Courage to Confess – Acts 22. RBT Notes, 25th March

It’s the old story. And the old story is the new story, the ever-present, glorious, transforming story. It’s the story of how you came to know that grace that saves you. The story doesn’t save you, the memory and the feelings about it don’t save you. Jesus saves you, and whether your awareness of Him was sudden or very gradual, that story of grace should be always fresh and captivating. Because Jesus is.

It’s the same for Paul. But Paul knows that he’s speaking to very hostile people. He’s not expecting to see the handkerchiefs coming out, as the tears appear, or the requests to hear more. He’s fighting for his life, seeking to show hard-hearted people that he’s not the heretic and trouble-maker they are convinced he is. He’s also fighting for his Lord, trying to show them that Jesus is no imposter, but the Promised Messiah.  He is the Lord who met the persecuting Saul, threw him to the ground, blinding by the Lord of Glory, and led Him to repentance and new birth through faith.

All of this must be astonishing to the ears of the crowd. But Paul then says something they really can’t handle: Paul was, he claims, commissioned by Israel’s Messiah to go to the pagans (v.21). As soon as he says that, the riot’s back on. And why? Well, it’s obvious: they demand that God be their God, and noone else’s. And the irony! Even though Paul tells them that this God took human flesh as Jesus of Nazareth and was crucified, their shock is less in that fact, more in the fact that He wants to reach the Gentiles. The scandal of it!

For the second time, then, Paul is snatched from their fury (vv.22-4). Things then suddenly escalate; not that the crowd can get any more angry – they can’t – but Paul takes his demand for justice to the highest level, as he asserts his Roman citizenship. Crazy Syrian though he might be, he is also a subject of Caesar, and he is going to use the privileges of that status.  To be continued.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Father, never let me tire of the story of Your saving grace to me and how I came to encounter it. Lord Jesus, make me a willing vessel of Your transforming grace. And may I have less far bothered about the reaction to Your Gospel, and have a far deeper concern to speak it. Amen.

 

5.10.17 Imperial War Museum Battle of Broodseinde. File of men of the 8th East Yorks going up to the line.
5.10.17
Imperial War Museum
Battle of Broodseinde. File of men of the 8th East Yorks going up to the line.

The Jerusalem Road – Acts 21. RBT Notes, 24th March

5797072351_5c435b6dd3_b

 

They’re going to Jerusalem, and troubles are going with them. Remember another Servant of God, Who went to Jerusalem, and wouldn’t be dissuaded? Paul is travelling as His Master did, to serve the world with God’s truth. He listens to the Spirit-given warnings through different believers (vv.4, 11), but he is convinced that it is to Jerusalem he must go, even if that means imprisonment or death (v.13).

If Paul were realistic about the storm he was walking into, then so were the believers already in the city. They thought hard about how to damp down the rumours and lessen the inevitable conflict with both the Gospel’s enemies, as well as those converts to Christ who were still wedded to their Jewish traditions. So they propose that Paul take some young men to the temple for purification rites (v.24). Was Paul happy to do this? Probably not! But for the sake of the Gospel, he does, and undergoes the rite himself (v.26). Sometimes you have to go backwards in order to go forwards.

And sometimes, it just looks like you’re going backwards. Paul is recognised by some Jews from Asia, and immediately the match is lit, and thrown into the tinder. Whether they actually believe that he is defiling the temple with non-Jews, or whether this is merely a convenient peg on which to hang their hatred, is unimportant. They’ve got their man, and they want his blood (vv.27-31).

The Romans soldiers are on guard, and so is the Lord of heaven and earth. Paul is snatched from the crowd (vv.32-36), but not from their threats. Never one to shy from danger, or from opportunity, Paul is now going to put his life on the line once more, as he addresses them. If he’s going, he’s not going quietly!

You don’t have to feel brave. You don’t have to feel confident. You don’t need “God’s peace in your heart”. When trials come you need to remember the Gospel, and to speak the Gospel. That means when they hate you, and your heart is banging against your ribs. That also means when you feel that what you’re about to say might shorten your career, or your relationships, or even your life. Jesus lost His friends, His career and His life for the Cross. Paul is standing ready to do the same. Are we?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I hate trouble, and I love my comforts. Break me out of my petty, self-serving circles! Open my eyes to the needs and the opportunities which are right before me, and make me the disciple You want me to be, true and bold. In Your Son’s name, Amen.

No Compromise – Acts 20. RBT Notes, 23rd March

700x300-hands-470x225

 

The Gospel is not going away. There will be periods of history and places in the world where is it angrily resisted (as in Paul’s world), and places where it will be mocked and ignored (as in ours). Our calling is not to lose our nerve, or our heart. The Gospel will outlive our culture and our own lives. The only worth of our lives, ultimately, is in whether we have loved it, believed it and passed it on.

Paul is compelled by the Gospel. There is no resting up after Ephesus, but after more work in Macedonia and Greed (and more attempts on his life, v.3), he’s working his way east with his heart set on Jerusalem (vv.1-6). Poor old Eutychus is one of the many surely who couldn’t keep up with Paul’s zeal to expound the Scriptures, and a sermon turns unexpectedly into a miraculous resuscitation exercise (vv.7-12).

Next, Luke records one of Paul’s great sermons, here to the leaders of the church in Ephesus. His words are searching, and instructive. Here are his key lines of thought, as he explores true Gospel ministry for all times:

There is one message for all (vv.18-21). Paul does not speak different words to different people. All need to hear the same truth about Jesus. Repentance and faith are never popular demands, but God has given us no other mandate. Stick to this.

Authentic ministry is cross-shaped (vv.22-24). What do you value in life, and what would you give your life for? Paul knows that life’s worth (his own as well as ours) is measured in giving it up for Jesus Christ. His life’s direction is Christwards, and he knows that living for Him means suffering for Him. Do we have the same perspective, and passion?

Ministry is never free from responsibilities, or dangers (vv.25-31). The wolves are coming for the sheep, is Paul’s warning (v.29-31). Do you recognise them? With their glinting smiles, they want your allegiance, money, unquestioning obedience and anything else you might be unwise enough to surrender to them. Don’t. They slaughter the sheep and oppose Christ (v.29). Jesus shed His blood for His church; don’t allow any of His sheep to be torn apart by false teachers.

God really can be trusted (vv.32-38).  He really can. Paul leaves this tearful scene committing them to the trustworthy God (v.32). They can trust Him for the church, and Paul can entrust to Him his own life, though he knows he is facing hardship and probably worse. Trust Him, and lay yourself out in sacrifice, is what Paul is modelling, and urging upon us all. Jesus really is worth it. Refuse to compromise.

 

A Prayer to Pray

No, Lord, I don’t want to compromise. Please give me such a vision of Jesus and His mighty sacrifice for me that I will ransack my heart, searching for whatever it is You are asking for, and bringing it gladly to  Your throne. May love be the fuel for the sacrifice – and may I be the offering. Amen.

Truth and its Enemies – Acts 19. RBT Notes, 22nd March

chess-surrounded

 

The Unstoppable Gospel  (vv.1-22)

 The Gospel is controversy. We mustn’t forget that. The claim that God has made Himself known in the God-Man Jesus Christ is one that should shock the world. In Ephesus we see the shock waves of God’s powerful Gospel.

 The key to understanding this episode is to realise that these men who experience the Spirit in this dramatic way were not true Christians until this point. Luke is not teaching us that the Spirit coming upon them was a “second blessing” – no, this is the first, brilliant blessing of the new birth. Telling God you feel wretched about your sins is not salvation, but coming to Jesus is. And this they do, complete with tongues and prophecy (vv.4-7)!

Same Gospel, different city. Paul gets to work, dealing with opposition from Jewish quarters, and setting up ministry so effectively that the Word of the Lord spreads throughout the province (vv.9-10).  So powerful is his ministry of word and deed that many are healed, and some try to imitate him (vv.11-16). In this occult-gripped city, some converts literally burn millions as they put their old lives to the flame (vv.17-19). Only the Gospel can cut people free from fear and greed. Are you enjoying its power?

 

 Money talks – and riots  (vv.23-40)

Whilst these converts gladly leave their false gods and filthy money, others are desperate to cling onto theirs. Do the metalworkers love their goddess, or the profit her worship brings (vv.23-28)? The evidence is that the Gospel is bad for their business, and so their fanatical behaviour which follows appears religious, but is actually driven by financial concerns. Nothing changes. Empty religion can never capture hearts, though sadly money can.

Things quickly escalate, and a riot is suddenly on the verge of erupting. One quick-thinking official clearly has an eye on his own career, as well as the city’s future, so manages to speak reason and disperse the crowd (vv.35-41).

The point is made, though: the Gospel is an almighty affront to our values, comforts and, well, just about everything else! People can ignore it, mock it, or riot over it, but the Gospel challenges everything, and everyone. God’s truth always will.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord God, by Your Spirit You are speaking truth to the world in Jesus. Forgive me when I lose heart because people ignore it. Forgive me, too, when I try to give a Gospel without offence, in the mistaken hope of winning friends for myself, or followers of it. Help me to be live and speak with integrity, and give me confidence when I face opposition and great joy when I see true response to Jesus. Amen.

Keep on Speaking! – Acts 18. RBT Notes, 21st March

The toughest of times call for the best of friends. Paul is taking on a whole new challenge in going to Corinth with the Gospel, the city known for its obsessions with paganism worship, sex, money and power. What would they want with the message of a crucified Lord who calls people to leave those idols and follow Him? Good question. Thereagain, what place is ever going to be ‘likely’ to respond to Christ, with His totally countercultural Gospel?

Paul begins where experience tells him is wisest, settling in with good friends, and then setting out to the place of at least initial interest in his message, the synagogue (vv.1-4). With reinforcements comes a stronger push to preach to the Jews, until opposition forces them out (vv.5-6). But opposition isn’t always God’s sign to move on; sometimes it just means that a new strategy is called for. Paul keeps on watering the seeds of interest, this time in a gentile home, and the church is born (vv.7-8).

A principle we see throughout Acts is that Satan vies to keep up with God’s work. As the Gospel grows, so does opposition to it. So also, though, does God’s encouragement for the workers. Paul is told by god that His peruposes in election stand, even in this pagan city (vv.9-11). There’s no evangelist like a good old Calvinist who gets his encouragement straight from passages like this: heaven will be full, because God has chosen people from the least likely places to discover saving grace in Christ. And yes, persecution hots up, but to God’s praise it is unexpectedly dampened down by the indifference of the local proconsul (vv.12-17).

11875285_480527675454212_824584583_nOne of the worst mistakes leaders make is to think that they don’t need others, and can do it all themselves. Paul treasures all of his friends, and is always eager to work with them. Priscilla and Aquilla do an outstanding job with the zealous Apollos, bringing him to a real understanding of the truth as it is in Jesus (vv.24-26). He in turn takes up the gospel baton, ministering with wisdom and courage. And so the Kingdom spreads; because it must, and because we must always, always keep on speaking.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, thankyou for this wonderful chapter of hard, wise work, real Gospel fruit and many lessons for me in my calling to witness for Jesus. Please keep the Devil from making me lose heart. Please keep me hard at Your work, encouraged by Your promise that You have many You want to save. Amen.

 

 

Christianity against the Idols – Acts 17. RBT Notes, 19th March. Notes by Graham Thomson

The Gospel is a revolutionary message.  It says that Jesus is Lord over all that there is.  That’s often a hard truth to accept, because we’re so used to calling other things lord – be they our needs, our desires, thoughts, ideas, heroes, or dreams.  It was no different for these people Paul met.  He brought them a message that demanded their whole way of looking at life be turned on its head.  To a world which is upside-down, Paul here brings the eternal truth of the Gospel.

In Thessalonica Paul shows how those with an Old Testament worldview had turned God’s Word on its head.  They needed to know the Reality that the Scriptures shadowed, the Truth they promised.  So Paul opened up the Scriptures and showed them Jesus (vv.1-3).  And guess what?  Some people were saved (v.4), and others, literally, kicked off (vv.5-9).  Some heard the truth and recognised Jesus as Lord.  Others heard the truth, and still wanted Caesar as Lord (v.7).  Paul did the same in Berea (vv.10-12).  He opened the Scriptures and showed them Jesus.  And when he showed them Jesus, some people were saved (v.12), and other people caused trouble.  They didn’t want their king replaced with another!

In Athens, Paul again showed people Jesus.  He had to start much further back with these folks, though.  They didn’t have an Old Testament worldview, and they didn’t want Caesar as Lord.  These thinking types wanted to know a reality beyond the power of men (v.22).  So Paul took them on a tour of biblical theology (vv.23-29), culminating in the Gospel truth found in Jesus (vv.30-31.)  Faced with such a different worldview, what did these Greeks do?  Some believed the Gospel and were saved (v.34), while some preferred the lords and the world they were accustomed to (v.32).

It’s no different today.  We’re called to share Jesus and the call to repentance and faith with those around us.  People’s lives must be turned upside down.  But Paul went to Thessalonica, Berea, and Athens only because he believed one thing, that when Jesus is shared, people get saved.  Lives are turned upside down, and idols are defeated as people confess that only Jesus is Lord.  Might it be that we don’t share Paul’s boldness to share Jesus, because we don’t share his faith that through the Gospel God actually does save people?

A Prayer to Pray

Thankyou Father that the Gospel is Your power to bring salvation.  Thankyou that you have given me grace to know Jesus as Lord.  Give me grace to share Jesus, knowing that You will save Your people and build Your Church through it.  Help me to believe Your Gospel promises in Jesus. Amen.

 

Athens_0503_1-1