” (Act 18:6). This It’s a very big and sober subject about our responsibility to “deliver our souls”, something that is never taught in church but is definitely in the Bible. Paul may have been thinking or referring to something that is found in Ezekiel 3:17-19, “His blood will I require at your hand.” Paul evidently felt he had that much responsibility to deliver his soul and to preach the whole council of God to those he met.

Another aspect of Christian discipleship that we talked about was how Paul, almost more than anyone else, was able to blast off from the “gravitational pull” of his own background, his own heritage and cultural and even his own religion, to truly follow God into a new “universe”, delivered from his old “planet” and way of life.

Jesus said “If you love father or mother more than me”(Matthew 10:37), or even “your own land” (Matthew 19:29), then He said you are not worthy of Him. Not the kind of thing you’ll hear in church on Sunday, is it?

Paul on the road to Damascus

Paul on the road to Damascus

And we talked somewhat about some strange web sites and folks who will tell you that Paul “was not really an apostle of the Lord”. Why would they say that? Well, they figure that “Paul didn’t respect the laws of Moses enough”. “He went astray from the laws of Moses. So that Light he saw on the road to Damascus?? Well, …. Maybe… “

So it’s pretty far out and delusional what some folks get into in order to preserve the necessity of keeping the old Mosaic Law. Even to the extent of sowing doubt about the Godliness of the Apostle Paul. Like we said in our class, if Paul hadn’t followed the Lord into all the world, witnessing faithfully to the Gentiles, Christianity might have been just another sect of Judaism and would have perished with the crushing of Israel and the scattering of the Jews in 70 AD.

Aquila & Priscilla with Apollos

Aquila & Priscilla with Apollos

We talked about that and if (and how much) the Early Church leaders had really obeyed the Lord to “go into all the world and to preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Obviously they were doing that some, as we can read about Peter witnessing to and converting the Gentiles in Acts 10. But the impression is that Paul took the whole thing much further and much more rapidly than had been happening up till that time.

And we read about Apollos in Acts 18 and how he “knew only the Baptism of John” (Act 18:25). We talked about how, when we witness, that sometimes we meet people who really love the Lord and are doing what they can to walk according to the light they have. But like Apollos in this case, they sometimes are missing some major pieces of the puzzle when it comes to the things of the Lord.

teaching Apollos

Teaching Apollos

So like the Aquila and Priscilla did here with Apollos, they built upon what was really a partial foundation in him and he became an even stronger Christian and worker for the Lord from it. It can happen that we run into similar situations in our witnessing and ministering to people.

In relation to this, I shared a personal story of a good friend of mine from 30 years ago who flew in to Moscow in the early 80’s, at a time when Russian Communism just couldn’t have been more serious, and he there just happened to met up with a strong young leader of a budding “Jesus people” movement in Moscow. My friend and this Russian hit it off completely and my friend told him and taught him everything he could in the days he was there. But this all was similar to how these ones in the book of Acts found Apollos who went on to be even much more a witness than he had been up until the time the early church brethren met him in Alexandria.

So, the Book of Acts. It’s an incredible study but many people really have almost never read it. What we see there of how the early Christians were powerfully led of the Lord, as they gave their lives to Him, should inspire us to do the same in our generation. The audio recording of our Acts 18 live class can be heard here.