Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Word was Light, John 1: 5-13

As we are still in the prologue of the book of John, I think it would help us to realize that John is not occupied with merely presenting a biography of Jesus.  We are all, I’m sure, more or less familiar with the history of Jesus Christ.  So to simply retell the story of Christ’s life on earth would have limited benefit.  But what John is presenting in his gospel is doctrine:  the facts about Jesus which according to his stated purpose in chapter 20:31, “have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.” 

So as we pointed out last time, John doesn’t start his gospel as a biography might begin - with the birth of Jesus - but he starts with the theology of Jesus; that He was in the beginning with God, and He was God.  So in the first five verses, John establishes that in the beginning was God, and God was the Word, and the Word was life and the Word was Light.

Now last time we spent a lot of time talking about the significance of Jesus being called the Word.  Today I would like to focus on the stated fact that Jesus, or the Word, was Light.  I believe John as well as many other Bible writers give great emphasis to the fact that Christ is the personification of Light.  In fact, Jesus Himself frequently applied that designation to Himself.  For instance, in John 8:12, “Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; he who follows Me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the Light of life.’” 

Interestingly, Jesus there presents the Light as being part of life, which is exactly how John presents it in vs4: “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.”  Now in order to understand the connection between life and light which both Jesus and John were speaking of, it’s necessary to once again go back to Genesis chapter one.  In the creation account, we have not only a historical, factual record of the beginning of creation, but I believe there is incorporated in the story of creation an allegory which illustrates certain themes of salvation.  So look at Genesis 1:1. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was formless and void, and darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the waters. Then God said, "Let there be light"; and there was light. God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.”  So God was in the beginning, before time, existing in three persons who were one God.  And we see all three in this passage; God the Father, the Spirit of God and the Word of God. 

Now that was day one.  God created the heavens and the earth, and they were formless and void, and the Spirit of God moved over them, and God said, or we could say the Word said, “let there be light.”  And there was light in the darkness, and the light was good.  God doesn’t say the darkness was good, but that the light was good. 

But if you look down at day four, in vs.14, you notice that God made the sun and the moon and the stars.  So the light that God made in the first day was not light which came from the sun, moon or stars, but light that emanated from somewhere else.    And to add even more mystery,  in day three, God made plants and seeds and trees, which sprouted even though there was no sunlight at that time. 

So what we can discern from this passage is that God existed in three persons, and the Word was life, creating the heavens and the earth, and the Word became Light, which was the light of the world, and it was a real light emanating from life which caused plants to sprout and life to exist.  Science tells us that light is simply a visible form of energy. So you cannot have light without a source of energy, and what the Bible is teaching is that the energy of all life and producing light is none other than  the Word of God who was with God and who was God.

So now we can understand the relationship of life and light as John said in vs. 4, “in Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.”  Because He was the life, nothing came into being without Him, nothing had life without Him.  He is the source of life as Paul said in Acts 17:28, “for in Him we live and move and exist.” 

John then is saying that the Word was life, He was the source of all life, He is spiritual life and physical life and God manifested that life as Light.  First in creation, and secondly in the Word, and thirdly in salvation. 

You don’t need to turn to it, as I’m sure you are all familiar with it, but in the third chapter of Genesis there is recorded the fall of man.  God said if you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you will surely die.  But we don’t see Adam and Eve fall down dead after biting into the fruit.  But what we do see is God removing them from the Garden of Eden.  He removed them from His presence and when man was removed from the source of life, the light went out and man died spiritually.  That divine spark that man was made with, made in the image and likeness of God was extinguished.  And man did surely die.  I liken it to a potted plant that sits on your porch which flourishes when it is in the sun, but if you were to put it in your closet it would surely die.  It may still look somewhat alive a few days later perhaps, but eventually it would shrivel up and die.  And so with man, when he was removed from the Light of life, he shriveled up and died. 

That is why God correlates darkness with man’s world without Christ.  The scriptures use that description over and over again in both the Old and New Testaments to describe the world that we live in. For example, in the book of Job the world is pictured repeatedly as being in darkness, without understanding, without hope.  And that lack of divine understanding is what darkness illustrates. We live in darkness, separated from God and from the life of God.  We are lifeless, formless and void, without the light of God.  But then God spoke, and said “let there be light, and the light shone in the darkness and separated the darkness, and it was good.” 

Now last week we said about vs. 5 that some manuscripts translate the phrase as the darkness could not overpower it, rather than the KJV translation which says the darkness could not comprehend it.  And there are merits to the first translation, as I pointed out last week.  Light triumphs over darkness.  Christ triumphs over darkness, ie, sin, the world, death and Satan.  But there is also merit in translating it as comprehend.  The darkness does not comprehend it, or apprehend it.  And today we want to lean more in that direction because that is the idea presented it the following verses.  The Light appears, shines in the darkness, but the world in darkness does not receive the Light, does not understand the Light, and ultimately rejects the Light.

This idea of comprehending the Light is evidenced further by John in vs. 10 and 11; “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”  See, that is saying that the world did not comprehend Him.  They saw the Creator of the universe, the source of all life in human form, and did not understand Him, and ultimately rejected Him.  Man was in darkness, and though the Light appeared, he did not accept it, did not understand it, and so turned from it to the darkness.

Now man’s lack of comprehension results in God’s compassionate desire to help men to believe in the Light.  And to do that He raises up men to testify of the Light.  Vs. 6. “There came a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness, to testify about the Light, so that all might believe through him. He was not the Light, but he came to testify about the Light.”  Were it not for the fact that St. John had just said the world did not comprehend the Light, we might wonder at the abruptness of the introduction of John the Baptist.  But now we can understand that God sent John in order to bear witness of the Light.  To explain the Light. 

I think it was Matthew Henry who said, “That is indicative of the severity of the darkness and blindness of men that they needed a witness to the light.”  And I agree that man’s depravity has blinded him to be able to see the Light.  But I also think his depravity is so great that he rejects the Light because He doesn’t want to be ruled by the light.  Back in Genesis 1 God said about the lights of heaven that they were to govern the day and govern the night.  And I believe that indicates the contrary nature of man’s fall and of his rebellion.  He wants to govern himself.  He wants to decide what is right and what is wrong.  God said the light is good.  Man says I will decide what is good. 

In John 3:19-20 Jesus said, "This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.”  See, man loves evil, so he loves the darkness.  He doesn’t want anyone to be a ruler over him.

That love of darkness reminds me of the old song by Simon and Garfunkel, “The Sound of Silence.” The apostle Paul quoted Greek poets so I guess it’s ok if I quote modern poets. Now  I doubt that Simon and Garfunkel intended their song to be meant in the way I understand it, but it’s interesting that the songwriter says, “Hello darkness my old friend…” Man loves darkness. He prefers it, welcomes it.  And it’s even more interesting that Paul Simon correlates the sound of silence, the lack of speech as resulting in a darkness of life in which people lived without life, without words.  It’s ironic that the great theologian John Calvin translated the Word in John 1 as Speech.  Paul Simon describes this darkness as silence where words do not penetrate, though prophets warn of the peril of rejecting it.  But the people bowed and prayed to the neon god they made.  His last two stanzas say; "Fools," said I, "You do not know. Silence like a cancer grows. Hear my words that I might teach you. Take my arms that I might reach you." But my words like silent raindrops fell And echoed in the wells of silence.  And the people bowed and prayed To the neon god they made. And the sign flashed out its warning In the words that it was forming. And the sign said, "The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls And tenement halls And whispered in the sounds of silence."

Man rejects the light because he loves the deeds of darkness. I was talking with my daughter the other day about society and how the rejection of God’s law produces anarchy. The utter depravity of man is fully exposed when there is no fear of detection or punishment.  That’s why when law and order breaks down there is chaos and rioting and looting.  When people can act out there basest desires without fear of retribution society can quickly become a terrifying thing.  And that is why the scriptures refer to us Christians as being salt and light in the world.  The law of God stifles corruption, it acts as guard against anarchy.  The light of God’s word drives back the darkness and keeps it from overpowering the creation. 

So John was to be a witness of the Light; to testify of the Light.  He was the first prophet to appear on the scene in 400 years.  He was to prepare the people’s heart to receive the Light.  And how did John do that? By preaching, “repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.”   Man needed to repent of his evil deeds, his rebellion, his sin in order to receive the Light which leads to life.

Notice though the apostle John makes a point of saying John the Baptist was not the Light, but he was sent to bear witness of the Light.  In other words, John the Baptist was one of the lights of heaven, bearing witness of the Light of God, reflecting the Light of God to the world by word and deed.  John was like the light of the moon in comparison to the sun.  He reflected the Light.  He did not have light in and of himself, but he reflected the Light of Christ to the world.

And I want to point out another word in vs.6 that bears mentioning.  And that is the word sent.  John the Baptist was sent by God to bear witness.  John is a model preacher.  He was by all accounts a prophet of God.  He did not tailor his message to the world. He did not survey the interests of society and then tailor his message to their perceived desires.  But he preached a message from God to the world.  He did not try to be popular.  He did not rise to great prominence in order to have a huge church and draw attention to himself.  But he said about Jesus; “He must increase, but I must decrease.”  He simply preached the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I was talking with someone the other day about pastoring.  And the conversation eventually ran the gamut from  sizes of churches, to denominations, to what seminary someone had graduated from, and I said as far as I’m concerned, and I think I can say as far as God is concerned, there are only two characteristics that are important when it comes to pastors. One you have to be born again.  I think that eliminates about half of the pastors in the United States right there.  And at least half of the other half would be eliminated by the second requirement, which is that you have to be called by God.  To use the apostle John’s words, you must be “sent by God.”  I’m afraid there are a lot of people in pulpits today that are not sent by God. And it’s apparent because they don’t preach the gospel. If God calls you, then He will equip you.  He is the one that gives us the Spirit to empower us, He is the source of our wisdom and discernment.  And you can have all the tools and all the books and all the degrees and a huge building and  all the acclaim of men but if you have not been called by God to preach the gospel then all those things are not going to be of any benefit to fulfilling the purpose of God.  And furthermore, I cannot understand why Christians would want to sit under those pastors, but I guess it goes back to the principle that we love darkness rather than light, because the light exposes our evil deeds.

But whether or not you are called to be a pastor, all Christians are sent to be witnesses of the gospel. Matt. 5:14-16, "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”

All of us are to bear witness and testify to the Light of the gospel. Romans 10:14-15 says, “How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!”

Now though John introduces John the Baptist here, the emphasis is not really on him but on the Light.  And so he goes on to say about the Light in vs. 9, “There was the true Light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man.”  Now just as John the Baptist was a minor light, a reflection of Christ, so all the prophets of old were reflections of the light of heaven.  And I believe that there was a degree of light that came through the Word given through the prophets, which became the Old Testament scriptures.  I also believe that even as Genesis 1 illustrated, there was the light of creation which Paul said in Romans 1 was enough to teach man that there was an eternal God. Paul said in Rom. 1:20, “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse.” That was the Light of the world seen through creation that enlightens every man.

But in the next verse Paul says that though they recognized that it was divine light, they rejected it and were plunged into ever greater darkness. Rom. 1:21 “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened.”

Thus we see in Matthew’s gospel a quote from the prophet Isaiah referencing the advent of Christ as being like a great light coming to a people living in darkness.  Matt. 4:15-16  "THE LAND OF ZEBULUN AND THE LAND OF NAPHTALI,BY THE WAY OF THE SEA, BEYOND THE JORDAN, GALILEE OF THE GENTILES-- "THE PEOPLE WHO WERE SITTING IN DARKNESS SAW A GREAT LIGHT,AND THOSE WHO WERE SITTING IN THE LAND AND SHADOW OF DEATH,UPON THEM A LIGHT DAWNED."  This great light spoken of by the prophets was none other than the Light of the world.  The Light of Life.  Jesus Christ.

But as vs.10 and 11 tell us, the Light came into the world that existed through Him, and it did not receive Him. “He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him.”  Paul said virtually the same thing in 1Cor. 2:14, “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.”

Actually, that’s what I think Genesis 1 is indicating when it says after the heavens and the earth was created but they were in darkness, that the Spirit of God moved upon the waters and then the Light appeared.  Though the Light has come into the world, it is necessary for the Spirit of God to move on the hearts of men if they are going to receive Christ.  Jesus said in John 6:44, “No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him.”  Now God draws people in many ways, but one way is through the witness and testimony of His people, particularly His preachers.  God has ordained that by the foolishness of preaching men would be saved. 1Cor. 1:21 “For since in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”

And that leads us to the conclusion of this paragraph concerning the Light of the world, in vs.12-13. “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.”  So this is where the will of man and the sovereignty of God come together.  Man is rebellious and depraved, rejecting the rule of his Lord, rejecting the Light of the truth for the sake of loving his own sin and wickedness.  But the Light of God persists, piercing the darkness, the Spirit of God moves upon his heart in conjunction with the preaching of the gospel by the witnesses of the Light, and some believe and receive Him and are saved.

There is on the one hand the responsibility of man to respond and receive the Light, and on the other hand the necessity for God to extend unto man the grace to believe the gospel.  And the outcome is that man when man believes and receives Christ he is born again, moved from darkness into light, from death to life, reborn spiritually whereas he was previously dead in his trespasses and sins.  When we receive the Light, the Light produces life, spiritual life, eternal life.  We are made alive with Christ.  We are made a new creation.  We walk no more in darkness but in life. Eph. 5:8 “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light.” 

To those who receive the Light, we are now made children of Light, even children of God.  Not by blood, that is by human lineage.  Not by heredity.  Not by the will of the flesh.  That is not by self effort to become righteous.  Nor by the will of man, not by the decree of man, the decree of a priest or church or institution.  But by the will of God.  God is the giver of life, and He gives it to whoever believes in the Son of God, whoever receives Him.  To receive Christ as our  Savior and our Lord, and as our God.  That’s what it means to receive Christ.  To know Him, to accept Him and trust Him.  To know all that He is, and all that He is to be, to believe it, and then to trust Him.  To trust in His atonement for our sin. To trust Him to raise us from the dead. To know that Christ is good, even as God said the light was good. And we can yield completely our lives to the very source of life and then walk in the Light, even as He is in the Light.  1John 1:7, “if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

I will just close by asking one question;  have you received the Light of the world? Have you been born again into spiritual life as a child of God?  As many as receive Christ, to them God gives the right to be the children of God.  That is a promise of life that lies waiting for you to accept, if you will just accept who He is and trust Him with your life.  Don’t reject him and stay in the darkness.   Come to the Light.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The Word was God, John 1:1-5

There is no doubt but that John is the author of the Gospel of John.  John was younger than his brother James, who were both known as the Sons of Thunder.  And of the 12 disciples, John was the youngest as well.  His mother was Salome, who had enquired of the Lord if her sons could sit on either side of His throne when He came into His kingdom.  His father was Zebedee, who was a fisherman, and who had passed on his trade to his sons.  He would seem to have been a disciple first of all of John the Baptist, but left him and followed Jesus after Christ’s baptism.

Perhaps it was the fact that John was the youngest, or perhaps that he was a relative of the family of Jesus, but for whatever reason, John seemed to have a special relationship with Jesus, describing himself as the “disciple whom Jesus loved.”  He seemed to share a special closeness with Christ, being seen as leaning his head upon His shoulder at the Last Supper.  That closeness was born out by Christ at his crucifixion, by Jesus committing to him the care of His mother Mary.  And just as indicative was the fact that when Jesus separated certain disciples from the rest, He always included John with Peter and James.  They constituted Christ’s inner circle.

So without a doubt John was very close to Jesus.  He most likely knew Jesus while growing up.  But certainly for three years he was with Christ 24/7, eating, sleeping and traveling with Him everywhere He went. 

Now as you know there are four gospels in the New Testament.  Matthew, Mark and Luke are what are called the synoptic gospels.  That means that they shared common themes or incidents in their accounts.  But John’s gospel, being written many years later when John was an old man does not follow their pattern.  John writes from a completely different perspective and focuses on many things that are not found in the other gospels.  For instance, John doesn’t detail the birth of Christ.  And there is no mention of parables in John’s gospels, which account for much of the teaching of Christ in the synoptic gospels.

But the best indication of the purpose of John’s gospel is found in his own words, in John 20:30-31, “Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.”  Note that John says the reason for his writing was to show that Jesus was the Messiah, (that is what the word Christ means)  and that Jesus was the Son of God, so that you might believe He is the Messiah and the Son of God, and be saved unto eternal life.

Now that purpose is clearly substantiated starting with the first verse of his gospel.  And I don’t wish to rush over this point too quickly.  Because it would stand to reason that if someone were a close, intimate friend of the One he was writing about, had spent 3 years of living with Him on a day to day basis, it would not be likely that this would be the way in which you would begin His biography by ascribing to Him deity.  But in spite of that closeness, yes, even because of that closeness, John begins by declaring the divinity of Jesus Christ in a bold declarative statement.  John leaves out the familiar details of Jesus life which reveal His humanity, such as His birth, but focuses on His divinity, His attributes of being God.

So as John begins his prologue, he begins not with the birth of Jesus as would be expected in a biographical book, but he begins in the beginning, in the beginning of Genesis 1:1, and he declares that Jesus existed before creation began.  And that is a tremendous thing in light of the fact of his intimate knowledge of the human nature of Christ.  Living 24/7 with Christ did not diminish his view of Jesus as God, but it only served to prove it to him, and so his purpose is to establish that for us at the outset, and it will continue to be the theme of all the book. 

The fact that John alludes to Genesis 1:1 in his opening statement is fundamental to the doctrine of the deity of Jesus Christ. We know that the NT is the best commentary on the OT.  Consider then Genesis 1:1, “in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth,” and compare that to John 1:1, “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”    And what we find is that Genesis 1 is explained by John 1; the eternal existence of God, who God is, what He is like and what was His purpose.  In Genesis 1 we see the origin of creation, and all creatures.  In John 1 we see the originator of all life and the origin of light. John makes it clear that from the beginning, from the beginning of eternity, the Word existed.  Before time, before creation, the Word was.  He was not created, but He existed before creation.

So after establishing His eternal nature, John establishes His identity.  Not His name but His identity; which is the Word.  Perhaps you think that the Word is an ambiguous title, hardly a name for God. In the original Greek the word is logos; which means the word.  But the fact is that to both Jews and Greeks it was a familiar  way of referring to God. 

In the Old Testament, we often see reference to the word of the Lord, or the word of God came to a certain prophet. In the mind of the ancient Jews, the phrase "the word of God" could be used to refer to God Himself. The word of the Lord was synonymous with the will of God, the law of God and the mind of God.  And even in the Genesis account of creation, we see the Word of God active in creation, with the phrase, “and God said…” over and over again being the operative agent  in creation.

Then among the Greek philosophers, the word logos was the way they described the reason, the thought behind the cosmic power of the universe. They saw the logos as the "Ultimate Reason" that controlled all things, that kept order in the world. Though the translation of the term logos is the simple term word, in the ancient Greek world it meant a lot more than that. Ancient Greek philosophers were concerned with answering the ultimate questions of the universe. They were seeking to find ultimate truth. They debated and argued among themselves in order to find the ultimate reality that lies behind the universe.

Over time, as philosophers such as Plato pondered these questions, they came up with a term to describe this ultimate reality, and the term they came up with was logos. The logos came to be understood as the thought and reason which gave life and meaning to the universe. Within the realm of Greek philosophy, however, this logos was largely understood to be an impersonal force, not a personal being.

But John taps into their understanding of God by saying Jesus is the logos, the eternal God of creation, of order or truth and reason. Rather than an impersonal force, the logos revealed in John’s gospel is a personal being who can be received or rejected by other people as we will see when we come to vs. 11–12. This logos became flesh as a human being and manifested the glory of God to man in v. 14. John explains that Jesus is the personification of the Word.  He is a person, not an it, not an impersonal force.

Not only does the logos refer to the identity of God, but obviously it refers to the very words of God.  Jesus said in John 6:63  "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing; the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”  The  word of God has been written down for us in the Bible, and it is holy and eternal. As Peter said in 1 Peter 1:25, “The word of the Lord endures forever.” The words of God cannot be separated from the essence of God.  That is why Jesus would say, “I am the way, the truth  and the life.”  God has not only manifested Himself in Jesus, but He has manifested Himself in His word.   He is inseparable from His word, and that is why we can trust His word.  His word cannot be broken.  His word according to Psalms 12:6, has been refined as silver 7 times.  It is pure, it is truth, it is life. 

So John alludes to all of the attributes of God in this title, but brings them to life in the person of Christ.  So in the beginning was the Word.  Then John tells us who exactly the Word is.  He says “and the Word was with God and the Word was God.”  Now that is so important because it lays the groundwork for our doctrine of the trinity.  It tells us is that not only is the Logos the eternal God, but He is distinct from the eternal God. And this is where we come to understand that there is one God and yet there are three persons. 

Now I cannot explain how that is possible.  But the scriptures make it clear that it is so.  It is the triune nature of God; to exist in three persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  We see that expressed again in Genesis 1:26, when God said, “let Us make man in Our image.”  Plural.  In the beginning God created, then the Spirit of God moved across the face of the waters, and then God said.  God, Spirit and Logos.  Three in One. Jesus is God in the flesh, the Holy Spirit is Jesus in the Spirit.  God made visible in the Logos, Jesus made invisible in the Spirit.  So then God became flesh in Jesus. Both Peter and Paul refer to the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Christ (Romans 8:9 and 1 Peter 1:11).  John 16:13-14 "But when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth; for He will not speak on His own initiative, but whatever He hears, He will speak; and He will disclose to you what is to come. He will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose it to you.” And then even we become sons of God by the Spirit of Jesus indwelling in the flesh of man (us).

So clearly presented in this verse is the doctrine that the Word was with God, but also that the Word was God.  Many false doctrines such as the Mormons or the Jehovah Witnesses reveal their apostasy on this doctrine.  They insert the article “a” before God so that Jesus is presented as a god.  But according to practically all Greek scholars, that is not a proper rendering of the translation.  And even if they were to make that claim, then what do you do with Hebrews 1:1-3 “God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.”

Or how about Col. 2:9 “For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form.”  Or how about the Old Testament, in Isaiah 9:6 “For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.”  Or how about Jesus’ own declaration to Philip, when He said, “if you have seen Me you have seen the Father.”  Or “I and the Father are One.”

The whole rational of our salvation depends upon God Himself becoming flesh in the person of Christ to become our substitute by dying on the cross and paying the penalty for sin.  Only the innocent could pay for the guilty.  And only the Holy God could atone for the sins of all the sins of the world.  No good man could even atone for one person’s sins other than His own, much less the sins of the world.  Christ had to be God in the flesh to buy our redemption.  Either Jesus was God or He was an imposter, and worse, a blasphemer and deserved to be crucified.  But we believe the Bible, that He was the exact representation of God, existing with God, who was God and yet distinct from God, identified as the Word of God.

Vs.2, “He was in the beginning with God.” Or as the KJV says perhaps more literally, “the same was in the beginning with God.”  This same Word not only was coeternal with God and coexistent with God, but was eternally in active communion with Him: "not simply the Word with God, but God with God."  John not only reiterates the fundamental truth for emphasis, but to add emphasis to the fact of their unity. 

And then in vs. 3, as we have already noted in Genesis 1, all things God created came into being through Him. “All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made.”  God spoke through His Word, and all things that were created came through the Logos.  That’s what the author of Hebrews said as well as we just read while ago: “in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.”  And consider what Paul said in Col. 1:16  “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities--all things have been created through Him and for Him.”

Here is the proof of His self-existence. Everything that exists came into being through Him. That’s a positive declaration, simple, clear evidence, that the Lord Jesus Christ is eternal deity. Everything that exists, He made. It all came from Him. He didn’t come from anyone, or anything. Everything came from Him. 1 Corinthians 8:6 “yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.”

Notice that “all things” - that includes us,  we were made for Him, we exist for Him.  We were made to share His glory, to have intimacy with Him, to walk with Him, to talk with Him, to be the bride of Christ.  That is the purpose of creation.  Creation was made for man, and man was made for God.  Such was the declaration of one of the church’s earliest theologians, Augustine, who said, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”  We were made with the spark of divinity, in the likeness of God, in the image of God.  All things created were brought into being by simply the spoken word of God.  But man was brought into being by the hands of God which formed us out of the clay, and given life by the very lips of God when He breathed into us the breath of life.  We were made to be gods, according to Psalm 82:6 , where God says, “You are gods; and all of you are children of the most High.” But unfortunately the fall killed that divine spark, and it lay dormant until the Son of God our Creator breathes again in us the Spirit of Life.

And that principle of spiritual life is what John lays the foundation for in vs.4, “In Him was life, and the life was the Light of men.” That is such a profound statement. “In Him was life.”  The word used is not bios, because He’s not just talking about biological life, which is the rudimentary form of life. But the word is zoe, which has to do with spiritual life, the life principle, the reality of life.  The Word is the source of life.  We already quoted Jesus saying that in John 6:63, “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life.”  And “I am the way, the truth and the life.”  Jesus is the source of all life.

Paul said in Acts 17:28 “for in Him we live and move and exist.”  Hebrews 1:3 says, He “upholds all things by the word of His power.”  Jesus Himself said, “I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly.”  He was talking about zoe, the real, spiritual life, even eternal life of which He is the source.

Near Geneva, Switzerland, buried under the ground in a 17 mile wide circular tunnel is what is called the Hadron Collider.  And this scientific machine’s purpose is to discover the smallest particles of subatomic matter, in order to find the origin of life.  To get these protons to break apart they have to smash these particles together at the speed of light. They have been conducting these experiments for years, and the result is that they continue to discover even more subatomic particles and mysteries upon mysteries in their hope to reveal the source of life.  But here in John 1 God declares the source of life and light, which is Jesus Christ, the Logos.  He holds all things together.

This life is the light of men, speaking of spiritual light as well as natural light. It isn't that the Word "contains" life and light; He is life and light. John is connecting life and light. The one who was the life of men became the light of men. The light to lead them out of darkness.  In the beginning of creation God said, “Let there be light.” So in the new creation the pre existent source of life is the source of life that illuminates creation.  That’s why He came into the world, to shine light into the darkness, to reveal God that we might see the truth of God.  Jesus said in John 8:12, “I am the Light of the world,” whoever “follows Me will not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.

Therefore, without Jesus, we are dead and in darkness.  When man became separated from God because of the fall he became spiritually dead, he lost his spiritual life, so he became dead and in darkness. He became lost.

But thank God for the last phrase of vs.5, “ And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”  The KJV says comprehend it.  That is an unfortunate translation which is understood to mean that man could not understand the light.  But what it should read is the darkness could not overcome it.  The light prevailed over the darkness, not the other way around. The light can not lose against the darkness; the darkness will never overcome it.

The darkness refers to the realm of darkness, the realm of Satan, the powers of darkness.  Jesus said in the hours before the cross that this hour belongs to the power of darkness. Eph. 6:12 says, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.”  But the darkness cannot overpower the Light.  The Light shines in the darkness.  Greater is He that is in us than he that is in the world.  Though all the forces of hell conspired to keep man in darkness, the Light has come into the world so that man might be saved from death and darkness and dwell in the light for eternity.

John has made it abundantly clear concerning the doctrine of the divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is eternal God, the Word of God made flesh, that we might know God, that we might know the truth and that the truth would be the light by which we come to have life in Him.  I hope that you have received  Him as your Lord and Savior.  That is why He came, to give hope and life to a world lost in darkness.  Today light has shown on you.  Come to the Light and believe and you will have real life, and have it more abundantly. 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

The template of the church, Acts 28

So this is the last chapter in the book of Acts.  And I really struggled with how we should finish this book.  I suppose I could have broken down this series of events and exegeted each one, tried to find a parable or outline in each and preach a sermon.  But as I considered it, I could not help but feel that the Holy Spirit was telling us something that was greater than the summary of each individual event.  I couldn’t help but wonder how  this grand epic of the gospel could just kind of wind down with a series of little events without any preaching, without some new doctrine, and just kind of fade out without coming to a conclusion like we might expect?  It felt kind of like the way those movies make you feel that never conclude the story but just leave you hanging at the end, wondering what was going to happen next.

But I don’t think it’s because the Holy Spirit is a bad writer or because He could not figure out how to finish the story so He just fades to black and leaves us to figure out the end on our own.  I think the solution is to consider the bigger picture, rather than focus too much on these little vignettes as independent subjects. 

And so at some point I found myself asking some questions about what the Spirit was indicating in this passage and  the preceding chapters leading up to it.   Like for instance, why at the end of his ministry, not to mention his life, is Paul left to practically fade into obscurity, without seeing` any great harvests of conversions either among pagans or among Jews? Where are all the thousands upon thousands saved in a matter of a few days such as had been the case with Peter in Jerusalem when the church first started?

Why did God use the storm to drive Paul to the shores of a tiny 12 x 20 mile long island in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea?  Of all places in the world where God could have sent Paul, why is he shipwrecked on Malta, a barbarous island peopled by a few superstitious natives?   This was after all the greatest apostle of Christ. And furthermore, why does God allow his servants to die ignoble deaths alone and practically forgotten by the world?

And as I answered those questions I  felt the truth of this passage begin to dawn in my mind.  I considered for instance, that all of Christ’s apostles were arrested at some point and spent much time in prison.  And all of the apostles save John were eventually martyred and from our perspective died an ignoble death, practically alone, alienated from family and friends, by the hands of brutish men.

But the full answer goes back all the way to the beginning of Acts.  As the Christian church was born, there was a great blossoming of fruit and a great harvest of souls, culminating in thousands upon thousands of Jews becoming saved and being added to the church.  And great signs and wonders were being performed daily in the church and in Jerusalem, and everyone, Luke tells us, held the first Christians in high esteem and they were well spoken of in the community. 

Today when we talk about the characteristics of the first Christian church, that is what we think of, isn’t it?  Great crowds, admiring congregations, apostles with tremendous miraculous power, and Christians being well respected in the community.   Sounds like a Joel Osteen or Billy Graham crusade.  But that is not an accurate picture of the first century church.  And I would go so far as to say that is not an accurate representation of what God’s template for the church truly is.  Now we know that to be a fact, because the popularity and profusion of conversions and subsequent church members did not last long.  The diaspora began soon after that beginning with the martyrdom of Steven in chapter 7, and in chapter 8 vs.2 it says, “And on that day a great persecution arose against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.”  The honeymoon period of the church was over.

Now after that point, the focus of Acts begins to look away from the church at Jerusalem and starts to look at the developing church in Gentile territories.  And in those territories we no longer see the mega church example that we see in Jerusalem, but instead we see small house churches.  We see the gospel taken to individuals, to families, and small gatherings of believers meeting in rooms and homes.  We see the apostles and disciples encountering more and more persecution from both Jews as well as pagan cultures. 

Now I have to say that I saw that really for the first time just this week as I was preparing for this message.  It wasn’t that I did not know it, but I hadn’t really seen it before  in that way.  A classic example of not seeing the forest for the trees.  And when I saw this I was greatly encouraged.  Because to tell you the truth, both the world and the Christian culture seem to equate success as bigger churches and more people.  The question of how many members you may have, and how big your organization is, and how fast you are growing, and how many programs you are running, are the ways in which we quantify and validate successful ministries.  And if you don’t fit that template then you are left to question the validity of your church.

But what I found when I began to look at this is with the exception of the brief honey moon period when the church at Jerusalem was started, there is not another example of a mega church in the New Testament.  And furthermore, there is no record of apostle worship in the Bible either, at least on the level of the admiration and followings of the great “Christian” leaders of today.  When you compare the 60,000 people filling up a football stadium to hear Joel Osteen with the ministry of the Apostle Paul then you will see a major discrepancy.  When Paul was last in a huge stadium in Ephesus the crowds were calling for his head.  They were not lining up to shake his hand and ask him to sign a copy of his latest book. 

Now I point this out because I think that what the Holy Spirit is illustrating one last time as He winds up the book of Acts is the template of the church.  From a human perspective, this is not the way it’s supposed to look at this point.  After all, Paul is the greatest apostle of all of Christ’s apostles.  If anyone should have been a mega church pastor it should have been Paul.  If anyone should have had a 60,000 member church and dozens of satellite churches streaming live his messages every Sunday it should have been Paul.  Furthermore, from the human perspective, if Paul was really God’s man then he wouldn’t have been in chains.  He wouldn’t have ended his life in relative obscurity.  He would have been elevated to the position of the Cardinal of Europe or something like that with his own disciples serving churches under his supervision.  I mean, if Peter supposed to be the Pope, then Paul should have been the Cardinal.

But instead we see a different model acted out in these last chapters of Acts.  We see the apostle beleaguered by constant harassment, chased from town to town, ridiculed by the elite in not only the intellectual world but the religious world.  We see him stoned, beaten, imprisoned.  We don’t see him lauded by the media, hosted on the Today Show, appearing on the television talk shows,  but instead having to sneak out of town by being let down from a wall in a basket to escape certain death.  We see him being stoned and left for dead.  We see him in prison almost more than we see him out of prison.  And yet in spite of appearances to the contrary, I would suggest that Paul is the embodiment of the church.  In 1Cor.12:28, Paul said that God after God raised Jesus from the dead and He ascended on high, He gave first of all to the church apostles.  And in Eph. 2:20 Paul says that the church has been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.  And then again in Eph. 4:11 it says, “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ.”

The point I think then is this; that as we look at the events in this last couple of chapters in Acts we see that Paul is the church.  He was the foundation of the church.  He was traveling with Luke and Aristarchus.  And you will remember that Jesus said where two or three are gathered together there I am in the midst.  The church is not characterized by buildings or organizations, but by people.  And that starts with Christ as the cornerstone, the apostles word as the foundation, and then preachers and teachers building up the body or the church brick by brick, person by person.

I recently had a woman call me who had attended our church during the summer and she is writing a book about churches on the Eastern Shore.  She was originally intrigued by the church buildings and started to think about the stories behind them.  But when she discovered our church on the beach one Sunday almost by accident, she felt that there was something here that needed to be investigated.  And so as Susie and I spent a couple of hours with her, we were able to share how God doesn’t dwell in temples made with hands.  But how God’s church is comprised of His people, not characterized by architecture.

Well, how was the church template laid out in Acts? Well, as we look at Paul’s ministry we do not see the thousands upon thousands saved like we saw in the honeymoon period in Jerusalem.  Instead we see individual conversions such as the jailer and his family being saved who was in charge of the prison he was incarcerated in.  We see him casting out demons from people who were accosting him as he preached.  We see him meeting with small groups of people by the riverside, or in the market places or in homes or upper rooms, with some or a few people being converted.   We see Paul having to work with his hands to raise his own money to support his ministry.  Paul’s life is one of hardship, persecution, small gatherings of Christians, trials, incarcerations, preaching, and lots and lots of rejections of his gospel.  And yet Paul said “be imitators of me.” (1Cor. 11:1)

Now that may sound uninspiring to some people.  But personally I find it encouraging.  Because there are times when I find myself comparing our ministry with what the Christian culture and the world tells me are the marks of a successful church, and feeling like we keep coming up short.  Just the other night I was speaking with someone and they asked what I do, and as I tried to tell them about our church I found myself feeling almost embarrassed because we do not have many of the trappings of what society calls a successful church.  And their response didn’t help either. Because they proceeded to tell me about the church that they went to, which happens to be a church of several hundred people and is very popular in the community.  And this man said they went to this church because they had a large children’s ministry . Then to add injury to insult, they told me a story about how their pastor and his wife drove up to the middle of Pennsylvania to attend his mother in law’s funeral and how that sealed the deal for them in regards to church membership. 

Well, I can’t compete with that.  We don’t have a children’s ministry.  And I dislike going to hospitals or funerals and to tell you the truth would never even consider driving three hours one way to attend a funeral of a person I didn’t know (even if my car would make it) just so I could seal the deal for someone’s church membership.  Besides we don’t even have church membership. So I guess I will never pastor a mega church. 

But thankfully, according to the template given to us in Acts, that is not necessarily God’s plan for us anyhow.  Paul was the greatest apostle in the New Testament and as we have seen in our recent studies he has been in chains for the last 2 ½ years, under house arrest, never even formerly charged with a crime.  But in that time God used Paul to preach to very small audiences, although at times made up of kings and governors and rulers of the Jews.  However, those messages were not received, but rejected.  For the most part, it would look like from our perspective that those were very  unproductive years for Paul.  But we are looking at things as they appear outwardly.  We don’t know, and perhaps neither did Paul,  all the lives that were affected by his messages.  What we do know is that God’s ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts like our thoughts.  And what often seems like a tragedy to us in a triumph in Christ.  Even our Messiah only had a few disciples and He suffered and was crucified before He was exalted in resurrection.

Now the passage illustrates this template of God’s church in a series of small vignettes of Paul’s ministry here in this final passage.  And we will look briefly at each of them for additional clues as to the nature of God’s plan for the church as it continues on until the return of Christ.  First we see that Paul has endured the storm only to be shipwrecked on the island of Malta.  This was a small island, in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea, only 12 miles by 20 miles wide.  It was a Roman colony, but more than likely populated by a simple, rather superstitious native people. 

And it’s interesting to me that God used the storm to bring this great apostle to this tiny island and leave him there for 3 months.  Certainly, you would think that God would have used him for greater purposes than that.  In fact, there isn’t even a mention that anyone on that island became a Christian.  But I cannot help but think that Paul would have laid the seeds for a church there on this island among these simple people.  By the way, the word barbarous is the literal word used there in vs.2 and 4 translated as natives in the NASB.  Barbarians was a word that was used by the Greeks to denote anyone who did not speak Greek.  Paul himself uses the word in Romans 1:14 when he says “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish.”  It simply means non Greek speaking.

But I think that it can be surmised that Paul did in fact preach the gospel there by the fact that the Holy Spirit enabled him to first of all be healed of a snake bite.  That got the attention of the population.  And it also is a fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus in Mark 16:17-18 "These signs will accompany those who have believed: in My name they will cast out demons, they will speak with new tongues; they will pick up serpents, and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover."

Now a lot of charismatics have misinterpreted these verses to say this promise includes all believers.  But if you look at the context of that passage, Jesus is speaking to the 11 disciples, who would become His apostles. They had not believed Him when He had foretold His resurrection, nor even when the women came to them and reported it.  And so Jesus rebukes them and then He commissions them as His apostles saying these are the signs that will accompany His apostles.  Those signs of an apostle are born out as well in 2Cor. 12:12 “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.”  These were the attesting signs of an apostle, not devises by which we today can attest to our spirituality or serve our personal needs.

And Paul would have used such miraculous powers to proclaim the gospel.  That was the whole point of miracles, to confirm the word preached.  Paul never used miraculous powers for his own benefit, but only to authenticate the gospel that he was commissioned to preach.  So though the text does not say Paul preached, you can be sure he did, attesting to the authenticity of his message with signs and wonders and miracles.  So that as the word spread on the island, all who were sick came to him to healed.  And though the scripture does not tell us of conversions, tradition does say that a thriving church was started there.

Now this is an example of the mercy and compassion of God, in that He sent His apostle to this remote island especially so that these few natives might hear the gospel.  And it would seem from the kindness and the response of the natives that they did respond to the gospel.  This small island far from the rest of the world was not forgotten by the Lord, but singled out for a divine appointment by one of Christ’s greatest prophets. Here is the principle; God often uses great men to perform humble tasks in dark places to small audiences.

I’m reminded of the story of Eric Liddel, told in the movie Chariots of Fire, which told how this Olympic athlete became famous for his stand for his faith by not running on Sunday even though that was when his 100 meter race was scheduled to be held. But after some deliberation, he was switched to the 400 meter race later in the week, and consequently won the gold medal in a race he had not prepared for.  That made for exciting storylines.  But the real story is that afterwards, Eric Liddel accepted a call to be a missionary in China, to a people who never really appreciated his sacrifice or his athleticism. 

If modern Christians would have scripted the story, Eric Liddel would have moved onto the Christian conference circuit, heralded as a great example of a successful Christian athlete, and receiving large offerings and speaking to great crowds.  He would have written a book about successful Christian athleticism and how you can use it to influence the world.  But God had different plans.  He sent Eric Liddel to the darkest continent on the planet, to a people that would never appreciate his Olympic gold medals, and Eric Liddel lived out the rest of his days there teaching the word of God.  He died in China in 1945 after being incarcerated for the last two years in a prison camp. God’s ways are not our ways.

The next few verses of our text detail the voyage of Paul and the others as they sailed to Rome.  And one point of interest is that they met some brethren, that is fellow Christians in Puteoli and they were allowed to stay there 7 days.  Notice the providence of God in this.  Here are believers in a town where there is no record of having received the gospel, and yet there are already a few Christians there.  Again, this is such an out of the way place that Paul would have probably never visited these people under normal circumstances.  But God knew that this small band of believers were in this city, and He arranges it so that they will come there, and not only be there for the day, but for seven days.  Furthermore, the text says that Paul was allowed to go to them.  He stayed with them.  This is an extraordinary indication of God’s providence seeing that Paul is a prisoner, and yet the centurion so trusts Paul and is in fact indebted to him so that he gladly allows Paul to stay with his friends.  Such an example of how God is concerned about small audiences.  This little group of believers are visited by the great apostle and given the benefit of his preaching for 7 days.  What a boost that must have been to that little church there, and what an encouragement as well it must have been for Paul to see that the gospel seeds that he had planted elsewhere had blown even to this remote spot.

I was looking at the colors of the trees on our lane yesterday and noticed a young cedar sapling growing in the woods at the end of the lane.  And I realized how far it was from the two cedar trees that border our house lot.  I don’t know how a seed from those trees made it all the way down to the end of the road, perhaps a bird dropped it there and it found root and grew.  But I couldn’t help but think of how Jesus relates the preaching of the gospel to a farmer casting seeds, and some fall on good soil, and some do not get rooted deep and do not produce.  But our job is to cast the seed, and let divine winds blow it where God has prepared the soil to receive it.

I think of all the people that come in and out of our church, many times for just a few days or maybe a week at a time.  And yet during that time we are able to minister to them and they to us in a special way.  Some people we will never see again perhaps this side of heaven.  But God uses our church to minister to traveling visitors, and infrequent guests, who hopefully go away refreshed and with a new sense of purpose back to their home communities and perhaps even bringing new life to their churches. 

Then note in vs15, it would appear that two different groups of Christians came out to meet Paul as he came near to Rome.  You know, Paul was a great apostle, but we must not forget that he was human as well.  He became tired, hungry, fatigued, worried and even fearful.  Some pious people like to say that being fearful or worried is sinful.  But I disagree.  I think it just means you are human.  There is nothing wrong with being afraid.  Courage is not the lack of fear, but the willingness to go on in spite of your fears.  Paul had been on a long hard journey.  And now he is finally near his destination.  He has no idea what is going to happen when he arrives.  Only that the Holy Spirit has told him he will stand before Caesar.  Where Nero was concerned that usually had a way of not turning out too well for most people.  And so I’m sure that Paul was concerned, even a bit fearful as he approached this capital of the world, to be judged by the highest official of the Roman Empire.

Now we can be assured he was fearful, because it says when Paul saw the brethren who came outside the city to meet him that he thanked God and took courage.  I cannot tell you the numbers of times that some visitors to our church have given me an opportunity to thank God and be encouraged just at a time when I needed it most. 

And the reason that Paul is so encouraged was that these people were the fruit of the gospel to the Romans that he had written  years earlier.  People that he had never met, but that had read his letter and received it as the gospel of Jesus Christ.  No wonder Paul thanked God and was encouraged.  That is another characteristic of the template of the church, encouragement.  Even as we are reminded in Hebrews 10:24 “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”

 I remember a few weeks ago really struggling with preparing my message, and when I delivered it I kind of felt deflated, feeling like I wasn’t sure if it had really accomplished anything for the kingdom.  And a couple of days later I got an email from a woman telling me how much the message had meant to her, and how it had spoken to a particular need she had.  I’m not even sure who this lady is.  For some reason, I cannot remember what she looked like or anything about her.  But I was encouraged by her note.  And I think that every Christian who is serving the Lord has that hope, that something you said to someone about the Lord, or someone you reached out to in Christian kindness, was genuinely moved by your words or your actions.  You may not see the fruit of that work in this lifetime, but there will come a day when what you whispered in secret will be shouted from the rooftops.  And what was done for Christ will last for eternity and be rewarded in heaven.

Well, Paul finally gets to Rome, he is given his own rented quarters to live in with just a personal guard.  That is an exceptional privilege for a prisoner.  He is allowed unrestricted access to friends and visitors.  But nevertheless he is still a prisoner.  And this is really incredible; Paul calls upon the very group of people that are responsible for his incarceration in the first place to come and visit him.  It’s almost like he is inviting trouble.  The Jews in Rome have not heard about Paul, or of any charges against him.  You would think that Paul would have tried to avoid these guys, much less invite them to his house. 

But this illustrates another important principle: our spiritual adversaries are not our enemies, but they are our mission field.  So Paul invites them to hear the gospel.  He explains the gospel from the OT scriptures for 8 to 12 hours and presents them with evidence that Jesus Christ is the Messiah and that He had to die and be resurrected to fulfill God’s plan of salvation. 

Luke tells us that some of the Jews were being persuaded by Paul and some weren’t. And that resulted in them having a sharp disagreement and leaving.  The idea that some were being persuaded does not necessarily mean that they were saved.  I think there was a disagreement, similar to the times when Paul preached to the Jews before and the Pharisees and the Sadducees ended up arguing amongst themselves.  The point is though that they left without being saved, as Paul’s parting remarks make plain. 


I don’t quite understand the compassion of God, but He continues to call His prophets to preach to a people who will not understand, to a people who have hardened their hearts and closed their eyes.  But yet that is the commission of the church.  Only God can open hearts and open the eyes of the blind.  Our job is to preach the gospel, whether or not they will accept it or not. 

I will say this, my experience is confirmed by the scriptures in saying that the majority of people will not understand.  The majority of people will not be saved.  But a few will turn and believe. When I consider the number of people that we have presented the gospel to that were almost persuaded, but eventually went on their way I can easily become discouraged.  However, we must not allow small numbers or the lack of results to discourage us as we fulfill the commission of Jesus Christ.  The gospel has never been popular, contrary to what we sometimes are told.  Christians have always been in the minority.  But I can say this with absolute conviction.  The kingdoms of the earth rise and fall into obscurity, but the kingdom of God endures forever.  Caesar and the Roman Empire have faded away.  Ancient Judaism and the temple are no more.  But the gospel has endured, and flourished and is still saving souls 2000 years later. 

Well the book of Acts concludes without coming to a conclusion.  Because the story of the church is not finished.  Paul continued for two years there teaching and preaching out of his home to all who would come to him. And that I think is the final part of the church’s template; the consistent preaching and teaching of the word of God in Paul’s house. He would have never had a great crowd.  It was a rented home after all and would not have held more than a couple of dozen people at a time.  But the church continued.  And when Paul eventually met his death, someone else picked up the baton and continued to run the race.  That baton has been passed down through the centuries from church to church, from generation to generation.  Today we still meet in our homes, and today small groups of Christians meet all around the world, sharing the truth of the gospel to all who will come. 

I believe the true church of God is still following that template,  doing the same thing that Paul did, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness.  The preaching of the word is the hallmark of the church, it’s our purpose, and nothing can stop us except the Lord’s return.  Let us be found as faithful as Paul was, in whatever circumstances we find ourselves, to be about the purpose of the kingdom of God, never ceasing to preach Jesus Christ.