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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Statue of Liberty in the Middle of the Susquehanna

The mystery revealed of that statue that sits in the middle of the river on the way to Harrisburg:

Sunday, February 26, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "Back to Jerusalem"

“Back to Jerusalem”
From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
February 26, 2012
Acts 21:1-23:11


Believe or not, I think we’ve only got 4 more messages until we reach the end of the book of Acts.  If things go as I am seeing it now, we’ll be done the Sunday before Palm Sunday with our study of the book of Acts which we’ve been calling, “From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania.”

Jesus told his disciples, “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” And that’s what we’ve been seeing.

Most recently, we’ve been journeying with the apostle Paul on three missionary journeys throughout the Roman world. Starting in Antioch and stretching outward, returning home and then revisiting planted churches and starting new ones. Three journeys.

And Paul is now on the way home. He’s on the way back from his third missionary journey in the book of Acts. He is traveling with a small team and has landed at Miletus to say goodbye to the elders of the church at Ephesus which he had built up over a two year period of time.

Last week, in chapter 20, we saw him tearfully warn them about the dangers ahead of them and commit them to God and the word of his grace.

Now, it’s time to head back to Jerusalem. “Back to Jerusalem.”

Paul never actually makes it all the way back to Antioch, his sending church.  But he does make it back to Jerusalem.

It’s his plan to go there. We saw last week that he wanted to be in Jerusalem by the Feast of Pentecost.

Paul’s letters from around this time tell us that he had taken up an offering to help the economically depressed Christians in Jerusalem and was planning to deliver it when he got there.

So, Paul is deliberately headed to Jerusalem.

Can you think of anyone else that deliberately headed to Jerusalem?

Yes. I think that there is an echo of Christ-like-ness in Paul’s decision to head back to Jerusalem. We’re going to see in moment that the Spirit is going to reveal to many that going back to Jerusalem, for Paul, means suffering and trials and trouble.

But still he goes.

Just like Jesus set His face towards Jerusalem and would not turn back, for our salvation.

Paul, for the glory of Jesus, goes back to Jerusalem.

You know, one of the hardest parts of preparing a sermon is figuring out what today’s passage is all about.

I love studying the passages and reading the commentaries and thinking about God’s truth that He wants us to know.

But one of the hardest parts (and therefore the most rewarding when it finally comes) is to figure out what this passage is all about in a way that no other passage is all about.

Why did God include this passage in His holy word? Why couldn’t it have been left out?  And when you get a real sense of that, then it becomes easy to preach because you know what it’s about.

I struggled to know what this passage is all about.  Surely, it’s about God. And about His mission for the new church. Certainly, it’s about the apostle Paul and what happened to him when he went back to Jerusalem.

It’s a key piece of history.

But how does that apply to us?

And when I kept asking myself that question, I got five points of “what this story is all about.”  And I’m sure I’ve missed a good bit, but these were five that stood out to me.

Here’s #1. CHRISTIAN LOVE.

This story is about how Christians love one another.

Jesus told us to love one another and told us that we would be known as His followers if we loved one another.

I think we’ll see that in this story.  It’s right in the first verse of chapter 21. V.1

“After we had torn ourselves away from them, we put out to sea and sailed straight to Cos. The next day we went to Rhodes and from there to Patara.”

Now, before we put up the map again, I just want you to see how much affection there was between these men. Chapter 20 ended with them all crying and hugging and even kissing because they would never see each other again.

Real men cry. Okay? Especially Christian men. They are not afraid of their emotions.

And they are not afraid to love each other deeply.

Verse 1 says that they had to tear themselves away from each other.

That’s the kind of Christian brotherhood I want to see grow here at LEFC.  Not that I’m going to kiss any of you guys any time soon!  But that we would care about each other deeply and that parting from each other would mean tearing ourselves away.

That’s Christian love. Now, let’s look at the map.

Here is Miletus. They go from there to Cos. Then Rhodes and then Patara. V.2

“We found a ship crossing over to Phoenicia, went on board and set sail. After sighting Cyprus and passing to the south of it, we sailed on to Syria. We landed at Tyre, where our ship was to unload its cargo.”

And they find some Christians there.

“Finding the disciples there, we stayed with them seven days. Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.”

Did you catch that? I think what’s happening is that these disciples sense through the Holy Spirit that Paul was in trouble if he went to Jerusalem. So they urged him not to go.  V.5

“But when our time was up, we left and continued on our way. All the disciples and their wives and children accompanied us out of the city, and there on the beach we knelt to pray. [Notice the Christian love again.] After saying good-by to each other, we went aboard the ship, and they returned home. We continued our voyage from Tyre and landed at Ptolemais, where we greeted the brothers and stayed with them for a day. Leaving the next day, we reached Caesarea and stayed at the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven. He had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.”

Remember Philip?  We had a whole sermon about him back in the Fall.

Paul and his team are staying with Philip and they get another prophet to visit. V.10

“After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul's belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, 'In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.'’”

Dramatic! “When we heard this, we and the people there pleaded with Paul not to go up to Jerusalem. [They love him!] Then Paul answered, ‘Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.’”

Here’s something else this story is about:

#2. FAITH-FILLED RISK.

Do you think that Paul is in trouble?

Absolutely.

I don’t think there is any doubt in anybody’s mind that Paul will soon be in major trouble.

First the disciples at Tyre.
Now, Agubus.

“If you go to Jerusalem, you will be bound and handed over to the Gentiles.”

But Paul already knew that. In the last chapter he said, (20:22) “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardship are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given to me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.”

Last week we called it the Danger of Christianity. Here Paul says, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

We just sang:
   
    Let Goods and Kindred Go
    This Mortal Life Also
    The Body They May Kill
    God’s Truth Abideth Still
    His Kingdom Is Forever


Some of you may be following the story of Iranian pastor Yousef Nadarkhani. 


In 2009, Pastor Nadarkhani was arrested for the crime of apostasy against the religion of Islam even though he had never been a Muslim.

The newspapers this week reported that the regime in Tehran has given the go-ahead for his execution. Pray for him. As I understand it, his wife has been sentenced to life in prison just for being a Christian.

The Washington Times reports that “Last autumn, Mr. Nadarkhani was given an opportunity to recant his Christian faith and save his life. When asked to do so he replied, ‘Repent means to return. What should I return to?’ When told he must return ‘to the religion of [his] ancestors, Islam,’ Mr. Nadarkhani said, ‘I cannot.’”

Paul said, “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

Are you ready to take a risk for the name of Jesus?

What was the last risk you took in the name of Jesus?

V.14

“When he would not be dissuaded, we gave up and said, ‘The Lord's will be done.’ After this, we got ready and went up to Jerusalem.”

Back to Jerusalem.  V.16

Some of the disciples from Caesarea accompanied us and brought us to the home of Mnason, where we were to stay. He was a man from Cyprus and one of the early disciples.  When we arrived at Jerusalem, the brothers received us warmly. [Note again the Christian love.] The next day Paul and the rest of us went to see James, and all the elders were present. Paul greeted them and reported in detail what God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard this, they praised God. Then they said to Paul: ‘You see, brother, how many thousands of Jews have believed, and all of them are zealous for the law. [But there is a problem.] They have been informed that you teach all the Jews who live among the Gentiles to turn away from Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or live according to our customs. What shall we do? They will certainly hear that you have come, so do what we tell you. There are four men with us who have made a vow. Take these men, join in their purification rites and pay their expenses, so that they can have their heads shaved. Then everybody will know there is no truth in these reports about you, but that you yourself are living in obedience to the law. As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality.’”

Let’s stop there for a second. Is the picture clear?

Paul and James meet again. They may not have been together since the big conference in Jerusalem back in chapter 15 after the first missionary journey.

They have love for one another.
They believe the same gospel.
They are still both following the decisions made at the conference.

But there is a concern that Paul might be leading Jews astray.

Does Paul do that?

Well, Paul does not feel as strictly about the law as probably James does.

But he’s not against the law, and when he’s with Jews, he can certainly act like a Jew and respect the law, even its more ceremonial aspects.

So, to preserve unity, Paul agrees to take part in this purification rite.

It’s a show of solidarity, togetherness, and a demonstration that Paul respects the law. And strangely enough, their idea not only doesn’t work but lands Paul in the soup. V.26

“The next day Paul took the men and purified himself along with them. Then he went to the temple to give notice of the date when the days of purification would end and the offering would be made for each of them. When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, ‘Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.’ (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)”

Do you see what’s going on? 

Remember how much trouble Paul had with the various Jews in Asia (the ones who did not receive the Messiah when He was presented to them)?

Well, well, well. Here they are again. And they are dead set on setting Paul dead.

Apparently, they recognized Trophimus from being on Paul’s team back in Ephesus and they made the assumption that Paul had defiled the court of Israel with a Greek.

And they raised a rucus. V.30

“The whole city was aroused, and the people came running from all directions. Seizing Paul, they dragged him from the temple, and immediately the gates were shut. [Yikes.]  While they were trying to kill him, news reached the commander of the Roman troops that the whole city of Jerusalem was in an uproar. He at once took some officers and soldiers and ran down to the crowd. When the rioters saw the commander and his soldiers, they stopped beating Paul. The commander came up and arrested him and ordered him to be bound with two chains. Then he asked who he was and what he had done. Some in the crowd shouted one thing and some another, and since the commander could not get at the truth because of the uproar, he ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. When Paul reached the steps, the violence of the mob was so great he had to be carried by the soldiers. The crowd that followed kept shouting, ‘Away with him!’”

Paul is in trouble.

Just like the Spirit was telling him.

And it looks like the end of his life. And then he gets rescued by the Romans.

Don’t you love how they find the guy being beaten up and arrest him?

He must have done something to get this kind of treatment!

And the soldiers have to carry Paul to safety. And crowd is yelling, “Away with him!”

Remind you of someone else? Someone that Paul loves dearly?

The crowd yelling, “Crucify Him!”

Back in Jerusalem.

V.37

“As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, ‘May I say something to you?’ ‘Do you speak Greek?’ he replied. ‘Aren't you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?’ Paul answered, [Uh, no.] ‘I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.’ [And here is a minor miracle. He lets him.] Having received the commander's permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic: ‘Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.’  When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet. Then Paul said: ‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.”

What’s he doing?

He’s telling his story.

He’s giving bold witness.

That’s what this whole section is all about.

#3. BOLD WITNESS.

Remember our theme for the year? “Tell Your Story in 2012.”

Give your testimony.

Open your mouth and talk about how the Lord has arrested you.

They think that they are arresting Paul.

But they are too late. Paul has already been arrested by the Lord Jesus. V.6

“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, 'Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?' ‘'Who are you, Lord?' I asked. ‘'I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. ‘'What shall I do, Lord?' I asked. ‘'Get up,' the Lord said, 'and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.'  My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me. A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, 'Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him. Then he said: 'The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness [key word!] to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.' When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. 'Quick!' he said to me. 'Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me.' 'Lord,' I replied, 'these men know that I went from one synagogue to another to imprison and beat those who believe in you. And when the blood of your martyr Stephen was shed, I stood there giving my approval and guarding the clothes of those who were killing him.' Then the Lord said to me, 'Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'’

The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!’” Stop there for second.

It takes guts to talk like this before an audience like this.

I don’t know what I would do if I got to this part in one of my sermons and you up and yelled, “Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!”

That’ll probably never happen.

So, what are we so afraid of?

Why are we afraid to give our testimonies, to speak out for Jesus?

To be His witnesses?

People don’t get saved unless they hear the gospel.

So, we’ve got share it.

Paul was arrested by Jesus, and He lived to tell about it.

Have you been arrested by Jesus? Saved by His blood?

Be a bold witness. Tell your story. And lead others to Christ.

The crowd listens quietly to Paul’s defense (which is really just his testimony) until he reaches Stephen as martyr and then especially when he says that he’s going to take  the gospel to the Gentiles. Oh, they don’t like that. V.23

“As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air, the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. [He does nnot understand what’s going on. It’s probable that he doesn’t know Aramaic and doesn’t even know what Paul has just said to make everyone so mad. V.24] He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. [How would you like that kind of interrogation?] As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, ‘Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?’ When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. ‘What are you going to do?’ he asked. ‘This man is a Roman citizen.’ The commander went to Paul and asked, ‘Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?’ ‘Yes, I am,’ he answered. Then the commander said, ‘I had to pay a big price for my citizenship.’ ‘But I was born a citizen,’ Paul replied. Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.”

Remember when this happened to Paul in Phillipi?

Here it is again in Jerusalem.

V.30 “The next day, since the commander wanted to find out exactly why Paul was being accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the Sanhedrin to assemble. Then he brought Paul and had him stand before them.”

This is amazing, too. The Roman commander orders the Jewish leaders to gather to have Paul talk to them.

And what does Paul do with opportunities like that?  He seizes them in bold witness. Chapter 23, verse 1.

“Paul looked straight at the Sanhedrin and said, ‘My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day.’

At this the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near Paul to strike him on the mouth. [“How dare you say that you are fulfilling your duty to God?”]

Then Paul said to him, ‘God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! You sit there to judge me according to the law, yet you yourself violate the law by commanding that I be struck!’

[Innocent until proven guilty? Not here.]

“Those who were standing near Paul said, ‘You dare to insult God's high priest?’”

“Paul replied, ‘Brothers, I did not realize that he was the high priest; for it is written: 'Do not speak evil about the ruler of your people.'’”

Why didn’t he know? My best guess is that he didn’t realize that he was looking at Ananias because his eyesight was poor.

However it was, he actually apologizes for insulting the high priest. But he doesn’t back down. Instead, he throws a thought grenade into the meeting. V.6

“Then Paul, knowing that some of them were Sadducees and the others Pharisees, called out in the Sanhedrin, ‘My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of [what?] my hope in the resurrection of the dead.’ When he said this, a dispute broke out between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, and that there are neither angels nor spirits, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.)”

This is pure genius. Paul knows that some are Sadducees (they didn’t believe in the resurrection, so they were Sad-You-See, har har) and that some were Pharisees who did.

And he aligns himself with his historic party and announces that the reason he’s there is that he hopes in the resurrection.

#4. RESURRECTION HOPE.

Now, you and I know that he’s talking about more than just a general resurrection but that the resurrection has already begun.

Jesus Christ is the firstfruits of those who have risen from the dead.

And there is more to come.

We’re just 6 weeks away from Resurrection Sunday (commonly known as Easter).

Paul realizes that the resurrection of Jesus Christ makes all the difference in the world.

Last night, our speaker showed a video with a man sitting at campfire explaining the gospel. And when he got to the Empty Tomb, the man said that this was the best part of the good news and the music swelled the loudest.

This makes all the difference–Jesus is alive!

Resurrection Hope.

If there is no resurrection, then we have no hope.

If you don’t believe in the resurrection, then grab all the life you can right now because this is as good as it gets.

But if you believe in the resurrection of Jesus, then you have hope.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to talk to a few families about being a pastor, what it means to be a pastor.

And these were not necessarily Christian families. It was a special invitation.

And as I shared with these families, there was one boy who was about 7 or 8 years old and I said that Christians believe that Jesus Christ died for our sins and then came back to life. And this boy’s eyes got sooooo big.

It was clear to me that he had never heard that before.

Jesus Christ came back to life.

“I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”

Namely Jesus. And as far as I know that’s why Pastor Nadarkhani is in prison facing execution.

If we’re right about resurrection, then that’s the worst they can do–kill us. But it won’t last. We’ll go to be with Jesus and eventually we’ll get our resurrection bodies, as well.

Do you have resurrection hope?

“I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead.”

And here’s what happened. V.9

“There was a great uproar, and some of the teachers of the law who were Pharisees stood up and argued vigorously. ‘We find nothing wrong with this man,’ they said. ‘What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?’ [He’s talking our language now!] The dispute became so violent that the commander was afraid Paul would be torn to pieces by them. [He’s getting yanked this way and that!] He ordered the troops to go down and take him away from them by force and bring him into the barracks.

The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’”

We’re going to stop here and next week find out how Rome treats Paul.

We’ve seen how Jerusalem treated Paul.

They rioted over his message.

They acted like the Ephesians did when their goddess was threatened.

Do you think they were worshiping the one true God?

Not if they rejected His One and Only Son.

But here’s what we’re going to end with. It was in verse 11.

#5. DIVINE ENCOURAGEMENT.

This story is about divine encouragement.

That’s what it took for Paul to have Christian Love, take faith-filled risks, be a bold witness to the resurrection hope.

It took divine encouragement. Let’s read verse 11 again slowly.

“The following night the Lord stood near Paul [isn’t that interesting? It’s more than a vision. He’s right there. Standing near him] and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’”

Notice two things that encourage.

#1. The Lord is near. 

Do you need that encouragement today?  The Lord is near.

“The Lord stood near” (put your name in the blank).

He’s not far away. He is near.

And #2. The Lord has a plan.

“As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

Don’t worry. I have a plan for you.

It’s a good plan.

Yes, I know that they want to kill you. There will be more people who want to kill you.  Wait until the very next verse!

But they can’t kill you until I’m done with you.

Take courage. The Lord has a plan.

Do you need to hear that today?
Is your life swirling with trouble?
Do you feel like Paul back in Jerusalem?

Take courage. The Lord is near and He has a plan for you. And it’s good.

Messages So Far In this Series:

Friday, February 24, 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "The Danger of Christianity"

“The Danger of Christianity”
From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
February 19, 2012
Acts 19:23-20:38

We’re back to the story of Acts. The Acts of the Apostles. The Acts of the Holy Spirit. From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania.

And we’ve reached which one of Paul’s missionary journeys?

What journey are we on? [The third missionary journey.] How many are there, do you know?

Really there are just 3 major missionary journeys of Paul in the book of Acts.

And we’re almost at the end of this one. After this he goes to Jerusalem and then to Rome, and there the book ends.

So, we’re on the third missionary journey and Paul is in what major city in the Roman province of Asia?  Anybody remember?

Ephesus.

The apostle Paul has had a phenomenal ministry in the city of Ephesus. He’s been there over two years!  Preaching, teaching, lecturing, discipling, church planting, writing epistles and even seeing some major miracles happen.

For example, miraculous healings.

And even more amazing, completely transformed lives.

When we ended last week, we read about new believers who burned their old ways of life: scrolls, socercry, and so on, worth fifty thousand days wages.

Demonstrations of true transformation and real repentance.

And that change in people’s lives began to make other people nervous.

The leaders of the city, especially those who made and sold idols, began to feel like their world was in danger.

“The Danger of Christianity.”

That’s our title for today, “The Danger of Christianity.”

And if that sounds like a funny title to us, then we don’t know much about Christianity.

Because, as we’re going to see today, Christianity is dangerous, both for those in it and those not in it.

The Danger of Christianity.

Acts chapter 19, verse 23.

“About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way [an early name for Christianity]. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: ‘Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all.” [And here comes our word.]

“There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.’

Let’s stop there for a second.

This is going to be our first point.

#1. CHRISTIANITY IS DANGEROUS TO THE WORLD.

That’s how it sure seemed to Demetrius!

Demetrius is a silversmith by trade who made (v.24) “sliver shrines of Artemis.”

Artemis also known as Dianna is the goddess of Ephesus. That’s the hometown goddess.

The temple of Artemis, get this, was located in Ephesus and was four times the size of the Parthenon. It had pillars 60 feet high and was bigger than a football field. It was the largest building in the Greek world, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. (Bock, pg. 608.)

This town loved its Artemis.

And one of the reasons why was because of tourism and religious trade.

V.25 again, “[Demetrius] called [the city craftsmen together] and said, ‘Men, you know we receive a good income from this business.”

What’s it about?

Money, money, money.

And Christianity has come and is threatening (danger) their way of life.  V.26

“And you see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia. He says that man-made gods are no gods at all.”

Can you see Paul saying that?

You bet.

‘Cause it’s true.

Man-made gods are no gods at all.

But that doesn’t mean that we don’t want them to be.
That doesn’t mean that they don’t have a power over us.
That doesn’t mean that human beings wouldn’t rather have them than the true God.

Christianity is dangerous to the world.

It says, “man-made gods are no gods at all.”

The Emperor has no clothes.

“People are beginning to believe this stuff. All over Ephesus. All over Asia.”

And here’s the danger. V.27

“There is danger not only that our trade will lose its good name, but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited, and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.’”

Isn’t it interesting when people get to defending their idols that their gods often can’t defend themselves?

Gotta protect Artemis. She might be robbed of her divine majesty.

Some god she is, if she has to be protected.

But Demetrius’ warning catches fire with these men. V.28

“When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’ Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized Gaius and Aristarchus, Paul's traveling companions from Macedonia, and rushed as one man into the theater.”

According to history, the Ephesian amphitheater, eventually came to have a capacity of 24,000 people. So the whole city really could come for this riot and see what has happening.

Right now, it looks like Paul’s team are the ones in danger.  V.30

“Paul wanted to appear before the crowd, but the disciples would not let him. Even some of the officials of the province, friends of Paul, sent him a message begging him not to venture into the theater. The assembly was in confusion: Some were shouting one thing, some another. Most of the people did not even know why they were there.”

Isn’t that so much like a riot?

Can you see this in your head?

Teeming thousands of people in a loud, confusing demonstration/riot?

“The Jews pushed Alexander to the front, and some of the crowd shouted instructions to him. He motioned for silence in order to make a defense before the people. But when they realized he was a Jew, they all shouted in unison for about two hours: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’”

“Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Two hours!

Isn’t it interesting when people feel threatened, often they yell louder and longer.

Methinks they do protest too much.

Is Artemis so great if you have to riot to protect her glorious majesty?

Is sex so great if you do?
Is sports so great if you do?
Is money so great if you need to drown out all of its rivals?
How about success, popularity, respectability, status, pleasure, fame?

All those things are in danger if Christianity is true.

Who do you see yelling in our culture or in our community or in your own life, “Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!”

Eventually, Paul would write back to this church in 1 Timothy, “Great is the mystery of godliness.”  1 Timothy 3:16.  In other words, “Great is the gospel of Jesus Christ!” That’s what’s great.

And it’s worth yelling about, but you don’t have to do it to protect Jesus. He can take care of Himself.

Now, it’s interesting to me that this uproar gets broken up not by a miracle but by a level-headed civil servant called here “the city clerk” which is kind of like the major of Ephesus. V.35

“The city clerk quieted the crowd and said: ‘Men of Ephesus, doesn't all the world know that the city of Ephesus is the guardian of the temple of the great Artemis and of her image, which fell from heaven? Therefore, since these facts are undeniable, you ought to be quiet and not do anything rash.You have brought these men here, though they have neither robbed temples nor blasphemed our goddess. If, then, Demetrius and his fellow craftsmen have a grievance against anybody, the courts are open and there are proconsuls. They can press charges. If there is anything further you want to bring up, it must be settled in a legal assembly. As it is, we are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today's events. In that case we would not be able to account for this commotion, since there is no reason for it.’ After he had said this, he dismissed the assembly.”

Can’t you just see the wind go out of the crowd?

Everyone kind of hangs their heads and goes home.

Nothing to see here. Move along. Go home.

Here’s the point I think that Luke is trying make here by including this story.

#2. CHRISTIANITY IS NOT DANGEROUS TO THE WORLD.

Now, what do I mean by that.

Of course, true Christianity changes things. It shakes things up. The status quo can’t  stay quo.

But Luke has been going to great pains to show that the riot is not Paul’s fault.

The trouble Paul keeps getting into is not because Paul is a trouble-maker.

He’s just bringing the gospel.

The gospel brings a kind of danger, but it is not the kind of danger that threatens the government.

It’s a both/and sort of thing, of course. Yes, there is a danger that Christianity will infect your people and change your culture.

But it does it by changing lives not by sticking gun in your face.

Not true Christianity.

Christianity is not dangerous to the world, in that sense.

Luke is telling Theophilus not to worry that even though riots happen everywhere Paul goes, it’s the Jews fault and the Greeks fault not the gospel’s fault.

The gospel means peace.

And the city clerk says, “We are in danger of being charged with rioting because of today’s events.” And not because of Paul, but Demetrius and his cronies.

And that day, a level head won.

Now let me ask this question:

Are we being dangerous enough?

Not the second kind. I believe there are people called Christians who give Christianity a bad name. Violence in the name of Jesus.

I don’t see that here at Lanse Free Church.

But I think we should be periodically asking ourselves the question, “How come nobody is nervous about us?”

Or maybe they are.  Maybe there are people who feel threatened by the true Christianity they see in our lives.

But I wonder if we’re living it out enough to get people nervous.

Now, I don’t want nervous people. That’s not the point. But I am saying that if we’re living out our commitment to the gospel in the right way, then it should seem a bit dangerous to people.

Here’s a little one. The folks on our Serbia Missions Team, some of them, are giving up their vacations to serve.

I could see somebody saying, “Well, you only get one week of vacation. Why are you planning to give away? What’s wrong with you? If you become a Christian, do you have to do that sort of thing? Could that be worth it?”

Do you see what I mean?

Are we being dangerous enough?

Or do people look at our Christianity and yawn?

Here’s number three.  #3. CHRISTIANS ARE IN DANGER FROM THE WORLD.

That one’s been more obvious as we’ve been reading Acts. Look at chapter 20, verse 1.

“When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia.”

Now, he didn’t leave just because there was trouble. We saw in the middle of chapter 19 that this was his plan already and he’d sent an advanced team ahead of him.

Paul is set on visiting all of the churches that he had already established and then heading to Jerusalem. V.2

“He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, where he stayed three months. Because the Jews made a plot against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia.”

Now, just stop there for a second and let’s see this.

Here’s a guy who visits people and encourages them and then the Jews plot against him, I assume, to take his life.

Many scholars believe that what happened here was that Paul was going to get on a boat headed back towards Israel as the feast of Passover was approaching. And who would be on that boat?  Jewish Pilgrims, of course.

And what if they planned that enough Jews hostile to Paul were on that boat with him?

Man overboard.

Paul figures this out (or the Holy Spirit tells him or however it happened) and he decides to head north to go south.

Christians are in danger from the world.

Somewhere during this phase of Paul’s life, he wrote 2 Corinthians. It was probably before he made it to Greece on this swing.

And he said in chapter 11, “I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”

Danger, danger, danger, danger.

And that’s normal.

That’s the normal Christian life in this world.

So many of our brothers and sister in Christ all over the world are in danger today.

We who live in a relatively safe place here in America need to not forget that.

Paul said, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”

Jesus said, “In this world, you will have trouble.”

Christians are in danger.

That’s why we need to stick together. V.4

“He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas.”

Notice the “us” there in verse 5?  Luke is back on the team, as well.

Christianity is dangerous, so we need to make it team sport.

Are trying to do Christianity alone or in community?  V.6

“But we sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.”

And this is a fun little story. What happened at Troas. Verse 7.

“On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight.  There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.
 10 Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. ‘Don't be alarmed,’ he said. ‘He's alive!’ Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left.The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.”

This story illustrates the danger in Christianity of long sermons!

Just kidding that wasn’t point #4.

It does illustrate the power of the Lord and the importance placed upon Christian teaching.

Paul is on his way and he can’t stop himself from teaching until midnight.

And they kept listening except this poor lad who couldn’t keep awake.

But the word of God is so important.

And that’s part of Paul’s message to the Ephesian elders. Verse 13.

“We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot. When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Kios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus. Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.”

There are about 6 weeks until Pentecost, and Paul knows that if he stops in Ephesus, he’ll want to stay and stay and stay. So, he calls for the elders to give his farewell messages to them to meet him at Miletus. V.17

“From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: ‘You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews.  You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house.  I have declared to both Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus. ‘And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.’”

You can just feel the finality of this message. The weight of it.

He is reminding them of his example and his ministry.

He’s saying goodbye.

And he doesn’t know what to expect except for danger.  V.23 again,

“I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.”

#4. THE GOSPEL IS WORTH THE DANGER!

“I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.”

But there is another danger. A danger, not just from the world without but from within, even with in the church. V.25

‘Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. [He’s taught them everything that God wants them to know and to believe and to live out. Now, v.28,] Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”

#5. CHRISTIANS ARE IN THE DANGER FROM FALSE TEACHERS.

Paul says that “even from your among you” savage wolves will ravage the flock.

The biggest dangers to Christianity aren’t from the outside but from the inside.

They come from false teachers who want to deceive believers and draw them away.

Cody and I got to go to the Allegheny District Stay Sharp Conference this week.

And the topic discussed with 50 or 60 church leaders was the doctrine of eternal destiny, especially the doctrine of Hell.

There are many people who call themselves Christians who are teaching that Hell is not real.

That there is no eternal judgment.

That there is no punishment coming for sin.

That we are not so bad and that God is not so mad.

Would I like to believe that?  Sure.

But that’s not what the Bible says.

And if you creep into believing it and teaching it you are in danger and a danger to the church.

I’m so thankful to belong to a family churches that values theology enough keep its leaders sharp.

Because the truth of the word of God is the only rescue from that kind of danger. Verse 32.

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”

#6.  CHRISTIANS ARE KEPT FROM DANGER BY GOD AND HIS WORD.

That’s all that Paul could do now to protect them.

He had taught them the truth, and he leaves them with the truth.

“Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.'’ When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.”

A prayer, some final words and committing them to the God and His word of grace.

Because that’s what can protect us from the danger of false teaching.

Are you in the Word of God?

There is danger if you neglect this word.

Open it.
Read it.
Memorize it.
Study it.
Feed yourself on it.
Bleed it!
Live it out. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Protect yourself by the word of God.

I will do my best to protect you by this word.

I will (v.28) keep watch over myself and this flock which the Holy Spirit has mad em an overseer. God cares about this flock. He bought it with his own blood.

I will be on my guard for you with truth.

Because that’s the only way to be safe in this dangerous world.  God and His Word.

Messages So Far In this Series:

Monday, February 13, 2012

Moore Worship Wars


These are great thoughts and winsomely and humorously written!

As the guy most responsible for worship planning at LEFC, I need to read it more than anyone else.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

[Matt's Messages] "Imperatives for Ministry"

“Imperatives for Ministry”
From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania: The Book of Acts
February 12, 2012
Acts 18:1-19:22


We are continuing in our study of the book of Acts that we’ve called “From Jerusalem to Pennsylvania” and we’ve been traveling with the Apostle Paul on what is normally called his “Second Missionary Journey.”

He started in Antioch (this time with Silas) and re-visited the churches they had planted modern day Turkey and had made their way over into Macedonia and Greece.

Last week, we left him in Athens proclaiming to the philosophers who God really is.

Today, we’re going to finish the Second Missionary Journey and actually begin the Third Missionary Journey.

And, as I was thinking about it, I thought about how appropriate this passage is for our Serbia Missions Team on the Sunday we introduce them to the church and for our whole Lanse Free Church Family as we celebrate 120 full years of ministry together.

Because this passage (18:1-19:22) is all about ministry.

What I’m going to call “Imperatives for Ministry.”

An “imperative” is something you’ve gotta do.

A command. A priority. A gotta-do-it.

Encouragements and directives for ministry.

Imperatives for Ministry.

And I’m actually going to boil it down to just 2 this morning.

So, Serbia Team, listen up. God’s Word today has 2 imperatives for you in your ministry over the next several months.

And Lanse Free Church, listen up. God’s Word today has 2 imperatives for us in our ministry for the next 120 years!

Let’s read Acts chapter 18, verse 1 through verse 11.

“After this, Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’ Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized. One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’ So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.”

There are some old things here and some new.

Paul leaves Athens known for its religiosity and philosophy and heads to Corinth which is known for its trade and economy and debauchery.

There was saying in Greek that went like this, “What happens in Corinth stays in Corinth.”

Not really. But Corinth was the Las Vegas of its day.

To Corinthinize was to be sexually immoral and you don’t want your daughters to be called a Corinthian girl, if you know what I mean.

And Paul heads up to their to Corinth to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I love how Paul was not afraid to take the gospel to any place in society and expect it to have an effect.

Did it have an effect in Corinth?  There are two letters in your Bible to the Corinthian church. People whose lives had been changed by the Lord Jesus.

Paul says in that first letter to that church, “I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”

He brought the gospel to Corinth.

And he met some friends. V.2

“There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome.”

This is Claudius is Ceasar at this moment. And that’s true. He ordered all of the Jews to leave Rome, apparently over disputes about Jesus Christ.

It’s not clear but seems likely that Aquila and Priscilla (don’t you love couples whose names rhyme?) were already believers in Jesus. Because Luke seems to assume it. They are already believers and tentmakers like Paul was by trade and now they hook up and work together. And Paul lives with them. V.3

“Paul went to see them, and because he was a tentmaker as they were, he stayed and worked with them. Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks.”

No surprise there! That’s Paul M.O. The Jew first and then the Greeks.

And then Silas and Timothy show back up. V.5

“When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia [remember how Paul had left them behind?], Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. [They must be doing some of the work for the bread, Paul can go back to preaching full time.] But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.’ Then Paul left the synagogue and went next door to the house of Titius Justus, a worshiper of God.”

He shook out his clothes so that not even a bit of dust from the synagogue was still on it and went next door.

Interestingly, this approach yields fruit even from the Jews, not just from the Gentiles. V.8

“Crispus, the synagogue ruler, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard him believed and were baptized.”

Crispus is mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1 as one of the people that Paul remember baptizing.

Everybody see again (v.8) that if you are a believer that you get baptized to show that you have become one?

I still encounter people who are waiting to be mature Christians before they get baptized. Baptism is for new Christians, not old ones!

Now, here’s where we’re going to get our first imperative. 

Think about the situation.

Paul has been in Corinth and it hasn’t gone really well so far. There are some new believers. V.8 says, “many.”

But the Jews are rabble-rousing and getting (v.6) “abusive.”  In verse 12, they are going to mount a united attack and bring Paul to the Roman court.

Things are tough.

And when the going gets tough?

Here’s imperative #1. KEEP AT IT!

I think that Paul was getting discouraged.

And the Lord Himself showed up to encourage him and keep him going. V.9

“One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’ So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.”

Keep at it.

“Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.”

That’s not how it feels.

Sometimes it feels like “I’m afraid. I want to stop speaking. I won’t be silent.”

This is too hard.

Serbia Team. You might feel like giving up a few times between now and August.

While you’re there, you might feel like shutting up.

Imagine the Lord saying to you, “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.”

Keep at it.

Notice why.  V.10

“For I am with you,” That’s enough right there!  “And no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.”

I don’t think that He means that God has many people already saved in this city that are going to protect Paul.

I think He means that God has plans to save many people in that city and He’s going to protect Paul to see that it happens!

Keep at it.
Keep going.
Don’t give up.

“Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent.”

Keep at it.

Here’s the plaque that hangs right by the doorway on that side of the church.

“A congregation of seven members met in 1965 to decide if they should dissolve or continue as a local church.”

Seven members!  Lanse Free Church was seven members. And only 3 of those had full time jobs at the time!

And they had a congregational meeting at Vera Edgren’s house.

I was just talking with Rosella about that meeting this week.

It goes on to say, “Believing they were to continue, they led the way to the conclusion of the first hundred years of history. May their example guide us with similar resolve. We respectfully acknowledge these seven: Marie Benton (who is with the Lord), Vera Edgren, Beatrice Johnson, Rosella DeyArmin (who has just moved back to be with us again), Agnes Johnson, Raphael Johnson, and Tillie Johnson (who are all three with the Lord, as well).

“May their example guide us with similar resolve.”

47 years ago now, almost 50, when they had to decide to dissolve or keep at it.

And look where we are now.

We just took on 8 new members two weeks ago.

Keep at it!

At times, we’re going to feel like throwing in the towel.

Do you feel like throwing in the towel when it comes to ministry?

Don’t.

Keep at it.

Why? “For I am with you.”

The Hospitality Team has two cakes out there for us today.

One is in Swedish and the other is in English.

60 full years in Swedish, now 60 full years in English.

I’m going to start preaching in Mongolian next week. Just kidding.

Here’s what the cakes say in Swedish, “Hitintills Har Herren Hulpit Oss.”

That was the theme of the Golden Jubilee for Lanse Free Church when it was just a mere 50 years old. There are pictures of a banner with that hanging on it.

Here’s what it means in English. It’s 1 Samuel 7:12.

“Hitherto Has Our Lord Helped Us!”

He’s helped us so far. I think we can trust Him to help us from here on out.

Keep at it.

So, Paul did. Even though the troubles kept coming, too.  V.11

“So Paul stayed for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God. While Gallio was proconsul of Achaia [the province in which Corinth is], the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him into court.

‘This man,’ they charged, ‘is persuading the people to worship God in ways contrary to the law.’ Just as Paul was about to speak, Gallio said to the Jews, ‘If you Jews were making a complaint about some misdemeanor or serious crime, it would be reasonable for me to listen to you. But since it involves questions about words and names and your own law– settle the matter yourselves. I will not be a judge of such things.’  So he had them ejected from the court. Then they all turned on Sosthenes the synagogue ruler and beat him in front of the court. But Gallio showed no concern whatever.”

Now, what I want to point out here is that this is the Lord doing that protecting that He promised Paul.

The Lord promised in verse 8 that noone would harm him.

And Gallio won’t even listen to the case.

He throws it out of court.

I’m not sure if Sosthenes was a Christian who was persecuted or not. There is someone by that name in 1 Corinthians so it might be.

Or verse 17 might be yet another time when Paul was protected. Even though the Jews bring Paul to court, the Jews are who get beat up. And Rome turns a blind eye.

That’s how it reads to me.

The point, again, is verse 10, “I am with you...”

Hitherto has our lord helped us.

Keep at it.

Verse 18. “Paul stayed on in Corinth for some time.”

Amen.

“Then he left the brothers and sailed for Syria, accompanied by Priscilla and Aquila. Before he sailed, he had his hair cut off at Cenchrea because of a vow he had taken.”

I’m not sure what to make of that. Perhaps a Nazirite vow or a personal vow.

And notice that Priscilla and Aquila travel with him. Here’s the map.

They make the jump across from Greece into the province of Asia.  Remember how Paul wanted to go there but was kept from it?

He makes stop there in the city of Ephesus. Ephesus is going to be big in Paul’s ministry.

Guess what he’s going to do there?

Do you think he’ll head for the synagogue?  Ya think? V.19 

“They arrived at Ephesus, where Paul left Priscilla and Aquila. He himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to spend more time with them, he declined. But as he left, he promised, ‘I will come back if it is God's will.’ Then he set sail from Ephesus. When he landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church and then went down to Antioch.”

I’ll be back...if it’s God’s will.

Notice that he leaves Priscilla and Aquilla behind. That’s going to be important.

God is sovereign over all of these comings and goings just like He is today.

He goes by boat to Caesarea and goes UP and greets the church.

I think that means UP to Jerusalem and greeting the Jerusalem church. It’s only 60 miles from Caesarea and that’s what “up” normally means.

Then down (even though it’s north) to Antioch and what does that mean?

He’s home. That’s the end of the Second Missionary Journey.

Guess what it’s time for?

The THIRD Missionary Journey. V.23

“After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.”

The third journey starts out a lot like the second journey.

It’s re-peat. A three-peat, really to visit the new churches and strengthen the disciples.

Now, Luke takes the spotlight off of Paul and puts it back in Ephesus on his friend Priscilla and Aquila. V.24

“Meanwhile [back at the ranch] a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately. When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”

Now, here’s where our second major imperative comes in.

#2. GET THE GOSPEL RIGHT.

Keep at it in ministry.
And get the gospel right.

As right as you can.

Apollos knew the gospel at least some of it.

Verse 24 calls him, “a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures.” That’s the Old Testament.

And he was from Alexandria which was just about equal with Athens for having wise men come from. There was a great university there and the worlds greatest library.

Verse 25 says that he knew the way of the Lord and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately. King James, “diligently.”

So, he knew the gospel. But he there were parts of it he didn’t know.

He only knew about the baptism of John. 

He probably knew that John pointed to Jesus and said, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” But he didn’t know that now we are to be baptized as believers in Jesus.

And (v.26), “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him [preaching boldly about Jesus], they invited him to their home and explained the way of God MORE ADEQUATELY.”

Not a new gospel but a better understanding of it.

I love that. They took him aside and privately discipled this great preacher.

Serbia team, make sure you know the gospel before you go off to Europe to share it.

And make sure that you are taking every opportunity to learn it better.

That’s the chief reason why we interviewed each member of the Serbia missions team. We wanted to make sure that each of them knows the gospel.

Lanse Free Church, make sure you know the gospel before you go off ministering it in the West Branch Community!

And make sure you that you are taking every opportunity (public or private) to learn it better.

I think it’s cool that Apollos and Paul don’t meet here.

Paul was in Ephesus and dropped off Priscilla and Aquila who had been in Corinth.

They meet Apollos and get him up to speed, and then in verses 27 and 28, they send him to Corinth!  V.27

“When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia [where Corinth is], the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ.”

And that’s why Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “I planted. Apollos water. God gave the increase.”

Neat team, huh?

It wouldn’t have been possible if Apollos wasn’t teachable.

We all (and I mean me, too) need to be open to correction and improvement in our understanding of the gospel.

Get the gospel right.

That’s what they needed in chapter 19, too.

Guess who’s coming now to Ephesus?  Chapter 19, verse 1.

“While Apollos was at Corinth, Paul took the road through the interior and arrived at Ephesus. There he found some disciples and asked them, ‘Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?’ They answered, ‘No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.’ So Paul asked, ‘Then what baptism did you receive?’ ‘John's baptism,’ they replied. Paul said, ‘John's baptism was a baptism of repentance. He told the people to believe in the one coming after him, that is, in Jesus.’ On hearing this, they were baptized into the name of the Lord Jesus. When Paul placed his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they spoke in tongues and prophesied. There were about twelve men in all.”

These fellas knew even less of the gospel than Apollos did.

They were disciples, probably disciples of John, not yet Jesus.

And in getting to know them Paul finds out that they haven’t received the Holy Spirit.

They didn’t even know there was one!

I think that means that they didn’t know that Pentecost had come. They didn’t know there was a Holy Spirit available to all belivers.

They had received John’s baptism, but they didn’t know that John was the forerunner of the Christ.

And that the Christ had come and died and rose again and sent His promised Holy Spirit.

And now they do know! And they believed and were baptized and Pentecost caught up with them (Stott’s phrase).

Interestingly, that the last time that tongues are mentioned in the book of Acts.

So, back in Ephesus. Back to the synagogue. V.8

“Paul entered the synagogue and spoke boldly there for three months, arguing persuasively about the kingdom of God. But some of them became obstinate; they refused to believe and publicly maligned the Way [Christianity]. So Paul left them. He took the disciples with him and had discussions daily in the lecture hall of Tyrannus. This went on for two years, so that all the Jews and Greeks who lived in the province of Asia heard the word of the Lord.”

Keep at it.
Get the gospel right.

Even if they refuse to listen, find ways to preach the gospel.

Notice how long this went on. This isn’t as much of a journey as it is a new ministry center. Paul is lecturing daily on the gospel.

And powerful things are happening. Unusual things. Verse 11.

“God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them.”

Wow.  Now notice that even Luke says that this was extraordinary.  I don’t think we’re supposed to expect this sort of thing today.

Especially not when some “televangelist” says that he’ll send you a prayer-cloth for a donation to his ministry!

But this happened. The Spirit was on Paul as he preached the gospel of Jesus Christ and He was authenticating the message with unusual miracles.

And that got people’s attention.

So much so that some people tried to replicate it themselves. V.13

“Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, ‘In the name of Jesus, whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.’”

Now, what’s wrong with that sentence?

These guys don’t believe in Jesus.  “He’s the Jesus Paul preaches.”

They just want to use His name.

Newsflash: Jesus doesn’t like His name being used like that.  V.14

“Seven sons of Sceva, a Jewish chief priest, were doing this. One day the evil spirit answered them, ‘Jesus I know, and I know about Paul, but who are you?’”

Love that!

“Then the man who had the evil spirit jumped on them and overpowered them all. He gave them such a beating that they ran out of the house naked and bleeding.”

Get the gospel right.

The name of Jesus is powerful, but it’s not a talisman. It’s not a magic amulet that you can use to ward away bad juju.

The name of Jesus is powerful because Jesus is powerful. V.17

“When this became known to the Jews and Greeks living in Ephesus, they were all seized with fear, and the name of the Lord Jesus was held in high honor.  Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed their evil deeds. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas.”

That could be 50,000 days wages!

“In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia.  [Visiting all of the new churches that he can.] ‘After I have been there,’ he said, ‘I must visit Rome also.’ He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.”

And we’ll find out more about his tumultuous times there next week.

But let’s press this point home some more.

Get the gospel right. It's imperative!

When the gospel is right, when we truly know the name of the Lord Jesus and are in a right relationship with Him, then there is true power.

Power for miracles.
And power for life change.

I think that verses 18 and 19 are some of the most powerful verses in Acts.

These peoples’ lives were changed.

They showed their change, their repentance, their transformation by giving up things that were formerly very valuable to them and very destructive.

But now, they believe the true gospel of Jesus Christ.

That’s how powerful the gospel is.

Get the gospel right because it is so powerful.

I expect to hear stories (either in August or later or at least in heaven) of how our Serbia team took the gospel to Europe and lives were changed.

And I think we all know stories of people right here in Central PA who have heard the gospel rightly because of Lanse Free Church and seen their lives transformed.

To God Be the Glory!

Messages So Far In this Series:

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Blaster Pastor

Balance is so hard to achieve (and sustain) in ministry.

How much mercy, how much severity?
How much time for people, how much sermon prep?
How much pushing, how much hands-off?

What ditch do I feel like falling into today?

This is especially true in the matter of controversy in the wider church.

How much should I address debates and conflicts that are going on outside of our local realm? I'm not sure.

Should I speak out about the Elephant Room 2 controversy?  Most, if not all, of my people have never heard of the Elephant Room, James MacDonald, T.D. Jakes, or even Mark Driscoll -- and I'm thankful for that. But for the few that do know Driscoll or Jakes, should I say something? At church? On this blog?  (By the way, if I was going to say something, Carson and Keller's post conveys most of what I would say (no surprise there), but I would also want to add something, as Tim Raymond does, about the skewed understanding of pastoral ministry that things like ER2 are giving off, and I would want to add some thoughts about my discouragement that there has to be controversy at all.  I was asked what I think of the whole thing, and I said "Jake's move towards trinitarianism is good and something is better than nothing, but I don't think the whole thing was handled very well at all.")

Should I speak out over the debate on "masculine-feel" ministry that came out of John Piper's talk at the DesiringGOD pastors conference a couple of weeks ago?  I've read the talk and am listening to it in the car as I go back and forth from work this week. Honestly, I am profoundly disappointed and disheartened that there would be any controversy here at all. Piper's talk was careful and reasoned and qualified. I can't believe that many of the people upset about it have even listened to it or read it. He mainly put forward his long-standing complementarian position on ministry and then painted a vision for how the church would flourish if men truly took up the leadership roles that provide for and protect women--not just physically but theologically and spiritually.  What is so controversial about that?  I understand that some people disagree with his conclusions, but to read some of the things said, Piper must have been advocating extreme mysogyny, devaluing ladies' contributions, and ignoring the feminine aspects of Christianity. I just don't see it. And neither does my wife. Heather exults in just the sort of thing the Piper is promoting.

But should I say anything about it? Have I already said too much?

Of course, those are just two that have captured my attention. The blogworld teems with controversy over every point in the world. I read blogs about creation vs. evolution, historical or mythological Adam and Eve, fair trade versus free trade, and don't get me started on politics!

Sometimes, I feel like running from all of that and never saying a word. And sometimes I'm wisely holding in my two cents. But sometimes I'm silent because I'm trapped by the fear of man.

Sometimes I just want peace.

But peace at what cost?

There is a time to speak and speak boldly:
"Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-- with great patience and careful instruction.  For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.  But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry."  2 Timothy 4:2-5

But there is a right and wrong way to go about it:

"Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will."  2 Timothy 2:23-26

When I'm not careening towards the ditch of appeasement and compromising silence, I'm careening towards the ditch of blasting my opinions at everyone.

Look out, it's the Blaster Pastor!

Lord, save me from that. Give me a reasoned, careful response to whatever controversies you want me to engage in and guide me through the quagmires. Help me to be motivated by love in all that I do and say. For the good of your people and the glory of the name of Jesus. Amen.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Reading the JBC


And now that I've had a chance to actually read it, I'm even more pleased.
This issue is a great re-introduction to the JBC. It is well-rounded, content-rich, and immediately helpful.

The lead-off editorial introduces (or reminds) readers to what the JBC (and CCEF and biblical counseling) is. Essential reading. Dr. Powlison is as winsome yet feisty as ever.

Then, Mike Emlet explains a biblical approach to psychactive medications. What do you think that would be? It might surprise you. It's almost sure to help you.

Powlison has another article in this issue highlighting the pastor as counselor. This is an instant classic. It gives a basic rationale for pastors as counselors (one of the basic cries of this movement) but it also calls pastors to it (do it or else!) and celebrates pastors as counselors (think about how pastors are uniquely situated to do this well!).  I'll read this one again and pass it around.

Julie Lowe contributes an article on helping to understand the inner workings of a child's mind using a simple diagram.

Two CCEF counseling students have Lives in Process articles about how they are progressing in their sanctification. Dr. Powlison chimes in after each pointing out helpful lessons to learn.

The CCEF faculty provide 3 book reviews that demonstrate the CCEF relationship with secular wisdom: neither capitulating to it nor ignoring it, they endeavor to show how the Bible re-interprets, judges, and conquers it (while also learning as much from common grace as possible).  They also show their range: emotionally focused therapy, a memoir of mania, and a book on sexual predators (very timely with the events in the news this year).

I've already told Heather Joy what 3 articles I think she should read.  I'm not sure it scratches me exactly where I itch today in the way it did a decade ago, but the quality seems very good.

The JBC promises to continue its mission of restoring Christ to counseling and counseling to the church! Read it.