Friday, November 18, 2016


For the week beginning Sunday November 20, 2016

Acts 16:1-15

   Acts 16:1-15 chronicles the story of the beginning of the Apostle Paul’s second missionary journey, which, for the first time, would lead him into Europe. Along with Silas, and later, Timothy and Luke, Paul travels into the ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia, which, at that time (around A.D. 50), was a province of the Roman Empire.
    The men had persistently tried to go north, deeper into the peninsula of Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey), but the SPIRIT OF JESUS, by way of some unexplained methods, had not allowed them to enter. With the issue of the basis of “Gentile inclusion into the Church” officially settled at the Acts 15 council, Paul, now sets out with Silas, who had replaced Barnabas, on his second missionary journey.
    Paul and Barnabas had split after a disagreement concerning Barnabas’ cousin John Mark. Paul had become disappointed with John Mark, because he abandoned them on their first missionary journey, while at Perga of Pamphylia (Acts 13:13). Barnabas and John Mark had already set sail for Barnabas’ homeland, the island of Cyprus, to begin working their mission there.
    Meanwhile, Paul and Silas make their first stop in Derbe, and then, move on to Lystra, the home of Timothy, where Paul had preached on his first missionary journey and was stoned by an angry mob and left for dead. The people there had thought that he and Barnabas were the Greek gods Hermes and Zeus after they had healed a cripple man. However, some Jews came down later from Antioch and Iconium and turned the people against them, causing them to have to flee to Derbe (Acts 14:8-19).
    While in Lystra, Paul and Silas met the young Disciple Timothy, whose mother was a Jewish believer, but whose father was a Greek. Timothy was well respected by the believers in Lystra and Iconium, and so Paul asked him to join them on their mission.
    Out of respect for the opinion of the Jews in that area who knew that Timothy’s father was a Greek, Paul arranged for Timothy to be circumcised before they left. The three men then traveled from town to town explaining the decision made by the Apostles and Elders at Jerusalem, during the Acts 15 council. That decision, of course, stated that “Gentiles did not have to be circumcised before becoming Christians”.
    Next, Paul, Silas, and Timothy traveled through the area of Phrygia and Galatia, as the HOLY SPIRIT would not let them go any farther into Asia Minor, at that time. They traveled on to Mysia, and again, tried to go north, this time, into Bithynia, however, the SPIRIT OF JESUS compelled them, instead, into the city of Troas. It is here that one of the eventual authors of the New Testament, Luke, joins the journey, and it is here that GOD shows Paul a vision, telling him to go to Macedonia (Europe) and preach the Gospel there.
    So the men boarded a boat and sailed from Troas to the island of Samothrace. They spent the night there, and, the following day, they landed in the port city of Neapolis. From there they went to the neighboring major city of Philippi, a Roman colony at that time, in the district of Macedonia, and they abided there for three days.
    On the Sabbath, they went down to the riverbank, where some people, who were worshipers of GOD, met to pray. They sat down to talk to some of the women, who had come together there. One of them, Lydia of Thyatira, who was a merchant of expensive purple cloth and a devout worshiper of GOD, listened intently and opened up her heart to what Paul and his companions were saying about CHRIST.
    She immediately accepted what they were saying and was baptized, along with other members of her family. Lydia then insisted that Paul and his entourage come to her house as her special guests. She and her family had, that day, become the first Europeans in recorded Scripture to accept CHRIST into their lives, and this was truly a cause for celebration.
    And so we see, at a time when it seemed that all doors were being shut to Paul and his companions, it turns out that GOD, in HIS infinite wisdom, had something much greater in store for those who were willing to work according to HIS will. It must have seemed strange to Paul, being blocked from the Roman province of Asia by the HOLY SPIRIT, but no one can ever know and understand the eternal plan of GOD.
    Ironically, as history would have it, Asia Minor would become the place that was to contain all of the recipients of the letters to the seven churches mentioned in the Book of Revelation by the Apostle John.
    Paul and his entourage were then compelled to go the route of Alexander the great, whom GOD had used some 400 years earlier to spread the Greek language and culture all over world. HE had by doing so, set the stage for the writing of the New Testament, of which Paul himself would be its most prolific writer.
    The world had already seen the translation of the Old Testament Hebrew Scriptures into what then had became the universal Greek language of the “Septuagint” (Greek version of the Old Testament) at Alexandria over 200 years earlier. And so, here we see GOD putting into motion, the wheels that would help move the teaching and preaching of the Gospel to new heights in generations to come.
    Paul, Silas, Luke, and Timothy all believed in the sovereignty of GOD over all things. And we can see, quite vividly, throughout the Book of Acts, how that belief impacted their everyday life and travels. And as for the Thyatiran woman, Lydia, and her family, they, in a very special sense, had become immortalized, through their faith and belief in CHRIST.
    Lydia and her family will forever be remembered, as the first European family to accept our LORD and SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST. And her first act as a Christian was, ironically, to invite other Christians into her home. It is the kind of human action that CHRIST had, years earlier, commanded us to perform. It is true that, before we can offer our love, charity, and ministry to people in the Church, and, in the world, we must first show, and be able to offer that same love, charity, and ministry to people within our own homes.
    Oftentimes we look at home as a place where we can go to shut the world out; however, equally, our homes should be a place with an open door. The effectiveness of our ministry at church is always predicated upon the life we live at home. The way to a changed home, church, job, and life, has always been, through a changed heart.
Acts 16:16-40

   Taking up at verse 16 we see Paul, Silas, Timothy, and Luke all going down to a place where Christians often went to pray. On the way there however, they came across a demon-possessed servant girl who was adept in fortunetelling (pytho), and whom made lots of money for her superiors by applying her counterfeit skills. On this occasion she saw an opportunity to pipe into a new market by attaching herself to these popular men of the newly founded Christian movement.
   And so she decided to follow along behind these powerful ministers in an attempt to endear herself to the Christian Church followers of CHRIST. She praised the work of Paul and the other men and pretended to be a believer, and she continued on with her antics for several days.
    Finally Paul, being fed up her posturing, and trying to promote herself in the Church, in pursuit of financial gain for her superiors, Paul turned abruptly, and commanded in the name of JESUS that the demon come out of her (v.18). The demon instantly left the young girl, taking with it, her ability ply your trade in witchcraft and fortunetelling. 
    This action by Paul shattered the hopes and dreams of her superiors and dealt a heavy blow to their livelihood. And so the men grabbed Paul and Silas, because they were Jewish, and dragged them before the authorities of the city, and all the people were in an uproar shouting that Paul and Silas were teaching the people to do things that were contrary to the customs of Rome.
    In those days the Jews were being heavily persecuted throughout the Roman Empire because of their teachings about CHRIST. They were actually being expelled from Rome altogether, by the Emperor Claudius, and so it didn’t take much goading the stir up a mob against the two pure-blood Jewish members of the group.
    Probably the reason why Luke and Timothy weren’t taken was likely because of their pedigree. Luke was Gentile, and Timothy was half-breed. Although Timothy’s mother was Jewish, his father was Gentile, and so the men felt pretty comfortable taking the Jews to jail because they felt sure that they had the backing of the emperor, and weren’t in danger of violating any of Rome’s civil disturbance ordinances.
    And so a mob quickly foamed against Paul and Silas, and the civil leaders took them into custody and had them stripped, severely beaten, and thrown into prison (v.22). The jailer was ordered to make sure they didn’t escape, and so he secured them in the inner dungeon and placed shackles on their feet as an extra measure of precaution.
    Suddenly around midnight as Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to GOD, a great earthquake came and shook the foundation of the prison so hard that all the cell doors came open, and the chains of all the prisoners came loose and fell to the floor.
    The jailer woke to find the prison doors open and naturally assumed that all the prisoners had escaped. At that point he was so afraid of what the city officials would do to him, that he drew his own sword planning to kill himself, rather than to face punishment from his superiors. At that point, however, Paul called out to the distraught jailer, reassuring him that they were all still sitting in their cells.
    Trembling with fear, the jailer called for lights and ran quickly to the inner dungeon and fell down before Paul and Silas and asked them, “What must I do to be saved?” They told the jailer, “Believe on the LORD JESUS and you will be saved, along with your entire household”. Paul and Silas then shared the Word of the LORD with him and all who lived in his household and each member believed.
    Later the jailer washed Paul and Silas’ wounds, and he and each member of his family were baptized. Then he brought Paul and Silas to his home and prepared a meal for them, and all the members of his house rejoiced and celebrated because they all believed in GOD WHO saved them through Paul and Silas.
    Apparently, after feeding Paul and Silas, the jailer took them back to their cell, because the following morning that is where we find them, as police officers were sent to the jail by the city officials with a message to release the two men from custody. But when the jailer informed the pair of the good news, surprisingly Paul refused to leave unless the city officials came down to the jail personally to release them.
    Here in this final passage of chapter 16, Paul and Silas decides to invoke their rights as Roman citizens, and to protest the unjust actions that were perpetrated against the two of them without due process of law. It was illegal to scourge a Roman citizen, and it was also illegal to jail a Roman citizen without first trying them to determine guilt or innocence.
    When the police reported back to the city officials, they were alarmed to hear that both Paul and Silas were Roman citizens. For fear that they would come under fire from the Roman government for their actions against Paul and Silas, the officials hurried down to the prison, apologized to them, and then begged them to leave the city. However, afterwards Paul and Silas returned to the home of Lydia instead, and met with the believers there, encouraging them before leaving for Thessalonica.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander  

Friday, November 4, 2016


For the week beginning Sunday November 6, 2016

Acts 15:1-21

   It was William Barclay who wrote, “The paradox of Christianity is that, the way to victory is through surrender, and the way to power is through admitting one’s own helplessness”.
    In the, now famous, “Acts 15 Council” that is chronicled by Luke here in this chapter of the Book of Acts, we see, once again, the core differences between the man who sees religion as “ritual”, and the man who sees in religion, loving GOD and loving his fellowman. Perhaps we saw it first in the Gospel of Mark in chapter 7, verses 1-15, when JESUS sought to teach the Pharisees about “inner purity”, on an occasion in the port village of Gennesaret, shortly following HIS legendary “walk on water”.
    For the orthodox Jew, the law meant two things. First of all, it meant the “Ten Commandments”, and then secondly, it meant the “Pentateuch”, the first five books of the Old Testament that were written by Moses. From these two documents, they formed a very complex, “self-made”, spoken list of rules and regulations, known as “Oral Laws”, or, “The Traditions of the Elders”.
    However, it wasn’t until roughly 300 years, after the Crucifixion of CHRIST, that these “Oral Laws”, were first written down. Over time, they came to form the compilation we know today as the “Mishnah”, which is the first, and most basic part of the “Jewish Talmud”, and the written basis of religious authority for traditional Judaism. To the orthodox Jews, Scribes, and Pharisees, these rules and regulations were the essence of religion. In their minds, to observe and obey them was to please GOD.
    Here in Acts 15, while Paul and Barnabas were still at Antioch of Syria, some men came from Judea and began teaching the newly formed Christian Church, that, unless they keep these ancient Jewish customs, and, in this case, the ancient custom known as “circumcision”, they could not receive “Salvation”.  In other words, they seemed to be telling the Gentile newcomers that the only way to become a Christian, was that they first, become a Jew.
    Paul and Barnabas sharply disagreed, and they argued forcefully and at length with these former Pharisees. Finally, Paul and Barnabas, along with a few of the other Believers, were sent to Jerusalem to discuss this dispute with the apostles and elders there at the central Church. The discussion that ensued that day is what has now come to be known as the “Acts 15 Council”.
    During this council, the Apostles and Elders ruled in favor of Paul and Barnabas and stipulated that the Gentile believers only had to abstain from eating foods that were sacrificed to idols, abstain from sexual immorality, and abstain from drinking blood and eating the meat of strangled animals. They felt that these requirements were “HOLY SPIRIT” led, and had been preached in the Synagogues for centuries.
    James, the half-brother of JESUS, apparently the head of the Church at Jerusalem at that time, cited a quote from the Prophet Amos (Amos 9:11-12) as the basis for their decision in Acts 15:16-18. They then sent Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with a letter announcing their decision.
   All of the requirements cited by James in his letter speak only to moral issues that any person in CHRIST should seek to observe. The things mentioned by the Jerusalem council did not require a person to make physical changes, such as circumcision, in order to come to CHRIST, but rather, they required a person to make certain spiritual disciplinary adjustments that are necessary to become more like CHRIST.
    No person can be justified by keeping the “Law of Moses”, but rather, one can only be justified through surrender to CHRIST. Circumcision was that part of the law that GOD gave to Abraham only as a sign of the Jews personal commitment to HIM. It was never intended to be a requirement for Salvation, as GOD’s plan of Salvation had not yet been revealed to man in those days.
    Abraham was accredited righteousness by GOD, because of his faith, not because he was circumcised, or kept any other law. Salvation has always been, is now, and will forever be, a gift of grace from GOD, and serves as a reward for our belief in our LORD and SAVIOR, GOD’s only begotten SON, JESUS CHRIST.
    Christianity is the only true religion, because it is the only religion that is a product of GOD’s mind. It is the religion that is based simply on listening to GOD, and accepting HIS Word. And so we can conclude that, any rule that prevents us from helping our fellowman can never be a rule of GOD.
    JESUS came to show us that worshiping GOD can only be done from the inside out. Peter, perhaps, put it best in Acts 15:10-11 when he says, in effect, “Why are we now questioning GOD’s way, by burdening other believers with a yoke that neither we, nor our ancestors were able to bear? We believe that we are all saved the same way, and that is, by the special favor of our LORD JESUS”.
    And so, all of the Church leaders involved themselves in the process of solving and getting over the early Church’s first major internal hurdle. They first obtained a clear statement of the issues, heard arguments from both sides, consulted the scriptures, maintained good communications, and as a result, built upon the strong unity that it takes to be successful in GOD’s work.

Acts 15:22-35

   When Paul and Barnabas, along with a group of chosen delegates arrived back at Antioch of Syria with the report and letter outlining the results of the Acts 15 Council, they immediately called a meeting of the Christians to give them the good news about Gentile inclusion. There was great joy throughout the church that day as the apostles read the letter that had been given to them by the heads of the Mother Church at Jerusalem. The letter was stated thusly (Vs.24-29 - NLT);

“We understand that some men from here have troubled you and upset you with their teaching, but we did not send them! So we decided, having come to complete agreement, to send you official representatives, along with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are sending Judas and Silas to confirm what we have decided concerning your question. “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay no greater burden on you than these few requirements: You must abstain from eating food offered to idols, from consuming blood or the meat of strangled animals, and from sexual immorality. If you do this, you will do well. Farewell.”

    Afterwards Judas and Silas (Silvanus), two of the chosen delegates, both being prophets, stayed for a while and spoke extensively to the congregation in an effort to encourage them, and strengthen their faith before returning to Jerusalem. Paul and Barnabas, on the other hand, stayed in Antioch of Syria to help those who were teaching and preaching the Word of the LORD there.

Acts 15:36-41

    After spending some time in Antioch of Syria, Paul and Barnabas began to discuss returning to some of the cities that they had visited and planted churches in, during their first and only missionary journey together. They were curious to see how the new believers in those cities and towns were getting along, and to help to encourage them to hold fast to their newly found Christian faith.
    Barnabas agreed with Paul, but wanted to again take along young John Mark to assist them. However Paul, still greatly disappointed in the young man for deserting them on the first journey near Pamphylia, strongly opposed bringing John Mark along again. This disagreement was so sharp that the two apostles decided to separate and go in different directions. Barnabas took John Mark and sailed back to his homeland of Cyprus, and Paul chose Silas and they traveled throughout Syria and Cilicia to help strengthen the churches there.

A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander

LARRY D. ALEXANDER- Official Website