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Eutychus Raised From the Dead at Troas October 28, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 20:7-12.

Summary: In this passage, the believers at Troas gathered in an upstairs room to celebrate the Eucharist. Paul preached to them through the night, as he intended to depart on the following day. At some point, a young man named Eutychus fell asleep – and fell out of a window to his death. Yet God – through Paul – raised him to life; that miracle greatly encouraged the believers in Troas.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Eutychus was raised from the dead by God. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 9:

I see no reason why some interpreters should be so hard on the young man’ [sic] drowsiness as to say that he was punished by death. We may guess that he did not settle down to go to sleep but was overcome by sleep, having fought against it for a long time. Moreover, the Lord intended to awaken the faith of his people not only by Eutychus’ sleep, but by his death. Then they would receive Paul’s teaching more joyfully and keep it deeply rooted in their minds.

I am eager to meet Eutychus in the next life and learn more about him. Was he born and raised in Troas? What was his occupation at that time? How did he encounter the Gospel message? Did he accept it with alacrity, or did he harbor doubts concerning its veracity? What were his thoughts and emotions after he was resurrected? How did he honor God after the events of this passage?

Through Macedonia and Greece October 23, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 20:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and his companions left Ephesus and traveled – through Macedonia – to Greece; during that journey, they strengthened many believers. After staying in Greece for three months, Paul decided to return to Syria. Now several Jews hatched a plot against him, assuming that he would travel by sea. He learned of their machinations, though; thus, he returned to Macedonia, passing through Philippi and arriving at Troas.

Thoughts: Here, we see that several believers accompanied Paul on his journeys. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

His companions gave no ordinary proof of their loyalty, and we see how precious his life was to the believers, when a great many from various countries were chosen to accompany him and undertake a difficult journey at great expense for his sake.

When I read this passage, I was struck by the fact that each of these companions hailed from churches that Paul had planted. Thus, this passage is a neat illustration of the fruit that God bore through Paul. These men went beyond the relatively simple requirement of hearing the Gospel message and accepting its veracity – they demonstrated their solidarity with Paul in the midst of severe trials. While I cannot say that I have influenced other believers to that extent, I do believe that God has worked through me to plant and water seeds in the lives of others. It is my prayer that God would continue to work through me in that regard.

The Riot in Ephesus October 21, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 19:23-41.

Summary: In this passage, an Ephesian silversmith named Demetrius incited his fellow craftsmen against the local church, asserting that the success of Paul would:

  • lead them into a state of penury
  • besmirch the good name of Artemis.

The craftsmen responded to his argument by fomenting a riot in their city; a crowd rushed into the theater and extolled Artemis for two hours. Yet the city clerk was able to quell the riot; in particular, he asserted that:

  • the good name of Artemis would not be besmirched by the success of Paul
  • Paul – and the other believers in Ephesus – were not guilty of any crimes
  • the Roman authorities could punish the Ephesians for illegal rioting.

Given those facts, he dismissed the crowd.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that Demetrius incited the other craftsmen in Ephesus against Christians. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 27:

If he had suffered no loss from Paul’s teaching, he would have stayed at home quietly; he would not have bothered about the worship of Diana, nor would he have troubled anyone else. So why was he so zealous and active? It was because he himself was under attack. Realizing that he and his colleagues had no genuine or plausible excuse for causing any disturbance, he set about putting a different complexion on things.

Calvin adroitly exposes the rationale for the riot; basically, the craftsmen viewed Christianity as an economic threat that could affect their livelihoods. On a (possibly) tangential note, I wonder: when adherents to a particular religion react violently to any attack on that religion, do they perceive that attack as a personal affront? While some of them may be genuinely zealous for the deity – or deities – in question, others may be more inclined towards self-preservation. As Christians, we must strive to avoid this trap; any attack on our worldview must be viewed – first and foremost – as an attack on God Himself. Even though this is extremely difficult, we must seek His glory – denying ourselves in the process.

In verse 33, we see that the Jews were involved in the riot in Ephesus, as they wanted Alexander to address the crowd in the theater. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Presumably the Jews did not push him forward to plead the nation’s common cause but brought him out because they wanted the people to murder him.

Did the Jews in Ephesus enjoy freedom of religion before the events of this passage? Did they attempt to convert any of the Gentiles in their city? Did the Roman law prohibit proselytizing? How did they respond to the riot? Did they encourage the Gentiles to persecute the local church? Did they enjoy freedom of religion after the events of this passage – or did the riot lead to increased scrutiny on the part of the Roman authorities?

Paul in Ephesus October 18, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 19:1-22.

Summary: In this passage, Paul returned to Ephesus, where he baptized twelve of John’s disciples in the name of Jesus Christ. He then entered the synagogue and preached the Gospel message for three months. Eventually some of those in attendance rejected it; consequently, he rejected them and encouraged those who accepted it. Those disciples helped spread the Gospel message throughout Asia. Later, God demonstrated His power through Paul by enabling him to heal the sick and drive out evil spirits. Some of the Jews attempted to appropriate the name of Jesus Christ to that end, though, including the seven sons of Sceva. Consequently, God humiliated them – compelling the Ephesians who had been ensnared by the occult to confess their sins and burn their scrolls of magic spells. After that, Paul decided to travel to Jerusalem; he sent Timothy and Erastus ahead of him to Macedonia.

Thoughts: In verses 3-5, we see that Paul baptized several believers in Ephesus in the name of Jesus Christ. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 5:

Because people in those days had the mistaken idea that John’s baptism was different from Christ’s, there was nothing absurd about people being baptized again if they had only been prepared with John’s baptism. But the two were pledges and signs of the same adoption and new life that we have in our baptism today; that is why we do not read of Christ rebaptizing those who came to him from John.

I find Calvin’s point here to be rather confusing, as I had always understood that the baptism of John was distinct from the baptism of Christ that we practice today. In fact, my reading of Paul’s statement in verse 4 indicates that the baptism of John was limited to a particular time period – it was meant to prepare people for the arrival of Jesus Christ. Those who participated in that ceremony were aware of their “sin problem” and their need for a solution to that problem; they expressed their desire for that solution by publicly repenting of their sins. Once Jesus Christ arrived and revealed Himself as the solution to the “sin problem,” the baptism of John became irrelevant. Then again, it is possible that I am misinterpreting Calvin’s point; comments are welcome.

In verses 17-20, we see that the believers in Ephesus repented of their sins – especially those pertaining to the occult. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 18:

We know how hard it is to wring true confession out of those who have offended, for since people count nothing more precious than their reputation, they are more concerned about shame than about truth. Indeed, as much as possible they try to conceal their shame. So this voluntary confession was evidence of repentance and fear.

Since the total value of the scrolls that were burned in verse 19 was equivalent to fifty thousand days’ wages, I pondered the modern-day equivalent of that drastic action. Perhaps a group of modern-day sinners could repent by burning the following items:

  • pornographic material
  • illegal drugs
  • potpourri pertaining to idol worship.

A secondary application entails conducting a regular assessment of our walk with God; in particular, what prevents us from focusing on Him? Any distraction along those lines should be removed. While breaking bad habits is a fiendishly difficult task, we must remember that God is holy; moreover, He is both willing and able to punish those who – knowingly or unknowingly – besmirch His holiness.

Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos October 14, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 18:18-28.

Summary: In this passage, Paul left Corinth and traveled with Priscilla and Aquila to Ephesus. After he preached the Gospel message in that city, he traveled to Antioch in Syria. Later, he traveled to Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening the disciples in that region.

Meanwhile, a Jew named Apollos built on the work that Paul had begun in Ephesus; he was assisted in that regard by Priscilla and Aquila, who sharpened his understanding of the Gospel message. He exercised his gift of public speaking by eloquently stating and defending the Gospel message in that city and in Corinth. In particular, he repeatedly used the Old Testament to prove that Jesus was the Christ.

Thoughts: In verse 20, we see that the Jews in Ephesus did not immediately reject the Gospel message when Paul presented it to them. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Luke shows that they listened to him more patiently in this synagogue than anywhere else and asked him to stay; so it is surprising he did not agree. Presumably, as I said before, he had some strong reason to go to Jerusalem quickly. There is no doubt that when he had settled things in Ephesus he left them amicably, and they seem to have accepted his excuse.

Why did the Jews in Ephesus ask Paul “to spend more time with them?” Did the Holy Spirit influence these Ephesian Jews, enabling them to listen to Paul with open minds? Was Ephesus known for encouraging open and honest debate between adherents to disparate worldviews? Did Paul modify his presentation of the Gospel message after enduring countless rejections by Jews throughout the Roman Empire?

This passage introduces us to Apollos and describes the role that he played in spreading the Gospel message. I hope to meet him in the next life and learn more about him. When did he realize that he had the gift of public speaking? How had he “been instructed in the way of the Lord,” especially since he was from Alexandria? How did God lead him from Alexandria to Ephesus? How did he respond to Priscilla and Aquila’s explanation of the Gospel message? What were his thoughts and emotions as the Jews in Ephesus and Corinth attempted to refute his arguments? Did he meet Paul in this life? How did he glorify God after the events of this passage?

In Corinth October 11, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 18:1-17.

Summary: In this passage, Paul traveled to Corinth, where he rejoined Silas and Timothy. He went to the Jewish synagogue in that city and preached the Gospel message to those in attendance. As expected, the Jews rejected the Gospel message – yet many Gentiles believed it. The Jews attempted to harm Paul – yet God enabled him to continue preaching in their city. At some point, the Jews brought a charge of heresy against Paul before the proconsul, Gallio – yet Gallio refused to hear their grievances, as he correctly reasoned that their complaints were not germane to Roman law.

Thoughts: In verses 9 and 10, we see that the Lord commanded Paul to continue preaching the Gospel message in Corinth despite the opposition of the Jews. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 10:

If the Lord is ever so favorable to us, we must not despise such a comfort for our weakness. Meanwhile, let the following truth be enough for us to quash all corrupt fears of the flesh: as long as we fight under his banner, we will not be forsaken by him.

While I have not faced overt hostility from others in my spiritual walk, I have overcome internal struggles that could have derailed it. For example, I recall preparing for an interview for a position. On the night before the interview, I experienced qualms about my ability to obtain that position – especially since I had failed in several prior interviews. Yet God gave me the strength to proceed, and I performed well enough to obtain an offer from that company. I ended up accepting that offer, moving to a new city and glorifying God through many acts of service. That experience helped me realize that as long as God has tasks for us to complete in this life, He will enable us to complete them.

In this passage, we see that the proconsul of Achaia, Gallio, refused to hear the grievances of the Jews against Paul; he then ignored their attack on the synagogue leader, Sosthenes. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

So Gallio would have liked all the Jews to kill one another, so that their religion might die with them. But the Spirit, through Luke, condemns Gallio’s negligence, because he did not protect a man who was being unjustly attacked. In the same way, our magistrates are far more inexcusable if they turn a blind eye to injuries and wrongs, if they do not restrain wrongdoers, and if they do not help the oppressed.

I am ambivalent about Gallio based on my understanding of this passage. On one hand, he did not harm Paul when the Jews brought their charges against him, as he knew that heresy under the Jewish law was not germane to the Roman law. That was commendable – especially in light of the conduct of the authorities in Philippi. On the other hand, why did he allow the Jews to attack Sosthenes? Were assault and battery not expressly prohibited by the Roman law? I hope that Gallio eventually realized his mistake in that regard.

In Athens October 7, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 17:16-34.

Summary: In this passage, a group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers brought Paul to a meeting of the Areopagus, as they were intrigued by his presentation of the Gospel message. Paul then delivered a lengthy address where he asserted that God:

  • created the heavens and the earth
  • sustained and directed human history

contrary to the tenets of the Epicureans and the Stoics. He called his audience to renounce their misguided worldviews and worship God – through His Son, Jesus Christ. While some of those in attendance rejected his appeal, others accepted it – including Dionysius and a woman named Damaris.

Thoughts: In verse 16, we see that Paul was troubled at the rampant idolatry in Athens. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

Paul was distressed when he saw the name of God profaned and his worship corrupted, and this shows that nothing was more precious to him than the glory of God. Such zeal ought to be ours too, as it is in Psalm 69:9. It is a common rule of all godly people to be troubled whenever their Heavenly Father is blasphemed – just as Peter teaches that Lot “was tormented in his righteous soul” because he could do nothing about the “lawless deeds” being done around him (2 Peter 2:8).

Calvin’s thoughts should challenge believers in First World countries. It is evident that we live in an era where relativism is a prominent worldview; moreover, the Christian worldview, which includes claims of absolute truth, is often marginalized and even openly attacked. Now one could question the application of Paul’s actions in Athens to our present situation, stating, “Paul entered a city where the Gospel had not been preached; in contrast, we live in cities where people have heard the Gospel and have consciously rejected it.” Yet we know that God calls us to glorify His name in every situation. How can we be obedient in this regard when God’s name is blasphemed in our society? One thought is that we should not hide our faith from nonbelievers; if they still choose to insult us as Christians, then we can be thankful that we bear these insults for His sake.

In verse 32, we see that some of the members of the Areopagus rejected the Gospel message when Paul mentioned the resurrection of Jesus. This is a controversial issue, and countless people through the ages have rejected the Gospel message due to their inability to accept the historicity of this event. In fairness, I occasionally struggle with doubts regarding this point; at those times, I envy those believers who were direct eyewitnesses of the resurrected Christ. Yet I must not forget that the Christian worldview does not rest on a flimsy foundation. In particular, skeptics should consider N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God; many readers have indicated that it contains a cogent argument for the historicity of this central tenet of the Christian worldview, which is encouraging to say the least.

In Berea October 2, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 17:10-15.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and his companions traveled to Berea. They entered the Jewish synagogue in that city and preached the Gospel message to those in attendance. Many Jews and Greeks accepted the Gospel message, as they were more apt to assess it in light of the Scriptures than their counterparts in Thessalonica. Later, many Jews from Thessalonica arrived in Berea and incited its residents to oppose the Gospel message. Given that volatile situation, the believers in Berea sent Paul to Athens.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the Bereans received the Gospel message without prejudice. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 11:

The first thing Luke praises the Bereans for is that they were ready and eager to receive the Gospel; the second is that they strengthened their faith daily by diligent inquiry. Certainly this is the way to enter into the faith first of all: that we are ready to follow, and that we abandon our human understanding and submit ourselves to Christ, to be taught by him and to obey him.

The Berean believers set a positive example for modern-day believers; thus, I am eager to meet them in the next life and learn more about them. How did they encounter the God of Israel? Did they convert to Judaism with alacrity? Had they heard about Paul’s struggles in Thessalonica before he arrived in their city? Were they persecuted by Jews after Paul left their city? How did they glorify God after the events of this passage?