Posts Tagged ‘Acts’

His Enemies Didn’t Do So Well

imagesWhat is the point of the travel details and the storm and shipwreck of Acts 27? In seminary, we had to memorize all three of Paul’s missionary journeys. For the test we were given a blank map and told which journey we had to plot including putting the cities on the map in the right place. So again I ask, what is the point of the travel details in Acts 27? I mean, other than to torment poor seminary students?

I’m not sure I can firmly answer that but I suspect this has something to do with it: The Jews in Rome said to Paul, “We have received no letters from Judea about you, and none of the brothers coming here has reported or spoken any evil about you. But we desire to hear from you what your views are, for with regard to this sect we know that everywhere it is spoken against.” (Acts 28:21-22) So the people who wanted Paul killed in Acts 23-26 apparently hadn’t shown up in Rome yet. Why? I would guess that if Paul had such harsh travels from Caesarea, his enemies probably had worse! God sent an angel to speak to Paul and promised to deliver everyone on the ship (Acts 27:23). After Paul survived being shipwrecked, he got bitten by a poisonous snake (Acts 28:1-6). The only way Paul survived all of this was because God wanted him in Rome (Acts 23:11). If any of his accusers came after him I doubt they would have made it.

“If the righteous is scarcely saved,
what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” – 1 Peter 4:18

The Church and The Bible

When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Ask what I shall do for you, before I am taken from you.” And Elisha said, “Please let there be a double portion of your spirit on me.” And he said, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it shall be so for you, but if you do not see me, it shall not be so.” – 2 Kings 2:9-10

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. – Acts 1:8-9

I don’t want to make too much about this but I find it interesting that Elisha received a portion of the Spirit that was on Elijah as he watched Elijah be taken into heaven and in Acts there is an emphasis put on the coming of the Holy Spirit and Luke clearly points out that the disciples watched as Jesus ascended. Then the Spirit comes upon them at Pentecost.

To be fair, I think Luke’s point is clear in the next verse: “This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” It just seems that the parallel is kind of obvious.

The other thing I noticed in reading the first three chapters of Acts is how the very early church relied upon and interpreted scripture. The book begins with the disciples asking if Jesus will now restore the kingdom to Israel. That’s a biblical question since the the idea that the Son of David will restore the kingdom is a matter of biblical exegesis.

Then there is the apparent parallel to Elijah. Next the disciples gather and Peter interprets Psalm 69 and 101 to mean that they should replace Judas as an Apostle.

Then Pentecost comes and the Spirit fills the disciples so that they start preaching in various languages. When the disciples are accused of being drunk (because, you know, drunk folks can speak other languages fluently) Peter again interprets scripture. He cites the book of Joel to explain what the crowd is seeing and then returns to the book of Psalms citing Psalm 16 and 110 to explain who Jesus is.

The Church has relied on the scriptures from the very beginning of her existence. And the Church relied on scriptures to inform how she should conduct her business, to explain her methods and in evangelism. We’re missing a lot if we think that we don’t need to follow what the scriptures say or if get the idea that they don’t speak to the situation of the church today. David wrote the Psalms about 900 years before Peter applied them so it isn’t like they have a limited shelf life.

Yeah, but.

And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. – Acts 16:32-33

Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. – Acts 18:8-9

Some theorize that there were infants included in the household baptisms even thought they’re never explicitly mentioned. For some reason the “and were baptized” is assumed to apply to them but when the entire household “believed in the Lord” that does not. “But the infants are not capable of hearing and believing but are capable of being baptized,” they explain. That just seems like fairly large “Yeah, but” to me. If you just ignore the question of infant baptism for the moment, would you presume that infants were involved here?

Balancing Earthern Jars

But the unbelieving Jews [at Iconium] stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers. So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who bore witness to the word of his grace, granting signs and wonders to be done by their hands. – Acts 14:2-3

To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak. – Ephesians 6:18-20

I can’t imagine Paul being any bolder with the gospel than he was in Iconium. Those who heard and rejected his message stirred up others against him so what did he do? He remained there for a long time speaking boldly. He didn’t know how to take “No!” for an answer.

So then, what’s up with the Ephesians’ quote? That was written years after his first trip to Iconium, did he start to wimp out in his later years? There’s no indication of that happening. As Acts progresses he seems to be just as bold, maybe even more so since he appealed to Caesar and to Caesar he went. So why does he ask the Ephesians to pray for him? Because he knew that his boldness and his success didn’t come from himself. He knew that any progress he was seeing was only because God was at work in and through him. More than once Paul mentioned how unworthy he was because he had persecuted the Church. That wasn’t cheap crape paper window dressing humility either. He really lived with the sense of his own worthlessness and great confidence in what God was doing through him. That’s a great balance to maintain, one I wish I could manage better. When things are going well, I begin to think I’ve done something to really impress God or that I’m just in a good grove. It’s about me. What I need, what we all need really, is to fight for that tension between our absolute uselessness and God’s mighty power at work in earthen vessels.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7