Week 6: Acts 12-18 Paul on Tour
This week Paul begins his first missionary journey. Paul’s character will become so much clearer to us as three things about him come to life; his belief in Christ, his passion for evangelism, and his intentional strategy to spread the gospel.
Paul’s beliefs are clearly communicated throughout the chapters. He shares his intellectual beliefs about Jesus and his intimate, personal belief and trust in God. “We tell you the good news: what God promised our fathers, he has fulfilled for us their children, by raising up Jesus” (13:32). “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth, and does not live in temples built by hands.” (18:24). Paul believed Jesus was raised from the dead and the Holy Spirit lived inside believers. He chose to trust this personal God. Even while they were in prison, “Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns” (Act 16:25). Paul trusted the Holy Spirit to give them personal direction as well. “They tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to” (16:7). What an amazing way to live, trusting in God and walking according to His directives.
Paul’s passion for evangelism is evident as well. Author Donald Miller summarized Paul’s heart for people in his book, Searching for God Knows What; “When it came time to express the kind of love Paul had for the lost, it wouldbe the kind that says, ‘I would gladly take God’s wrath upon myself and go to hell for your sake” (p.187). Paul summarizes his own heart that way in Romans 10. In Acts 16-17 he was beaten with rods, and thrown in jail for preaching the gospel and yet his heart is “greatly distressed,” not for his own pain, but for the city, Athens, that was “full of idols” (17:16). This is a man with a passion for the outsider!
Paul communicates with intentionality. He spoke where people gathered and in common language. In chapter 17,we find Paul in synagogues, the market place, and Aeropagus, also known in antiquity as Mars Hill. The Aeropagus was a counsel that served as an “open microphone” where Greek philosophers expressed new ideas. There were two prominent, yet opposing philosophies in Athens at this time, the Epicureans and the Stoics. Epicureans were materialists believing that the gods were uninvolved in human affairs and that humans should pursue pleasure and enjoyment. They also believed there was no afterlife or judgment. The Stoics were pantheists, believing God was the soul of the universe, and determinists, who believed enduring life’s hardships was inevitable. When he faced the educated court at Mars Hill, Paul addressed his audience using logic and Greek poetry. He also addressed those who didn’t have a clue who God was, but wanted to cover their bases just in case, erecting an altar with the inscription to an unknown god.
What Do You See? (Tip #6)
Hopefully this idea of observation is becoming second nature. We will work on observation a few more weeks before moving to interpretation. In the meantime, we are building our detective skills.
Last week we looked at the people in the text. So as not to forget what we learned, this week when you get to chapter 16, notice Luke suddenly begins writing in the first person. He starts saying things like, “we traveled to Philippi” (Acts 16:12). Why the sudden shift? The logical answer is Luke joined Paul in the story! He is no longer writing about what others told him. He is there with Paul and Silas.
Our next observation question is What? What plot is happening in this text? What is the plots order, or sequence? What happens to the characters? If a passage argues a point; what is the argument? What is the point? If there is a problem, what is the issue? What’s missing? And the biggest question of all, what’s the writer trying to communicate? All of these are just observations. You have to see what’s there before you can even answer the question. Using a journal to bombard the text with these questions can get you to amazing answers you never dreamed of at the end of the process. Take time to answer some of these questions about Paul’s address at Mars Hill in Acts 17. Talk to someone else about what you saw. That is the fun of doing this together.
Notes from My Journal
The Resurrection of Jesus is the lynchpin of the Christian faith. Without it, as Paul said in I Corinthians 15, we are a people most to be pitied!
There are many reasons to believe in the Resurrection. The fact a body was never found (produce it and the Christian faith is thwarted!). The willingness of early church disciples to die because they believed they’d seen a resurrected Jesus. But maybe the most profound reason to believe is the trans- formed life of one guy named Paul. Before he met Jesus he persecuted the church. He killed Christians. Yet on a road to Damascus (to continue the persecution and killing), he experienced personally the resurrected Jesus. He tells the story himself in Acts 9. After this encounter with the resurrected Jesus, he becomes a follower of Christ. Can you imagine? In one dramatic moment, Paul goes from persecutor to preacher! How could this have happened? What occurred? There can be only one, thoughtful response: he saw the resurrected Jesus! His life was changed.
Although most of us have never personally experienced the resurrected Jesus, we do know He is alive. Something deep within resonates that Jesus died for my sins and His resurrection proves it’s true. My life is transformed because of it. And, like Paul, I want others to know this reality.
Do you want others to know this reality? If not, go back and ponder the reality of the Resurrection...for you, for me, for the entire world. In Philippians 3, Paul wants all followers to know the power of Jesus’ Resurrection. In Romans 8:11 he says this power lives in the hearts of those of us who believe.
After all, it is the lynchpin of our faith!