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Category Archives: Acts

Acts 28 – An Odd Ending

During The Book of Acts

One of the odd things about reading the Bible is that it isn’t entirely in order, or what we would expect “in order” to look like.  By the end of this chapter, Paul has written both letters to the Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, Ephesians, Philemon, a couple of letters to Timothy, one to Titus, and this other book called Romans.  To a certain extent, as we move forward into the New Testament, we will be moving backward into the story we’ve just finished.

In Rome

When Paul last met with a group of Jews, there was a riot, an arrest, several years of imprisonment, trials before three rulers and multiple assassination attempts.  But that doesn’t keep Paul from going straight to the Jews in and around Rome and telling them about Jesus and the Gospel.  He expects them to be as hostile as what he experienced in Jerusalem and Judea.  Instead, some listen and some reject his teaching (just like in Jerusalem) but then they all just go home.  There aren’t any riots.  Paul isn’t stoned or imprisoned.  Things are always political in the capital, where power is everything and reputations are at stake.  But when you get farther away from the power politics of Jerusalem, They simply listen, assess, discuss and go home.

While Paul spends the next couple of years in Rome under house arrest, this doesn’t seem to be too arduous.  In fact, the final phrase, that he taught with boldness and without hindrance would seem to indicate that these years of house arrest were some of the easiest in his ministry.  Preaching to people who don’t try to kill you is easy.

At least, that’s all until we start Romans on Monday.

Then the book ends.  Almost out of nowhere Acts is over.  It seems unresolved at first.  Paul is imprisoned after his appeal to Caesar and we want to know the verdict.  We don’t know how the churches are doing.  What ever happened to Peter?

But the point is that they aren’t the point.  The book isn’t about Peter or Paul.  It isn’t about the early converts.  The book is about the Kingdom.  It’s about all of the people and circumstances that led to King Jesus leading a group of men and women into becoming something great with his Holy Spirit power.  The end of the book is the moment that the Gospel has gone everywhere it needed to go.  While it feels like we have loose ends with Paul, everything with the spread of the Gospel has been accomplished.  If it was all neatly concluded, there would be a sense of completeness and finality to it.  As it is, Acts presents itself as a launch point and an invitation to pick up where Peter, Barnabas and Paul left off, to take the Gospel to my and your little corner of the world.

We start Romans on Monday!  What was your favorite thing about Acts?

 

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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Acts 27 – Confidence

A little over a year ago I went to Ireland by myself. I wanted to explore the beauty of the country and didn’t want to be limited to a tour so I rented a car. The closer I got to Dublin the more anxious I got about sitting on the right side of my rental car and having to navegate the streets while driving on the left side of the road. With each moment that my airplane got closer to that beautiful place I became a little more anxious about the reality of my situation. I had to drive. I was alone and would need to meet people. All of the road signs are in Gaelic. The closer I got to Dublin, the more resolved I had to become about what I had set out to do. In no way does this comepare to Paul’s situation but I cannot even imagine the resolve, focus, and confidence he had about the reality of his situation and what he was supposed to be doing.

How hard is it to tell a group of professional sailors that a storm is going to come up, their efforts will be futile, and they will lose everything? When they don’t want to listen and decide they should go anyway, taking you with them, you continue to remind them of this. Where does Paul’s information come from? Who does he think he is? Paul gives his credentials…his master stood beside him and told him not to be afraid because he is must stand trial before Caesar and God has graciously given him the lives that sail with him. Would that give you much comfort if you were the owner of the ship or one of his guards? Paul then basically tells them that even if they don’t have enough faith, or any at all, his faith was big enough to protect them.

How does your faith stand out among those trembling around you? Are you so confident in your journey and what must happen before you that when people see the storms building aroudn you they find peace in your faith? I don’t know exactly where all I am going in this world but I want to have confidence in Christ the way that Paul did.

 
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Posted by on June 27, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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Acts 24 – Paul Before Felix

Paul’s Trial Before Felix

So when the Sanhedrin’s attorney, Tertullus, shows up to bring accusations against Paul his charges include:

  • He’s a troublemaker who stirs up riots among Jews around the world.
  • He’s a ringleader of the Nazarene sect.
  • He tried to desecrate the Temple.

Paul responds to the charges:

  • I peacefully entered the Temple in Jerusalem 12 days ago.  No riots occurred.  There were no altercations there or anywhere else I went.
  • What they call a sect, I call The Way.  And yes, I am a follower of The Way.
  • When I did go into the Temple, I didn’t desecrate it.  I didn’t take in any crowds or cause any problems.  In fact, my only goal was to provide funds I had gathered from around the world to help the poor.
  • On the other hand, there is a bunch of trouble-making Jewish ruffians who followed me all the way from Asia who keep causing riots everywhere I go.  If they have any accusations, maybe they should be here today.
  • Maybe they are upset because I believe in the resurrection of the dead, the ancient hope of our people.

Then two interesting things happen.  First, Felix dismisses the entire thing because he is familiar with The Way.  And not only is he familiar, but he seems to be very intrigued and favorable towards them.  He spends much time listening and talking to Paul.  I can only wonder how Felix came to be so interested in The Way and what his ultimate response to it was.  

The second interesting thing that happens is that Felix keeps Paul in jail for two years to appease the Jews.  Do you think Felix ever said to Paul, “Look, I’m gonna have to keep you in here.  You’re safer here.  I enjoy your company and our conversations.  And the Jews sure do behave better when you aren’t out there.  Win, win, win.”  For Felix, he is a self-absorbed governor who is trapped between a rock and a hard place.  His supervisors would not be happy if he caused a great deal of Jewish angst and uprising because of his mishandling of a trial.  On the other hand, it’s not a great idea to sentence a famous Roman citizen without grounds.  So he stalls, originally waiting for a tribune to arrive and when then does happen simply waiting until it can be somebody else’s problem.

Certainly this was a difficult time for Paul.  He had just recently written to the church in Rome, telling them how he longed to visit them soon.  Jesus had promised Paul this opportunity and as he spent weeks, months and then years waiting you can only imagine how frustrating this time would have become.  The good news is that his friends were allowed to come and meet with him and provide for him.  Some have suggested that it was during this time that Paul’s good friend Luke might have been working on a project with Paul’s input (see the Book of Luke and/or Acts).

Regardless, at this point Acts has made it clear that when it comes to religious or secular rulers and authorities, they are not just.  They are not effective.  They don’t help with anything.  It’s time for a new ruler.  It’s time for a new King who can actually make things better, make things right.  I’m officially starting a write in campaign.  Let’s vote Jesus for President in 2012!

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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Acts 23 – Because of the Resurrection! Those guys have got to be hungry

Acts 23

The commander has ordered all of the chief priests and the Sanhedrin to assemble so that Paul could meet with them. He’s kind of doing this for his own sake because he wants to know what exactly is going on. In doing this he is also giving Paul another avenue to preach under Roman guard.

We typically have a bad view of the Pharisees because they are the antagonists throughout the Gospels. We often forget that they were good Jews who desperately wants the see the Messiah come. That is why they were trying to lay down strict laws. They believed that if all of Israel could keep the Law perfectly for one day the Messiah would come.

While speaking to the group, Paul recognizes that there are Pharisees and Sadducees within the group. I used to read this section as Paul being crafty by throwing out a subject of huge debate amongst the groups to cause confusion so he can make it getaway. While there might be something to that, after reading it again today it really seems that he is simply still preaching. He recognizes that there are some people out there from his own school of thought and meets them where they are passionate.

Paul boldly proclaims, “The hope that you are searching and longing for, the resurrection of the dead, is why I am on trial today! The Messiah has come!” and then a fight breaks out. We can see in the response of many of the Pharisees that they might have gotten it though there isn’t anything written about conversions from this moment.

Going back to the beginning of our reading, I’ve rethought through Paul’s interchanges with the high priest a few times and each time I hear a different tone in Paul’s comments. At first glance there seems to be a lot of respect shown on Paul’s part toward to high priest but then as I thought through it all again it almost seems like he’s sarcastically making a point. He had to have known that he was standing before the high priest. He calls the high priest out for being hypocritical because they are trying him under the Law but at the same time breaking the Law by having him struck. He then apologizes for breaking the Law because he spoke poorly about the high priest. I just find the whole situation comical. I like to think Paul is showing great respect to the high priest but I also wonder the other way as well.

That night, the Lord stood near Paul. How amazing is that. I don’t think I have ever stopped to consider how amazing this is. The first time the Lord visited Paul he was dropped to his knees and struck blind. This time it is for encouragement and direction. We’re taking this message all the way to Rome.

It is obvious that the Jews are rather upset with Paul and even want him dead. This shouldn’t come as a surprise since they killed Jesus just a few years before. When you make up your mind that you’re going to do something, you’ve got to have a good plan in place.

When I was a kid we used to “Play Guns” in our neighborhood. This was back in the days where kids played outside and the neighbors didn’t care too much that you were in your yard because they actually knew you and your parents because it was back in the days where people talked to one another…but I digress. I was always the youngest of the kids playing by a few years so I got ganged up on a lot. We spent most of our time arguing about the trajectory of the imaginary bullets and whether or not I was actually shot…a tactic I still use today when someone imaginarily shoots me. I typically look at them like they are an idiot and inform them of how bad of a shot they are…again I digress. There was one time where I found the perfect location to ambush my brother. I was up in this tree for days on end, or at least that is how it felt to a 6 year old militant. It was a flawless plan so I was resolved to stay where I was till I could finally have the upper hand on my brother and his band of miscreants. I sat in the tree and waited…and waited…and waited…and finally got hungry and went to dinner to find out that they had been home for a while without me.

The Jews obviously had a good plan to kill Paul. It was a good enough plan to vow not to eat till it happened. I have always been curious how that played out. Did they have to break their vow and ask for forgiveness for not killing a guy…that seems awkward. Or did they simply die of starvation trying to figure out how they were going to get past Paul’s Roman guard of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen. On a side note…I love that Paul is saved by his little nephew. Common Luke…give the kid a name!

Paul begins his last journey…

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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Acts 21 – Hospitality, Paul’s Resolve, What Happens When You Assume…

As I was reading this I was trying to imagine the events taking place. Did Paul know the disciples in each town that he visited? When they landed at Tyre, they sought out the disciples. They were greeted by the disciples at Ptolemais and stayed with Philip in Caesarea. On their way to Jerusalem they were accompanied by many of the disciples and taken to Mnason’s house and were then warmly welcomed by the disciples in Jerusalem. How encouraging would it have been to receive such warmth and hospitality everywhere you went? Though I have done it a number of times, we don’t have traveling Brothers and Sisters knocking on our doors looking for a place to sleep very often. When we meet a fellow believer, do we welcome them with the same kind of warmth and hospitality that is demonstrat

ed in this passage? Do we treat them as Brothers and Sisters or as strangers?

There is a confusing progression in the warnings to Paul in regards to going to Jerusalem. At first it says that the Spirit led them to urge Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Those urgings to not go turn into warnings not to go and then into demonstrations of what will happen if and when he does go. It ends with Paul saying he’s going anyway they gave up trying to persuade him and leave it at, “The Lord’s will be done.”

I have deep admiration for Paul’s resolve here, the same resolve seen in the examples of the martyrs for centuries after him. “I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

It is out of this resolve that Paul writes in his letter to the church in Philippi, “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.”

When Paul arrives in Jerusalem he is faced with rumors about what he has been teaching. Instead of arguing in response, he goes out of his way to present himself as righteous. He understands that his ministry in Jerusalem amongst the Jews would be hindered if he didn’t do this. He goes to the temple to give notice of when he did these things. Who is in the temple? Jews who do not believe in Jesus. It is important to point out that the early Jewish Christians were still Jews. They still went to temple and followed the Law. The Gentiles were not required to follow the Law but were given guidelines that they must hold to.

The Jews in the city saw Trophimus, the Ephesian, with Paul in the city and make an assumption that he joined Paul in the temple, defiling it. You know what happens when you assume…a riot breaks out. One of the things you need to know about rioting is that there needs to be a little bit of a balance. Too small of a riot just makes you look like a bunch of angry soccer moms. Too big of a riot brings in the National Guard. For fear of being soccer momish the Jews went a little overboard and end up giving Paul a platform to speak to the crowd while under Roman protection. Now that the stage is set…more to come tomorrow.

 
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Posted by on June 18, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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Acts 20 – Towards Jerusalem

So far, the book of Acts has been about going.  The Gospel has been taken from Jerusalem into Judea, Samaria and all the world.  It started with the Jews and God-fearing Gentiles and then spread to Gentiles throughout the world.  It has gone into Greece, all over Rome, into Africa and throughout Asia.  And now Paul and the story of Acts turn back to Jerusalem.  It’s time for Acts to come home, but it’s not going to be a pleasant homecoming.

I’m reminded of several passages from Luke’s first book.  In Luke 13, Jesus says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”  In Luke 18, Jesus tells the Apostles that it is time for them to head to Jerusalem and that when they get there all prophecy will be fulfilled.  Jesus will be arrested, mocked, beaten and killed, only to rise on the third day.  Jerusalem is the heart of Israel and it plays some role in the beginning and end of each Gospel.  It’s also important to Acts.  It’s where the church started and it’s where the church will finally be shown to be the new Temple.  But first, it will in many ways represent the end of Paul’s missionary career.

When he calls together the Ephesian elders, this is precisely what he tell

s them.  They won’t see him again.  This chapter marks a major transition in the book of Acts.  In many ways, the Gospel has gone everywhere it needs to go.  It has been all over the world.  Paul has two goals left.  He really wants to get to Jerusalem quickly and he still wants to get to Rome to present the Gospel there.  If you are reading the book for the first time, you would probably expect a warm reception in Jerusalem and a cold one in Rome.  And yet, that’s not going to happen.

I do love the intimate and personal prayer time that Paul has with the elders of the Ephesian church.  Paul was more than a missionary to these people.  He was more than a preacher.  Paul was one of them and there were churches all over the world that felt that way.  That’s pretty powerful.

Eutychus Raised From the Dead

I would like to take a moment and use this story to share one of my pet-peeves of preaching with you.  If you are preaching (or any other form of public speaking) it’s always humorous to make a joke about preaching for too long.  The story of Eutychus is often fodder for jokes of this variety.  It’s often something like, “And you all complain about how long my sermons are, but nobodies ever fallen asleep and died at one of my sermons.”  Or perhaps, “In fact, I might just see how long it takes me to preach this morning before somebody falls over dead.”  So whether it’s a Eutychus related sermon-length joke or just the regular variety, my advice is this: You can make a joke about being long winded only if you end your sermon on time.  If everybody’s actually aware of just how long you have really been talking, then smiling and drawing attention to it only hurts your cause.  Phwew…I feel better now having got that off my chest.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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Acts 19 – Holy Spirit, Who Are You?, Christians Are Bad for the Economy

Paul meets some disciples while traveling and his first question is one I’ve never asked any Brother or Sister I’ve met. “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?” When they said that they have only had John’s baptism (baptism of repentance) Paul baptized them into the name of the Lord Jesus and placed his hands on them so they would receive the Holy Spirit.

Growing up, I seem to remember being taught that baptism was for repentance and I don’t really remember hearing anything about receiving the Holy Spirit. The receiving of the Holy Spirit is one of the major focal points of Acts. Should we be spending more time talking about it and figuring out what it means to have God dwelling inside of us?

What does it mean to have the Holy Spirit? How do you see Luke talking about the Holy Spirit in Acts? What ways do we need to change how we talk about the Holy Spirit?

Every time I read “I know Jesus and I know Paul but you I know nothing about.” I crack up. I can’t imagine the thoughts that would be flowing as this demon looks at you saying this. All too often we want the benefits of being a Christian without the commitment to Christ. We want to have a “friends with benefits” situation with God rather than a real relationship. This always ends with the snot getting beat out of you. I appreciate Luke putting this story in there. I hope the early Church found it as humerous as I did.

I feel like I’m a pretty bold proclaimer of the Gospel (I say that mostly in jest) but I hadn’t started a riot in a while. Christians all throughout the first few centuries really messed up the economy. Not going to temple to make sacrifices to the various gods of the Roman world killed the economy. This is something I had never considered being a cause of problems for the early Christians. Imagine if Christians moved into Las Vegas and convinced everyone that strip clubs, gambling, and the Vegas lifestyle was wrong. There would be somee angry business owners. Paul walks into Caesar’s Palace (pun intended) and changes the culture in Ephesus…making the major stock holders mad.

Kent reminded us in our last reading through Ephesians that the temple to Artemis is the third oldest on the list of the Seven Wonders of the world…kind of a big deal. At the time of Paul, it is important for all things that were Ephesus…tourism, influence, religious stuff, and the like. Paul convincing people to follow Christ and not Artemis is bad for the economy and cause for riot. We’ll see what happens tomorrow…

 
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Posted by on June 13, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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Acts 18 – Into All the World

Paul Begins His Third Missionary Journey 

Not a lot happens in Acts 18.  This chapter does draw our attention to a transition that has been taking place for about five chapters now.  The first 12 chapters of Acts really focus on the fact that Jesus is the Messiah, the King of Israel.  However, it isn’t until around chapter 13 that the book takes on a much larger scale.  Starting with Peter’s vision and Paul’s missionary journeys, Acts begins to show us in so many ways that Jesus isn’t only the King of Israel.  He is in fact King of all the nations.

This, of course, causes problems on several levels.  First, Jews who were initially enthusiastic about joining a Jewish religion espousing the risen Jesus as Messiah might not be as excited to find out that this Messiah saves Gentiles too.  Secondly, the zealous Jewish crowd now has even more reasons to oppose this Messianic movement.  They didn’t like how the Apostles argued that a man crucified by Romans could be God’s Messiah. They didn’t like that they shared a part of the blame for his death.  They didn’t like the shift in power.  But they really didn’t like the idea that Gentiles have an equal share in God’s new Kingdom.

But in addition to those problems, the Christians are now claiming that Jesus is God in the flesh.  They call him names like King of Kings, Lord of Lords and Prince of Peace.  These aren’t original names.  In fact, these names already belonged to Caesar, who understood himself to be God in the flesh.  I think you see how Jesus becoming King of all nations can be problematic in more ways than one.

And yet, the early Christians continued to proclaim everywhere they went that this Jesus was the Messiah, that he was resurrected from the dead, and that he now has all authority on heaven and earth.  The only question is whether or not you are willing to join him in turning the world upside down (or perhaps we should say rightside up)?

Acts 18 gives us some of the logistics of this international project of proclaiming the good news all over the place.  We get details on who is preaching and where and who is listening and who isn’t.  There is a section that shows that Paul is getting so frustrated with the Jews refusal to accept Jesus that he starts spending more time with Gentiles.  It’s simply another part of this transition to understanding that Jesus is Lord of all.

The troubling part of this is that everywhere people went and talked about this Jesus they started riots, got thrown in jail and got chased out of town.  I wonder why that doesn’t happen much today?

 
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Posted by on June 12, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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Acts 17 – Know Your Audience

I love Acts 17. It shows the diversity of work that Paul was doing. Luke provides a contrast between the Jews in Thessalonica and Berea. When it came to discussion/debate about Jesus being the Messiah, the Jews in Berea are of more noble character because they were actually searching Scripture for Truth! How often do we allow ourselves to enter into debate with others without actually opening Scripture. There is a more noble way…let’s follow the example of the Bereans!

I’ve stood on Mars Hill in Athens where Paul spoke to the Areopagus and have walked through the ancient market place where all of the sacrifices were made. Seeing all of that makes this section come to life even more for me.

Paul had a great ability to speak to where people were. When speaking to the Jews, as we have seen above, he reasoned from Scripture. When speaking to the Greeks, he used objects from their culture. He quoted their poets. He looked for where he could find truth in the things they were already doing and used those bits of truth to reveal Truth to them.

What is the alter to the “Unknown God”?

Sometime in the sixth century before Christ, the city of Athens was being devastated and decimated by a mysterious plague. The people began making sacrifices to the city’s many gods in order to appease whoever was offended in order for the plague to stop. When no relief came, the city’s leaders brought in an outside “consultant” from the Island of Cyprus, whose name was Epimenides, the poet whom Paul quotes in his sermon.

Epimenides concluded that it was none of the known gods of Athens which had been offended, but an unknown god. He proposed a course of action which, if it worked, would at least provide a possible remedy for the plague. He had a flock of choice sheep, of various colors, kept from food until they were hungry. On the given day, he had these sheep turned loose on Mars Hill, on what was a very succulent pasture. For any sheep not to have eaten his fill would have been unexplainable. He had the sheep turned loose and watched carefully, to see if any sheep would lie down and not eat, even though hungry and in prime grazing. Several sheep, to the amazement of those watching, did lie down. Altars were erected at each spot where a sheep lay down, dedicated to an “unknown god.” On those altars, the sheep which lay in that spot was sacrificed. Almost immediately, we are told, the plague began to subside.

Over a period of time, the altars were forgotten, and began to deteriorate. One altar, it seems, was restored and preserved, in commemoration of the removal of the plague by calling upon the “unknown god.” A few centuries later a foreigner named Paul came in and made reference to this alter as the starting point for his sermon on Mars Hill.

 
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Posted by on June 11, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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Acts 16 – Who’s in Charge Here?

Helpers in Missions

As Paul begins his second missionary journey, he adds Timothy to his team.  Timothy, the son of a Jewish mother and a Greek father was very well respected by the Greek believers, but Paul wanted him to be well respected throughout the church.  Because of this, Paul had Timothy circumcised.  Now, Paul will later make arguments that make it clear that it is not essential for Gentiles to be circumcised to be saved.  However, Paul also knew that this act of faith would open doors for Timothy to present the Gospel to those who this was important to.  Sometimes we do things that aren’t essential but will open doors for us to do ministry.

There is also a brief section here where the story transitions into first person narrative.  It appears Luke, our wonderful author, has himself entered the story as part of this missionary team as well.

The Demon Possessed Girl and Real Authority

To me, one of the most interesting things in this story is that Paul and Silas take DAYS to finally cast out the demon possessing this girl.  It doesn’t tell us how many, but how many of these days of preaching ended with Paul saying to Silas, “If that girl doesn’t stop yelling prophesies about us all day long I am going to get fed up and just cast out that demon.”  Why not cast out the demon immediately?  To me, the only reason is because Paul and Silas are so focused on what is important that they don’t want any distractions.  While they did heal and cast out demons, that was never the purpose.  When they did heal it was to focus people on God’s message.  In this case, they seem to be very aware that if they cast out this demon it won’t focus anybody on the Gospel, but will instead become a huge distraction and problem.  Finally, it’s a distraction anyways and Paul casts out the demon, the mob forms and he goes to jail.

At this point it appears that the mob and the jailor are in control and have authority over Paul and Silas.  But it doesn’t stay that way for long.  After Paul and Silas keep all the prisoners calm and in prison during the earthquake, the jailor takes them home to clean them up, treat their wounds and feed them.  FYI, jailors don’t usually take work home with them.  Upper hand…Paul and Silas.

Then the city leaders decide to allow Paul and Silas to leave prison.  Their response, “You illegally beat and imprisoned Roman citizens.  Tell them to come release us themselves and acknowledge that we aren’t criminals and that they apparently are.”  Out of fear of the repercussions of beating Roman citizens, the city officials agree.  Upper hand…Paul and Silas.

The city officials, mob and jailor appeared to have authority.  But really only God has authority and he gives it to those who obey his commands.  So by the time Paul and Silas are begged to leave, they have been fed and cared for by the converted jailor.  They have cast out a loud, annoying demon.  They have been honorably escorted from prison by the humiliated city officials.  And now, after being begged to immediately leave the city they decide to take their sweet time and enjoy a comfortable good-bye with their friends.  Then, when they are ready and of their own choosing, they go ahead and leave town.

It’s good to serve the One in charge.

 
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Posted by on June 7, 2012 in Acts, Bible Blog

 

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