Archive for the ‘Acts’ Category

This second book by Luke ends with an action-packed and open-ended finale of this part of Paul’s life. As the chapter closes we see Paul under something of a house arrest in Rome, where he is free to preach, teach, and write for two years. In this last chapter of Acts, we see Paul quoting Isaiah, and I have to be honest- it totally caught me off guard, because it has popped up elsewhere in Scripture this past week.

The quotation is from Isaiah six where God gives Isaiah a message of condemnation for Israel, where he says to the people, “Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive. Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed.” I was surprised to see it here, because earlier today I read Jesus quoting this in Mark four as part of His explanation of a parable.

Why did Jesus speak in a way that wasn’t comprehended by many of His hearers? So that even hearing, they would be deaf to the spiritual truths, and even though their physical sight was fine, their spiritual sight was blinded, for if they could really see the truth they would turn to Christ and be saved.

Earlier this week I began to touch on the issue of predestination in a series I’m doing with some of my students at church. We looked at the synergistic system and compared/contrasted it to monergistic regeneration, and in all of that we briefly hit the issue of depravity and election and its unconditionality.

As you might expect, the question was quickly raised, “If God is the one who picks, why doesn’t He pick everyone?” And it’s a good question. It really is. It’s a question that, while answered (albeit harshly) by Paul in Romans nine, still leaves us confused and wondering about God’s love.

One of the straw-man arguments commonly raised against monergistic theology (or sovereign grace, reformed theology, Calvinism- whatever you want to call it) is the idea that such a view of God and salvation leaves God saving men against their will and also damning men no matter how much they want to be saved. This caricature is a load of garbage, because no one espousing monergistic regeneration believes that God violates the will of anyone He saves or damns. In the end, everyone gets what they want. Our will is completely compatible with God’s sovereign foreordaination of events.

One of the questions this idea raises is the question of why anyone chooses God in the first place. We’ve seen, and hopefully you’ve learned this truth, that anyone embracing Christ does so because God graciously gives them a new heart/spiritual life and draws them to His son who then applies the salvific benefits of His atoning sacrifice to them and imparts to them His Holy Spirit by which we are gradually conformed to the likeness of our Savior. If we are saved, it is because God gave us to His Son who redeemed us for Himself. If we have faith and repentance, we have faith and repentance because God gave us faith and repentance. But…what about those not saved? What about them? Wouldn’t they want this, too?

When Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul were confronted with unbelievers, their response was the same: “Continue in your blindness and deafness, and see what you get.” Here’s the thing, guys…these unbelievers are unbelieving because they don’t want to believe. Men reject the Gospel because they don’t want the Gospel. Men rebel against God because men hate God. God is not obligated to save anyone, and apart from His grace we’d all be as damned as we were without His grace.

It’s hard to understand election and God’s love. It’s hard to understand eternal Hell for finite sins. There are some very hard doctrines that trouble us, confuse us, even wound our prideful egos. God does things in Scripture that seem crazy harsh and not very loving (to us), but don’t you think for a second that God forces people into Hell. He doesn’t have to force them. They go there willingly. And I’ll tell you something else- if God were to lift open the door to Hell and tell the occupants inside, “If you see your sin the way I do and embrace my Son as your savior, I will let you out,” they would grab the door from His hand and slam it shut in His face.

Men. Don’t. Want. God. And because of this they will go to Hell. Jesus said, “Come to me,” and they refuse. Don’t ever let someone tell you that God won’t save people who are wanting to be saved. God promises to save all who believe upon His Son. But also remember that we only did so because of the regenerating, gracious work of the Holy Spirit. God gets all the credit for our salvation, but those who perish in Hell are there on their own merit. Yes, God could save everyone in the entire world, but He doesn’t. He has chosen to save whom He wants to. That’s why it’s called grace. It’s completely undeserved. It would do us well to remember that.

Acts Twenty-seven: Do Huh?

Posted: July 19, 2011 in Acts

                Dr. Luke recounts in Acts twenty-seven the shipwreck that he experiences with Paul and 275 others. As I was reading, I came across this: “I urge you to take heart, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. For this very night there stood before me an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I worship, and he said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar. And behold,God has granted you all those who sail with you.’ So take heart, men, for I have faith in God that it will be exactly as I have been told.”

                Paul was confident that none of the men would perish at sea because God had “granted” them to Paul. Though their most perilous times were still yet before them, Paul was fully assured of their safety because God had promised them to him.

                It’s often hard to take God at His word when it looks as though He has failed to do what He said He would do. It’s also hard sometimes to realize that just because God promises something doesn’t mean we should do nothing until it comes to pass. Consider Paul in this chapter. Even armed with the knowledge that none would perish on the boat, they still spent days being tossed at sea, tossed their food overboard to lighten the load, and then dealt with the ship breaking apart.

                There is always a tension to be held between God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Don’t think that just because God is sovereign means that we can do anything we want since anything we do must therefore be God’s will for us to do. Paul says in Romans 6:1-2, “So what? Should we just sin, so that God’s grace looks even better? Heck no!” Likewise, just because God is in charge of salvation doesn’t give us the excuse or right not to be obedient to the commands of Christ to “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.”

                Paul knew the end result, but he also had a responsibility to fulfill his side of things. Let us be diligent to do the same.

                Paul, in typical Pauline fashion, takes his opportunity to address the King and does one thing with it: proclaim the resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth. King Agrippa confirms my suspicions in the tail end of chapter twenty-six as he tells Fetus “this man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”

                After fervently pleading with the King to believe him on the basis of Old Testament prophecy, Agrippa replies with a comment that has since left scholars and Bible translators somewhat confused. The comment, in the ESV, is this: “In a short time would you persuade me to bea Christian?” However, the NKJV (and others) understand it as this: “You almost persuade me to become a Christian.” Clearly there is a different tone in the two. Many commentators believe that what Agrippa is displaying is a mental affirmation of the truth of Paul’s words…and yet there was no heart change to accompany it. He would not deny Paul’s words…yet he would not act upon them, either.

                I want to leave you with a question today, something for you to mull over. Unfortunately, because I do not want this to springboard into a never-ending debate, I doubt I’ll address answers or allow them to be posted, but here is some food for thought.

 

               If it is true that man is:  (1) wicked at his very core– Gen 6:5, 8:21, Mk… 7:21-23, Ps 5:9, Jer 17:9, Titus 1:15-16, Ecc 9:3, Eph 4:17-18, (2) Enslaved by his sinful desires – Jn 8:34, Titus 3:3, 2 Tim 2:25-26, (3) Perverted in his will – Jn 8:44, Eph 2:3, Pro 21:10, Jn 3:19, Rom 7:18, (4) Unwilling and unable to change himself – Jer 13:23, Matt 7:18, Matt 12:34-35, Job 14:4, (5) Born hating God – Jn 3:20, Rom 8:7, Col 1:21 (6) Separated from God and not seeking Him – Ps 58:3, Eph 2:12-13, Eph 2:3, Ps 10:4, Jn 3:20, Is 64:7, Rom 3:10-12, (7) Completely unable to please God – Pro 15:9, Pro 28:9, Is 64:6, Rom 8:7-8, (8) Uncomprehending the Gospel and thinking it foolish – 1 Cor 2:14, 2 Cor 4:3-4, 1 Cor 1:18, 21-24, Deut 29:2-4, Matt 11:27, (9) Unable to respond positively to the Gospel – Jn 3:27, Jn 14:16-17, Jn 1:12-13, John 6:44, 65, (10) Spiritually dead – Col 2:13, Eph 2:1, Jn 3:3, Jn 3:7, than is it reasonable to expect that a person would ever want to become a Christian?

              If salvation is received through repentance and faith, how can such a person be saved if the last thing that want is to repent and believe?

                 Two years have passed, and finally Festus, the new Governor of Caesarea, was going to continue the legal proceedings for Paul, who had been waiting in a somewhat lax imprisonment ever since Felix held him under arrest. Two years after the fuss had begun, we see in Acts twenty-five that the Jews over in Jerusalem “laid out their case” before Festus. They were still full of hatred against Paul, and they were ready for things to resume. In fact, they even asked Festus to allow Paul to be transported to Jerusalem, so that they could ambush him and kill him on the road. Real nice guys, these Jews.

                Instead of granting their request, Festus goes on to Caesarea and questions Paul. In doing so, he realizes that Paul really hasn’t broken any law, either Jewish or Roman. At least, none that were proven over the next few days.  Festus then gives Paul the opportunity to defend himself publically against Festus again in Jerusalem. This itself is remarkable, because Festus had the authority to make Paul return to Jerusalem (and be killed in the process), yet he gave the choice to Paul. Paul essentially says “Forget the Jewish Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. If you question whether I’m deserving of death by breaking Roman law, than I exercise my right as a citizen of Rome to appeal this case to Caesar.”  Ok then, Paul. Have it your way.

                I had to chuckle while reading this chapter because the Roman-elected King of the Jews Agrippa comes to visit Festus in Caesarea. This is basically what Festus tells Agrippa: “Ok, dude. There’s this guy named Paul who was confined here two years ago by Felix, and some of the Jews and priests in Jerusalem seriously want this guy dead. I let them know that it wasn’t Roman practice to condemn a man before he can face his accusers, so we all came back here for some questioning. As soon as we could, I formed a tribune to listen to the charges and hear the evidence…and danged if they couldn’t prove a word of what they were saying! I didn’t really know what to do, so I asked Paul if he wanted to defend himself further in Jerusalem, yet he has chosen to appeal to Caesar! So…I’m going to hold him here until I can get him off to Caesar.” Agrippa finds this intriguing and prepares to listen to Paul himself.

                Now, here’s the kicker- I think if Paul had gone back to Jerusalem and argued his case before Festus, he would have been found not guilty and become a free man. And if this is true, Paul would have known that. Two years he had been sitting around and waiting for something to happen, and now here is an opportunity for freedom, to go back to his churches, to see his loved ones. And yet…Paul knows that Jerusalem isn’t where God wants him. Rome is. And Paul knows that trouble is coming in Rome. But what does he do? He continues to be obedient to the will of God for him.

                And that’s huge. Huge. How in the world was Paul able to still trust God, to still obey God, after having everything happen to him that did? He was able to because there is a central truth to the Christian life that Paul held onto like a lifeline, and that truth is this: Everything that happens to us is part of God’s plan.

                Rather simplistic on the surface, but think about it. Everything is part of the plan. Even the bad parts, the evil, the tragedy, everything. There is nothing that catches God off guard, and nothing is more powerful than God, so anything that happens, happens because it is part of God’s plan. We cannot fathom the truth of this in many circumstances, but it is true nonetheless. Knowing this is what allowed Paul to continue in his service to God. He knew God’s plan included a trip to Rome, and he trusted God enough to continue pressing in that direction.

                The easy way out is to call it quits. It’s too hard, God! I didn’t ask for this! But it’s not really about us, now is it? God’s the planner, and He makes better plans for us than we ever could. Will you trust His plan for you?

                Ever have those nights where you want to write something, but between the racing thoughts and the mental fatigue, nothing seems to make sense on paper? I’m having one of those nights. Having read Acts twenty-four, I am trying in some way to make the text spiritually relevant to a student. I know that given the time and resources I could dig deeper and simply expound verse-by-verse, but that’s not the purpose of this blog.

                See, I’m having a tough time because the entire chapter is Paul getting crapped on, and I don’t know how else to address it other than by appealing to good ole’ Romans 8:28. “It’s ok, Paul!” “It will work out for your good, Paul!” “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger!”

                Yet…try as I might to feel good for Paul, by the end of the chapter I feel miserable for him. His trial process is atrociously bastardized, and at the end of the chapter we find Paul waiting two years for his trial to resume. Two years. In jail. Yay. Go God! Woot.

                If there was a lesson to drive home from this chapter, it’s this: Sometimes, despite Romans 8:28, life sucks, and it sucks because that’s part of the plan God has for you. And here’s something else, too- it doesn’t matter how dear Romans 8:28 is sometimes, because there will be times in your life where even though you can faithfully embrace God’s sovereignty and love, life will suck.

                Don’t believe me? Ask Job, who having lost all of his children in a day, did not speak for days, threw dirt on himself, and tore his clothes. Job was grieving, though still he trusted in God. Or ask Paul, who for the sake of the spread of the Gospel is now spending two years of his life in jail doing nothing.

                This is the thing, guys…we will never know the reality of Romans 8:28 until we hit some seriously screwed-up times, so don’t let it catch you off guard. Don’t have the mindset that as a follower of Christ your life will be just peachy. Plan otherwise, like the Christian pastor in Iran who was told this week that his options were to recant his faith or to lose his head. I promise you tonight as this story unfolds that he isn’t hooting and dancing around, celebrating this bind he has been placed in. He is probably scared, and fearful for his family, and wondering if he will die well. Oh yes, he’s probably trusting in Romans 8:28, but God’s control over everything does not make everything fun.

                I’m sorry that I’m not oozing with encouragement tonight, but tough times are coming for followers of Christ. We need to be ready for it.

             I think one of the hardest things for a follower of Christ to grasp is that sometimes God’s plan isn’t for us to have a nice, comfortable existence while here on this earth. In fact, it would seem after a perusal through the Bible, history, and current world conditions that the norm is for Christians to experience utterly crappy aspects of life. But we’re forgetting something- something that Rick Warren hit right on the head with his book The Purpose Driven Life. That “something” is this: it’s not about us in the first place. It has been, is, and always will be about Him.

            Paul got this. I really think he did. And he laid out for us two precepts that would help us get it, if we seriously took to heart what he said through the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, knowing these things and doing these things are two entire different things sometimes. The first one is found in 1 Corinthians 10:31 where Paul tells us that in everything we do, even down to the simplest tasks of eating and drinking, we are to do it in a way that glorifies the God who saved us. Everything we do, to include getting my butted kicked by my church’s all-star softball team. Everything, which means me playing to God’s glory even as I see my opponents purposefully flubbing plays, which to me is just about as athletically disrespectful as one can be. As you may guess by my tone, yesterday was not my best day at doing everything to God’s glory.

            So one side of the coin is doing everything we do in order to let the rest of the world know how awesome God is. The second one is its inverse: we have to realize that everything that God does shows how awesome He is. And one of the ways in which He shows His awesomeness is in His loving relationship to His children- us. That’s right. Everything that happens to us (which by the way is ultimately caused by God), happens because God is good and He loves us.

            But…everything? Yesterday while playing with my son on the playground I hurt my tailbone and now can barely shift positions as I write. And then last night while crunching corn kernels for the first time in years, I broke the rear part of one of my molars, leaving the jagged edges of the filling in that tooth as a now-constant irritation. Yeah- yesterday sucked. Yet…in Romans 8:28 Paul tells us that everything that happens to us happens ultimately for our good.

            Here is the secret for thriving in the midst of adversity. Do everything we do for God’s glory, and live in the reality that everything that happens to us not only glorifies God, but it also benefits us in the end. This is something I know, but man is it hard to live by sometimes!

            But as I said earlier, these truths that Paul gave us were engrained within him. As he addresses the council in Acts twenty-three, rather than recant and beg for mercy, he instead proclaims, “Brothers, I have lived my life before God in all good conscience up to this day.” Upon hearing this, the High Priest commands someone to bash Paul in the mouth. So yeah…taking a stand for Jesus doesn’t guarantee (seemingly) positive results. But it does guarantee a closer relationship with Jesus, who pays Paul a visit the following night. His message? “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me inJerusalem, so you must testify also inRome.”

            Do not pass Go, do not collect $200. Life was about to get rougher for Paul, and he welcomed it. In light of this, I feel like a moron for having the audacity to whine about my butt and mouth. What about the things in your life that are stopping you from doing all you can to glorify God? Are they really that bad?

             Paul’s trek to Jerusalem continues in Acts twenty-one, much to the dismay of his friends, who urged him by the Spirit to not go to that city. This raises an interesting question, because I’m sure curious minds would have to wonder if Paul’s continuation to Jerusalem would constitute a sin, since “through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.” After all, it would seem that if Paul continued, it would be against the wishes of the Holy Spirit.

            That’s not what’s happening, though. Paul’s friends, through the power of the Holy Spirit, had prophetic knowledge that danger for him was a certainty in Jerusalem. Armed with this knowledge and their desire for his well being, they are begging and pleading with him to stay with them.

            As if this wasn’t clear enough to Paul, several towns over a prophet by the name of Agabus approaches Paul as Paul travels there, takes off Paul’s own belt, and then uses it to bind himself before speaking: “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’”

            Hi Paul. What’s up? Yeah…not much here either. Hey- that’s a cool belt. Can I see it for a sec? Snap-wizzle-wop! Oh yeah- See me all tied up here? God wanted me to let you know that they’re going to capture and imprison you in Jerusalem. You’ll look jut like this. Have a good one, bro!

            What does Paul do? He tells his friends, “Why are you guys crying and breaking my heart? You know that I’m willing and ready to be imprisoned for my Savior. I would even die for Jesus in Jerusalem.” And so he continues to the city where it all began. The so-called City of Peace was anything but.

            Paul barely made it a week before he was arrested by the mob-like Jews who hated him for his preaching of the Gospel, the news that Jesus, the promised Messiah, had come. The chapter closes with Paul preparing to address the crowd who stood before him.

 

            Sitting here in the serenity of my home, it’s hard to imagine what is going through Paul’s head. I’m sitting in the now chilly air-conditioning, my earbuds are in, music is playing, words are flying across my computer screen…and there is Paul in the arid heat, separated from his friends, arrested as a blasphemous rebel…knowing that life as he knew it was probably over with. Ironically enough, prior to his gracious conversion he himself used to arrest Christians and hold them guilty of blasphemy and insurrection.

            Can you imagine this happening to you? Arrested, ripped apart from your family, friends, anyone you know. And because you were serving God. You’d think it would turn out better for followers of Jesus, huh? Why’s God letting this happen to someone so faithful to Him? We’ll examine Paul’s impassioned speech tomorrow, but I want you, right now, to reflect on this question: If you were in Paul’s shoes, what would you tell this crowd who hated you for being a Christian?