Week 9: March 27 – April 2, 2017 Scripture: DAY 41: DAY 42: DAY 43: DAY 44: DAY 45: Acts 21:27-22:21, Paul Arrested in Jerusalem Acts 22:22-23:11, Paul the Roman Citizen Acts 23:12-35, The Plot to Kill Paul II Corinthians 4:7-18, Jars of Clay Acts 25:23-26:32, Paul’s Trial More information on this may be given at a later date. In the last two weeks, we covered the three missionary journeys of Paul. Eventually, on those journeys, he traveled to major cities in the Roman Empire: Athens, Philippi, Corinth, and Ephesus. Different cities called for different approaches. Along the way, he faced major opposition. The opposition was from Jewish leaders who did not agree with his teaching of Jesus as the Messiah, Christian Jews who felt Gentiles should obey and practice their law, and also from those within the culture of the Roman Empire who felt their allegiance to Caesar and their way of life were being threatened. Paul was beaten, put in prison, and stoned and left for dead. He persevered, and has a touching farewell with Ephesian church leaders, illustrating the major bond that had developed between them. Many tears are shed, because the future in uncertain. Paul is headed back to Jerusalem, where he knows he is likely to face his fiercest opposition yet. And, he predicts this journey back to Jerusalem may be a pathway to Rome. In our last two weeks, Luke will tell us about this opposition firsthand, the opportunities Paul gets to speak before world leaders, and his eventual journey by ship to Rome. DAY 41: Acts 21:27-22:21, Paul Arrested in Jerusalem LEAD UP TO OUR PASSAGE FOR THE DAY: Paul’s journey towards Jerusalem begins, after he and his company “tear themselves away” from the Ephesian elders. Then, Luke says they set sail for Jerusalem, taking their families with them. Along the way, they make a stop in Caesarea, the capital of the province Judea. There, a prophet named Agabus predicts Paul will be put in chains in Jerusalem! It causes those with Paul to beg that he abandon the journey, but Paul is determined. When they arrive in Jerusalem, Paul reports to the church leaders in Jerusalem all that had taken place on his missionary journeys. But there is trouble in Jerusalem. Paul’s reputation precedes him, and he is seen as one who has abandoned the Jewish law he claims to respect and follow. Either the church leaders in Jerusalem want Paul to do something publicly to rebut this message, or maybe they have some doubts themselves. Either way, they ask Paul to take some men with him and join them in a vow of purification. They wanted Paul to fund this, which meant Paul would cover the costs of the offerings, as well as pay for any time lost from work by those men. Ironically, Luke had noted Paul took a vow like this on his way to Jerusalem last time. So, Paul likely had no problem with the vow, although we might surmise he could be feeling a lack of support from the Christians in Jerusalem. The “Acts 15 decision” is still in effect, but the Christian Jews there may still be struggling with its implications, and the charge from other Jews in the city that Paul (and they, indirectly?) is not being faithful to Jewish tradition. So, Paul takes the vow, and when the passage we read today begins, they are near the end of the period for the vow. At some point, a group of Jews from the province of Asia (probably from Ephesus because they recognized Trophimus, who was from Ephesus) stirred up trouble for Paul in the city. Although they never actually saw Paul bring Trophimus into an area of the temple forbidden to Greeks (Gentiles were only allowed in the outer courts), they accused him of this very thing, in support of their bigger contention that Paul was violating Jewish tradition with his Christian ministry. This accusation gained traction with other Jews in the city, so much so that Luke says the whole city is shaken. Absent from this account (and subsequent passages) is the role the Christian Jews of Jerusalem play. We have to guess they are either silent and let it play out, or they get stirred up along with the rest of the Jews. The crowd drags Paul out of the city, intent on killing him. Luke says they dragged him from the temple and shut the gates. In that context, it was about keeping the temple from being defiled because Paul’s blood was to be shed upon his death. It carries far greater symbolic significance. The door was now shut on any kind of acceptance by these Jews of Paul and his Christian message. Indeed, we see no more record in the remainder of Acts of any Christian in a synagogue, which used to be the first place Paul would go upon arriving in a city. Ironically, Pauls’ teaching OUTSIDE of the synagogue was likely one of the major issues Jews had with him. The synagogue was the place where the law was to be read and studied. Paul’s teaching ministry in the cities where he has been more recently had taken him out of the synagogue for two reasons: 1) his message was being rejected by Jews, and they were causing problems for him (i.e. Corinth & Philippi), and 2) he was traveling to cities where there was less of a Jewish influence and there were better opportunities to reach Gentiles in other places (i.e. Athens). For these Jews, the spread of the Christian message OUTSIDE of the synagogue was creating an identity issue for them as the chosen people of God. All along, Luke has presented Paul as an observant, devout Jew. But, for these Jews, he was expected to do more than this – he should be teaching others to do so as well, even Gentiles who believed in the Christian message. This brings us to an application point for our present context: Does all teaching and ministry in the church need to happen within her walls for it to be legitimate? Are we able to have church in other places – like schools or homes, etc? Must all of our rules be followed for someone to be welcome into our church community? Should we expect those we want to hear the message to come to us, or are we willing to go outside the walls to reach people? The commotion gets the attention of the Romans. The commander, who we find out later to be named Claudius Lysias, gets involved. When he cannot get the answer amid the mob that had formed around Paul, he pulls Paul into the barracks. Paul clarifies to the commander that he is not a known Egyptian terrorist that history shows was wanted during that time. And, since Paul was able to speak Greek, the commander believed him. And, he allowed Paul to address the crowd that was so angry with him. This was very courageous of Paul and quite challenging, since the people were so turned against him. Paul simply tells his story to the crowd. His goal is to identify with them as faithful Jews, and demonstrate his ministry was the result of God revealing Himself to Paul, and giving him a specific call in the context of being a faithful Jew. So, Paul talks about being a zealous Jew (something he points out in his letters); he recounts his encounter with Jesus on the Damascus Road; he tells of the help Ananias gave him; and, then he ends up telling of a vision he received while in the temple, where God gives him that specific call. The account of the Damascus Road experience and the subsequent encounter with Ananias is told three different times in Acts. Originally, it is told in chapter 9… then, here… and finally, in Acts 26. Here, we’ll note the additions/differences from the original account in chapter 9. It’s not that the story has changed. Paul emphasizes different parts because of the context into which he is recalling the story. All three accounts should be read together to get the full story, as they rely on each other. And, the contexts of each should be noted to understand the differences. In this version, the context is Paul’s intent to emphasize his faithfulness to Judaism. Paul gives a specific time for the encounter on the road to Damascus… noon, which would be when the brightness of the light would have been the most intense, and how powerful the vision was. In this account, the soldiers do not hear the voice at all. In Acts 9, they heard the voice, but saw no one. Paul is emphasizing here that the men with him had no idea what was going on. This vision was for Paul alone, as the God of Israel (the God of their ancestors) had a specific message to give to Paul. In this version, Paul speaks, asking the question “What shall I do?” This is to emphasize that God has a call coming for Paul. It would be very appropriate for every Christian to personalize this part of Paul’s story. This is the question we should be asking as well, when we encounter God speaking to us. “What mission, what challenge, what need, what area of Christian service has God brought to your mind on the occasion of His speaking to you? Towards what is he guiding you?” When Paul speaks of his time with Ananias, the focus is on Ananias’ articulation of Paul’s call. The message, Ananias indicates, is from “the God of our ancestors”. It’s important to see here that Paul is emphasizing this: the same God he has served faithfully and zealously as a devout Jew is now showing Him the truth about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, AND defining a specific call for him! Paul then speaks of a vision he has when he first goes to Jerusalem after all of this. The vision takes place while he is in the temple, as a practicing devout Jew. God tells Paul that Paul will go to the Gentiles. And, he will have to flee Jerusalem because those who are there will not accept this – the inclusion of the Gentiles as the chosen people of God. So, Paul is saying he went to the Gentiles, not because he is forsaking Judaism, but because he is being obedient to God who intentionally gave him this call. There are prophetic undertones here. Paul’s call is in line with what prophets like Jeremiah (1:5) and Isaiah (49:6) said, that the plan all along was for all nations to be invited to be a part of God’s people. But, just as those prophets were rejected, Paul also has to flee Jerusalem because his call is not accepted. The crowd is not receptive to Paul’s story, and we’ll find in the next passage the commander has to pull him away again. Their response indicates a prejudice they have against the Gentiles, which is counter to the Christian message of inclusiveness and equality. This specific kind of prejudice is not an issue for the church today, but “are we free from prejudice? (Some) people say that in America the most segregated hour of the week is the (church’s worship hour) on Sunday morning, the time when many people go to church?” (Interpretation Commentary) Is this true? If so, how do we change so we are consistent with our Christians message? DAY 42: Acts 22:22-23:11, Paul the Roman Citizen The crowd rejects Paul and his speech because of his call to go to the Gentiles, since it represents an attitude of inclusion for Gentiles as the chosen people of God. Ironically, they do this in front of Gentiles, Roman soldiers. When it gets out of control again, Lysias brings Paul back into the barracks again. This is less for Paul’s safety, but so Paul can be flogged, “encouraging” him to give information about who he is and what is going on. But, right before this takes place, Paul lets them know he is a Roman citizen. It would be a no-no to flog him without him being found guilty of any charges. When Lysias questions Paul about this, Lysias finds Paul has a more valid claim to citizenship than he does: Paul was born a citizen, Lysias bribed some political official to get his! From here on in Acts, we see Paul as a Christian, interacting with the political state in which he resides. It is something worth considering as a Christian in today’s world. Here is some thought about this from William Willimon from the Interpretation Commentary: “The passage suggests reflection upon questions of the Christian’s relationship to the state and the role of the governmental authorities… Paul has said that he is not a political revolutionary—at least in the sense that the tribune may take him to be. Revolutionary violence does not seem to be the path advocated by Christ or his followers; in Luke’s story they are able to be law abiding citizens of a pagan state (cf. Luke 2:1– 7; 20:21–25). In 22:24–29 Paul appeals to his Roman citizenship as a protection against examination by torture, thus suggesting that Christians may be free to use their legal rights, even those bestowed upon them by pagan governments, as protection against injustice and as a means of enabling them to witness to the truth of Christ.” Since Lysias cannot use flogging to get to the truth, he decides to ask the Sanhedrin to come together so he can bring Paul before them and figure out what is going on. There are two distinct parts to this encounter between Paul and the Sanhedrin. In the first part, Paul says he is simply fulfilling the call God has given him – to go to the Gentiles. This prompts an order from the high priest that Paul be struck in the mouth, because of blasphemy. Paul replies by calling him “whitewashed”, comparing the high priest to a wall painted with a cheap coat of paint with the intent of hiding structure flaws. Basically, he was accusing the high priest of violating the very law he is accusing Paul of forsaking, since Paul should not be struck in this way since he is presumed innocent until found guilty. However, Paul is called on his disrespect for the high priest, and he responds with an acknowledgement of this, and an implied apology. Paul had shown his humanity by responding to the high priest in anger. He shows humility with an apology. In the second part, Paul presents a core teaching of the Christian message, both because this is what gives him hope in the midst of all this opposition, and because he knows it will cause a divide in the Sanhedrin. Paul is a Pharisee, and they believe in the possibility of resurrection from the dead. This would have made them more receptive to Paul’s message, and indeed they respond by defending Paul. It is a lightning rod for the Sadducees however, because they don’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, or the possibility of Jesus appearing to Paul on the road to Damascus as a spirit or angel to confirm He had risen from the dead. The dispute deadlocks the Sanhedrin and there is no resolution. Once again, the commander pulls Paul away and takes him into the barracks. The passage ends with a brief mention of a vision from God to Paul. Visions for Paul have different purposes in Acts. They have given him direction for ministry, as when he was directed to go to Philippi in a vision on one of his missionary journeys. They have been to encourage him, like the vision he received when he was in Corinth. With this vision, Paul gets an agenda for the future – he is to go to Rome. Also, the vision encourages him by assuring Paul that he is doing what God wills, and he should have courage. This vision reminds us that there is reason for us to have courage as Christians when we face difficult times. God will provide assurance in times like this and times of uncertainty. Through Scripture, prayer, community worship, the words of fellow Christians, and our inner voice of conviction and reason, God will speak to us and give us wisdom and strength. For Paul, we will see God work immediately to help him in the next passage we read, in a way that we probably would not expect. Paul has now faced his opposition twice and their rejection of the Christian message, which speaks of inclusion and equality within the chosen people of God. The Jews in Jerusalem reject this, because they hold on to their tradition as the elect, the chosen people of God. We can speak here of TRADITION vs. TRADITIONALISM. Paul states that he is a faithful member of Israel, and is obedient to the call of God, which includes being led to surprising areas (like Gentiles being invited as the people of God). This is due to God’s grace, which is a part of the tradition of the church. In this sense, tradition is more intent on following God, even when it challenges how we view our traditions, and even violates our comfort zones. On the other hand, when we get set on things being a certain way, or things having to be done in a certain way because of tradition, and we become deaf to the call of Christ and blind to new revelation, then we can call this traditionalism. This is more of a blind obedience to what we have always done. The error of the Jews here is they forget the spirit of their TRADITION and rather fall back to TRADITIONALISM. They rely more on what they have always done, rather than continually seeking after God and what He is doing, so they can join Him. DAY 43: Acts 23:12-35, The Plot to Kill Paul This short passage tells us of a plot to kill Paul by a group of Jews in Jerusalem, and the commander Lysias’ response to it. It is important because this part of Acts is the bridge to Paul and his eventual opportunities to appear before three different world leaders. The commander’s decision to move Paul from Jerusalem to Caesarea, the capital city of the province of Judea, not only spares Paul’s life from the plot, but puts him in a prime position to have his case heard by the Roman authorities without disruptions by Jewish leaders, as well as shield him from the intentions by some to kill him. It is an immediate follow-up to the vision Paul receives at the end of our last passage when God encourages Paul and declares that Paul will go to Rome. It is also illustrates that God may use unexpected situations and unexpected people to bring about His purposes – in this case, the plot by the Jews is the impetus for the commander to transfer Paul to Caesarea where he will be heard and then sent to Rome to be heard by the emperor. The very ones who are attempting to thwart God’s purposes are no match for his sovereignty! The plotters take a vow not to eat or drink until they have killed Paul. They approach some in the Sanhedrin – likely the Sadducees who are against Paul the most, and conspire with them to use the whole Sanhedrin and the commander to get Paul into a place where he is vulnerable and can be ambushed and killed. So, the Sanhedrin requests Paul be brought before them again. The plotters did not intend for Paul to even make it there, as they will kill him on the way. However, Paul’s nephew learns of it and tells Paul. We learn here that Paul had family in the city, which would support his claim that he was raised in Jerusalem, although born in Tarsus. We don’t know how the nephew knew of the plot; the assumption could be he has some connection with the plotters. Paul instructs his nephew to tell the commander Lysias, who recognizes the danger and sends Paul under the cover of night with a large brigade of soldiers to Caesarea. He sends a letter with Paul, addressed to Felix, the governor of the province. In the letter, he doesn’t talk about the unrest, because Lysias does not want to cast any doubt on the effectiveness of his military role. He does tell Felix that he sees the issue as a Jewish one, and not a Roman one. Therefore, he does not see a reason for Paul to be found guilty or face death. The ball is now in the court of Felix. Felix had been appointed in his role as governor rather than gaining it through his family line, as he was not of noble birth. He was not a popular ruler with the Jews, as he dealt with them ruthlessly and had to stamp out many uprisings. Because of the potential for uprisings by the Jews, the case with Paul would have been one of great interest to Felix and other leaders. Could Paul be one leading another uprising? Or, could the handling of the case lead to another uprising? We leave this short, but pivotal passage, having seen God work in unexpected ways through unexpected people. Now, we enter a new phase, where Paul will have the opportunity to share before three different rulers while in Caesarea. In our final passage of the week, we’ll read of Paul’s time before the third ruler – King Agrippa II. BETWEEN 24:1 and 25:23: Since we will cover only one of Paul’s encounters with the three rulers in our readings, let’s take some time and review what happens between the time Paul arrives in Caesarea, until he appears before Agrippa II. The ball is in Felix’s court. The high priest Ananias, some other Jews, and their lawyer Tertullus travel to Caesarea to present their case. After heaping a lot of praise (probably not heart-felt) on Felix, they describe the issue as one where Paul has defiled their temple, and in the process stirred up trouble. The part about stirring up trouble is important, because they contend this should be of Roman concern. Paul counters by saying this is a theological issue, because of his Christian ministry. He contends they are offering no proof of his trouble making, since there are not actual witnesses with them. When he was found in the temple, he was not desecrating it or stirring up trouble. He was in the middle of a vow of ritual purity, so he was acting as devout Jew. Luke says that Felix was acquainted with the Christian story and message, and he and his wife Drusilla spend some time talking with Paul, after Felix decides to delay a ruling on the case so he has more time to gather facts. Paul speaks more specifically about his faith in Christ to Felix, and he speaks of righteousness, self-control, and judgement. This frightens Felix and his wife Drusilla, likely because she is a Jewish woman who committed adultery by marrying Felix after divorcing her former husband. Felix continues to call for Paul, and we have some encouragement that Felix is open to Paul’s message. However, we learn from Luke that Felix is delaying a ruling, hoping he will get a bribe from Paul. He delays the case for 2 YEARS, when he is ousted as governor. He was likely removed because of complaints on how he handled the Jews. He leaves Paul in prison for the next person to deal with. Enter Festus, the new governor of Judea. Not much is known about him, except that he showed more restraint with the Jewish leaders. He travels to Jerusalem and hears of the case from the Jewish leaders there. However, he denies transfer of Paul to Jerusalem, a good thing since there was a plot to kill Paul if he was brought back there. (Although, likely not by the same men mentioned earlier - they would not have survived for two years without food or drink!) Back in Caesarea, Paul appears in court before Festus and his Jewish accusers. There are charges levied by the Jews, but no proof. Paul contends he has done nothing wrong against the Jewish law or temple or against Rome. Festus then considers taking Paul to Jerusalem, perhaps to face those who may have been witnesses to his “trouble-raising”. In a powerful historical moment in Acts, Paul appeals to Caesar. He likely invoked this right as a Roman citizen because he knows of the dangers on his life in going back to Jerusalem, and this appeal would fulfill God’s mission on him to travel to Rome. This right by a Roman citizen was so their case could be heard in Rome by the people’s ultimate authority, the emperor. This was a mode of protection for any citizen who felt they needed protection from improper actions during or after legal proceedings. Festus chooses to grant Paul’s request, rather than rule in his favor and set him free. After this decision by Festus, Agrippa II (King of Judea) and Bernice travel to Caesarea and hear about the case from Festus. This was the son of Herod Agrippa I, who had James killed back in Acts 12, and also put Peter in prison. After Agrippa I’s untimely death recorded in Acts, Agrippa II, who was 16 years old, became king. Agrippa II was a Jew, but also pro-Roman. His traveling companion, Bernice, was also his sister; it was believed they were in an incestuous relationship. Both Agrippa II and Bernice were siblings of Drusilla, Felix’s wife. After Agrippa hears about the case from Festus, he asked to hear from Paul personally. Our next passage from Acts, the last of the week, will chronicle this encounter. DAY 44: II Corinthians 4:7-18, Jars of Clay In chapter 4 of II Corinthians, Paul begins his defense of his apostleship by reminding his readers that it was God’s mercy which entrusted this ministry to him. Paul doesn’t use deception - rather he presents the truth of Jesus as Lord as God has revealed it to him. It’s not surprising that he faces opposition because the “god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers.” In v. 6 Paul makes a fascinating claim that the God who spoke light into being in creation (v. 6) has now revealed His light in the “light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (v. 4). God has now made His light “shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ” (v. 6b). This leads us into our passage for the day, when Paul describes his ministry again, patterned after the suffering of Jesus, but also characterized by the resurrection life of Jesus in his life and in the lives of those who place their faith in Jesus as Savior. Certainly we have seen Paul face a great amount of suffering and opposition in Acts, and it has taken its toll on him. To some in Corinth, this is a sign of weakness, which Paul now speaks to in this passage. First, in vs. 7-9, he talks about power in the midst of weakness, using the image of treasure in jars of clay. The treasure is the gospel and his ministry. The jars represent our earthly bodies and our life here on earth. They are insignificant compared to the treasure, and the bodies we live in and this journey on earth have a time limit. But the gospel Paul has faith in and teaches gives a hope in the midst of this, which Paul will talk about later. He then describes this difficult life of ministry: in tight spots, but God finds a way out (like getting Paul to Caesarea when there was a plot on his life); not understanding why some things are happening, but having faith God is still there; having to suffer through persecution, but knowing God does not abandon him; getting knocked down, but getting right back up and living to fight another day. How can all of these things be true in verse 9? It’s because they are all real, but they do not add up to defeat. What fuels this kind of determination? HOPE… which Paul gets to later in this passage. Then, in vs. 10-12, Paul talks about life in the midst of death. The good news of the gospel says that Jesus had to suffer as well, all the way to death. This is His Passion. Paul learns that suffering is as essential to his ministry as it was to the ministry of Jesus. As Paul suffers, the life of Jesus is shared. This is because, just as Jesus’ suffering lead to life, Paul has faith and hope that his suffering will lead to eternal life as well. And, he concludes this little section of the passage by saying to those who look down on him because of his sufferings – it’s because of his willingness to suffer that they had the opportunity to hear the gospel! Paul shifts in vs. 13-15 to speak of a faith and hope that leads to his mission to speak of the gospel. The verse he quotes in verse 13 is part of a larger passage in Psalm 116, which speaks of suffering. In that passage, the Psalter speaks of having faith that God will deliver his soul from death. It is this same kind of faith that drives Paul to speak the gospel. This faith is grounded in the hope of a final resurrection, guaranteed by Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. Paul then concludes the passage by summarizing, speaking of our inevitable outward decay, but also the inward renewal we receive through the Spirit. Paul is facing the depletion of his physical and mental resources, because of all the suffering he has had to endure in his ministry. But he sees those troubles he has faced as “light”, “momentary”; in other words, they are temporary, they will come to an end. What will not come to an end, what is permanent is the glory of Christ that he preaches – this same glory that will be manifest in him when he is resurrected to live eternally with Jesus Christ. This is not seen, but it is eternal. These sufferings Paul is going through that are beating him down are seen, but they are temporary. This passage gives us some insight into Paul’s mindset as he goes through all of the opposition in Jerusalem and Caesarea. It allows him to endure it, and even stay focused on the mission God has laid out for him. It gives him the fuel to defend himself before the Sanhedrin, Felix, Festus, and Agrippa. It gives him the insight to appeal to Caesar, which punches his ticket for Rome. We often struggle with life’s crushing perplexities but we do so in the power of Jesus whose suffering was so much greater than ours. It is his resurrection life inside of us that gives us the strength and hope to keep faithfully serving him until we receive His eternal glory when we leave this earth vai earthly death, or when Jesus returns, whichever comes first. We hear from Paul, in this passage, on the nature of OUR faith. We are centered on the DEATH and RESURRECTION of Jesus, living by faith on that which is unseen, a confidence in the future, that we may have to suffer as Jesus did, but we know it will have an end, but the hope of our resurrection and life eternal has no end! This leads to a powerful witness for us as a church. Today, the question this generation asks is not “What shall I learn to believe?” The answer for us, as Christians, is less about words and using content to turn people to Jesus, such as apologetics or a 5 step plan to salvation. This is a part of what we do, but we must not rely on this part. Instead, the question this generation asks is “Where can I find a credible witness of what I should believe?” It’s about our actions, how we live, what example we set. Paul states in this passage, that we live and give witness to the death of Jesus (through our suffering and denial) and the resurrection of Jesus (through our hope in resurrection and how Jesus’ power can transform and change our lives while we do live here on earth.) This is the direction Acts gives for the church of today – to be WITNESSES. DAY 45: Acts 25:23-26:32, Paul’s Trial Paul has been in prison in Caesarea for two years. The members of the Sanhedrin have trumped up their usual false charges against Paul and have schemed unsuccessfully to murder him. Festus is the new Roman governor over the region of Israel, replacing Felix, so he hears the charges against Paul. Paul has had two years to calculate his options, having been stuck in a political stalemate between the Jewish leaders and Roman authorities who didn’t want to offend them. So he claims his right as a Roman citizen and asks that his case be heard by Caesar himself (25:12). Paul is headed to Rome, but first Festus decides to consult King Agrippa. Festus wants Agrippa’s advice on how to write out the charges against Paul which will be sent to Caesar. Agrippa says he would like to hear Paul in person, and Festus arranges it. Our last passage in Acts this week tells us about that encounter. We see the fulfillment of Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:18 to the apostles, and God’s words to Saul in Acts 9:15-16, that those who believe in him and preach His gospel will appear before governors and kings. Paul’s speech here, and this 26th chapter, is a sort of climax for the book of Acts by Luke. More will be said about Paul’s journey to Rome, but this chapter is Paul’s last speech, and it encapsulates Luke’s defense of Paul, his mission, and it also is intended to give identity and mission to the church that will live on long after Paul. We’ll talk more about this at the end of the section. The scene opens with much pageantry, as Agrippa and Bernice and Festus and many other important people enter to be a part of the audience for what Paul will have to say. This is not an official trial, but it is to give Festus some aid as he tries to figure out what to write to Caesar as he prepares to send Paul off to Rome. While Festus is not very knowledgeable with all that is Jewish, Paul recognizes that Agrippa is. In fact, in this dramatic closing scene near the end of Acts, Agrippa represents both the Jewish and the Roman context. Fitting, since Paul has dealt with both contexts on his missionary journeys and his time in Jerusalem. Paul states, as he has all along, that there is continuity between his Jewish heritage and his Christian beliefs and ministry. However, it is his hope in the promise fulfilled by God from the Old Testament that now drives his accusers – a Messiah raised from the dead, and the inclusion of all nations as God’s chosen. Paul then proceeds to tell his story one more time. In this account, he focuses on the fact that he saw the light. This is meant metaphorically, as Paul does not mention his blindness. By saying this, he summarizes the change that takes place in him – spiritually and in regards to his mission. It is not a physical change. Another difference (addition) is the statement made by Jesus that it is “hard to kick against the goads”. This emphasizes that God is determined to bring a call to Paul, and there is a futility in resisting God. Before this experience, Paul has stubbornly opposed God’s purpose. Now, he comes face to face with the resurrected Jesus, making it that more difficult to resist God. (We see it happen in Acts with some, but Paul chooses not to resist any longer.) Each story of Paul’s conversion builds on the one or ones before it, and they make one complete account. As this is a climactic scene for Luke in Acts, this story of Paul’s conversion is brought to a climax, and there are things about it that have not been told that we now become aware of. Jesus himself gives Paul his call on the Damascus Road. No mention is made of Ananias here. We find out now Ananias only reinforced what Jesus said directly to Paul. The call Jesus gives Paul in reminiscent of his own, as told by Luke in 4:18-19, and in line with the call given through Old Testament prophets like Isaiah (49:1-7), to be a “light to the nations”. Paul was to help others go from “darkness to light”, offering forgiveness of sins through the preaching of the gospel to all nations. This is the central focus of the telling of Paul’s story here – his mission, because it is the mission of the church as well, then and now. After Paul shares his story as part of his speech, he defends himself by saying he simply was obedient to the heavenly vision from whence he received his call. He faithfully preached the gospel to Jews and Gentiles, and this lead to his arrest and attempted murder in Jerusalem. But God protected and provided. Paul has been faithful to preach what the Old Testament prophets prophesied, in light of God’s new revelation in Jesus Christ, which includes His resurrection. This is a key part of Paul’s speech. Earlier, he had asked in his opening, “Why should you consider it incredible that God raised the dead?” In other words, “How hard is it to believe that God can raise the dead?” It was difficult for Festus, because he interrupts Paul at this point, declaring that Paul is crazy! Paul has been interrupted before – for speaking about the resurrection to the Athenians, and talking of the inclusion of the Gentiles as God’s chosen people to the mob in Jerusalem. Both of these are core pieces in Paul’s message and mission. Agrippa seems more captive to what Paul is saying, and Paul asks him the question, “Do you accept my interpretation of the prophets?” (This was the inference of the question.) Unless Agrippa was convicted to repent, it’s a ‘no-win’ question for him. If he says “yes”, he’ll be ridiculed by fellow Romans and Jews will also frown that he is agreeing with Paul’s message. But, these same Jews would also react negatively if he says “no” because he would be rejecting the prophets. We really can’t know what is behind Agrippa’s response. Surprise? Sarcasm? Seriousness? It’s Paul’s response that is important here. Remember, Luke is defining the mission of the church here through what Paul’s says. This response speaks to the attitude and purpose and reason for that mission: “Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.” (vs. 29) Through Paul’s speech, Luke gives a final defense of Paul’s call and mission, and then through that gives a call to the church. For Luke, it’s about being WITNESSES. Three times in Luke Paul’s story is told. The definition of witness, for Luke, is a personal experience of the risen Christ. This is the backbone, the foundation upon which faithful witness is built. We are called to take on Paul’s call, to use resurrection language as we present the gospel, and we are to exclude no one from hearing it and having the opportunity to respond and believe and repent. There is no exclusiveness in the church. God’s purpose is to invite all into His chosen community. And, if the church is faithful to her mission, it will transform the world in which we live. We present reality in a different way, as it really is, and invite people from darkness into light. We don’t do it by force, by through the grace of God, who offers forgiveness of sins and a transformed life through the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul is headed to Rome, even though neither Agrippa nor Festus find any reason for him to be imprisoned, much less put to death. It’s further indication that Paul’s future is not in the hands of men; it is in the hand of God, whose purposes will not be thwarted. The church would do well to remember this promise as she is obedient to the mission given by God. (passage is in parenthesis) (Note: The Acts Small Group Guide by N.T. Wright contains questions that can assist you as you lead your small group. Below are some additional questions you might find helpful.) (Acts 21:17-22:21) Are you a risk taker? What’s your risk tolerance in financial matters? In physical activities? In serving the Lord? Have you ever done something for God that you knew would be challenging, even dangerous? What risk may God be asking you to take for him? (Acts 21:17-22:21) Have you ever made a decision that others questioned but that you felt was what God wanted you to do? What happened? (Acts 21:17-22:21) What kind of attitude is Paul showing when he asks the question, "What shall I do, Lord?". What does it mean for you to ask that question in prayer today? (Acts 21:17-22:21) Have you, or anyone you know, been arrested for protesting or demonstrating based on your faith? When do you think such action is justified? (Acts 21:17-22:21) What was behind the Jews’ motivation to kill Paul? What role does their tradition play in this? As those who followed God, how could they come to this place? What warnings are there for us as the church today? (Acts 21:17-22:21) Does all teaching and ministry in the church need to happen within her walls for it to be legitimate? Are we able to have church in other places – like schools or homes, etc? Must all of our rules be followed for someone to be welcome into our church community? Should we expect those we want to hear the message to come to us, or should we be willing to go outside the walls to reach people? (Acts 22:22–23:11) In what ways, if any, do you think prejudice has affected the Christian church? How could you or your church better express God’s love to a needy world? (Acts 22:22–23:11) What is the most controversial issue facing the church today? Is there something in Paul’s experience that applies? In what ways, if any, has religious tradition become more important in the church than following Jesus? What’s the good of religious tradition? (Acts 22:22–23:11) How do you communicate the gospel to those who don’t want to hear it? How do you reach out to those who have grown up in the church and know all the answers, but are not receptive to the Christian message? (Acts 22:22–23:11) What does Paul mean when he accuses the high priest of being a “whitewashed wall”? (Hint: Jesus says the same kind of thing in Matthew 23:27.) Is this a good or bad thing? If it’s a bad thing, how do we prevent ourselves from being that way? (Acts 23:12-35) What’s your view of the government in your country? How does, or should, your faith influence this view? (Acts 23:12-35) Have you ever had an experience that seemed out of control at the time but in retrospect you realized God had a specific plan? What happened? (Acts 23:12-35) When have you seen God work in unexpected ways and/or through unexpected people? What does this say about God, and why should it give us encouragement? (II Corinthians 4: 7-18) How do people today experience suffering in their efforts to live faithfully for Jesus? Have you ever felt hard pressed on every side, perplexed, persecuted, and struck down in your attempts to live for Jesus? Can you share a specific example? What practices in your life help you to stay focused on what is “unseen,” on God’s “eternal glory” which far outweighs our “momentary troubles?” (II Corinthians 4: 7-18) Based on vs. 13-15, what is Paul’s motivation to preach the gospel? How can this be an encouragement for us when we go through challenging times? (II Corinthians 4: 7-18) What does Paul mean when he says we “always carry around in our body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be revealed in our body? What does it mean to be a witness to the death and resurrection of Jesus today? (II Corinthians 4: 7-18) What does it mean to “fix our eyes on what is unseen, rather than what is seen”? When is it particularly tough to do this? What can we do so that our focus remains where it should be? (Acts 25:23-26:32) Which do you think is a bigger hindrance to the cause of Christ today: the legalism of some inside the church, or the belief that there’s no such thing as absolute truth outside the church? Why? (Acts 25:1327) (Acts 25:23-26:32) Share a time when God enabled you to boldly witness for your faith in Jesus. What did you learn and what were the results? (Acts 26:19-32) (Acts 25:23-26:32) Share some examples of people today who seem especially effective at communicating Christian truth in a secular environment. What do you learn from these examples? (Acts 25:23-26:32) How difficult is it FOR YOU to believe that God can raise the dead? How about the different people you interact with in your world? You can use the following questions for any of the passages. They can help to get discussion moving on a passage, sum up the message for the week, and help tie things off for your small group time. -What stands out to you from this passage? -What questions do you have after reading the passage? -Pick a person from the passage or think about the reader: What would it feel like to be in their shoes? -What do we learn about God from this passage? -What do we learn about ourselves this passage? -How might God be working in a similar way today as He is in the passage? -How might we be acting in a similar way today as the person or persons in this passage? -What should be our response after reading this passage? -How does the Scripture we have read and our discussions speak to us about current events and issues?
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