Showing posts with label Acts of the Apostles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Acts of the Apostles. Show all posts

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Taken Up Before Their Eyes

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight. They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.

“Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” (Acts 1:9-11)
It had been forty days since the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. He had been with them during that time, teaching them about the kingdom of God, about the “promise of the Father,” and about the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the kingdom of God.

Then, after all this, “he was taken up before their very eyes.” What a stunning event this must have been for the disciples to witness, and apparently one that took them by surprise. They stood there looking intently into the sky even after Jesus disappeared into the clouds. When Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem for the coming of the Holy Spirit, it likely tipped them off that Jesus was going off somewhere. But they were probably not expecting it to be like this.

So they stood there gazing upward, we don’t know for how long. They had to be brought back “down to earth” by the angels, two figures dressed in white who suddenly appeared beside them. “Why do you stand there staring up into the sky?” the angels said.

That seems like a very odd question. Had the angels arrived too late to witness the amazing thing that had just happened? Did they not know what was going on? But of course they did know, and now they were going to help the disciples understand — whenever God or his angels ask us a question, it is not to gather information but to bring revelation.

The angels continued: “This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.” Just as surely as they had seen Jesus taken up into heaven, he would come back — and in the same way. He had suddenly been hidden by the clouds; he would suddenly appear again upon the clouds.

In the Bible, the imagery of God riding upon the clouds is about God coming in judgment, to set things right in the world. Jesus ascended to heaven, all authority having now been given him in heaven and on earth (Matthew 28:18), and took his place at the right hand of the Father, the place of ruling and reigning. When he came again “with the clouds,” it would be the fulfillment of the kingdom. The prophet Daniel spoke of this:
In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7:13-14).
It was all about the kingdom of God, just as Jesus had taught them all along. And now the coming of the Holy Spirit was at hand, who would empower them to proclaim the good news that Jesus, the Anointed One of God, was now King over all. So they returned to Jerusalem to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them, just as Jesus had instructed.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

How the Kingdom Comes

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:7-8)
Shortly before he ascended to heaven, the risen Lord Jesus told his disciples to wait in Jerusalem, where they would be baptized with the Holy Spirit. This caused them to ask, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (There is a connection between this baptism and the kingdom — see The Kingdom of God and the Pouring of the Spirit.)

They were asking a question about timing but the answer they received was not what they were expecting. Jesus took it in a very different direction. The times and dates were set by God’s authority. In other words, it was none of the disciples’ business. God works his plans in his own time, and we don’t have to consult a calendar before we can trust him that all will be well.

So, it was not a Yes that Jesus gave them. But then, it was not a No, either. They were asking about the when of the kingdom, but the answer Jesus gave was about the how:
You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
Yes, when King Jesus comes again, he will judge the nations by the gospel. That is the point of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25. The nations will be judged according to whether they have received or rejected “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine,” that is, his disciples. But in the meantime, he sends his disciples out into the world to be his witnesses in all the world, to proclaim that Jesus is King and make disciples of all nations (see Matthew 28:18-20). All who believe the gospel of the King will be prepared for the return of the King.

This great commission Jesus gives his people is empowered by the Holy Spirit. Luke, who is the author of Acts, records these words of Jesus in his account of the Gospel:
This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. (Luke 24:46-49)
This “power from on high” is the same as the “Spirit poured out on us from high,” that Isaiah prophesied (Isaiah 32:15). The Holy Spirit “clothes” Jesus’ disciples with power to give witness concerning Messiah to all the nations. As we see throughout the book of Acts, this power is expressed through the boldness of their proclamation, as well as through the healings, miracles and exorcisms which demonstrate the reality of King Jesus the Messiah and the presence of his kingdom.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Kingdom of God and the Pouring of the Spirit

In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. After his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God.

On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 1:1-5)
For forty days after his resurrection, Jesus appeared to his disciples several times and talked to them about the kingdom of God (see Forty Days of Kingdom Revelation). One day, he told them to stay in Jerusalem and wait for the gift the Father promised. The gift he was speaking of was the Holy Spirit. Jesus had spoken to them before about him and the ministry he would perform (see, for example, John 14 and John 16). Even John the Baptist had taught from the beginning that, although he baptized with water, the one coming after him would baptize with the Holy Spirit. Now that time was at hand, mere days away.

As Jesus spoke of this, the disciples gathered around him and asked, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). It may seem odd that Jesus was speaking about the Spirit but the disciples were asking about the kingdom of God. Were they suffering from Attention Deficit Disorder? Why were they interrupting Jesus and, seemingly, changing the subject?

The reason is that, as Jews, they understood quite well that being baptized with the Holy Spirit had very much to do with the kingdom of God. The coming of the Spirit and the coming of the kingdom were both eschatological (that is, “end time”) events and were linked together. The presence of one indicated the presence of the other.

This was the promise God had made to his people long ago through the prophets. In Isaiah 32, the prophet speaks about the kingdom of God: “See, a king will reign in righteousness and rulers will rule with justice” (v. 1). He describes what things will be like until then: “The fortress will be abandoned, the noisy city deserted; citadel and watchtower will become a wasteland forever, the delight of donkeys, a pasture for flocks …” (v. 14). But then he speaks of the promise of the coming of the Holy Spirit: “... till the Spirit is poured on us from on high, and the desert becomes a fertile field, and the fertile field seems like a forest” (v. 15).

When the kingdom of God came, the Spirit of God would be “poured on us from on high.” So when the Spirit was poured out from on high, this would indicate that the kingdom of God had begun. And now here was Jesus the Messiah, risen from the dead, teaching the disciples about the kingdom of God and telling them that in a few days they were going to be baptized with the Holy Spirit — the Spirit of God was about to poured out on them from on high! So they very naturally thought about the kingdom of God.

This raised a question: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” See, in Isaiah’s prophecy about the coming king and the kingdom, and the Spirit being poured out, he also spoke of how God would judge the nations (Isaiah 34). And it was this that the disciples were asking about. Was King Jesus now going to judge the nations?

Israel was still in a sort of exile. Though many Jews had returned to the homeland, they were still under foreign domination, as they had been for centuries. First it was the Persians, then the Greeks, and now it was the Roman Empire that occupied the land. So, the question the disciples were asking, not unreasonably, was whether God was now going to free Israel from the nations.

They were asking a question about timing, but the answer they received was not what they were expecting. Jesus took it in a very different direction … as we will see next time.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

How the Book of Acts Begins and Ends

Every good story has a beginning, a middle and an end. The other week I came to realization about the book of Acts, particularly about how it begins and how it ends. Now, I already knew how it begins and I also knew how it ends. But what occurred to me is that it begins and ends with the same theme. See if you can spot it:
The former account I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach, until the day in which He was taken up, after He through the Holy Spirit had given commandments to the apostles whom He had chosen, to whom He also presented Himself alive after His suffering by many infallible proofs, being seen by them during forty days and speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:1-3)

Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house, and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him. (Acts 28:30-31)
Do you see it? Can you identify the common theme? Acts begins with Jesus during the forty days between His resurrection from the dead and His ascension to His throne in heaven at the right hand of the Father. And what does He do during those forty days? He speaks to the disciples about things pertaining to the kingdom of God.

The book of Acts closes decades later with Paul under house arrest in Rome for preaching the gospel. He was there for two whole years. And what does he do during all that time? What is the theme of His preaching and teaching? The kingdom of God, and everything that concerns King Jesus the Messiah.

What do you think is the significance of that? And what do you suppose that says about all that is recorded in the middle, between the beginning and the ending?

Monday, August 6, 2012

Paul’s Ministry Team at Philippi

We should probably take a moment to identify who was part of Paul’s ministry team at Philippi. Paul was never a one-man show.

  • Paul. His conversion story, the original “Damascus Road Experience,” is told in Acts 9, and again in Acts 22 and 26, how he encountered the risen Lord Jesus. He comes to prominence in the last half of the book of Acts, where his ministry shifts more and more from the Jews to the Gentiles. We will learn a bit more about his biography when we get to Philippians 3.
  • Silas. We first meet Silas in Acts 15, when the apostles and elders of the church at Jerusalem sent him and Judas Barsabbas, both of them prophets, to Antioch along with Paul and Barnabas. He ended up in itinerant ministry with Paul when Barnabas took John Mark and departed to Cyprus. He is also known as Silvanus (of which, Silas is probably a shortened form) and is mentioned by that name in Paul’s letter to the believers at Corinth (2 Corinthians 1:19) and Thessalonica (1 Thessalonians 1:2; 2 Thessalonians 1:1). He also ministered with Peter and served as the amanuensis (secretary) for the book of First Peter.
  • Timothy. When Paul and Silas came to Derbe and Lystra, “a certain disciple was there named Timothy, the son of a certain Jewish woman who believed, but his father was Greek. He was well spoken of by the brethren who were at Lystra and Derbe” (Acts 16:1-2). Paul was apparently impressed with the young man, because he decided to bring him with them on their mission. Paul mentions him in many of his letters. In Romans 16:21, Paul calls him, “my fellow worker;” in 1 Corinthians 4:17, “my beloved and faithful son in the Lord;” and in 1 Thessalonians 3:2 “our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ.” And of course, Paul’s final letters were to Timothy, to encourage and instruct him in pastoral matters. Paul calls him, “a true son in the faith” (1 Timothy 1:2).
  • Luke. Luke was a Gentile who came to faith in Jesus the Messiah. He is mentioned only a few times by name. Paul calls him, “Luke the beloved physician” (Colossians 4:14). In Philemon 24, he is identified as a “fellow laborer.” And yet, what we know of Paul’s ministry, we know from Luke. He is the author of the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. Luke apparently became a member of Paul’s team at Troas. We know this because the pronouns in the narrative shift from “they” (in Act 16:8) to “we” (in Acts 16:11). When Paul, Silas and Timothy moved on from Philippi to Thessalonica, the pronoun shifts back to “they” (Acts 17:1), indicating that Luke stayed behind to help with the new church at Philippi.

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Phil the Jailer

Okay, so his name wasn’t really Phil. We don’t actually know what his name was, and though his story has often been told, he has always been referred to simply as The Philippian Jailer. But I like “Phil,” for short. Phil was likely a Roman soldier who retired to Philippi, a prominent Roman colony in Macedonia, and was made “keeper of the prison.” He was the warden. The jailer.

When Paul and Silas had been stripped and beaten for preaching about King Jesus the Messiah and for casting a demonic spirit out of a slave girl and destroying the profit potential for her masters, the magistrates threw them into prison, giving Phil strict orders to “keep them securely” (Acts 16:23). So Phil took them into the deepest part of the prison, where they were placed in stocks.

He went to sleep that night secure in the knowledge that his prisoners would have no chance of escape. But a little after midnight, he was awakened by a tremendous shaking. An earthquake (v. 26).

Phil dashed down to see what had happened (his house was probably joined next to the prison). When he got there he saw that all the doors had been shaken open and the chains busted loose. Surely all the prisoners had gotten away, including Paul and Silas. That would not just be a career ender — there would be severe penalties to follow. Severe. So, like a good Roman soldier, Phil thought to do the “honorable” thing, the least distasteful thing. He drew out his sword and was about to end his life with it (v. 27).

“Do yourself no harm,” a voice from the dark called out, “for we are all here” (v. 28). Phil called for a light, went in and saw Paul and Silas — his two most important prisoners. They did not run, after all. They did not even try.

Earlier that day, the slave girl with the python spirit had identified them as those who proclaimed “the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). Phil would have known of this since it was what got them thrown into his prison in the first place. And he most likely heard some of the things they were singing and preaching in their dungeon cell — the good news that Jesus the Messiah and the kingdom of God had come into the world. Now he connected the dots and realized that they had something he desperately wanted. So he went for it. He led them out of the dungeon and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). It was a direct question, a “big picture” question: How do I get in on this King and this kingdom you’ve been announcing?

“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, and your household” they said (v. 31). A direct question deserves a direct answer. It would need some unpacking, of course, so Phil brought Paul and Silas into his house, where they spoke “the word of the Lord” to him and his whole household (v. 32).

What does it mean to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ”? It is not merely giving intellectual assent to a proposition, it is a call to believe on a person. What does it mean to believe on this person? It means we are entrust ourselves to Him — all of who we are entrusted to all of who He is. Who, then, is this person to whom we are called to entrust ourselves? The Lord Jesus Christ — and every part of that reveals who He is.
  • He is Lord. That is, He is God, the Son. He has been “declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead, according to the Spirit of holiness” (Romans 1:4 NASB).
  • He is Savior. The name “Jesus” literally means “Savior.” That is why the angel of the Lord spoke to Joseph, concerning Mary, “She will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).
  • He is God’s Anointed King. “Christ” is the Greek equivalent for the Hebrew word “Messiah.” Both literally mean “Anointed.” We see the significance of this in Psalm 2, where God speaks of His Son as the one He has anointed to be King over Israel and all the nations.
To believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then, is to entrust ourselves to Him as God and Savior and King. The promise for this is that “you will be saved.” King Jesus the Messiah came into the world to deliver His people, Israel, reconcile us all to the Father and put things right in the world. We enter into that by receiving Him, entrusting ourselves to Him.

“You will be saved,” they said, “and your household.” This promise of salvation is not just for some elite group or certain kinds of people. It is offered to everyone — Jew or Gentile, male or female, rich or poor, slave or free, old or young. So there they were, Paul and Silas, telling everyone in the Jailer household about King Jesus.

Then Phil took them out by the water, where he washed all their wounds from the beating they had received the day before. That must have got them talking about baptism because the next thing that happened was that Paul and Silas baptized Phil and his family in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (v. 33). Phil brought them into his home and gave them some food, “and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household” (v. 34).

Phil rejoiced. The Greek word is agalliao, which literally means to “jump for joy.” Hours earlier, he was ready to kill himself, but now he was full of joy — wild, exuberant joy. As we go on to study Paul’s letter to the Jesus believers at Philippi, we will see that joy is a common theme. With Jesus, there is always joy.

So Phil the Jailer and his household joined Lydia the Seller of Purple and her household, and possibly several prisoners and the slave girl who was delivered from a demonic spirit, to become the first fellowship of King Jesus followers at Philippi and in Macedonia.

Focus Questions
  1. Paul added, “and your household.” He did not do that with Lydia, though her whole household came to the Lord. So why did he add it here?
  2. At what point in this progression of events do you think Phil began to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?
  3. How do you suppose Phil’s life changed after this? In his home? In his work? In his city?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

In the Jailhouse Now

Continuing the back story to Paul’s letter to the Jesus followers at Philippi.

Well, it had been a long day for Paul and Silas, what with preaching the gospel, casting out a python spirit, being hauled before the magistrates because of that, then stripped naked, severely beaten, placed in stocks and thrown into the dungeon (Acts 16:16-24). But it was not quite over yet.

“But at midnight …,” Luke continues, and what follows is not what we would have expected, “… Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God” (v. 25). The Greek word for “pray” here is proseuchomai, turning toward (pros) God in prayer (about which, see The Towardness of Prayer). They were pressing into God, in intense prayer and praise and fellowship.

You can tell what is going on in a person’s heart by listening to the words that come out of their mouth, especially in pressure situations. I’m sure you will agree that Paul and Silas were under intense pressure, but it only pressed them deeper into God and they threw themselves into worship. Luke adds, “And the prisoners were listening to them.” They did not just hear, they were listening, intently. They had great interest in what Paul and Silas were praying and singing, perhaps wondering how they even had the presence of mind and peace of heart to be able to do that.

Suddenly, there was a great earthquake that shook the foundations of the prison. It may have been a natural event but the timing was supernatural. All the doors sprang open and the prisoners were all loosed from their chains (v. 26). John Chrysostom, in one of his ancient homilies on the book Acts, commented on this scene. “This let us also do, and we shall open for ourselves — not a prison, but — heaven. If we pray, we shall be able even to open heaven” (NPNF, First Series, Vol. 11, Homily 36).

The prison warden (a.k.a., the Philippians Jailer) woke up and saw all the doors hanging wide open, and he supposed that the prisoners had all fled. It seemed to him to be the worst night of his life, for he was responsible to see that the prisoners received their due punishments and, failing that, he would be punished in their place. With all the prisoners escaped, his future did not look at all bright, so he drew out his sword and was just about to kill himself (v. 27). But Paul called out to him just in time and said, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here” (v. 28).

Now, it would be easy at this point to go on and talk about Paul’s encounter with the Philippian Jailer and what happened from there. That was my original intention in this section (and that I will do in the next section). But something in Luke’s report caught my eye and I think it deserves a little bit of our attention.

As miraculous as the timing of the earthquake was that shook them all free, here is something I think might be an even greater miracle: None of the prisoners left. The doors were open, the chains were off — and nobody bolted. “We are all here,” Paul said. Amazing.

Why did they not leave when they had the chance? I think it was because of all they had just witnessed. They heard Paul and Silas, in stocks and deep in prison, singing and praising King Jesus and the power of God — and it preached to them. Then they saw the miraculous power of God shake open the cell doors and break them free from all their chains. Now, instead of running, they wanted to see what God would do next, and I don’t think they were disappointed.

We don’t know what happened after this. Again, Luke does not say and Church history appears to be silent. But it is no real stretch to suppose that some of them became followers of King Jesus, and perhaps when (or if) they were released, they joined together with the others at Philippi who came to know and rejoice in the Lord.

Focus Questions
  1. Suppose you had been in that prison that night, what would you think if you heard Paul and Silas loudly singing and praising God?
  2. When the earthquake happened, opening the doors and loosing the chains, would you have connected it to what Paul and Silas were singing about?
  3. If you the chance to run at that moment, would you have fled? Why or why not?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Python Lady

Looking at the “back story” of Paul’s letter to the Jesus followers at Philippi, we recently met Lydia, the “Seller of Purple.” Now let’s meet the Python Lady. We do not know her name. All we know is that she had a spirit of divination. Luke tells the story.
Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days.

But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. (Acts 16:16-19)
Now, the reason I call her the Python Lady is because of the Greek word for “divination,” which is … python. According to The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament (Bauer, Arndt and Gingrich), python referred to “the serpent or dragon that guarded the Delphic oracle; it lived at the foot of Mt. Parnassus, and was slain by Apollo. Later the word came to designate a spirit of divination, then also a ventriloquist, who was believed to have such a spirit dwelling in his (or her) belly.” This woman was not a ventriloquist as we think of today, but she was being used as a mouthpiece by the demonic spirit that somehow had possession of her.

This young girl followed Paul and his team (which included Silas, Timothy and Luke) around and the demonic spirit in her “cried out” (the Greek word means to croak, like a raven, to scream or shriek): “These men are the servants of the Most High God.” It is unclear what this spirit hoped to gain in that. Various answers have been proposed.
  • Perhaps it was to give the impression that Paul and Silas were somehow associated with this spirit, so to blunt their effectiveness.
  • Perhaps it was to somehow gain favor with them by affirming them, so that they would not cast out this demonic spirit.
  • Perhaps, recognizing that they were from God, it was to gain status as one who identified them and what they were doing.
After a number of days, Paul had finally had enough of it. He turned and cast out the spirit in the name of Jesus the Messiah. It is important to note that Paul’s problem was not with the young slave woman but with that spirit that possessed her. For she was not just enslaved by her human masters, who sought to exploit her unusual ability for their own profit, she was enslaved by the evil entity that invaded her being. In expelling the demonic spirit, Paul set this young woman free. But her masters were not happy about this.
But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” (Acts 16:19-21)
Paul commanded the demon to “come out” (Greek, exerchomai) and it “came out” (exerchomai). The girls masters realized that, with that, their expectation of profiting from her “was gone” (exerchomai) — literally, that it, too, had come out of her. So, instead of rejoicing that this young woman had been freed from demonic oppression, they forcefully seized Paul and Silas, hauled them before the city authorities and lodged their complaint.

The crowd that had gathered rose up together against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered Paul and Silas to be stripped and beaten. After being severely scourged (let it be sufficient here to note that this was not a sight for the squeamish), they were put into stocks and thrown into the dungeon. (We will look at happened with them next when we continue our “back story.”)

But what about the young slave woman who was now delivered from demonic oppression? Luke does not say and Church history does not really tell us. But having now been set free by the power of King Jesus, perhaps she became a follower of Jesus, just as Lydia and her household had done.

Focus Questions
  1. Though specifically led to Macedonia by the Holy Spirit, Paul and associates were beginning to face strong opposition. Should that be surprising?
  2. Luke does not tell us the name of this young woman. Why do you suppose that is?
  3. At this point, what would you imagine the prospects would be for a healthy, vital and joyful Church being formed at Philippi?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Have You Met Lydia?

There is an old song that goes, “Lydia, oh Lydia! Say, have you met Lydia? Lydia the Tattooed Lady.” Okay, so post this is not about that Lydia. It’s about Lydia the “Seller of Purple.”
Now a certain woman named Lydia heard us. She was a seller of purple from the city of Thyatira, who worshiped God. The Lord opened her heart to heed the things spoken by Paul. (Acts 16:14)
Paul and associates, concluding from a dream Paul had that the Spirit of God was leading them to minister the gospel in Macedonia, came to Philippi and settled there for a little while. On the Sabbath, as was his habit, Paul and team went to speak with the Jews about Jesus, whom God had anointed to be King.

However, there was no synagogue at Philippi. Apparently there were not enough Jewish men to form one (Jewish law required a minyan, a quorum of ten Jewish males). But there was a group of Jewish woman who regularly met to pray, at a place outside the city and down by the riverside. So Paul went and spoke with them about King Jesus.

One woman was very prominent in that gathering, a well-to-do woman named Lydia. She was from Thyatira, which was in the region called Lydia (in what is now western Turkey), in Asia Minor. She was a “seller of purple.” The Greek word for this is a technical term that referred to a guild that produced and sold richly dyed cloths. They were, shall we say, “comfortable.”

Another thing we should note about her is that, although she was praying Jewish prayers with the Jewish women, she herself was not Jewish. Luke says she “worshipped God,” which was a way of saying that she was a proselyte. Though a Gentile, she revered the God of Israel. So here she was with the others, and she heard the good news Paul was preaching about Messiah.

In his letter to the believers at Rome, Paul said that “faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17). And that is what happened here. The word of God came and opened Lydia’s heart to embrace the message of Jesus the Messiah. God initiated, she responded and the grace of God bore its fruit in her life.
And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” So she persuaded us. (Acts 16:15)
She turned to the Lord, believed and was baptized, which is the pattern we find consistently throughout the book of Acts. It was the natural progression, and Luke speaks of it in passing: “when she and her household were baptized.” Oh, and not only was Lydia herself baptized but so were those of her household who were with her that day. Her faith became a source of influence for them and they believed also and were baptized. Church tradition says that Lydia was baptized by Silas, with assistance from a deacon on the team (see the image at top).

Lydia was so grateful, she invited Paul and his associates to come and stay at her home, “if you judge me to be faithful to the Lord.” The sense of “if” here is “since. Having baptized her, it was obvious that they did indeed consider her faith in the Lord to be real. So they went and enjoyed the hospitality of her house — she simply would not take no for an answer!

There is one more thing that is significant about this encounter. Remember that Paul had originally intended to go to Asia Minor with the gospel, until he was redirected by the Holy Spirit to come to Macedonia instead. And now here at Philippi, in Macedonia, the first one to come to the Lord was a woman from Asia Minor. She is regarded in Church history as the first convert to Christianity in Europe.

Focus Questions
  1. How was the grace of God evident in Lydia’s life?
  2. How do you suppose God opened her heart to consider the message about Messiah?
  3. How was faith evident in Lydia’s life?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

A Dream of Macedonia

Today I am beginning new series, a study through the book of Philippians, Paul’s letters to Jesus believers at Philippi. But first, a little back story.

Open up just about any Bible to the back pages and you will find a section of maps, usually in full color plates. Almost always, you will find one titled something about “Paul’s Missionary Journeys.” Look in the upper left section of that map and there is Italy. To the right you will find Macedonia, and below that, Greece. A little further right, you will see the regions of Galatia and Phyrgia.

Phrygia and Galatia are where the apostle Paul and his mission team had been ministering, about AD 50, and they desired to go on into the western region of Asia Minor. But the Holy Spirit would not let them. So they skirted around to the west until they came to Mysia, to the north. They had thought to cross eastward from there over to Bithynia, but again, the Holy Spirit stopped them. So they continued westward to Troas.

At Troas, Paul had a dream, a vision in the night. In this vision, he saw a man of Macedonia who begged him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” That settled the matter for Paul and his ministry associates. Since the Holy Spirit would not let them minister in Asia or Bithynia, and now Paul had this vision calling them to something that had not been on their itinerary, they concluded that the Lord was calling to them to go to Macedonia and preach the good news about King Jesus there. So they set sail from Troas to the small Greek island of Samothrace. The next day, they landed at Neapolis, and from there came to Philippi, about ten miles inland.

All of this is in Acts 16:6-12, a transitional passage of how the Lord interrupted Paul’s plans and directed his way for a very significant change of course. Some very important times of ministry lay ahead for Paul and his team at Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth and Ephesus. However, we will be focusing on what happened at Philippi.

Focus Questions
  1. How to you suppose the Holy Spirit might have kept Paul and his associates from going on to Asia and Bithynia?
  2. How did those prior actions of the Holy Spirit give greater significance to Paul’s dream?
  3. Do you think God still leads us in this way today?

There is Always Joy!
There is Always Joy!
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Philippi
Bite-Size Studies Through the Book of Philippians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Taken By Surprise

Although I have been working through Paul's letter to the Colossians pretty much in a linear fashion, I would like to bounce back to something that impressed me recently as I read through it once again.
Paul, an apostle of the Messiah, Jesus, by the will of God. (Colossians 1:1 JVD)

Nobody was more surprised than Paul that he should be an apostle of Jesus the Messiah, and that this was the will of God. He had once been very violently opposed to Jesus and those who followed Him as Messiah. This was back when Paul was known as Saul.

As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. (Acts 8:3)

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. (Acts 9:1-2)

But then, of course, he had his “Damascus road experience” — which was the original Damascus road experience. He had a dramatic encounter with Jesus. The story is told in Acts 9. As Saul came near the city, a bright light shone around him and he fell to the ground. He heard a voice speaking to him.

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

“Who are You, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

“Lord, what do You want me to do?”

“Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Saul, his eyes blinded by that moment, continued on to Damascus, not knowing what would happen next. There was a man there named Ananias, whom the Lord Jesus directed to go to Saul, lay hands on him and restore his sight. Ananias did not understand why, because he had heard of how Saul persecuted Jesus’ followers at Jerusalem. The Lord answered, “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.”

Ananias went and Saul was healed. Immediately Saul went to the synagogues of Damascus and began to preach that Jesus is the Son of God. He became part of the very movement he had originally intended to rub out there. Now he himself became a target and the Jewish leaders there plotted to kill him. But the believers there help him get away safely.

Saul went back to Jerusalem to join with the believers there, the ones he had once persecuted. But his former reputation was still with him, and the disciples at Jerusalem feared him. They did not believe he was now one of them. But Barnabas took him before the apostles and told them what had happened, how Saul had seen the Lord on the road to Damascus, how he had preached the name of Jesus boldly about Jesus there and was himself persecuted for it. Then the believers at Jerusalem received him as a disciple.

So now, in his letter to the believers at Colosse, Paul identifies himself, as he does in many of his other letters, as an apostle of Jesus the Messiah. He who had once rejected Jesus and persecuted His followers was now sent by Jesus to represent him before the nations.

It was the will of God, and no one was more surprised by it than Paul.

The Focus of Our Faith
The Focus of Our Faith
Paul’s Letters to the Jesus Believers at Colosse
Bite-Size Studies Through Colossians
by Jeff Doles

Preview with Amazon’s “Look Inside.”

Available in paperback and Kindle (Amazon), epub (Google and iTunes) and PDF.