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Paul Preaches at Rome Under Guard January 17, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 28:17-31.

Summary: In this passage, Paul met with the leaders of the Jewish community in Rome. He conjectured that they had heard unflattering reports of him; thus, he asserted his integrity. They allayed his fears and invited him to present the Gospel message to them. He accepted their invitation and subsequently preached the Gospel message to a large crowd of Jews. While some of them believed it, the rest rejected it. Paul anticipated those negative reactions, as he knew that Isaiah 6:9-10 predicted their behavior in that regard. He spent the next two years boldly preaching the Gospel message to those in Rome who visited him.

Thoughts: In verse 24, we see that Paul’s presentation of the Gospel message to the Jews in Rome yielded mixed results. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

We know that the apostle had such grace of the Spirit that he could have moved stones, and yet he could not win everyone to Christ even after debating and testifying for a long time. Therefore, let us not be surprised today if many people’s unbelief resists the plain teaching of the Gospel and if many people remain obstinate, although the truth of Christ is just as clear as the midday sun.

We should remember that God displayed His sovereignty in this instance, as He knew beforehand who would accept Paul’s teaching and who would reject it. That being said, I ponder the following questions:

  • does genetics play a role in determining someone’s openness to novel teachings?
  • how does one’s upbringing – including the influences of parents, teachers and peers – impact their response to a novel argument?
  • how can God supernaturally intervene in the life of a hardened skeptic to enable them to accept the Gospel message?

Verse 31 is an apt conclusion of this book, as it reminds me of Jesus’ command to the eleven apostles in Acts 1:8 to preach the Gospel “in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” This stroll through Acts has shown me how God enabled His followers to fulfill that command and bring many souls into His kingdom. Now that I have completed this stroll, I am inspired to continue engaging with nonbelievers in this world. I believe that we:

  • must not conceal our worldview from the nonbelievers around us – though we must be tactful in that regard
  • should continue to build our relationships with them
  • should pray that God would be glorified through our interactions with them
  • should pray that He would bring their souls into His kingdom – if it is His will.

Arrival at Rome January 14, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 28:11-16.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and his companions sailed from Malta to Puteoli via Syracuse and Rhegium. After spending a week with some fellow believers, they finally arrived in Rome. There, they were welcomed by some other believers; Paul was encouraged by that act of kindness on their part.

Thoughts: In verse 15, we see that Paul was encouraged by the fact that some of the believers in Rome greeted him upon his arrival. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The brothers’ zeal and godly care are seen in their inquiring about Paul’s arrival and traveling to meet him. At that time the profession of the Christian faith brought hatred and could endanger life. And this was not just a matter of a few men running a personal risk – the whole church was affected. But they could not neglect their duty without being seen as reluctant and ungrateful; it would have been dreadful to neglect so great an apostle of Jesus Christ, especially since he was suffering for the common salvation.

I hope to meet these Roman believers in the next life and learn more about them. How did they first hear the Gospel message? Did they accept it with alacrity, or did they initially harbor doubts that were later addressed? How did they respond when the emperor Nero blamed them for The Great Fire of Rome? Did the Jews in Rome persecute them? How did they know that Paul was coming to Rome? What were their thoughts and feelings when they read Paul’s epistle to them? Did they attempt to preach the Gospel message in Rome? Was it difficult to live with integrity in a decadent city?

Ashore on Malta January 11, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 28:1-10.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and his companions found that they had landed on the island of Malta. During their sojourn in Malta, God:

  • protected Paul from the venom of a viper
  • enabled Paul to heal the father of the chief Maltese official, Publius
  • enabled Paul to heal the rest of the sick Maltese.

The Maltese responded by blessing Paul and his companions in sundry ways.

Thoughts: In verse 4, we see that the Maltese inferred that Paul was a criminal when he was bitten by a viper. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

We must not make hasty judgments of people we do not know, based only on what happens to them. God punishes the good as well as the bad, and it often happens that he spares the reprobate and punishes his own people severely. If we are to judge aright, we must begin by asking about people’s lives and actions.

This caused me to consider a tangentially related point – I tend to render snap judgments. For example, when I interact with employees at fast-food restaurants, I instinctively view them with an air of superiority. I know that such thoughts are contrary to God’s desires – yet my instincts lead to those thoughts. Perhaps my sinful nature has warped my mind to the extent that my instincts reflect my inherent prejudices. If that is the case, then I must rely on the Holy Spirit to immediately reject those snap judgments and attempt to formulate more mature and reasoned thoughts (e.g. what are the issues facing employees at fast-food restaurants, and how can I alleviate those issues).

The Shipwreck January 7, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 27:27-44.

Summary: In this passage, God worked through Paul on the fourteenth night of the ongoing storm to forestall a catastrophe. In particular, Paul learned that the sailors were attempting to escape via lifeboat; he then advised the soldiers to compel them to remain on board, as he knew that they would play an integral role in their impending deliverance. He then exhorted his companions to regain their strength by eating, as they would soon be delivered from the storm. On the following day, the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. All of those on board eventually reached dry land; some of them were able to swim to shore, while the rest clung to flotsam and jetsam.

Thoughts: In verse 38, we see that grain comprised at least part of the cargo of the ship that carried Paul and his companions. When I meet Paul in the next life, I plan to ply him with questions pertaining to the cargo. Did they keep the grain from being ruined by the storm before they threw it overboard? Did they make bread before they were beset by the storm, or did they prepare it while the storm raged around them? What was the financial loss that the owner of the ship incurred as a result of those two perilous weeks? Were the Roman soldiers on board subjected to any discipline due to the storm?

Here, God performed a miracle by delivering Paul and his companions from the storm. Did those two perilous weeks affect the worldview of the unbelievers on board? Was Paul able to discuss the Gospel message – and his belief in the God of Israel – with any of them after their deliverance? Did the unbelievers merely assume that their gods had delivered them from the storm? I assume that they prayed to their gods during the storm; perhaps they had confidence that their gods would save them according to their timing.

The Storm January 5, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 27:13-26.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and his companions were buffeted by a violent storm as they sailed along the coast of Crete. The storm almost caused their ship to disintegrate; in order to save it, they discarded their cargo and the tackle. When the storm refused to abate, they began to lose hope – yet Paul exhorted them to continue battling it, asserting that God would deliver them from it (since He planned for him to stand trial before Caesar in Rome).

Thoughts: Here, we see that Paul and his companions were beset by a hurricane. I must admit that I have difficulty relating to their struggles in this passage, as I rarely travel by sea. I do occasionally travel by air, though, and this passage reminded me of a eventful flight to Houston several years ago. On that occasion, we had to pass through a thunderstorm on our final approach. The ensuing turbulence led to a bout of nausea; I was extremely grateful to God when we landed safely. Indeed, one of God’s attributes is His immutable sovereignty over nature.

In verse 21, we see that Paul and his companions did not eat for a prolonged stretch as they battled the hurricane. When I meet them in the next life, I would like to learn how they resisted the storm on empty stomachs. Were they fueled by adrenaline as fierce waves crashed onto the deck of their ship? Were some of them on the verge of death? Did God give Paul supernatural strength to exhort his companions – just as He gave His Son supernatural strength to resist the temptations of Satan after His baptism? Also, I assume that they drank fresh water during the storm; how did they preserve their supply of fresh water at that time?

Paul Sails for Rome December 23, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 27:1-12.

Summary: In this passage, Paul was transferred to the custody of a centurion, Julius. He and his companions boarded a ship at Caesarea; after a brief stop at Sidon where his friends met his needs, they sailed to Myra. There, they boarded another ship; they then sailed – with great difficulty – to Fair Havens near Lasaea. At that point, Paul advised his fellow travelers to winter there – warning them of great calamities if they proceeded on their journey to Rome. Yet the pilot and the owner of the ship advised Julius to winter in Phoenix in Crete. Julius did not heed Paul’s warnings, and they sailed toward Phoenix.

Thoughts: In verses 11 and 12, we see that Paul’s advice regarding wintering in Fair Havens was disregarded. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

The centurion is not to be blamed for listening to the pilot and owner rather than Paul. He deferred to Paul’s advice in other matters but knew that Paul was not an experienced sailor. And the owner did not advise him to commit the ship to the high seas but to go to the next haven, which was almost within sight. Thus they could reach a suitable place for the winter with little effort.

Before I encountered Calvin’s thoughts, I was rather critical of the pilot and the owner of the ship for ignoring Paul’s advice. Now I wonder: what was the status of their finances? What cargo were they carrying, and where did they need to deliver it? Was at least some of it intended for Phoenix in Crete (if so, then they could assuage the loss stemming from a late delivery of the rest of it)? What were the other benefits of sailing from Fair Havens to Phoenix? Did they secretly believe that they could sail to Rome before the onset of winter?

Paul Before Agrippa December 21, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 25:23-26:32.

Summary: In this passage, Festus brought Paul before Agrippa, Bernice and several dignitaries. He solicited the assistance of Agrippa in presenting the case against Paul in the requisite letter to Caesar. Agrippa then called on Paul to present his defense; he responded by asserting that:

  • he was entirely zealous for God before his conversion experience
  • he demonstrated that zeal by persecuting Christians
  • Jesus of Nazareth appeared to him on the road to Damascus
  • Jesus then commissioned him as His apostle to the Gentiles
  • he fulfilled that commission by preaching the Gospel message
  • the salient point of the Gospel message is the truth of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

At that point, Festus interjected and asserted that Paul was insane. Yet Paul deflected that comment and attempted to persuade Agrippa that the story of Jesus of Nazareth was the logical conclusion of the Old Testament. While Agrippa did not concur with Paul’s argument, he – and the other dignitaries – concluded that Paul had not broken any Roman laws.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus completely reshaped his worldview. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 10 of chapter 26:

The facts themselves proved how zealously he fought against Christ, until a greater force stopped him and made him go in the opposite direction. Furthermore, his adversaries were witnesses of his vehemence; so it was quite certain that he had changed suddenly, for the priests would never have commissioned him as they did if he had not been vigorous in inflicting cruelty. He had to be very bold to satisfy their fury.

We know from Acts 9:19b-31 that the Jews completely rejected Paul’s initial presentation of the Gospel message after his conversion experience. Did any of them make a genuine effort to comprehend his conversion experience – or did they immediately dismiss it as the hallucination of a madman? Did the Pharisees – who did believe in the resurrection of the dead – nevertheless dismiss his account because they viewed Jesus of Nazareth as a criminal and a heretic? Did they believe that Paul had been afflicted by a lying spirit? Did they question any of Paul’s companions from his journey to Damascus – and if so, what did they learn from them?

In verses 24 and 25 of chapter 26, we see that Paul and Festus had a brief exchange regarding the rationality of the Gospel message. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 24:

Although the things Paul was quoting from the Law and the Prophets had no trace of madness but were thoroughly rational, Festus called it all madness, because he rejected what he did not understand…That was why he could not bear to pay attention to what Paul said, lest he make him mad too.

It is evident that Festus’ main concern with the Gospel message centered on the assertion that Jesus of Nazareth had risen from the dead. It is important to stress the incredible nature of that event; indeed, one cannot minimize how difficult it is for an unbeliever to accept it – especially since it contradicts the laws of science. In light of this difficulty, I am reminded of John Lennox’s discussion of miracles – especially his assertion that the universe is not a closed system. If we can accept the possibility of God supernaturally intervening in the world at certain points in time, then we can accept the possibility of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. It is evident that Festus believed that the universe is a closed system, while Paul believed that it is not. The Holy Spirit works in mysterious ways to help us believe in the possibility of miracles…

In verses 27 and 28 of chapter 26, we see that Paul and Agrippa also had a brief exchange regarding the rationality of the Gospel message. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 28:

Commentators explain the Greek in different ways. Valla thought it should be translated, “You almost make me a Christian.” Erasmus translates it, “to a small extent.” The translation “in such a short time” is perfectly appropriate, as if Agrippa had said, “You will make me a Christian in a moment.”

What were Agrippa’s thoughts and emotions as he listened to Paul’s presentation of the Gospel message? Did he see the connection between 1) the teachings concerning the Messiah in the Old Testament and 2) the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth? Did he have a nagging sense that Paul was correct – or did his love of worldly things blind him to the truth? Did Agrippa ever come to believe the Gospel message? Did Paul’s eloquent presentation of the Gospel message eventually lead to the conversion of the other dignitaries in attendance?

Festus Consults King Agrippa December 17, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 25:13-22.

Summary: In this passage, Festus met with King Agrippa and acquainted him with the details of Paul’s case. He summarized Paul’s recent court appearance where Paul appealed to Caesar – overriding his attempt to have him transferred to Jerusalem. Festus admitted his inadequacy as a judge in this case; Agrippa then expressed his desire to hear Paul’s defense, and Festus obliged him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Agrippa requested that Paul present his defense against the charges of the Jews. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

This Agrippa was the son of Agrippa the Elder, whose horrible death was recounted in chapter 12. This man was made king of Chalcis in place of his uncle, after his father’s death; but later he obtained a larger tetrarchy. Bernice was his sister…Presumably, therefore, they were so hardened in their wickedness that they lived together, not caring what people thought; but they did not get married, in case their incestuous marriage might betray and also increase their crime.

If Calvin’s claim regarding the relationship between Agrippa and Bernice is correct, then I wonder if God enlightened Paul on that point before he made his defense before him. Did Paul need to stifle any repugnant thoughts as he addressed Agrippa? Also, since Paul’s appeal to Caesar could not be rescinded at that point, how would his testimony before Agrippa impact God’s sovereign plan? Did Paul struggle with God over the necessity of testifying before Agrippa?

The Trial Before Festus December 13, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 25:1-12.

Summary: In this passage, Festus met with the chief priests and Jewish elders in Jerusalem. He declined their nefarious request for Paul to defend himself before them in Jerusalem. He then convened his court in Caesarea, where:

  • the Jews repeated the accusations that they had leveled against Paul before Felix
  • Paul repeated his defense from his hearing with Felix.

Festus did not render a verdict in Paul’s case – as he wished to do the Jews a favor. Paul, though, seized the initiative by appealing to Caesar; Festus granted his request.

Thoughts: In verse 3, we see that the Jews planned to kill Paul if Festus allowed him to be tried in Jerusalem. Had they forgotten how Claudius Lysias foiled their previous attempt to ambush Paul? Did they recall that failure and assemble a large band of men who could overwhelm 470 well-trained Roman soldiers? Did they assume that Festus would be less scrupulous when it came to Paul’s safety? Was Claudius Lysias still the commander of the Roman troops in Jerusalem when Festus assumed his position as governor of Judea? If so, did he warn Festus of the Jews’ murderous intent concerning Paul?

This passage reinforces the theme of the sovereignty of God that pervades the book of Acts. Here, we see that He is sovereign over the nefarious plans of the Jews, as they fail to kill Paul on the road between Caesarea and Jerusalem. He also displays His sovereignty over the desire of Festus to do the Jews a favor – thereby easing his transition to the role of governor of Judea. Indeed, Festus could have denied Paul’s appeal to have his case heard in Rome – yet God determined that Festus would consult with his council and adhere to the law in this case. Clearly God had determined that His sovereign plan would not be affected by corrupt government officials. As modern-day believers, we should meditate on God’s sovereignty and draw strength from it.

The Trial Before Felix December 9, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 24.

Summary: In this passage, the high priest Ananias and some of the Jewish elders went to Caesarea to appear before the governor Felix. At that time, the lawyer Tertullus asserted that Paul had:

  • incited Jews throughout the Roman Empire
  • desecrated the temple in Jerusalem.

Paul then defended himself, asserting that he had not:

  • incited the Jews in Jerusalem
  • desecrated the temple in Jerusalem.

Felix considered those competing claims – and did not render a verdict. Instead, he ordered that Paul be kept under guard. During Paul’s confinement, Felix regularly summoned him to discuss the Gospel message.

Thoughts: When I meet Paul in the next life, I hope to ask him about his trial before Felix. What were his thoughts and emotions as he stood before the governor of Judea? How did he maintain his composure as he was surrounded by a host of bloodthirsty Jews? Did the eloquent arguments of Tertullus rattle his confidence concerning his innocence? Did he sense the Holy Spirit working powerfully in him as he responded to the serious charges that the Jews had raised? Did the Holy Spirit grant him a sense of peace in that setting by reminding him of His sovereignty?

In verses 24-26, we see that Felix regularly conversed with Paul regarding the Gospel message. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 25:

Felix was hoping to be pleased by Paul’s sermon, as people who are eager for new things willingly listen to wordy arguments…Now he was forced to feel how powerful the Word of God is, which he had never realized and which drove away all his pleasure. Paul, though in chains, spoke about God’s judgment. The man who had power of life and death over him was afraid and trembling as if he were standing before his own judge…

Did Paul battle any feelings of exasperation during his confinement? Did he sense that Felix sought a bribe – and lacked a genuine desire to be saved? Did God grant him the wisdom and strength to overcome his anxiety and hold to his calling as His apostle? Did he actually plant seeds in the heart of Felix that were later watered by another believer? On that note, had Felix actually heard of Jesus of Nazareth before he met Paul? If so, what was his understanding of His person and work?

This passage is yet another example of the sovereignty of God. Here, God proved Himself to be sovereign over:

  • the arguments of the bloodthirsty Jews
  • the practiced arguments of Tertullus
  • Felix – in that he did not do the Jews a favor by handing Paul over to them.

On this last point, God worked in the mind of Felix, enabling him to discern the fatal flaws in the Jews’ arguments. It should also be noted that Paul’s message concerning the judgment of God only frightened Felix – instead of compelling him to order that Paul be executed. As modern-day believers, we should continue to rest on the sovereignty of God – especially in light of current events.