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  

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