Wednesday, February 29- Let the Fire Fall: The Church- Paul’s Journey III

     (Wednesdays are Bible Study Day here at Stick With Jesus. Today, we continue our current study on the New testament Book of Acts- Let the Fire Fall.)

     From where we left off last Wednesday, Paul sails for Italy with an army officer named Julius to guard him. The ship comes to Sidon. While there, Julius gives Paul some freedom to visit friends. They then leave Sidon and sail by Cyprus. They then go across the sea by Cilicia and Pamphylia, before landing at Myra. Julius finds a ship going to Italy and puts Paul on it. The wind is blowing against them and they sail pretty slowly, having a hard time reaching Cnidus. From there, a discussion happens regarding- Paul wants to stay put where they are for fear that the ship, and the lives of those on board, will be lost. But the captain doesn’t agree with Paul and decides to leave the safety of the harbor, hoping to get to Phoenix, where they will stay for the winter. 

     Read Acts 27:13-20- When a good wind began to blow from the south, the men on the ship thought, “This is the wind we wanted, and now we have it.” So they pulled up the anchor, and we sailed very close to the island of Crete. 14 But then a very strong wind named the “northeaster” came from the island. 15 The ship was caught in it and could not sail against it. So we stopped trying and let the wind carry us. 16 When we went below a small island named Cauda, we were barely able to bring in the lifeboat. 17 After the men took the lifeboat in, they tied ropes around the ship to hold it together. The men were afraid that the ship would hit the sandbanks of Syrtis, so they lowered the sail and let the wind carry the ship. 18 The next day the storm was blowing us so hard that the men threw out some of the cargo. 19 A day later with their own hands they threw out the ship’s equipment. 20 When we could not see the sun or the stars for many days, and the storm was very bad, we lost all hope of being saved.
     1. A northeaster is a macro-scale storm with winds from the northeast, often found in coastal areas of the Northeastern United States and Canada. It’s a low pressure area with a rotating center lying just off the coast. They are similar in pattern to hurricanes, sometimes even forming a center “eye”. Low temperatures and wind gusts of up to 90 miles per hour are also associated with northeasters.

     2. Cauda is a small island 25 miles south of Crete. The lifeboat was normally towed behind the ship but was pulled in because it was full of water. The sailors literally lashed the ship together with ropes, trying to avoid the inevitable. The sandbanks of Syrtis are located off Libya, in North Africa.

     Read Acts 27:21-26- After the men had gone without food for a long time, Paul stood up before them and said, “Men, you should have listened to me. You should not have sailed from Crete. Then you would not have all this trouble and loss. 22 But now I tell you to cheer up because none of you will die. Only the ship will be lost. 23 Last night an angel came to me from the God I belong to and worship. 24 The angel said, ‘Paul, do not be afraid. You must stand before Caesar. And God has promised you that he will save the lives of everyone sailing with you.’ 25 So men, have courage. I trust in God that everything will happen as his angel told me. 26 But we will crash on an island.”

     1. Notice that Paul start out with “I told you so”. He often is convinced he knows the best way to do something and doesn’t mind telling folks!
     2. Morale is REALLY bad- so Paul encourages the people with a message from God. He urges all 275 shipmates (27:37) to keep up their courage. Visions often seem to lift people’s spirits.

     3. The Greek word for “to keep up one’s courage” is “euthymeo”. It’s only used three times in the New Testament—twice here and in James 5:13. It speaks of having good feelings or being in good spirits. Paul never hesitates to share his faith in God. Think about what “courage” means to you.
     Read Acts 27:27-39- On the fourteenth night we were still being carried around in the Adriatic Sea. About midnight the sailors thought we were close to land, 28 so they lowered a rope with a weight on the end of it into the water. They found that the water was one hundred twenty feet deep. They went a little farther and lowered the rope again. It was ninety feet deep. 29 The sailors were afraid that we would hit the rocks, so they threw four anchors into the water and prayed for daylight to come. 30 Some of the sailors wanted to leave the ship, and they lowered the lifeboat, pretending they were throwing more anchors from the front of the ship. 31 But Paul told the officer and the other soldiers, “If these men do not stay in the ship, your lives cannot be saved.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes and let the lifeboat fall into the water. 33 Just before dawn Paul began persuading all the people to eat something. He said, “For the past fourteen days you have been waiting and watching and not eating. 34 Now I beg you to eat something. You need it to stay alive. None of you will lose even one hair off your heads.” 35 After he said this, Paul took some bread and thanked God for it before all of them. He broke off a piece and began eating. 36 They all felt better and started eating, too. 37 There were two hundred seventy-six people on the ship. 38 When they had eaten all they wanted, they began making the ship lighter by throwing the grain into the sea.

     1. In New Testament times, “Adriatic Sea” was a term used for not only the sea between Italy and Greece but also south of Italy and Sicily to Malta. 

     2. After two weeks, the sailors sense they’re near land. They’ve learned to read the signs.

     3. They measured the water depth by taking “soundings”- throwing a lead-weighted line into the water. The soldiers listen to Paul and cut loose the lifeboat because they fear he’s right- keeping everyone on board is the best hope they have for surviving.

     4. Note the similarity between Paul’s taking of the bread and Communion.
     Read Acts 27:39-44- When daylight came, the sailors saw land. They did not know what land it was, but they saw a bay with a beach and wanted to sail the ship to the beach if they could. 40 So they cut the ropes to the anchors and left the anchors in the sea. At the same time, they untied the ropes that were holding the rudders. Then they raised the front sail into the wind and sailed toward the beach. 41 But the ship hit a sandbank. The front of the ship stuck there and could not move, but the back of the ship began to break up from the big waves. 42 The soldiers decided to kill the prisoners so none of them could swim away and escape. 43 But Julius, the officer, wanted to let Paul live and did not allow the soldiers to kill the prisoners. Instead he ordered everyone who could swim to jump into the water first and swim to land. 44 The rest were to follow using wooden boards or pieces of the ship. And this is how all the people made it safely to land.

     1. Seeing a bay with a sandy beach at dawn, they decided to try running the ship aground. They cut away the anchors and rudders, hoisted the foresail, and headed for the beach.
      2. The word “rudders” (pēdaliōn) literally describes the blades of oars and refers to paddle rudders extending from the sides of the ship. These were tied while the ship was at anchor.

     3. The ship struck a sandbar which the sailors hadn’t seen. Because of the beating of the waves, the back of the ship was broken to pieces while the bow was stuck in the sand.

     4. Because soldiers were accountable with their own lives for any prisoners who escaped (cf. 12:19; 16:27) they planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. For the soldiers this was simply a matter of self-preservation. The centurion, however, wanted to spare Paul’s life. He saw the value and trustworthiness of this prisoner and so forestalled the soldiers’ plan. Obviously God was at work to spare Paul for ministry at Rome and to guarantee the fulfillment of his prediction (v. 24).
     5. As Paul had predicted, the ship was lost (27:22), they ran aground on an island (v. 26), and no one perished (v. 22).

     Read Acts 28:1-6- When we were safe on land, we learned that the island was called Malta. 2 The people who lived there were very good to us. Because it was raining and very cold, they made a fire and welcomed all of us. 3 Paul gathered a pile of sticks and was putting them on the fire when a poisonous snake came out because of the heat and bit him on the hand. 4 The people living on the island saw the snake hanging from Paul’s hand and said to each other, “This man must be a murderer! He did not die in the sea, but Justice does not want him to live.” 5 But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and was not hurt. 6 The people thought that Paul would swell up or fall down dead. They waited and watched him for a long time, but nothing bad happened to him. So they changed their minds and said, “He is a god!”

     1. They were shipwrecked on Malta, a small island 60 miles south of Sicily. Malta had good harbors and was ideally located for trade. In two weeks the storm had carried them 600 miles west of Fair Havens, Crete.
     2. The islanders translates hoi barbaroi (lit., “the barbarians”), a Greek term used to refer to non-Greek-speaking people. This does not mean the people were savages or uncultured, but that their civilization was not Greek-oriented. They showed unusual hospitality to the victims of the shipwreck, building them a fire and welcoming them.

    3. Because the weather was cold (v. 2) a snake would be stiff and lethargic. Of course the heat of the fire would drive a viper from the flames and also make it more active.

     4. Seeing that Paul was bitten by the snake, the islanders concluded he was a murderer. But when he was unaffected by the viper’s bite, the islanders  said that Paul was a god. No doubt Paul’s response to this, though not recorded, was similar to his reaction at Lystra (14:8-18).

     Read Acts 28:7-10- There were some fields around there owned by Publius, an important man on the island. He welcomed us into his home and was very good to us for three days. 8 Publius’ father was sick with a fever and dysentery. Paul went to him, prayed, and put his hands on the man and healed him. 9 After this, all the other sick people on the island came to Paul, and he healed them, too. 10-11 The people on the island gave us many honors. When we were ready to leave, three months later, they gave us the things we needed.

     1. Publius took Paul and others (“us” included Luke) to his estate for three days. One benefit of Paul’s ministry was the healing of Publius’ father (who had fever and dysentery) and the rest of the sick on the island.
     2. Interestingly Paul, besides not being harmed by the viper, was used by God to heal others. No wonder the islanders honored the shipwrecked men in many ways, even giving them supplies before they set sail three months later (v. 11). These supplies were no doubt given in gratitude for Paul’s services.

     Read Acts 28:11-15- We got on a ship from Alexandria that had stayed on the island during the winter. On the front of the ship was the sign of the twin gods. 12 We stopped at Syracuse for three days. 13 From there we sailed to Rhegium. The next day a wind began to blow from the south, and a day later we came to Puteoli. 14 We found some believers there who asked us to stay with them for a week. Finally, we came to Rome. 15 The believers in Rome heard that we were there and came out as far as the Market of Appius and the Three Inns to meet us. When Paul saw them, he was encouraged and thanked God.

     1. This would have taken place in October or November. (“after the Fast,” 27:9)
      2. and were in the storm two weeks, and their three months’ stay on Malta brought them through the winter into February or March. In that time they saw another ship docked at the island. Because it was of Alexandrian origin, it too was probably a grain ship (cf. 27:6, 38) from Egypt that had spent the three months of winter, when it was too dangerous to sail, at a seaport on Malta. Probably it was at the Valletta harbor.
     3. The twin gods Castor and Pollux on the ship’s figurehead were the heavenly twin sons of Zeus and Leda according to Greek mythology; supposedly they brought good fortune to mariners. If their constellation, Gemini, was seen during a storm it was an omen of good luck. Possibly Luke included this detail to contrast the superstition of the people of Malta, Rome, Greece, and Egypt with Christianity.

     Read 28:12-14. The journey was carefully traced by Luke: from Malta to Syracuse, Sicily; to Rhegium (today Reggio) on the “toe” of Italy; to Puteoli (today Pozzuoli), 152 miles south of Rome; and finally to Rome itself. Puteoli was an important commercial seaport halfway between Rhegium and Rome. At Puteoli Paul and his companions found some brothers. This is significant because it shows that the gospel had already spread from Rome to this Italian seaport. No doubt a church had been planted in Rome by Roman Jews who had gone to the Pentecost feast, heard Peter’s sermon, were saved, and returned home with the good news (2:10). Paul accepted the believers’ invitation to spend a week with them. Perhaps the centurion was in charge of unloading the ship or else had to spend a week in Puteoli on some other business.

     1. The Christians at Rome soon heard of Paul’s coming, so they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius (a market town 43 miles from Rome) and the Three Taverns (33 miles from Rome) to meet him and his companions.
    2. The noun apantēsin, translated as an infinitive “to meet,” was used in Greek literature of an entourage coming out of a city to meet an official going to the city. It is also used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17, which speaks of believers being “caught up . . . to meet (apantēsin) the Lord in the air.” Like an entourage, believers will go up at the Rapture into the clouds to meet Jesus, their Savior and Lord, coming from heaven to take them to Himself. Paul looked forward to joining that group.

     3. At the sight of these men Paul thanked God and was encouraged (lit., “received courage,” tharsos; the verb tharseō is used in the LXX of people in distress who were then encouraged; cf. comments on Mark 6:50). At last God was bringing Paul to Rome. And the welcome of fellow believers, whom he had never met, uplifted his soul. So they proceeded on the Appian Way, “the queen of the long roads,” to the city of Rome.

     Read Acts 28:16-22- When we arrived at Rome, Paul was allowed to live alone, with the soldier who guarded him. 17 Three days later Paul sent for the Jewish leaders there. When they came together, he said, “Brothers, I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors. But I was arrested in Jerusalem and given to the Romans. 18 After they asked me many questions, they could find no reason why I should be killed. They wanted to let me go free, 19 but the Jewish people there argued against that. So I had to ask to come to Rome to have my trial before Caesar. But I have no charge to bring against my own people. 20 That is why I wanted to see you and talk with you. I am bound with this chain because I believe in the hope of Israel.” 21 They answered Paul, “We have received no letters from Judea about you. None of our Jewish brothers who have come from there brought news or told us anything bad about you. 22 But we want to hear your ideas, because we know that people everywhere are speaking against this religious group.”

     1. Because he was a trusted prisoner, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him. Paul’s residence was in a rented house (v. 30).

     2. The climax of the book is found in these closing verses (vv. 17, 24) which speak of another rejection of the gospel and of Paul’s taking the message to Gentiles (v. 28).

     3. As usual Paul first spoke with the Jews (cf. 9:20; 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:2, 10, 17; 18:4, 19; 19:8). In this case he called the leaders to meet with him because he could not go to their synagogues.

     2. In his presentation Paul made several significant points: (1) He was innocent of damaging the Jews or their customs (28:17). (2) The Roman authorities in Judea thought Paul was innocent (v. 18; cf. 23:29; 25:25; 26:31-32). (3) Paul’s only recourse was to appeal to Caesar because the Jews refused to deal with Paul justly (28:19; cf. 25:11). (4) This fourth point is a major one: he was not pressing charges against Israel; he only wanted to be acquitted (28:19). (5) His primary objective in calling the leaders was to talk with them about the hope of Israel. This term and concept was used by Paul a number of times in the last part of Acts (cf. 23:6; 24:15; 26:6-7). The hope of Israel was more than a resurrection; it meant fulfillment of the Old Testament promises to Israel (cf. 26:6-7). Paul firmly believed Jesus is the Messiah of Israel who will return someday and establish Himself as the King of Israel and Lord of the nations (cf. 1:6).

     3. The response of the leaders was ambivalent: they said they knew nothing about Paul and their only reports about Christianity (this sect) were negative. One wonders if they were being truthful. How could Jewish leaders be unaware of Jews in Rome who had become Christians and also of the existence of tensions between the church and Judaism in Jerusalem? It is quite possible they had heard nothing of Paul, but they probably knew more than they acknowledged about Christianity. They were interested in hearing Paul’s views since they knew that people were talking against his message.

     Read Acts 28:23-31- Paul and the Jewish people chose a day for a meeting and on that day many more of the Jews met with Paul at the place he was staying. He spoke to them all day long. Using the law of Moses and the prophets’ writings, he explained the kingdom of God, and he tried to persuade them to believe these things about Jesus. 24 Some believed what Paul said, but others did not. 25 So they argued and began leaving after Paul said one more thing to them: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors through Isaiah the prophet, saying, 26 ‘Go to this people and say: You will listen and listen, but you will not understand. You will look and look, but you will not learn, 27 because these people have become stubborn. They don’t hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise, they might really understand what they see with their eyes and hear with their ears. They might really understand in their minds and come back to me and be healed.’ (Isaiah 6:9-10) 28 “I want you to know that God has also sent his salvation to those who are not Jewish, and they will listen!” 30 Paul stayed two full years in his own rented house and welcomed all people who came to visit him. 31 He boldly preached about the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ, and no one tried to stop him.

     1. In the Jewish leaders’ second meeting with Paul, they were much more definitive in their responses to the gospel. This time they came in even larger numbers. The discussion was also longer. All day long Paul spoke of the kingdom of God and tried to convince them about Jesus from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets (cf. 24:14; 26:22).

     2. The term “kingdom of God” includes the death and resurrection of Christ as its basis but also looks ahead to Christ’s reign on earth. To the Jews the concept of the Messiah dying for sins as an atonement and the teaching of justification by faith as the way of entering the kingdom sounded strange.

     3. The Jews were divided in their responses. Some were convinced, but others refused to believe (Acts 28:24). In Greek the verb “convinced” is in the imperfect tense and may be rendered, “began to be convinced,” that is, they were not fully convinced. The same verb, used in verse 23, is translated, “tried to convince.”

     4. The disagreement among the Jewish leaders in Rome about Paul’s message showed that they were not amenable to the gospel. With prophetic insight Paul applied the words of Isaiah (6:9-10) to his own contemporaries. Obstinate refusal to believe results in calloused hearts, deafened ears, and spiritually blinded eyes. This had happened to Israel both in Isaiah’s day and in Paul’s (cf. Rom. 11:7-10). Interestingly Paul ascribed Isaiah’s words to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. Acts 4:25).

     5. At the climax of this book and now for the final time the gospel focus was turned toward Gentiles. From Jerusalem to Rome most Jews rejected it and in city after city the message was then directed to non-Jews. Now in the capital of the Roman world the same phenomenon occurred; so it will be until the fullness of Gentiles comes (Rom. 11:19-26).

     6. Some Greek manuscripts add, “After he said this, the Jews left, arguing vigorously among themselves” (NIV marg.). Probably this verse should not be included in the text, though this undoubtedly was their response (cf. v. 25).

     7. These verses are Luke’s final “progress report” (cf. 2:47; 6:7; 9:31; 12:24; 16:5; 19:20). With freedom in his own rented quarters Paul preached God’s kingdom. This eschatological expression indicates not only that Jews and Gentiles alike are justified by faith but also that Gentiles with Jews will participate in the millennial kingdom (cf. comments on 28:23).

     8. One question commonly raised pertains to Paul’s activities after this two-year captivity. What happened? Perhaps no charges were filed in Rome and Paul was released. The Jews would know they had no case against Paul outside of Judea and so would be reluctant to argue their cause in Rome.

     9. Probably Paul returned to the provinces of Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia and then turned west to Spain according to his original plans (Rom. 15:22-28). Then he ministered once more in the Aegean area where he was taken prisoner, removed to Rome, and executed.

     10. During this two-year period Paul wrote what are commonly called his “Prison Epistles”—Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon, and Philippians (see the chart “Paul’s Epistles, Written on His Journeys and During His Imprisonments,” at Acts 13:6-25).

     11. While Paul was in Rome during this incarceration the gospel was not bound. He spoke boldly (cf. comments on Acts 4:13). The last word in the Greek text of Acts is the adverb akōlytōs which means without hindrance. Men may bind the preachers, but the gospel cannot be chained!

And so it was that the kingdom message under God’s sovereign control went from Jew to Gentile, and from Jerusalem to Rome.

     This wraps up our look at the New Testament Book of Acts- a great look at the early church! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Life Where There Was None.

Tuesday, February 28- Define “Normal”!

     I was at a hospital recently (NOT as a patient but as a visitor!), and as I stood waiting for the elevator, I noticed a panel on the wall. It made me laugh, so I took a picture of it! The panel is clearly the display for some kind of security-related system. The green light tells me it is armed and ready. The key slot tells me that it is protected from most people tampering with it. But it was the LCD display that really caught my attention! I hope you can read it, but just in case you can’t, it says, “SYSTEM IS NORMAL”. I must confess, the first thing I thought of was the old SNAFU- “Situation Normal- All Fouled Up”! 
     “Normal” is such an interesting word. I went to school in Bloomington, IL which, if you know the area, is RIGHT next to/attached to Normal, IL. I used to joke that Bloomington was the closest I would ever get to normal! But what exactly IS normal? I have church folks say things like, “I don’t like the way some people in church dress. They need to dress more…normally.” My first response is always to ask them who exactly gets to define normal? Think about that for a moment- normal…what in the world is it?
     I think, at the end of the day, normal is what you are used to. I grew up amid a decent amount of dysfunction- I thought that was normal. It wasn’t until I got older and really began to see how other folks lived that I began to decide that I wasn’t very fond of MY normal- I wanted somebody else’s normal! And that’s exactly what I have pursued as an adult, as a husband, as a father. 
     How’s YOUR system? Is it “normal”? Are you happy with your normal? If not…you can change it! Did you read that? YOU. CAN. CHANGE. IT! I see so many people who seem so totally stuck in their normal, but seem either unable or unwilling to do anything about it. But you CAN change your normal. You can make a new beginning. You can go a different direction, take your life in a different trajectory. And one of the best ways to change your normal is to give your life over the God! I gave my life over to God about 26 years ago, not really knowing what to expect. And here I am, 26 years later, having spent 18 of those years IN THE MINISTRY! If you had asked me back in the day if I would end up and a minister, I would have asked you to take a urine test, because obviously you would have been under the influence of…something!
     Need to change your normal? Turn to God, give your life over to Him…and then hang on for the ride of your life! Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Let the Fire Fall: The Church- Paul’s Journey III

Monday, February 27- Let Sleeping Dogs Lie

     We have two dogs in our house. The one on the left in the picture (the bigger one) is our black lab/English Pointer mix and the one on the right is my in-law’s cocka…shi…mu…peeka…DOG. (There is some…discussion…about exactly what breeds she is!) Up until recently, these two dogs only saw each other occasionally- when my in-laws would visit us…or when we would visit them. And when that would happen, these dogs had little choice but to tolerate each other. Well…the truth of it is that their dog, the older and smaller of the two, tolerated our dog! meanwhile, our dog, the younger and bigger of the two, just wanted to play! Oh my, did she want to play! She would dance around their dog, just begging her to play. “Please, please, PLEASE play with me! I want to be your friend!” Well, their dog didn’t really want anything to do with that.
     Most of the time, she would be just ignore our dog. But sometimes, she just had enough of our goofy, obnoxious dog. She would snap at her, throwing in a little “yap” for good measure. And she would sufficiently put our dog in here place! Then, a tentative peace would settle over the land…for a time! 
     But more recently, my in-laws moved in with us. And, of course, their dog came with them. So their dog’s buffer zone with our dog went from a three-hour to a 4-second walk! We wondered how long that would last! But over the last several weeks, an interesting thing has happened- the “tentative peace” was been stretched out and smoothed out. These dogs when from not wanting to have much of anything to do with each other to..well…look at the picture! I was sitting in my living room a couple of days ago when I looked over and saw them both asleep, so close the could have touched each other. I was truly amazed!
     When I look at that picture, it makes me realize something. If two dogs can learn to live together, then perhaps there’s hope for all of us. I see them sleeping right next to each other, getting along just fine (although the older STILL doesn’t want to play with the younger one!), and I want to stop people in the street and help them understand that the world would be a better place if we would make a greater effort to get along!
     I have Facebook friends who…well..let’s just say they don’t see the world in quite the same I do. They have a much different belief system. Therefore, I have OTHER Facebook friends who say, “Why are you Facebook friends with…THEM?!” I even recently had a Facebook friend, “Why are you Facebook friends with ME?” The implication is clear. I am a Christian. Therefore, I should not want to associate with people who aren’t also Christians, who believe exactly what I believe, who think what I think, who are…like me! And I know there is a strong undercurrent in this nation that Christians are, well…JUST LIKE THAT! And the truth is- some of them are!!
     But I am here to tell you this- we are NOT all like that! There are, believe it or not, Christians in this country who actually have an open mind, who actually try to live out the Christian notion that ALL people are created equal in the eyes of God. If you ARE one of those Christians…let folks know. They need to see more of them! If you don’t believe there ARE Christians like that- look for them…they are there! Now if you’ll excuse me…the dogs need to go out!!
     Thanks for stopping by- I pray you have a blessed day! Please make sure and come back again tomorrow, and stick with Jesus!
  Tomorrow- Define “Normal”!