Overview of Old Testament or New Testament
Links to observations drawn from other other books of the Bible
Practical and Pastoral Observations on the Book of Acts (please read each chapter slowly and meditatively before reading observations below):
Introduction: The Book of the "Acts of the Apostles" could equally be called the "Acts of the Holy Spirit" (particularly Peter in Acts 1-12 and Paul in Acts 13-28) or the "Acts of the Risen Christ" - through both the apostles and many disciples who came to Christ through them. Acts is the "second half" of Luke's introduction of the Gospel which includes the story of the coming of Christ (Luke) and the continuation of Christ's mission in His followers (Acts); the two halves make one seamless story divided where it is simply because scrolls of the period became bulky at this size and a second scroll was needed to continue the story. Acts shows the empowerment, challenges and growth of Jesus' followers as they began to fulfill His instructions of Acts 1:8. Followers of Jesus are called to continue in the same path today.
The Ascension of Jesus: Jesus ascended to heaven (v. 9-11), His work of providing the perfect sacrifice for our forgiveness and salvation being complete ("It is finished" John 19:30). As Jesus ascended He left instructions for no complex church institution but was content to have His disciples continue the simple model of small missional communities proclaiming and demonstrating with compassion the coming of God's Kingdom. From heaven Jesus will return when we as His followers have completed the task given us.
Power for our Mission: God empowers us by the baptism of the Holy Spirit to be witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ (v.22) to the ends of the earth (v.8). The fullness of the Holy Spirit may come with initial suddenness and/or in daily infilling but we are utterly dependent on Christ's Holy Spirit for the words, power and boldness of our obedience to His Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16: 15; Luke 24:46-49; John 20:21; Acts 4-8). Notice also how the disciples devoted themselves to prayer (Acts 1:14) for power and direction for their mission; exactly as should we.
Testimony to the Resurrection: While we may testify to Christ's resurrection in different ways (words, attitude, and lifestyle), the means of our testimony must unmistakably testify to His resurrection in such a way that our words or actions are never orphaned from the message of the resurrection of Christ (v.22) in the minds or hearts of our hearers. This was the primary reason for the replacement of Judas who failed in his calling.
Our Lifestyle: For this reason we care for the poor, minister to needs with compassion, seek mercy and justice - and as we do, we speak continually of the source of our lifestyle in resurrection of Jesus. The two - word and deed - are not "either/or" but, as they were in Jesus' life, seamlessly "both/and." Therefore I will continually pray in my spirit to 1.) be given Divine appointments with those who don't yet know the grace of God in Christ, 2.) to recognize and 3.) act on - both planned and unexpected - opportunities as they are given me from above to witness to Jesus, His resurrection and new life in Him. I want to draw continually on both the power and strategy of Jesus' promise and direction: v.8: "You will receive power when the HS has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest parts of the earth."
My Prayer: "Father, keep me from wasting the gift and power of the Holy Spirit in inactivity. Rather enable me to sharpen my use and stewardship of Your life in me to invite others also into the life of the Kingdom ruled in power and grace by our Risen Lord."
The resurrection of Jesus is the basis of the outpouring of His Holy Spirit on Pentecost. The resurrection of Jesus came on the first day of the week (Luke 24:1), the 17th of Nisan in the Jewish calendar, which is the day of the "Feast of First Fruits." It is to this fact Paul refers when he points out, "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruit of those who are asleep (I Corinthians 15:20)." Those who are "asleep" are those who have died in faith. Jesus resurrection is the "first fruit" of all those who will rise again and live forever with Him. His resurrection is the basis of our faith that we who trust in Him will rise also (I Corinthians 15:21-26).
The Jewish feast of Pentecost (Greek for "Feast of Weeks") comes 50 days after the feast of "First Fruits" (when Jesus was raised the "first fruit" of those who are yet 'asleep' (I Corinth. 15:20). Jesus received the Holy Spirit promised by the Father (Acts 1:8) and from heaven (Acts 2:33) pours out the Holy Spirit on those He calls to Himself (Acts 2:39) enabling us to live the Christian life. It is this empowering which was the birth of the church and remains the resource by which the church advances in its mission. The church is not an institution but a movement empowered by the Holy Spirit.
The transformation of Peter - from one who, fearful for his life, denied Jesus during His trial (Mark 14:66-72), into the man, filled with the Holy Spirit, who proclaimed straightforwardly the truth of Jesus, His mission and our need to turn, believe and respond to Him - is an example of the centrality of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who follow Jesus. Like Peter I want too to stay focused on the work of Christ, rely on the power of the Holy Spirit, point to the scriptures, invite turning and baptism, and live out the fullness of the Christian life.
Tongues: Much has been made of verse 4: "they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in other tongues." I will say here only that human language cannot express the glory of God or the depths of what we wish to express in prayer (Romans 8:26). It is therefore natural that the Lord in His grace gives by His Holy Spirit opportunity for expression of that which our limited minds cannot. In my experience tongues is most commonly a "prayer language" expressing the inexpressible and sometimes a miracle of hearing, as in this chapter, when all heard the same words but understood them each in their own language. I encourage you to respond simply to the command of Jesus in Acts 1:4-5 and elsewhere and seek earnestly the fullness of the Holy Spirit, not only initially but on an ongoing basis as your daily empowerment to live the Christian life. As Bill Bright once said: "It is not difficult to live the Christian life; it is impossible." It's for this reason that we seek and welcome the gracious daily infilling of God's Holy Spirit, somewhat as manna was given as God's gracious daily infilling in the wilderness (Exodus 16).
My Prayer: "Lord Jesus, thank you for Your promised Holy Spirit, poured out by Your grace, and for all You give to us in Him to enjoy the blessings of salvation and empower us to follow and obey You in co-mission to disciple the nations."
When God heals, it is God alone who does so. I'm struck by Peter's boldness in his mission in Christ to bless and by his clarity that all blessing comes from Christ (v.4-7) and from faith in Christ (v.16). This confidence is expressed in taking the lame man's hand and lifting him up (v.7). The chapter doesn't address why God doesn't always heal but celebrates the fact that God does heal and that healing points to Christ and to His Kingdom and goodness. We are servants and we, and those who are healed, must understand that it is neither our power or piety (v.12) that brings healing, so that all glory goes only to God.
The Human Role: Though I point to Christ in many instances when the person I hope will follow chooses not to, I continue to point to Christ. Likewise, when I pray for a sick person without immediate or evident effect, I continue to pray for healing for that person and for others along the way. In my experience if you are willing to pray in Christ's name for each of the first 30 people you can (assuming you meet or hear of someone who is sick each day for a month), you will see so much healing that you will never stop praying for the sick.
I invite you with me to offer to pray for the sick and needy expectantly in faith in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth who desires to bless all the families of the earth.
The Message: Healing doesn't take place in isolation from the truth of the Gospel and Peter and John share the message of Gospel (vs.13-26) as freely as the blessing of the Gospel (vs. 6-8). The Gospel is rooted in the fact that God desires to bless "all the families of the earth" (v.25; cf. Genesis 12:3) through through the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ (vs. 15-16). The Gospel calls all families of the earth to "turn from their wicked ways" (v.26) so as to enter into the "restoration of all things" (v.21) when Jesus returns from heaven. The blessing of the Gospel includes healing (v.16), repentance, removal of sin, and refreshment from the presence of the Lord (v.19).
My Prayer: "Thank you Lord Jesus that you've come to bless all the families of the earth. Lord, strengthen me and all Your people in faith and obedience to be Your instruments of grace in this period as your restoration of all things begins. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus."
The Uniqueness of Christ: The person and work of Jesus Christ is God's unique cornerstone (v.11) and agent of salvation (v.12) in the Father's mission to save our rebellious world. Cf. v.12: "He is the...chief corner stone. And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved."
The term "cornerstone" is literally "head of the corner" suggesting both the idea of "capstone" i.e. the key centre-stone at the top of an arch holding the arch together, as well as "cornerstone" i.e. foundation stone on which the whole is built.
Clash Between Human and Divine Authority: The claim of Christ as to His identity and role was resisted then as now. We need not be taken aback by those who are offended by the exclusive truth-claims of Christ. Note how the disciples responded to the demands of human authority: (v.19-20) "Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard."
We too are called to be clear, bold (v.13) and loving in our expression of clarity and boldness. We may follow the example of the disciples, speaking the Word of God (v.29), trusting God to heal and perform signs and wonders (v.30)
The Prayer of the Disciples: It is striking that, in spite of the danger the disciples are in from human authority, their prayer is primarily one of thanksgiving for the sovereign grace and power of God rather than for deliverance from opposition. Their only petition is for boldness (vs.29-30). The prayer reveals the nature of the One to whom we pray, speaks His Word back to Him, outlines the situation and asks God to act.
My Prayer: "Thank you Lord for showing us how the early church prayed (vs.24-30) and how you responded (v.31) to strengthen and encourage them. Lord, may this be a model for me and for my brothers and sisters around the world."
God Purifies His Church: both from
sin within (cf. Ananias and Sapphira; vs.1-11) and by
persecution from without (v.12-42)
for a very high purpose: that God's people may glorify Him by being pure, focused and faithful to proclaim and show the world Jesus as the Messiah (v.42). Some will complain that God is too harsh, not so. This is not a new theme. Throughout the Old Testament God sought to form a people wholly devoted to His Kingdom so that Israel might be His light to the Gentiles (Isaiah 60:1-4). I know too that I am self-centred, easily distracted and in great need of the Lord to be pure of heart, focused on Him and faithful in proclamation.
Jesus' Followers Remain Bold though Persecuted: When God delivered the apostles from prison they were again given the mandate to speak the Gospel publicly (v. 20) and when challenged said again: "We must obey God rather than men" (v.29). "Father, give me a pure heart that holds nothing back from You or from the proclamation of the Gospel though the world persecutes me for it."
The Message of the Church: What then is this message which is to be proclaimed boldly even in the face of persecution? This is a critical question on which to be clear if we are to die for it and well worth careful study. The message of the disciples is that Jesus has been raised from the dead to the right hand of God (v.30-31) and that this Jesus is God's Prince and Saviour giving repentance and forgiveness of sins (v.31) and the Holy Spirit to those who obey the Father (v.32). This message is clear and consistent in the Book of Acts regardless of who proclaims it:
Jesus: in Acts 1:5,8 and 26:18
Peter: in Acts 2:14-36, 38-40; 3:6, 12-26; 4:10-12, 19-20; 5:29-32, 42; 10:34-43;
Stephen: in Acts 6:48-53;
Paul: in Acts 13:23-41; 16:31; 17:22-31; 19:8; 20:21,25,27; 23:6; 24:14-15; 26:6-8; 28:23, 31.
I urge you to read and meditate on each of the above verses of testimony to the Gospel. Memorized them if you can. I am increasingly convinced the Church can and must not try to skip to the application of the Gospel to contemporary issues without first embracing and proclaiming the same Gospel proclaimed by the Church in Acts.
My Prayer: Thank you Lord for the gift of repentance. May I and the church see repentance as the good means by which You turn us from evil to forgiveness and salvation. May we not resist this turning but seek to do it more fully every day. And as we obey, give us more and more of the power of Your Holy Spirit!
Conflict resolution: Do not be surprised if the church encounters conflict when it is growing. Problems can result from many challenges including, as here, a structure which worked when the community was smaller but which needed to change to accommodate growth. (v.6) Note that the twelve didn't respond defensively but moved immediately in a practical way to resolve the problem with wisdom, specifically also that they allowed the Greek believers to choose leaders to serve the Greek widows: all seven names are Greek, not Jewish (v.5).
Leadership characteristics: The twelve expected leadership to be "men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom (v.3)." If a choice has to be made, and fortunately it often doesn't, then choose people of character molded by the Word of God and the Holy Spirit, over those with education but lacking maturity in Godly character.
Role of leadership: The twelve viewed their role primarily as prayer and meditation on the Scriptures (v.4). Obedient action in the world is the outcome, not the root of Christian leadership. Time to pray, time to read and meditate and listen to what the Lord is saying through the Scriptures must have priority. Note the outcome of such leaders and priorities: more people became disciples (v.7), signs and wonders flowed from the hand of God (v.8)
Persecution: It is common for believers to expect persecution to produce purity and focus in the church and it does - adherents don't tend to stay if persecution is expected. The oft-quoted words of Tertullian are: "the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church." However it is not just persecution which causes the church to grow; the growth of the church can also, as is the case in this instance, be the stimulus for persecution. When the church grows it brings change in the community and even if the change is good it can threaten those who had power and respect in the community.
Persecution almost always is based a) on purposeful falsehoods (v.11) or b) on falsehoods based on a misunderstanding (e.g. v.14 could be a misunderstanding, purposeful or otherwise, of John 2:19). Persecution doesn't always involve a trial (v.12) but often violence (v.12 "dragged away") against persons, property or reputation. Jesus' crucifixion was the outcome of persecution, millions of His disciples have lost their lives to persecution and followers of Jesus should expect and never be surprised by it.
This is the longest sermon recorded in the New Testament resulting in the first martyrdom after Jesus. The chapter also confronts us with the courage and risk of truth telling and the importance of right response when truths about us we dislike are shared with us.
The Truth is not often popular: Stephen responses to false charges brought against him: "You have often rejected God and those God has sent to save you." Stephen reminds the Jews that the patriarchs had disowned Joseph, who God appointed to save them from famine; Israel disowned Moses, who God appointed to be their ruler and deliverer (v.36); and Israel rejected God in the wilderness and instead made images to worship false gods, i.e. the bull calf of Egypt, Moloch (a demon desiring human sacrifice) and Rompha (a god associated with Saturn) (v.41-43) - when it was Yahweh (Exodus 3)who had delivered them from slavery in Egypt.
The Point: "you are doing just as as your fathers did" (v.51) in betraying and murdering Jesus, the Righteous One predicted by Moses (v.37) who came to save you. "This Jesus, who God made both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:26)
Our Reaction: When we are told a truth we don't want to hear we have the same options the Jews listening to Stephen had: i.e. to let the truth go deep and do it's corrective work, even if painful, or to reject the person speaking the truth to us. This is the critical decision often before us. Stephen's hearers chose to kill Stephen rather than consider the message. We face this decision also when a friend or someone who doesn't like us tells us something that they see in our attitude or behavior. Our response here too, while less drastic, also reveals our heart as did the response of Stephen's hearers.
Martyrdom: is not, as is suggested by some worldviews, "suicide for a cause." Martyrdom rather is the murder of an innocent person who does not want to die by those who unjustly hate him or her. Sometimes martyrdom is preceded by a mock trial to assuage the conscience of those desiring to kill the one they oppose.
Heaven: God prepared Stephen for what was ahead and comforted him with a vision of heaven. Stephen began his defense with reference to "the God of Glory appearing to our father Abraham" and his life ended with the gift of a vision of that Glory (v.55-56). He died with two of the prayers of Jesus on his lips: asking forgiveness of those who killed him (v.60; cf. Luke 23:34) and asking the Lord for grace entering His presence (v.59; cf. Luke 23:46).
God the Father desires all to be saved in Christ: God's purpose in Christ is to push back the darkness and set people free. We see God through His people reaching out to sorcerers (v.9ff) and seekers (v.26ff) alike. No one is beyond the invitation and grace of the Gospel.
Those who are Persecuted Witness to the Good News for which they are being persecuted. In response to Saul's ravenous persecution (Acts 8:3) many believers where scattered. Yet those who fled for their lives continued to witness to the resurrection of Jesus as they sought save haven (Acts 8:4). This pattern continues to this day. Those who are persecuted are able most clearly to articulate the truth for which they are being persecuted and do not cease doing so because they are persecuted.
God's Intervention to Save Frequently Involves the Supernatural: This is consistent with the incarnation, ministry and resurrection of Jesus, continually pointing beyond the natural. Vs. 5-8, 13 describes this gracious supernatural work of God accompanying the proclamation of Christ; many other instances of this linkage occur in the Book of Acts. We should expect the supernatural to be "normal" and unsurprising in our lives and ministry. This is not of course done in any human strength, in fact in this process the demonic is constantly being confronted, so we keep our eyes on Christ.
Boldness and directness: Christ's followers are to be kind and gentle, yes. However not to the exclusion of boldness and directness. In this chapter we see boldness in Phillip preaching Christ and delivering people from evil spirits (v.6-7); Peter confronting Simon (v.20ff); and Phillip, obedient to the Spirit (v.29), moving beyond his social class to share the Gospel with a member of the Ethiopian a royal court.
My prayer: "Father, may I be bold in Your Name and Grace, pointing people to Jesus, in Word and Sign, "in season and out of season" including seasons of persecution. Direct me by Your Spirit as to when to be sensitive and gentle and when to be bold and prophetic. May I be obedient always, in Jesus name, Amen."
Isaiah 53: The Ethiopian was reading one an amazing prophetic reference to Christ from Isaiah 53. Please read this chapter in it entirety. Before the coming of Jesus, the Jews understood Isaiah 53 (cf. Acts 8:32-33) an other "servant songs" in Isaiah as pointing to the Messiah. After the resurrection of Christ however this interpretation was abandoned and the prophesy was applied to Isaiah himself or the people of Israel. A simple reading however shows how Jesus fulfilled this chapter in straightforward ways inapplicable to Isaiah or Israel.
Christ is Risen and continues to walk the earth to advance His Father's Kingdom: In a moment Saul knew a) that Jesus, crucified, had risen, b) the union of Yahweh, whom he had sought zealously to serve, with Jesus, whom he had ferociously persecuted, and c) those who persecute followers of Jesus, persecute Him (v.5).
God's universal purpose is non-negotiable: God's search and rescue mission initiated through the line of the Jews extends to Gentiles and all the nations. Though we to this day prefer some groups over others, God does not, but through His chosen Messiah reaches out to all. Never miss however that God's universal purpose is accomplished though one particular man, Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ, Saul and Peter break out of their Jewish exclusivism to begin to extend the Gospel to all the earth.
Jesus chooses the resistant. Saul was strongly resistant to the Gospel of Christ. Peter was strongly resistant to extending the Gospel to "unclean" Gentiles. God overcame the resistance of both men. If you are resistant to the message of the Bible or if someone you love is resistant to God's love and rescue mission, don't be alarmed. God is patient. Remember Paul persecuted those who believed the Gospel before proclaiming it.
God gives the Holy Spirit to empower His instruments: After Saul spent three days in solitude reflecting on the magnitude of his encounter with the God who called him, God sent him encouragement. Saul was healed of his blindness, baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit to empower him to be and do what God had called him to. This same Holy Spirit is God's gift to you, freely given. The point is not how you feel when God gives you His Holy Spirit but that you ask, are open and expectant, and ask afresh each time you find yourself empty. Asking daily does not mean you didn't receive yesterday, only that you need God again today, just as being hungry today doesn't mean that you didn't receive food yesterday.
Suffering is the norm: (Acts 9:16, 23-25) Why? Because those who resist God, and evil, by its very nature, always resists good and seeks to destroy or dissuade it. As we follow Christ and advance His Kingdom of grace we, like Saul, will find evil does not welcome us. This is not a reason to cease following Christ, only another reason to rely on Him more closely.
Grace is God's gift: As you read of Peter's experience with Aeneas (v.34) and Tabitha (v. 37-42) it may seem incredible. I do not know why prayer for healing or resuscitation is sometimes a factor in those expressions of God's power and grace but I know that it is. I pray for healing whenever a person asks me to and have seen God's goodness so often that I would offer you this challenge: "Pray for the sick every opportunity you have consistently 25 times and you will see so much grace that you will never stop praying for the sick." I have prayed for resuscitation but never seen a person rise from the dead. Yet I know God has raised people from the dead in response to persistent prayer and will continue to pray for resuscitation also.
My Prayer: "Father, use me also to the full and highest purposes You have for my life for the sake of the Gospel and Your Glory. In Jesus, Amen"
A Broadening Acceptance of God's Purpose: Jesus' disciples first thought the Gospel was for the Jews. It is. But Peter came to understand God's grace was also for the Gentiles.
Notice what it took to accomplish God's purpose: 1. God sent an angel to give Cornelius, a Gentile, Peter's address in another town so Cornelius could call for Peter to come so that Cornelius could hear God's message. 2. God sent Peter a divine vision - three times - so that he would be responsive to Cornelius's invitation. God's intense desire for His grace to be known is no less today.
The result: The falling of the Holy Spirit and baptism of the first Gentiles to join the Jews in God's redemptive purpose. There may be no clearer example of early preaching than these words of Peter (vs.38-43). May they be ours daily also. And may the Holy Spirit fall continually on those with whom we share God's grace with more and more people coming into His Kingdom.
Praise God that He shows no partiality of culture, race or worldview - atheist, agnostic, animist, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist - but seeks and welcomes, through the grace and peace given through Jesus Christ, every person who recognizes Him and does what is right (v.34-36).
Jesus Model and Command is summarized in two life-changing verses:
Jesus' model for living is this: "anointed by the Holy Spirit and power, He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil" (v.38).
Jesus' command to those who follow Him is this: testify that Christ who is risen "is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead." (v.43)
My Prayer: "Father, remind me of my need for Your anointing and divine appointments daily to do good, heal the oppressed, and proclaim Christ as Lord and Judge. Lord, help me keep the main thing, the main thing always, in every circumstance, because this is Your love and rescue mission and I am Yours. In Christ who is Lord and Judge, Amen."
God's unswerving purpose is that the Gospel be universal, bringing blessing to all peoples (Gen. 12:3; Matt. 28:18-20). Crossing the bridge of prejudice from Jew to Gentile was the most significant step in this process since Pentecost. This is based on the gift of the cross expressed in v.9: "Those God has cleansed, no longer consider unholy."
Our part: Just as Peter (vs.1-18) and Barnabas (vs.22-26) did, we must advocate and defend the entry of any person, caste, economic, religious or depreciated group into the Body of Christ. This begins in our personal relationships and the local church with each believer actively embracing newcomers, the poor, ethnic minorities etc. not only to public gatherings but into our homes and inner circles of friendship.
Note how often Barnabas played this vital role: Acts 9:27; 11: 22-24; 13:2; 15:12, 22, 25.
An example: It's interesting to note that at the start of the "modern" Pentecostal movement in 1906 on Azusa Street, LA, the scandal to outsiders was not the use of a prayer language ("tongues") but that the Holy Spirit brought together black and white men and women overcoming powerful racial and social prejudices; a practical outcome of God's intention expressed in this chapter. In my lifetime, the "western" church has come to see and value the immense contribution to global mission of the church of the "southern" hemisphere.
Immediate fruit: It's wonderful to see that the Gentile church in Antioch was the first to share material aid with Jewish believers in Jerusalem (vs.27-30). Antioch, the 3rd largest city in the Roman empire, quickly became the centre of early missionary activity and gave origin to the term "Christian" (v.26) meaning "partisan or follower of Christ," "Christ's people."
A prayer: Lord, what joyful, wondrous gift is your saving love for all on the cross, overcoming man's prejudice and ethnocentrism. May it be so in my life, in every local church, in every village and nation. In Jesus name, Amen.
God advances His Kingdom in inscrutable ways - James is killed and Peter miraculously spared. Yet "the Word of the Lord continued to grow and be multiplied (v.24)" and we are confident in God's grace and justice - in this life and the next.
We must not be surprised by persecution opposing (v.1-2) or miracles enabling (v.7-10) our mission. Either way we are to be faithful and persistence in the Lord's strength. Whether we have an guardian angel who stays with us always or whether angels are sent on occasional temporary assignment we don't know, but that God bids His angels to serve His people we do know and are thankful. Hebrews 1:14 declares: "...Angels are only servants-spirits sent to care for people who will inherit salvation."
God's provision is often "just in time" (v.6). Note the direct connection between the church gathered to pray for Peter (v.12)and God's provision. Note also the highly practical instruction of the angel (v.7-10), as is God's direction often.
We must be prepared to die or to serve in advancing God's Kingdom of grace. We are not overcome by those, like Herod (v.19-23) who resist the Gospel, but ultimately feel sorry for them as they persist in rejecting their salvation.
(Herod Agrippa I was grandson to Herod the Great who ruled at the birth of Jesus. On the surface, Agrippa, unlike his grandfather, was a zealous supporter of Jewish religious leaders, yet he utterly lacked respect for Yahweh. Josephus the historian records Agrippa was not able to continue his speech and after 5 days of suffering died in AD 44.)
A prayer: "Lord, thank you for your angel sparing Peter, and us, so many times. Give us courage and help us expect the miraculous even while being prepared to die extending Your grace to others. May Your Kingdom come!
Several key transitions take place in this chapter:
Peter to Paul: Whereas Peter's role was most prominent in chapters 1-12 (causing some to call that section the "Acts of Peter"), Paul's role becomes more prominent in chapters 13-28 (causing some to call this section the "Acts of Paul").
Church Planting: The first three church planting missionary journeys in history begin in this chapter in a prayer meeting with fasting and laying on of hands before sending Paul, Barnabas and John Mark out alone in reliance only on the Lord. Note the simplicity of the call in v.2: "While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them."
Gentile Focus: The focus of ministry turns deliberately from the Jews as first recipients, to the Gentles as first invitees. In accordance Paul turns from the use of his Jewish name "Saul" to his Greek name "Paul."
Christ as Absolute Truth: In Paul's day, as in ours, it is unpopular to declare salvation in Christ as true over against the beliefs of others. Yet Paul declared God's purpose in Christ boldly and accepted rejection by his hearers as part of the pattern of the ages (v.27, 46), yet without ceasing. This call is ours as well.
God offers "forgiveness of sins" (v.38) and "freedom from that from which you cannot be freed by the Law of Moses" (v.39) both to the Jews and Gentiles (v.46). What the Law cannot do, declare a person righteous before God, Jesus Christ can do (cf. Romans 3:20, 24).
Facing Rejection: When those opposing this Good News (i.e. Gospel) publicly, attempted to dissuade others also from believing, Paul confronted them publicly, sometimes successfully (v.8-12) and sometimes not (v.45-51). Either way, we to are called to respond directly and publicly to those opposing the Gospel. If our ego is involved we will find this public rejection difficult. Our motivation must be solely obedience to Christ's redemptive purpose.
The Temptation to Quit: It isn't easy. John Mark soon returned (v.13), not to Antioch but to Jerusalem, suggesting a deep withdrawal, perhaps in response to the emotional trauma of spiritual warfare (v. 8-12), recognizing this was likely the beginning of a pattern.
God's Call: In his proclamation of the Gospel, Paul speaks of the desire of my heart also, i.e. to "serve the purpose of God in my generation and fall asleep." This (v. 36) remains one of my key life's verses.
My Prayer: Thank you, Lord, that You have made us to be "a light for the Gentiles, that we may bring salvation to the ends of the earth" (v.47, quoting Isaiah 42:6; 49:6).
Signs point to Christ and encourage, but do not guarantee, faith. The "signs and wonders" (v.3, 8-11) given by God to testify to His mission of grace are not determinative in convincing some people of God's goodness and truth (as we see in vs.4-5 and v.19), and do not keep others from changing their minds (as we see in v. 19). We may expect and rejoice in God's supernatural expressions of grace but we should not expect everyone will do the same.
Signs are sometimes rejected violently: Paul boldly proclaims the Gospel, shows God's "signs" testifying to the truth of God's grace - and yet suffers at the hands of those who reject God's invitation and withdraws when necessary to survive to repeat the process elsewhere. We see this same pattern in the ministry of Jesus where God did mighty miracles through him, yet the people crucified him. Our focus on and commitment to the Gospel must likewise be strong while recognizing we may suffer because of it despite God's goodness. As Paul pointed out to those who had responded to Christ: "Through many tribulations we must enter the Kingdom of God."(v.22)
Free Will in the context of Grace: God both permits the nations to "walk in the ways of their own choosing" (v.16) and gives "witness' to Himself" (v.17) inviting all to "turn from vain things" (v.15) to know Him. This both/and is the context in which we understand the continuation of human free will and the evil humans often choose, despite the witness God gives in Christ and those who follow Him, to His goodness and invitation to turn to Him.
The Freedom to Choose to Not See: God gives us choice and allows us to see the consequence of that choice. Yet, just as people can witness God's signs and reject them, people can see the consequence of their choice and yet continue to "walk in the ways of their own choosing" (v.16). This is the terrible freedom given to man and exploited by the evil one.
My Prayer: "Father, the mystery of Your Grace in which You provide strong testimony and invitation, yet leave people free to reject You, choose their own way, and even choose evil, leaves me in wonder. Lord, keep me from choosing not to see what I should. Enable me to see what You want me to see. Strengthen me Lord, seeing clearly, to testify to Your grace and invitation until Christ's return at the end this age."
God desires Jews and Gentiles to be One Body in Christ despite root historical differences. Gentiles do not need to become Jews to be saved; Jews do not need to cease circumcision or other Jewish traditions to be saved. v.9: "God made no distinction between us (Jews) and them (Gentiles), cleansing their (and our) hearts by faith." v. 11: "We are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus."
Commitment to Unity: is all the more critical as we come nearer the core of the Gospel of grace through faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. In this critical first "Council of the Church" we see:
a deep commitment to diligently seek and come to agreement on God's will and the truth of the Gospel - cf. "having become of one mind" (v.25); "it seemed good the the Holy Spirit and to us" (v.28).
a willingness compromise at the edges (without compromising the core Gospel) - cf. don't banquet in pagan temples, commit incest ("fornication" here probably means something more specific than sexual immorality since that is wrong for Jew or Gentile), or eat blood (since 'life is in the blood).'
where separation occurs let it be a) temporary and b) regarding personality or practicality rather than core doctrine.
Commitment to younger maturing leaders: in an example of the 3rd point above, Barnabas chose to stand up for and defend John Mark, though John Mark had erred (Acts 13:13), and not to abandon him to his immaturity or mistakes. We do not know the scope of impact this decision of Barnabas on John Mark's subsequent writing the 2nd gospel (as Peter's amanuensis) but may it may have been significant.
My Prayer: Father, thank you that You rooted Your promise in the children of Jacob, that You desire that "the rest of humanity may seek the Lord, even all the Gentiles who bear Your name" (v.17), and that the day will come when You will restore the Jewish people to Yourself (v.16). Help us keep unity in all this as You work out salvation for all peoples in Christ.
God directs those willing to be obedient to bring salvation to the lost. God made clear to Paul that he should not go northeast into Asia Minor (v.6) or north to Bithynia (v.7) but northwest to Macedonia (v.9). God did not answer the question "why? (if Paul asked it) but Paul and his team mates immediately sought means and went (v.10).
v. 9: "A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us."
We should note, Macedonia, a colony of Rome at the time, held all the culture, intellect, religion, philosophy and achievements of Greek civilization, yet remained spiritually bankrupt without the grace of the Gospel.
God is purposeful and supernatural in His means: This powerful story shows God at work to bring a woman of peace to Christ (v.14-15), release a demon-possessed girl from servitude (v.18), use (or bring) an earthquake to reveal to a jail keeper the Gospel (v.30-33).
God's supernatural grace does not exempt us from suffering: It is important to see none of this was without hardship or suffering for Paul and Silas (v.23-24). Yet they continued to trust and worship God who does not bring evil on His messengers but works for good through and in spite of it for the salvation of many. We today also are to seek and sense God's guidance for His redemptive purposes and be quick and bold to obey without first thought of our previous plans, current convenience or future risk.
God's give each his or her role which we should seek and follow diligently: Luke, the author of Acts, joined Paul at Troas (v.10) and stayed at Philippi (v.40) for six or seven years before rejoining Paul (Acts 20: 5) to the end.
My Prayer: "Father, how costly the gift given and proclaimed in the Gospel was to Your Son Jesus, and in degree to many who faithfully followed unto death. May the gift given be always to me the Pearl of Great Price, the Treasure worth all (Matt. 13:44-46)."
Knowing the worldview of those to whom we desire to introduce Christ: As Paul travelled, he normally looked for a synagogue, if there was one, or a place of monotheist prayer, and reasoned from the scripture that the Messiah would die and rise, then point to Jesus as fulfillment (v.3). Among polytheists (Stoics, v.18), Paul introduced the supreme God (v.24) and His appointed judge and savior (v.31).
(Background to Paul's audience in Athens: Epicureans followed Epicurus (341-270BC) in believing happiness is the chief end of life. Stoics followed Zeno (340-265BC) in believing reason to be a better guide than emotion and in advocating behavior "according to nature." Stoics were pantheists, generally respected for being morally earnest and holding to a high sense of duty. (Zeno taught in the Stoa Poikile (painted porch) in Athens, from which his followers were called Stoics.)
We too are wise to know the worldview of those we want to introduce to Christ - Muslim, Atheist, Hindu - and adjust our presentation of Christ accordingly .
God desires to be known: Paul presents God as One who is not physical and cannot be represented by gold or stone (v.29). God does not need us but serves us in many ways (v.25) and is near us so that we might seek and find Him (v.27). God is at work to this end in every culture; in settings where the Gospel is opposed (v.7), eagerly received (v.11) and where it is merely curiously examined (v.18-21).
In it all (v.31:) "God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead."
My Prayer: Father, thank you that You are greater than all, Creator of all, and Sovereign over the affairs of nations and history (v.24-26). Thank you that from such heights, You draw near and invite us to seek and find You (v.27) and more - You came in Christ to reveal and reconcile us to Yourself in grace and holiness. Praise You! Thank you for the unspeakable privilege of being able to introduce others to You! In Christ, Amen.
God directs the lives of those seeking to serve His redemptive purpose (v.9-10), telling Paul to stay in Corinth speaking clearly to establish an outpost of the Gospel. Failing to establish a church in Athens (v.1), Paul moved to Corinth, stayed in Corinth much longer than in Athens (v. 10-11), focused primarily on reaching Gentiles (v.6) and always on "Christ and Him crucified" (I Corinthians 2:2).
The call to courage and the limits of protection: God said Paul would not be harmed in Corinth and he was not. This does not mean Paul would not have difficulties, be opposed (v.12) or that opponents of the Gospel would not use unjust and violent means (v.17). Persecution and discrimination are a normal part of the Christian life (2 Tim. 3:12).
Persecution can be avoided but must not be at all costs: We must speak boldly and clearly enough for the Gospel to be understood, to risk the reaction of those opposing the implications of the Gospel. If I experience no opposition, I need to ask myself if I am speaking and living the Gospel with the boldness and clarity involved in full obedience to the Gospel and Great Commission.
v.9: "Do not be afraid (any longer [implied, Paul had been often attacked and was entirely reasonable in expecting more]), but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no one will attack and harm you, for I have yet [implied] many people in this city."
My Prayer: "Father, as You sent Jesus, knowing the cross before Him, You send us knowing hardships await. Yet I go willingly trusting Your good purpose, ultimately to redeem the earth. For the soon coming of that day I prayer. For courage to be obedient in living and speaking the Gospel I pray. For protection and peace in opposition I pray. May I honor Christ in all. Amen."
Towards the end of his 2nd missionary journey, eager to return to his sending base at Antioch (v.22), Paul chose not yet to remain in Ephesus (v.19), the city where he would later (Acts 19, as part of his 3rd missionary journey) establish one of the most fruitful churches of his ministry. That Ephesian church came to be associated with Timothy (1 Timothy 1:3) and Apollos (v.24-28) who is believed by some to be the author of Hebrews. The Ephesian church is also believed to have planted the other 6 churches of Asia Minor (modern Turkey) addressed in Revelation 2-3.
God's Power and those power set against Him: God's power is released to bless, empower and heal those who look to Him for salvation (v.1-12). Power over evil is always and only in Jesus name through those who are devoted to Him (v.13-15) and not to be confused with magic (v.18-19) or idols made with hands (v.26). Greater demons can give the impression of power over evil against weaker demons but it is deception to gain human submission to the greater demon.
I will pray with those who are the Lord's for the empowering of the Holy Spirit (v.6).
Turning to Christ: The turning from magic to Christ in Ephesus was a radical turning. 50k pieces of silver (v.19) = 138 yrs pay for a rural laborer.
Responding to confrontation: Paul did not seek a confrontation with false gods but did not shy away from such a challenge initiated by devotees of the idol Artemis either (v.30). The confrontation was the result of growth in influence of the Gospel: v.20: "So the word of the Lord was growing mightily and prevailing." This was no small matter. The temple to Artemis (Latin, Diana) in Ephesus was a magnificent structure to which citizens and pilgrims were passionately devoted - 425 ft long and 220 ft wide - one of the Seven Wonders of the ancient world.
My Prayer: "Father, thank you for the grace and power of the Gospel. Please give strength to live it out with joy and unafraid, even before those who resist and oppose."
The Cost and Joy of Service: God allows those who are in co-mission with Him to experience both their weakness (v.19) and His power (v.9) as they proclaim the Gospel with diligence (v.20-21), face severe opposition (v.3,23), and experience the deepest fellowship with others of like heart and mind which can be known among humans (v.32-38).
As we serve the Lord hardship and heartbreak is inevitable. Paul needed to change travel plans to avoid premature martyrdom (v.3), he was however prepared to die at such point as he finished his course and the ministry he had received from the Lord Jesus (v.24). Until then Paul sought to call all to repentance and faith (v.21) and declare the "whole purpose of God" (v.27)
I will take weariness and hardship in stride, relying ever more deeply on the Lord.
I will remain faithful to Christ and to the fullness of the Gospel.
I will not avoid the depth of relationship shared by those in Christ (v.32-38) because that relationship may prove temporary; unity in Christ will be continued and completed in eternity.
The Grace of the Lord: v.32: "And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified."
We are sanctified (set apart from evil to holiness) a) positionally now in Christ, b) progressively as we grow to be increasing confirmed to the image of Christ, and c) completely and eternally when Christ returns or we meet Him at the end point of our race.
In all, v.35: "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
My Prayer: Father, thank you for the supreme worth of Christ and the Gospel. Thank you for the rich depth of fellowship, even in suffering, that is ours with those who share in Your grace. Thank you that all that remains defiantly evil will acknowledge Christ as Lord.
Acts 21 (Paul's arrest in Jerusalem)
The Advance of God's Redemptive Purpose Supersedes All: God calls His servants to testify to the truth of the Gospel, sometimes into settings where they could face harm and which they could avoid. This has happened many times in the history of missions and continues today. Both Paul (Acts 20:21-22), his fellow disciples (Acts 21:4) and Agabus, a seasoned prophet, (21:10-11) knew Paul would again face imprisonment if he went to Jerusalem, yet the call of God was clear.
v.13: "Paul answered, "What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus."
The Problem in Jerusalem: God sent Paul to Jerusalem because Jesus had there become a popular rabbi and the Gospel was becoming a Jewish sect in which the disciples were going to the temple and continuing in the sacrificial system which Jesus had come to replace with His own sacrifice on the cross. The Gospel could not become a Jewish sect, nor may it today become a Muslim or Hindu sect or subset of anything else.
The Heart of the Matter: Knowing the call of God to go to Jerusalem, Paul could not be persuaded otherwise (v.13-14). His accusers had gone before him, twisting Paul's words (v.21) who in fact said simply that circumcision, which may have various values, is not necessary for salvation. Salvation is only through trust in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross in our place. Followers of Christ in Jerusalem, zealous for the law (v.20) urged Paul to go out of his way to show respect for Jewish traditions which are not necessary for salvation (v.23-24), believing Jewish believers should retain temple practices not required of Gentile believers (v.25). Paul, for reasons not entirely clear, complied (v.26). His accusers were ready (v.27ff).
Application: When I am sure I've heard God's direction I must not be dissuaded by fellow Christians who may also clearly see the cost of obedience. God's purposes are higher than mine. And if obedient in costly ways, why not in smaller matters?
My Prayer: Father, may the Gospel never be diluted or lost even by well-meaning attempts to make it a sub-set of (Judaism or) anything else. Speak Lord, and as I hear, may I be willing and obedient, whatever the cost, to defend and advance the Gospel of your grace in the cross of our my Lord Jesus Christ. In His name I pray, Amen.
Acts 22 (Paul's defense before his Jewish countrymen)
God's Passion: God is so passionate about His work of redemption that He does the miraculous (v.6-16) to change the heart of a murderous persecutor into a self-sacrificing missionary (v.17-21), and one who loved only the Jews into one who gave himself to bring the Gentiles into the Kingdom of His grace.
Martyrdom to be Avoided: We are not to seek or remain in the way of martyrdom if it can be avoided. Jesus directed Saul to avoid his persecutors (v.18) to be able to fulfill his calling after his escape (v.21). Paul appealed to his Roman citizenship to avoid questioning under torture (v.25).
personally Application: I will listen for and expect to hear the Lord's commission and direction, in large ways and small, for specifics regarding my part in the Great Commission. I will obey what I hear. I will not be surprised by hardship or suffering as I obey for the sake of the lost and the grace of God.
v.14: "The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth."
My Prayer: Father, thank you for the passion and compassion of Your heart for the lost which was behind Your Incarnation in Christ Jesus and Great Commission to us. May Your passion and compassion be my passion and compassion.
Acts 23 (Paul's defense before the Sanhedrin. From other sources we know Ananias was High Priest AD 47 - 58 and Antonius Felix Governor AD 52-59 helping date the events of this chapter to the latter period indicated. It is likely Luke was with Paul as indicated by the high level of detail of the account.)
God's Grace and Provision when Under Duress: In danger and distress God supports those He calls to mission with encouragement and direction. In this chapter Christ appears to Paul personally a fourth time (v.11). Earlier encounters include Acts 9:5, 18:9-10 and 22:17-18. With amazing provision God also sovereignly places Paul's nephew in a place to hear and warn Paul of a plot against him (v.16) and gives Paul's nephew favor in the eyes of the military.
The Sanhedrin was the "Council of 70" which was the Jewish highest authority while under the control of Rome. It had somehow interposed itself so that Paul's case did go directly to the Roman governor in Caesarea. It was also willing to use violence to accomplish what the pretence of justice was unable.
Paul's Response: Paul knew the Council's history and tactics, yet respects those in authority to try him (v.5), defends himself verbally against injustice from them (v.3), and makes his case firmly focused on the central issue and foundation of the Christian faith: the resurrection of Christ giving us the hope of resurrection also (v.6).
Personal Application: I will not be surprised by Divine encounters given to strengthen me. I will trust God to care for me in danger and distress. I will not cease clear witness to Christ when under duress.
My Prayer: Lord, give me courage to remain bold and faithful under pressure for my witness to Your Lordship and grace. Thank you that You are near even though I don't normally have eyes to see past the physical. Lord, may your Kingdom come!
Acts 24 (Paul's defense before Governor Felix)
Faithfulness under Pressure: God gave Paul opportunity, while under house arrest (v.23), to witness to to the Gospel to those in authority for 2 years, bringing conviction (v.25) for corruption and immorality, but no conversion.
The Jews hired a Roman lawyer (Tertullus v.1) who flattered profusely (v.2-4) but brought neither witnesses (v18f) or Lysias (v.22) who arrested Paul. He did however broaden the charge to insurrection (v.5), a more serious matter in Roman eyes*, but Felix was less interested in justice than a bribe (v.26) so Paul remained in custody for 2 years without trial (v.27). Felix, unpopular with the Jews, hoped this injustice against Paul would be seen favorably by the Jews upon his return to civilian life. Festus succeeded Felix as governor of Judea AD 59 or 60.
*Similar accusations of political sedition were made against Jesus before Pilate (Luke 23:2, 5, 14). Drusilla (v.24) was a sister of Herod Agrippa II and Bernice (25:13) who had abandoned her former husband, Azizus the King of Emessa, for Felix.
Agree Where Possible without Compromise on Essentials: Paul chose, where possible, to emphasize what he held in common with others, including his accusers (e.g. the Law and Prophets, v.14), without compromising the resurrection (v.15,21) or grace for the day of judgment; a truth which unnerved Felix (v.25). We are wise to do both also.
v.14: "But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and Prophets, having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there will certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked."
Application: I will remain clear and direct regarding the Gospel in all circumstances, avoiding only unnecessary offense. I will respect those in authority without compromising my soul. I will have patience as I sow the Gospel, even if years pass without the fullness of fruit I desire, without lessening my efforts.
My Prayer: Father, thank you for the example of Paul's faithfulness to the Gospel under pressure. May I be clear, gracious and faithful always also, giving unfailing expression to the hope that is in Christ alone.
Acts 25 (Paul's defense before Governor Fetus)
Historical note: Festus, soon after his appointment as Governor (replacing Felix when recalled to Rome AD 59 or 60), travels to Jerusalem where charges against Paul are reasserted. Paul knows the dangers of being tried in Jerusalem, both from assassination enroute (v. 3) and of being returned to the jurisdiction of the Sanhedrin (v. 9), so appeals to Caesar (v.11-12); his right as a Roman citizen.
Paul in v:11: "If I am a wrongdoer and have committed anything worthy of death, I do not refuse to die; but if none of these things is true of which these men accuse me, no one can hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar."
God gives opportunity, even in Paul's extremity, to witness to the grace of the Gospel. God used Rome's legal system (v.16) both to protect Paul from death at the hands of the Sanhedrin and multiple opportunities to proclaim the Gospel before courts and rulers. Paul was not unwilling to die (v.11) but wise in seeking to avoid unnecessary early death in order to be useful to Christ's Kingdom.
Application: In God's "love and rescue" mission we too may find opportunity to share the Gospel in hostile environments. I will therefore not be silent about the Gospel among those who reject Christ. I will not be afraid of harm in such circumstances, yet seek to avoid it where possible to serve another day.
My Prayer: Father, I pray for calm heart under pressure, wisdom from above, and the ability to think and discern your direction on my feet when under attack. Enable me to serve You honourably to the end. In Jesus name. Amen.
Acts 26 (Paul's defense before Agrippa)
Historical note: Paul defends himself before two authorities - Agrippa, a Jew, and Festus, a Roman - both of whom agree to Paul's right to freedom, excepting Paul's appeal to Caesar (v. 31-32). Agrippa: is Herod Agrippa II, son of Herod Agrippa I who persecuted the church (Acts 12:1) and great-grandson of Herod the Great who sought to kill Jesus while still an infant (Matt. 2:1). Bernice is Agrippa's sister with whom he was living incestuously.
Resurrection Appearance: Paul's testimony to his experience of the risen Christ is frequent (Acts 9, 22 and 26) and clear; the cause of his conversion, mission to the Gentiles and endurance under pressure and persecution. The mission - on which Paul, and we as followers of Christ, are sent - is expressed in Jesus' own words (v.18) and should be memorized by all who take His calling seriously:
v.18: "I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me." (NAS)
Agrippa's response (v.28) is purposely evasive; it could be understood as a rejection of Paul's bold invitation (as did Festus, v. 24, perhaps so as not to put a distance between them), or as an acknowledgement that Agrippa was nearing acceptance.
Application: I will stay focused on the core of the Gospel stated by Jesus and share the invitation boldly and often. I will ask the Lord to make me aware of the opportunity before me each day.
My Prayer: Father, may I not miss the opportunity You give me today to proclaim Christ. May I be clear, loving and bold. Guide me by Your Holy Spirit to be a harvester bringing lost souls home to You. For Your glory in Jesus name, Amen.
Acts 27 (Paul's Journey to Trial in Rome - Palestine to Malta)
God's protection of the lives of His servants is miraculous, announced by an angel (v.23), and extending in this case to all on the ship (v.24,44), 276 persons (v.37). Even the plans of the soldiers to kill the prisoners to protect themselves came to naught (v.42-44) as God turned the heart of their commander.
God's goodness: God's servants, in other circumstances in history and today, have died, so our life or death today is not to be interpreted as the result of greater or lesser merit on our part (limited) or love on God's part (boundless), but rather of His sovereign purpose in which either our life or death may accomplish God's higher purpose and good (Phil. 1:21,27).
The calling and mission of God in Christ is above all: In our obedience He calls us to fear not (v. 24), sends His angels to sustain us in life or death, guides us (v. 25-26) and gives courage.
v.23 "Last night an angel of the God whose I am and whom I serve stood beside me."
Application: I will therefore follow the call of God boldly, seeking His guidance, strength and protection at each turn and challenge.
My Prayer: Father give me courage to press on in all circumstances in obedience to Your mission and calling to bring the light of Christ to all the world and to all in the world.
Acts 28 (Paul's Journey for Trial before Caesar - Malta to Rome)
God gives opportunity in all circumstances to share the Gospel.
On Malta God protects Paul from the poison of the snake (v.6), heals the father of a community leader (v.8) and many others (v.9) demonstrating the Kingdom of God.
In Rome Paul shares the Gospel with many Jews (v.23) and with others who came to visit while he waited for trial before Caesar (v.30f).
The power of God to heal the sick brings openness in many cases to hearing of Jesus the Messiah who is the One who heals (vs.6-10). This was true in Jesus' ministry and today. There was not however, it seems, a church left behind when Paul left Malta, perhaps because the Maltase didn't speak a common language with Paul ("native" in v.2 meant "non-Greeks") and three months (v.11) was not long enough to raise up leadership among the Maltase who responded given the language barrier.
Personal Application: I will pray for the sick among those who do not know Christ and not hesitate to speak of Jesus in doing so. I will explain and defend the Gospel to those who will engage, even if hostile.
My Prayer: Father, help me make the most of every opportunity for the sake of Christ and the Gospel. Strengthen me in opposition and with courage whatever the outcome.
v.30f: "Paul stayed two full years in his own rented quarters and welcoming all who came to him, preaching the Kingdom of God and teaching the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, unhindered."
Why no record of Paul's trial before Caesar? The way Acts ends leaves the question unanswered whether Paul's trial before Caesar occurred as expected. It seems to some that the books of Luke/Acts (to Theophilus "friend of God) may have been written (at least in part) as a defense document in preparation for Paul's trial. Yet the fact there is no mention of the trial leaves open the possibility that Paul's accusers, perhaps knowing they could not get a verdict of guilty, did not come to press their case and therefore lost by default and Paul was freed.
In any case, it appears Paul also used these two years to write his letters to the Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon. After his release it appears he engaged in the ministry reflected in his letters to Timothy and Titus before being re-arrested and finally martyred in Rome about AD67.
For more about the expansion of the Gospel after Paul's death click here or search the internet for "Perspectives on the World Christian Movement" (lessons 6-8) or "Kairos" (chapter 4)
Paul's Missionary Journeys: The map below shows Paul's travel in a time sequence. (Below also are larger, more detailed static maps.)
Download Maps: 1st & 2nd journeys, 3rd & 4th journeys, or 4 journeys (incremental).