Let’s face it. Bad things happen to good people. We may not understand why. We may not even like that it happens, but we can’t argue the fact that it’s a part of life. And when we read Luke’s account of Paul’s journey to Rome, we can’t help but notice that nothing seems to go right for this faithful servant of God. In fact, he had been warned in advance by God, that he would suffer. And God was true to His word. Everywhere Paul went, he faced opposition of all kinds, from verbal attacks to physical beatings. And even as he made his way to Rome on ship commandeered by the Romans, he still encountered trials that would make of us throw up our hands in despair and raise our voices in criticism of God. But Paul took it all in stride. In Acts 27:39-28:10, Luke provides a detailed account of Paul’s seemingly ill-fated voyage and eventual shipwreck. And even when he and all the other passengers of the ship washed up on the shores of Malta alive and well, he ended up getting bitten by a poisonous snake. Even the natives of Malta thought Paul was cursed. He had survived the shipwreck but would die from a snake bite. As far as they could tell, he must have been guilty of something pretty serious because the gods were angry. But little did they know that Paul’s God was anything but angry. He was simply going to use Paul as a means of revealing his power to the citizens of Malta. Even as a prisoner, Paul was still God’s messenger to the Gentiles.
It’s easy to be courageous when no danger or threat is imminent. Being brave is a piece of cake if you aren’t staring down the proverbial barrel of a gun. But what about when things have gone south and you find yourself surrounded by circumstances that could prove disastrous, if not deadly? In Acts 27:21-38, Luke is going to provide us with just such a situation. It involves Paul, as well a host of other, unnamed characters who find themselves in a deadly predicament where loss of hope is accompanied by a real possibility of loss of life. They’re on a ship in the middle of a raging storm and, as far as the men on board can determine, all is lost. But in the midst of it all, Paul will stand up and urge his fellow passengers to take heart. Basically, he will tell them to be of good cheer. They’re being battered and beaten by the wind and waves, and yet Paul wants them to put on a happy face. Had he lost his mind? Was he delirious? No, he was trusting. He had received a message from an angel of God assuring him that not one single person on board the ship would die. They would have to endure a shipwreck, but they would survive, unscathed. And because Paul knew the message was from God, he knew the content of the message could be trusted. God was good for His word. And it was Paul’s confidence in his God that produced courage in his heart and impacted all those around him who had lost all hope.
Have you ever felt like giving up? If we’re honest, all of us have had that experience. It comes with living in a fallen world. There are those times in life when we get the urge to throw in the towel, to quit. Sometimes it’s because we simply run out of steam. We get tired. Other times, we find ourselves running short on hope. Things get so tough that we don’t see any way out. Which drives us to abandon all hope of things getting better. In Acts 27:1-20, Luke recalls a story when Paul was being transported by ship from Caesarea to Rome. He was on his way to stand trial before the emperor. This was a God-ordained journey that was going to place Paul in the very heart of the Roman empire, providing him with a unique opportunity to share the gospel with the world’s most powerful man: Caesar. But this trip, while sanctioned by God, was not going to turn out to be a Disney cruise. This voyage was marked by lousy weather complete with typhoon-strength winds and timber-breaking waves. And even the leather-skinned sailors on board the ship reached the point where they abandoned all hope of survival. But Paul was given a word from God letting him know that, in spite of the dire circumstances, all would end well and not a soul would be lost. This trip had God’s hands all over it. Yes, they would still have to endure the winds and the waves. They would end up having to abandon ship. But each and every occupant of the ship, from the sailors and soldiers to the prisoners like Paul, were miraculously saved.
When you look at the world, what do you see? More specifically, when you look at those who live in the world with you, what do you see? Do you see happy and sad people? Are some successful, while others struggle to make ends meet? Is your view of the people with whom you work, play and live restricted to external characteristics and visible attributes? If so, you’re not alone. But as followers of Christ, we are to see people through a different lens. We have been given a unique, Spirit-empowered perspective that allows us to look at people as either saved or lost, redeemed or under condemnation of death. On the outside, their lives may appear free from trouble and full of joy. But as God reminded the prophet, Samuel, “People judge by outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7 NLT). And yet, as believers, we are to use our spiritual sensibilities to look beneath the surface and into the hearts of those with whom we share this planet. In Acts 26:19-23, Luke continues his record of Paul’s hearing before Governor Festus and King Agrippa. And Paul will see these two men, not as powerful representatives of the Roman government, but as two lost souls in need of a Savior. He isn’t trying to get out of prison, but he is trying to tell Festus and Agrippa how to escape from their captivity to sin. Paul wanted them to become like him. He was free, even though he was in chains. They were unhindered by chains and free to go where they pleased, but in reality, they were captive to sin and condemned to death. When Paul looked at them, he didn’t see a governor and a king, but two men in desperate need of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Paul, this was not a topic that came up one time a year, at Easter. It was the heart and soul of his entire ministry. Without the resurrection, he had no ministry. There was no good news. His whole salvation story was based upon his own personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus. So, when he shared the good news regarding Jesus, it included news of Jesus’ death and resurrection. As far as Paul saw it, one meant nothing without the other. If Jesus had died, but had not been raised back to life, He was nothing more than a martyr, not a Messiah. He was a rabbi who taught some powerful moral lessons and lived an exemplary life, but nothing more. And yet, Paul was convinced that Jesus was alive because he had met Him on the road to Damascus. He had spoken with Jesus. And he had received his commission from the lips of Jesus. So, when Paul got the opportunity to speak before Festus and Agrippa, guess what he talked about? That’s right, the resurrection. In Acts 26:2-18, Luke records the testimony Paul shared with these two powerful men. He told his conversion story and how he had met the resurrected Jesus. And he let them know that God had raised Jesus back to life in order that men might turn from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God. Jesus died so that men might live. Jesus lived so that men might never die. And Paul wanted Festus and Agrippa to believe so that they might be saved.
Have you ever had the experience of being tongue-tied or at a loss as to what to say? Perhaps you found yourself in the position of having to defend your faith or share your testimony, and the words just wouldn’t come out. It’s not an uncommon experience and, for most of us, it’s one we particularly dread. In today’s episode, we’re going to look at Luke’s description of a potential stress-inducing encounter between Paul and King Agrippa. Having been accused and arrested for committing crimes against the state and violating the Mosaic law, Paul has been in Roman custody for more than two years. Now, he is going to get the opportunity to present his case before King Agrippa. Yet again, Paul will find himself standing before a powerful representative of the Roman government who had the power to set him free or sentence him to death. These kinds of opportunities are rare for most of us. We don’t usually find ourselves standing before dignitaries and powerful people. But what if we did? How would we respond? Would we seize the moment and use it as a platform to share the good news regarding Jesus Christ? For Paul, his encounter with Agrippa would prove to be a no-brainer. He didn’t even have to think about it. He knew going in what he was going to say and what he was hoping to do. Paul was never at a loss for words, because he always had the gospel on his mind.
We can’t see into the future. We have no way of determining the outcome of our present circumstances. And neither did Paul. He had been in Caesarea under the protective custody of the Romans for two solid years, waiting for someone to make a decision regarding his guilt or innocence. But the months came and went and, eventually, so did the Roman governor. Felix was replaced by Festus. But as we will see in Acts 25:1-12, not much else changed for Paul. The Jews were still around and their hated of Paul had not diminished with time. Paul would find himself facing yet another hearing, having to listen to the same old false accusations again. And, once again, he would defend himself, declaring his innocence. But this time, Paul would take matters to a whole new level, demanding that he be allowed to appear before Caesar in Rome. This was his right as a Roman citizen. He knew he would never receive a fair trial in Jerusalem, and his only hope of having this situation resolved was by making the long and arduous journey to Rome. It was something he had always wanted to do. And while making the trip as a prisoner of Rome was not his preferred method of seeing his dream come true, Paul knew that God was in control. He was fully content to trust God with the outcome. All of the events described by Luke in these verses provide additional proof that God was orchestrating the affairs of Paul’s life. There was a far grander plan taking place behind the scenes, to which even Paul was unaware. But he could sense the sovereign hand of God on his life.
What do you talk about if you get the opportunity to sit down with one of the most powerful men in the land? And what if that person held the power of life or death over you. What topics do you bring up in that case? For most of us, it would seem normal and natural to avoid anything controversial or potentially offensive. We would keep the banter light and the conversation as non-inflammatory as possible. But in Acts 24:22-27, Luke records Paul’s ongoing appointments with King Agrippa and his wife, Drusilla. And what he had to say to them is a bit of a surprise. The king had the power to set Paul free or put him to death, but Paul didn’t let that stop him from discussing some highly delicate and difficult topics with him. Paul knew that Agrippa, just like any other human being on the planet, needed to hear what he had to say. And Paul discussed three essential topics that apply to every individual, regardless of their status or station in life: Sin, righteousness and judgment. Sin is a universal problem that impacts every single man and woman. And whether we want to admit it or not, there is a standard of righteousness, given to us by God, that dictates and determines our sinfulness. But most importantly, there is a judgment, a divine judgment, coming for all, including Agrippa and Drusilla. We can justify our actions, excuse our sins as nothing more than mistakes, and rationalize that we operate by a different set of standards, but in the end, it is God who will judge us according to His holy standards and mete out the just punishment we deserve.
The Jewish leadership hated Paul and they weren’t exactly fond of what they called The Way either. They were determined to rid their world of any and all traces of Jesus and his followers. And at this point in Luke’s story, we find Paul bearing the full brunt of the Sanhedrin’s hatred for him. They fully believed they had him on the ropes. He had been shipped off to Caesarea where he would stand before the Roman governor, facing a litany of trumped up charges, that the Sanhedrin hoped would result in his death. And while the prosecuting attorney had what he believed to be a strong case against Paul, the real focus of the ire of the Jewish religious leaders had to do with Paul’s claim that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah of Israel. This was more than they could handle. They had seen Jesus crucified and any talk that he had been raised back to life and was orchestrating a movement was nonsense to them. Much to their chagrin, the rabbi from Nazareth who had caused them so much grief when he was alive, was causing them more trouble than ever. And for Paul, the real issue surrounding his arrest and trial had to do with one thing and one thing only: His claim that Jesus was alive. And that claim was based on his firm belief that Jesus had been raised back to life by God. Jesus, the dead rabbi from Nazareth, was the very much alive Messiah and Son of God. And while the Jews were convinced that “The Way” was the wrong way, Paul knew it was the only way.
It was Jesus who referred to Paul as, “my chosen instrument.” He had called and commissioned Paul to take the message of the gospel to the Gentiles and to kings. And Paul had proven to be a faithful servant, carrying out that calling with fearless determination. He had been beaten, flogged, rejected, run out of town, and even stoned, but he never gave up. He refused to back down. And now, Luke begins to chronicle Paul’s divinely appointed journey to Rome. The Roman tribune in Jerusalem had no idea what to do with Paul. He could find no reason to keep Paul, let alone punish him. So, he determined to send Paul to Caesarea, where the Roman governor, Felix, could assess the situation and make a judgment. As we have stressed repeatedly, these encounters were divine appointments, orchestrated by God and in fulfillment of the words of Jesus. Paul had been chosen by Jesus to accomplish great things for the kingdom, and that was going to include standing before some of the most powerful men in the Roman empire. And there was nothing that was going to stand in the way of God’s will being accomplished. Paul had divine protection. That didn’t exempt him from difficulty, because Jesus had clearly predicted that Paul’s life would be marked by suffering. But it meant that his life and ministry were under divine protection until God decided Paul’s work on earth was done.
aul was a dead man. At least, as far as the Jewish religious leadership were concerned. They believed it was just a matter of time before they convinced the Roman authorities to condemn Paul as a dangerous threat to the well-being of the empire. They had gone out of their way to portray Paul as a radical and revolutionary who stirring up trouble among the Jews and causing riots that could boil over and threaten the peace of Jerusalem. And then were another 40 Jews who had made a pact with one another not to eat or drink until they had assassinated Paul. It seems as if everyone was out to get him. But nobody could touch him without the express permission of God. Paul had made a habit of walking away from difficult situations, including his own stoning. He was like the Energizer Bunny of the 1st-Century. He just kept going and going and going. And Paul was going to survive this latest dilemma, because God was not done with him yet. He had unfinished plans for Paul, that included a trip to Caesarea and then on to Rome. And there was nothing the Sanhedrin or a zealous group of vigilantes were going to do to stop the sovereign plan of God. The amazing thing is how Paul was able to display such peace in the midst of all the turmoil swirling around him. He was hated and despised but didn’t let him it get to him. He seemed to have more enemies than friends, but he never felt alone or forgotten. He was content that he was living within the will of God and protected by the power of God. He lived his life believing the words of the author of Hebrews: “The LORD is my helper, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?"
Nobody likes it when their plans fail or their preconceived ideas of how things should turn out, turn out for the worse. But when living in the will of God, it’s not always possible to know when that turn for the worse is exactly what God had in mind. In studying the life of the apostle Paul, we are provided with a vicarious look into the up and down nature of his calling. Paul was living in obedience to the commission given to him by Christ, and yet he regularly suffered everything from rejection and ridicule to both verbal and physical abuse. If you measure his success based on the external circumstances surrounding his life, it would be easy to conclude that, at times, he was out of God’s will. Why else would God allow him to be beaten, flogged, arrested, and even stoned and left for dead? But one of the things we learn from Luke’s chronology of those early decades of the church, is that God’s ways are not our ways. His methodology doesn’t always make sense to us, but it gives us no right to question His means or His motives. In Acts 23:1-11, Luke continues his description of Paul’s less-than-friendly encounter with the Jewish religious leaders. He has been placed before them by the Roman tribune in hopes that some kind of resolution might be arrived at, pertaining to Paul’s guilt or innocence. But things didn’t go well. Along with a slap in the face, Paul found himself in the midst of another no-holds-barred blow-up, this time between the members of the Jewish religious council. And every single bit of it was according to the sovereign will of God. The members of the Sanhedrin were at each other’s throats. The Roman tribune was at a loss as to what to do. And Paul was at peace, knowing that God was in control.
As followers of Jesus Christ, we live with a certain sense of duality. We are citizens of heaven, but we find ourselves having to live out our earthly existence in this world. And that can leave us facing a certain degree of conflict and tension, as we attempt to navigate a fallen world while maintaining the integrity of our heavenly citizenship. Paul was well acquainted with this ever-present reality for the believer because he faced it each and every day of his life. And Paul had learned how to straddle these two antithetical worlds with a certain sense of ease. That’s not to say it was easy. He faced rejection and ridicule. He was constantly misunderstood and misrepresented. He was hated and despised. And it was not uncommon for him to face both verbal and physical abuse for his beliefs. As we continue to look at Paul’s defense before the Jews who had accused him of desecrating the temple, we will see Paul effectively using his dual citizenship as a Jew and a Roman, in order to navigate the difficult circumstance in which he found himself. And the one thing we cannot afford to miss is how God had preordained every aspect of Paul’s life. His birth as a Jew had not been a case of blind fate. His Roman citizenship was not just a lucky coincidence. It had all been part of God’s divine plan for his life. Paul was a man divinely equipped for the role given to him by God. And in Acts 22:22-3, Luke will provide us with ample proof that Paul, a citizen of heaven, was ready, willing and able to live out his faith in the polarized world of the 1st-Century.
By this time in the story of the Book of Acts, we have seen the effectiveness of Paul’s ministry, which provides ample proof of the reality of his calling. As we read Paul’s testimony found in Acts 22:6-21, he makes it clear that his commission had come from Jesus Christ Himself, and that his entire life since the time of his conversion on the road to Damascus had been the work of God. He was a chosen instrument of God, handpicked even before he was born and given a very specific assignment to take the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles. And Paul had been faithful to that task. Which was the very reason he had been accosted and arrested in the temple courtyard that day in Jerusalem. A contingent of Jews from Asia had come to town and had seen Paul in the Courtyard of the Israelites and accused him of violating Mosaic law by bringing a Gentile into the restricted area, thus desecrating the temple. But Paul had been innocent. In fact, the whole point of his testimony was to assure those in his audience that he had simply been doing the will of God. Yes, he had been sharing the gospel with Gentiles, as he had been commanded but, ever since his conversion, he had never done anything to violate the will of God. He had been appointed by God and had lived his life trying to do exactly what he had been told to do. His days of living outside the will of God were long gone. And the very fact that he was suffering for the sake of the gospel was ample proof that he had been obedient to God’s will and his life was a fulfillment of Christ’s prediction.
Enthusiasm can be a wonderful thing. It can produce some pretty incredible outcomes when applied in a positive way. But enthusiasm can also lead to wrong outcomes when it is motivated by misguided or mistaken conclusions. In today’s episode, based on Acts 21:37-22:5, we’re going to hear the apostle Paul use his own life as a testimony to that fact. Before coming to faith in Christ, Paul had been a devout Pharisee who had been on a personal mission to eradicate the world of Christians. And according to him, he thought he was doing it for God. In fact, he describes his enthusiasm as zealousness. He was a highly motivated, extremely dedicated persecutor of the Way. Nothing and no one was going to stand in his way or prevent him from accomplishing his mission of mayhem. If ever there was a case of misdirected zeal, it was this man-on-a-mission known at the time as Saul. But something happened that changed not only Saul’s mindset, but his entire life’s focus. He came to discover that he had been enthusiastically wrong. His mission to destroy the church was not from God and, therefore, his efforts did nothing to please or honor God. As we have seen in our day, religious zeal, however well-intentioned, can be used to accomplish atrocities of all kinds. Over the centuries, countless crimes have been perpetrated in the name of God and for the cause of religion. But Paul, formerly known as Saul, had come to discover the truth, in the form of the Son of God. He had learned that misdirected zeal for God can never replace obeying the will of God.
Paul was back in Jerusalem, where he found himself taking part in a cleansing ceremony along with four other Jewish men. They were completing a vow they had made to God, and James had suggested that Paul join them, in order to convince the Jews that he was still a God-fearing, law-abiding Jew. In Acts 21:27-36, Luke provides us with an up-close-and-personal glimpse into the growing resentment that the Jews harbored against Paul. They saw him as a threat. Even believing Jews, who had placed their faith in Christ, found Paul to be a less-than-attractive character. To them, Paul was little more than a heretic who was out to destroy Judaism. After all, he had just returned from his latest missionary journey, where he had been, according to rumors, speaking out against Judaism. They had heard that Paul was trying to convince Jews to avoid the Mosaic Law and to stop circumcising their infant sons. None of it was true, but that didn’t seem to matter. What Paul was experiencing was the pushback that comes with the faithful proclamation of the gospel. Paul had broken no laws. In fact, he was in the process of trying to prove that He had an affinity for the law of God. But the Jews were not convinced or impressed. In fact, they were so angry at Paul, that they demanded his death. He was a radical whose teachings were heretical and whose message was unacceptable.
Wherever there are people, there will be conflicts. And that reality was true of the body of Christ in the 1st-Century. As the church continued to grow, so did the potential for disagreement and disunity, because the church was being formed out of a disparate mix of people from all walks of life and every conceivable religious and racial background. There were Jews who had come to faith in Christ who were natives of Israel and Jews who had been converted to Judaism out of paganism and then had become Christians. There were Gentiles of every imaginable stripe, from Greece and Rome to Asia and Galatia. They spoke a variety of languages and brought a diverse blend of social, ecclesiological, and political baggage along with them. And one of the major point of conflict the church would face in the first centuries of its existence was the one that loomed large between the Jewish believers and their Gentile counterparts. God-fearing, law-keeping Jews who had come to faith in Christ were adamant that Christianity was a Jewish religion, requiring adherence to Jewish laws and customs. But Paul, as a Jew, would stand stubbornly opposed to this way of thinking, demanding that the gospel was based on grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. It was Jesus plus nothing. And the leaders in the church in Jerusalem had agreed with him. But maintaining unity while protecting the gospel’s integrity was going to take diplomacy. And a willingness to sacrifice personal rights for the cause of Christ.
All of us want to know the will of God. But when His will doesn’t mirror ours, we can find ourselves in a quandary. Do we accept His will even though we don’t like it? Do we question whether it really is His will? And do we consider disobeying it if we decide it’s something we would prefer not to do? The apostle Paul faced this dilemma. Well, if the truth be told, it wasn’t so much him, as it was his well-meaning Christian friends who found the will of God for Paul’s life, as revealed by the Spirit of God, to be hard to comprehend and accept. But Paul would remain resolute and committed to the will of God for his life, even when it wasn’t exactly pleasant. In Acts 21:1-16, Luke begins his description of Paul’s journey to Jerusalem, where, according to a vision from the Holy Spirit, Paul will face suffering and persecution for the sake of the gospel. But rather than resist or recoil from such news, Paul accepted it as God’s will and set his mind to go exactly where the Spirit had told him to go. And as he made his way, the message from the Spirit was confirmed by others. But rather than encourage Paul, they attempted to get him to avoid Jerusalem altogether. In other words, they tried to get him to preserve his life by rejecting God’s will for his life. But that was not something Paul was willing to do.
Every believer in Christ is only given so much time on this earth. And God is the one who knows the length of our days. In fact, in the midst of all his loss, suffering and sorrow, was well aware of that fact, stating, “You have decided the length of our lives. You know how many months we will live, and we are not given a minute longer” (Job 14:5 NLT). Paul understood the brevity of life and the sovereign control that God maintains over the lives of all men. Which is why he was determined to prepare leaders to take his place when his predetermined time on earth came to an end. Raising up and training new leadership was a constant focus for Paul. And in Acts 20:28-38, as Paul makes his way to Jerusalem, not knowing what awaits him there, he calls the elders from the church in Ephesus and imparts to them some last-minute counsel and encouragement. He wanted these men to take their role seriously and to live their lives soberly, fully embracing the cost of their calling and the vital importance of their position as shepherds of God’s flock. Godly spiritual leadership is essential to the well-being of the church. Discernment and wisdom are critical attributes of those who are called to shepherd. And it isn’t enough to lead well, these individual are to live well, modeling what it means to be a faithful follower of Christ, exhibiting integrity, selflessness, love, and an unwavering commitment to the cause of Christ, regardless any opposition they may face.
The Christian life can be difficult at times. We can encounter situations and circumstances that make living out our faith more than a bit tricky and trying. And no one knew that better than Paul. Ever since his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul had experienced a litany of faith-testing difficulties, all the way from verbal assault to stoning. He had been falsely accused, beaten with rods, flogged with a whip, and repeatedly forced to flee for his life. And in Acts 20:13-27, Luke will begin to chronicle Paul’s efforts to make his way to Jerusalem, where he knows suffering awaits him. He had been informed of his fate by the Spirit of God and warned by his friends not to go. But Paul was determined to do what he felt compelled by the Spirit of God to do – in spite of potential suffering and even with the distinct possibility of death looming on the horizon. Paul refused to shrink back from the difficulties of life. He would not run from the commission given to him by Jesus. If death was his lot, he trusted that God knew best. And he did everything in his power to pass on that sense of determination and dedication to obey the will of God, encouraging the elders from Ephesus to follow his example and shepherd those under their care with an eye to their future reward. Things in this life are going to be tough at times. But we are to not to shrink back in fear or give up hope. Like Paul, we are to remain committed to spreading the gospel message, regardless of the circumstances we may face in this life.
When God works in or around your life, do you find yourself shocked or surprised? If something out-of-the-ordinary or totally inexplicable takes place, are you prone to write it off as strange or do you immediately give God the credit? We live in a day and age when the miraculous seems ludicrous. The supernatural is dismissed as impossible or, at best, improbable. But as we read through the Book of Acts, we see miracle after miracle take place. Blind people have their sight restored. Individuals who have been unable to walk their entire lives, suddenly discover they can walk and run. And the further we delve into Luke account of the growth of the church, we see a certain expectation being exhibited by those in the church. Their shock over the unexpected taking place in their midst clearly dissipates as the miraculous became more commonplace. And in today’s episode, based on acts 20:7-12, Luke provides us with a look into a truly remarkable story of the death of Eutychus. This young follower of Christ fell asleep while Peter was preaching and plunged to his death out of an open window. He was pronounced dead on the spot, a fact confirmed by Luke, who happened to be a physician. But Luke treats what happened next with a certain flippancy that is truly surprising. Peter brings the deceased young man back to life. In an instant. And Luke treats the whole affair as if it’s nothing more than business as usual. And it was. The people of God were growing accustomed to seeing miracles performed in the power of God. And as a result, they expected the unexpected.
Do you have any spiritual progeny? Can you claim any sons and daughters in the faith whom you have helped to raise in the nurture and admonition of the Lord? Many of us have biological children, and we have a responsibility to point them toward Christ and to mirror the love of Christ in front of them. But we also have a God-given charge to make disciples. And that commission, given to us by Jesus Christ Himself, goes far beyond the initial point of conversion. We are to see to it that our children in the faith grow in their faith. We are to lovingly push them towards maturity and encourage them to take up their cross daily and follow Christ. One of the things we learn about the apostle Paul, as we examine his life in the Book of Acts, is that he had a passionate desire to see people come to faith, but an equally intense desire to see them grow spiritually. In Acts 20:1-6, Luke is going to introduce us to seven men whose lives had been influenced by Paul. They were his disciples, his sons in faith. We know little about most of them, but they were men who had placed their faith in Christ as a result of Paul’s dedication to sharing the gospel with Gentiles. But Paul had not been content to see them come to faith. He wanted to help them grow and watch them carry on the ministry of spreading the gospel to the four corners of the earth. Paul knew that his days on earth were numbered and that the future well-being of the church was dependent upon the spiritual leadership he and the other apostles would leave behind.
When we talk about salvation, we tend to address it in terms of the impact it has had on the life of the individual for whom faith in Christ has become a reality. We discuss how it brings about life change and results in a new way of living marked by behavioral transformation. But it’s interesting how often Luke describes the end result of salvation in terms of its group impact and communal influence. As we open up Acts 19:21-41, we are going to see the apostle Paul
preaching and teaching in the city of Ephesus. And his efforts would not go unrewarded. There would be many who came to faith in Christ and, as we will see, these new believers began to have a powerful impact on the rest of the community. So much so, that the local idol trade had been negatively impacted. People were placing their faith in Christ and recognizing the illogical and unhelpful role that pagan, lifeless gods played in their daily lives. People were discovering
Christ and, at the same time, realizing that the hope they had placed in the saving power of their false gods had been highly misdirected. As a result, they were making significant changes in their lifestyles that were impacting others around them, including both the saved and the
lost. While the majority of the citizens of Ephesus remained unsaved, they were seeing and feeling the influence of the gospel’s transformative power. Like yeast in a batch of dough, the new believers in Ephesus were slowly spreading their influence throughout the city, eliciting a range of reactions, from positive to negative, but rarely indifferent.
Christianity is meant to be life-changing. It is not a religion to be practiced, but a radical new way of life, empowered by the Spirit of God, and intended to be lived out in the sight of a lost and dying world. In the early days of the church, as the gospel continued to spread, many people were coming to faith in Christ and experiencing the redemptive, transformative power of the Spirit of God as He regenerated their hearts and began the process of molding them into the likeness of Christ. In Acts 19:8-20, Luke provides us with a glimpse into the gospel’s life-changing capacity by revealing the impact it had on the people of Ephesus. This was a town with a reputation for witchcraft and sorcery, much of which was directly tied to demonic activity. So, when Paul began to proclaim the availability of new life in Christ made possible by His sacrificial death on the cross, people not only placed their faith in Christ, they underwent dramatic transformations, resulting in behavioral change that was visible and measurable. Ephesus was a spiritually charged city, where the remarkable and sometimes inexplicable were standard fare. But what began to happen when Paul arrived in town and the good news of Jesus Christ began to make its way around the city, was like nothing these people had ever seen before. They were seeing something new and many of them were becoming new creations, and experiencing the life-altering joy of new life in Christ.
We know that Jesus Christ came in order that we might have new life, eternal life. But also, life marked by a radically new way of living. It is said that, upon salvation, we receive new natures. We are new creations. The old has gone and the new has come. But what makes all this possible? It’s the Spirit of God who comes to dwell within us as the point we place our faith in Christ. In Acts 19:1-7, Paul will encounter some disciples of John the Baptist who had not yet experienced the baptism of the Holy Spirit. In fact, they didn’t even know who the Holy Spirit was. They had believed in Jesus, but had not yet been filled with the Spirit. But all that was about to change. Not only would Paul baptize them in water in the name of Jesus, he would lay his hands upon them so that they could receive the baptism of the Holy Spirit. And at that point, they would receive the power they needed to live truly repentant lives. Rather than trying to live radically different lives in their own limited strength, they would receive the indwelling presence and power of the Spirit of God who would equip them to live like children of God. The coming of the Spirit made new life in Christ possible and a life lived like Christ achievable.