Archive for October, 2012

Acts 1 (day 1019) 15 October 2012

1-5: The introduction tells us that this book is written by the same person who wrote the gospel of Luke, and is addressed to the same Theophilus. In contrast to Matthew (28:16), Mark (16:7) and John (21:1), Luke/Acts has the disciples remaining in Jerusalem until the day of Pentecost. Jesus tells them they will be baptized with the Holy Spirit; John, he says, only baptized with water.

6-11: This paragraph includes details omitted in Luke 24:50-51. They ask about the restoration of the kingdom of Israel, to which he gave an evasive answer, and tells them that their job is to be his witnesses first in Judea, then in Samaria, then in the whole world. He is “lifted up” from them into a cloud, reminding us of the cloud which enveloped Moses and Elijah on the Mt. of Transfiguration (see Luke 9:34). Then two “men in white robes” (recalling the “two men in dazzling robes at the tomb – see Luke 24:5) tell them tell them Jesus will return “in the same way” as they saw him go, providing one of a number of tantalizing images of what came to be called the Second Coming.

12-14: The eleven disciples return to the city. The names listed are the same as those found in Luke 6:14-16, though in a slightly different order. The “upper room” in which they are staying may or may not be the site of the Last Supper; your guess is as good as anybody’s. They are joined by “certain women” and by Jesus’ mother and brothers.

15-26: Actually, there are about 120 people gathered, Luke says. Peter calls a meeting. He begins by telling them about Judas. Matthew reports that he returned the 30 pieces of silver to the priests and then went out and hung himself (Matthew 27:3-5). According to Luke, though, Judas purchased a field with the blood money and apparently jumped off a precipice on the property and killed himself. Peter believes his fate had been decreed by the prophets, and tells them that they must choose someone to take his place. Why there must be 12 disciples is not explained. It may have to do with the fact that when Jesus sent them out as apostles he sent them out in pairs; or it may be have to do with keeping the number of disciples the same as the tribes of Israel, symbolizing the beginning of a new covenant. Two men are put forward (neither of whom will ever be mentioned again) and cast lots to choose one.

 

Acts 2 (day 1020) 16 October 2012

1-4: The day of Pentecost corresponds to the Jewish Shavuot, or Festival of Weeks, the harvest festival which commemorates the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai. It is observed seven weeks, or about 50 days, after Passover, so the Greek name Pentecost (Fiftieth) came in use during the Hellenistic period of Israel’s history. Though not nearly as important as Passover, a large number of pilgrims still make their way to Jerusalem for the festival. The disciples are still meeting together, awaiting the baptism of the Holy Spirit (see 1:5). First, they heard the sound of wind growing louder, then strange “tongues” of fire floated through the air around them, and a tongue alighted on each one of them, each conferring on its host the ability to speak in other languages.

6-13: The people in the streets also heard the sound, and gathered in bewilderment. Although we are not told that the disciple have come out into the streets, Luke says they all hear the disciples speaking in their own native languages. They are amazed, considering the number of different dialects and languages that are represented, but some are cynical and wonder if there’s a little too much partying going on.

14-21: Peter had taken over the leadership of the disciples (1:15) when Matthias was selected to replace Judas, and now he is the one to steps forward and address the crowds. He tells them it’s too early to be drinking, and offers another, scriptural explanation for what is happening: it is exactly what the prophet Joel said would take place, and he quotes the appropriate passage (Joel 2:28-32a).

22-28: Pressing on, Peter uses the moment to proclaim the resurrection of Jesus. He says that God handed Jesus over to them, and they in turn handed him over to “those outside the law,” the Romans. He quotes Psalm 16:8-11; the operative word is in verse 27 (Psalm 16:10): “He will not abandon my soul to Hades.”

29-36: Psalm 16 is traditionally understood to be a psalm of David, so Peter draws a connection between David and the Messiah. David, he says, knew that God had promised to put one of his descendants on the throne, and then makes the leap from “on the throne” to “Messiah.” The one God places on the throne is to be the Messiah, he says, and then boldly declares that Jesus is that one, that he is raised from the dead, and that he is both Lord (ruler) and Messiah.

37-42: Peter’s sermon results in convicting his audience of their sin to the point that they ask him what they should do, and taking a page from John the baptizer’s book he tells them to repent and be baptized. 3000 people do just that.

43-47: The baptism of the Holy Spirit results in the people doing remarkable things; helping those who are in need and enjoying fellowship with one another. This is the first description of the church and what the church is all about.

Acts 3 (day 1021) 17 October 2012

1-10: The first miracle recorded in Acts is the healing of a crippled man. Luke notes that the man has been lame since birth (compare John 9:1). Friends or members of his family place his litter at one of the main entrances into the temple area where there is a lot of foot traffic so he can beg for alms since he cannot work for a living. Peter heals him simply by telling him to walk in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth. We are reminded of Jesus’ saying that “everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher” (Luke 6:40), and Peter is the first of the disciples to exhibit that ability.

11-16: The ex-cripple’s antics attract a crowd, and ever since the sound of the rushing wind at Pentecost Peter cannot resist a crowd. He boldly announces that the crippled man has been healed through faith in the name of Jesus whom they, the crowds, have crucified and who is raised from the dead.

17-26: Peter exonerates them by acknowledging that they acted in ignorance, not knowing whom they were crucifying, and calls on them to repent of their sins. He asserts that Jesus is the prophet foretold by Moses (Deuteronomy 18:15). Furthermore, he asserts that God, having raised him up, has sent him to them first – though in the guise of his disciples, it would seem.

 

Acts 4 (day 1022) 18 October 2012

1-4: Peter and John are arrested for teaching in the name of Jesus, the first act of persecution against any of the disciples. 5000 new converts become believers.

5-12: The next day they are brought before the religious authorities and asked who gave them authority to “do this,” apparently a reference to the healing of the crippled man. Peter is again emboldened to proclaim that Jesus, whom they crucified, is raised and that the healing of the crippled man has been done in his name and by his power. He maintains that “there is salvation in no one else” (verse 12), although it is a bit difficult to determine what he means by salvation in this instance. He does not seem to be speaking of eternal life, but rather to the renewal of life the once crippled man is now enjoying.

13-22: The rulers debate what to do and determine that no more can be done at this point than to warn Peter and John not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus – in other words, no more healings! Peter and John refuse to keep silence, and they are released anyway after a few more threats.

23-31: Peter and John gather with “their friends,” likely a reference to the disciples (who are no longer called disciples, by the way – from now on that term will be reserved for the newly converted), who celebrate their victory over the council. They raise a prayer of thanksgiving for the rescue of Peter and John, and Luke says the place where they gathered was shaken, but we do not know whether he means that literally or metaphorically. In any case they experience once again the power of the Holy Spirit in their midst.

32-37: The movement gains momentum as converts are added who surrender everything to the cause, and they gather with a tremendous outpouring of love for one another and power from the apostles (the once-disciples). They overcome poverty because when God’s people share unselfishly there is always enough for everyone.

 

Acts 5 (day 1023) 19 October 2012

1-6: Given the heady atmosphere that has enveloped the early Christian community we should not be surprised that someone would contrive to be part of the excitement without really investing much of themselves. Such is the case with Ananias and Sapphira, who sell some property and bring the proceeds to Peter. Obviously Ananias presents it proudly, claiming it to be the entire sale price. Peter, however, sees through the scheme and intuits that he is only bringing a small percentage (no other explanation would make sense) of the sale price, publicly pretending to be making a huge sacrifice. Peter challenges him, and he drops dead. Great fear seizes them all? Of course it does.

7-11: Sapphira arrives a few hours later to bask in the afterglow of the recognition she is sure they will receive, only to learn that their subterfuge has been discovered and her husband has died from the shock of the shame they must now face. She drops dead, too. “When you give alms, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Matthew 6:3).

12-16: The apostles perform many healings, and their fame spreads so that many more people are brought to believe in the power of the risen Christ. The scene described in these verses reminds us of the initial reception Jesus received in Galilee (for example, Matthew 4:24-25).

17-26: The high priest is not named, but is identified as a Sadducee, one of the religious parties that persecuted Jesus. The Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, and so are particularly peeved at the disciples’ audacity in preaching such nonsense. The apostles are arrested and put in prison. Somebody whom they later identify as an angel lets them out, though, and tells them to go preach in the temple, which they do. The next morning the Sanhedrin sends for them but they are not found, of course. Then someone comes and tells them the apostles are preaching in the temple, so guards are sent to bring them, which they do, but carefully.

27-32: The high priest reminds them that they are under orders not to preach in the name of Jesus. Peter answers that they will do whatever God tells them to do (compare their defense at 4:19-20), accuses them of having Jesus killed, tells them Jesus has been raised and that the Holy Spirit – the power behind the healings – is available to those who obey him; meaning not them.

33-39: All this, of course, sends them into a murderous rage. But there is a reasonable Pharisee in the group, Gamaliel, whom we will learn is one of Paul’s teachers. Gamaliel gives sage advice with examples, and calms everybody down.

40-42: The apostles are flogged and ordered not to speak in the name of Jesus. They, however, are more energized than ever, and continue to do just that.

 

Acts 6 (day 1024) 20 October 2012

1-7: As the community grows, a cultural skirmish develops between Jews of Greek descent (Hellenists) and native Jews (Hebrews). The Hellenists protest that their widows are not getting the attention the Hebrew widows are getting. The apostles realize that overseeing the daily food distribution is not the best use of their time, and ask some of them to select others to head up that project. The six who are chosen all have Greek names, so the Hellenists are thereby mollified.

8-15: Of the six, Stephen is particularly active and draws the most attention. He bests some of the out-of-towners in debates and they respond jealously, claiming they have heard him speak blasphemy against Moses and God. So the council has Stephen arrested and hears the false charges. Stephen is obviously unaffected by their slander. His countenance is so peaceful that he appears as they imagine an angel might appear.

 

Acts 7 (day 1025) 21 October 2012

1-8: Stephen makes his defense by telling the story of the entire Old Testament, thus trying to prove he has not spoken blasphemy against Moses and God. He begins by reciting the story of Abraham and the covenant God established with Abraham and his descendants.

9-16: Continuing through what we have come to call the book of Genesis, Stephen recounts how Joseph was sold as a slave into Egypt, and how a famine drove the rest of his family there.

17-22: Now slipping into what we have come to call Exodus, Stephen tells how the descendants of Abraham grew in Egypt, how they were persecuted, and the story of how Moses came to be raised in the Egyptian royal family.

23-29: The first 40 years of Moses’ life is now covered; how he killed an Egyptian for molesting a Hebrew slave; how his deed was broadcast by some of his own people; how he escaped into Midian.

30-34: Stephen then tells the story of how God appeared to Moses in the burning bush and sent him to Egypt to rescue his people.

35-43: Continuing through the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, Stephen recalls the wilderness wanderings and the revolt of the people against Moses, including the incident with the golden calves, which Stephen says resulted in God’s determination that they would eventually be sent into exile beyond Babylon.

44-51: He then covers the erection of the “tent of testimony” in the wilderness and the subsequent building of the temple in Jerusalem. Remember that one of the charges brought against Stephen is that he has been telling people Jesus will destroy the temple (6:13-14). Now Stephen does in fact hold up a prophetic saying that God has no use for an earth-based home (see Isaiah 66:1).

51-54: I imagine his opposition bristled at the quote from Isaiah, but if Stephen had left matters there he may have survived the interrogation. He couldn’t let it rest, though, and suddenly pronounces judgment against the Sanhedrin, accusing them of being stiff-necked, spiritually uncircumcised, in opposition to the Holy Spirit, murderers and lawbreakers.

55-60: They are enraged, and Stephen undermines his safety even more by saying that he can see into heaven where the Son of Man (a reference to Jesus, which all of them surely recognize) is at God’s right hand. That is enough for them. They drag him out of the city and kill him.

 

Acts 8 (day 1026) 22 October 2012

1: We meet Saul, soon to be the main character of the book.

2-3: A picture is painted of the first persecution of the church. The stoning of Stephen sets off a firestorm of rage, and the Jewish authorities are determined to wipe out what they see as a serious threat to what little authority and autonomy they have left. New converts flee the city, leaving the apostles to face the mobs alone. Saul takes the lead in finding and incarcerating men and women alike who have embraced the teaching of and about Jesus.

4-8: But, as has often been the case in the church’s history, the persecution actually presents an opportunity for the new faith to spread and gain even more followers. We are not told why Philip goes to Samaria, but he becomes the first Christian missionary evangelist, and his efforts there are rewarded with miracles of healing and many conversions to the faith.

9-13: A popular magician named Simon is enamored of Philip and seems to embrace Philip’s message, but really is simply overly impressed with Philip’s “magic tricks.”

14-24: Word gets back to Jerusalem, catching the attention of the apostles. They send Peter and John to Samaria to shore up the work, for they have heard that the Samaritans have not received the Holy Spirit – their conversion has not been evidenced by outward expression. They pray for the new converts, and visible changes occur in their behavior, though precisely what is not described. Simon the magician is impressed. He wants the power Peter and John have and offers to pay for it. Peter roundly denounces him. Simon responds by asking Peter to pray for him, but you get the impression he still doesn’t quite get it.

25-40: Peter and John return to Jerusalem. Philip, however, at the urging of an angel, heads toward the road between Jerusalem and Gaza on the Mediterranean coast. He encounters an Ethiopian official riding along in a chariot reading from a scroll which contains the book of the prophet Isaiah. He is described as a eunuch; many Middle Eastern monarchs castrated the officials who might have access to the royal harem. He could very well have nonetheless been an official of some high standing. Having been sent there by an angel, we are now told that the Spirit orders Philip to go over to the Ethiopian. It turns out the man is a religious devotee of Judaism, though not himself Jewish. He invites Philip to ride with him and asks him about a passage in the scroll (Isaiah 53:7). Philip thus has an opportunity to tell the man about Jesus, and he responds by asking Philip to baptize him. Philip is then “snatched” away, a description that has resulted in all kinds of extraordinary explanations; in any case, he leaves the Ethiopian official singing on his way back to Ethiopia, and the gospel has now spread from Jerusalem to Samaria to the continent of Africa. Philip, meanwhile, is next seen passing through Azotus (Ashdod – between Jerusalem and the coast) on his way up the coast to Caesarea, a Mediterranean port named after the ruler of Rome and located west-northwest of Samaria.

 

Acts 9 (day 1027) 23 October 2012

1-9: Saul hears that some of the followers of the Wayare now in Damascus, and zealously seeksto expand his mop-up operation to the synagogues there. (This is the first time the Jesus movement has been called “The Way.” See also 18:25-26; 19:9, 23; 22:4; 24:14, 22.) These first Christians were Jews who naturally are bringing their message to the synagogues of their fellow Jews, and that is particularly threatening to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem. The story of Paul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus is repeated at Acts 22:6-11 and 26:12-18, each time with rather interesting differences. He is suddenly accosted by a flashing light that makes him fall to the ground. He hears a voice, which identifies itself as Jesus, telling him to go into the city to receive instructions. Saul is blinded by the light and has to be led by the hand into Damascus where he fasts for three days, like Jonah in the whale and Jesus in the tomb.

10-19:  Saul is at the house of one Judas. A disciple named Ananias receives a message in a vision to go to Judas’ house where he will find Saul, who has been given a vision of his coming. Ananias is at first reluctant because of Saul’s reputation, but the voice persists, telling Ananias that this Saul has been chosen to take the gospel to the Gentiles. He goes and lays his hands on Saul, and Saul’s eyes are opened and he is filled with the Holy Spirit, although no outward signs of the Spirit’s presence are mentioned.

20-22: Saul begins to proclaim Jesus as the Son of God in the synagogues in Damascus; quite a turn around.

23-25: The leaders of the synagogues decide they will have to do away with Saul, but their plot is uncovered and Saul escapes the city with the help of “his disciples.” He already has a following.

26-30: Back in Jerusalem Saul tries to join the other disciples but they want nothing to do with him. Barnabas, however, has heard about Saul’s doings in Damascus and represents him to the others. (We met Barnabas earlier – see 4:36-37.) Saul is an argumentative little guy, though, and before long he’s made the Hellenists mad at him. Stephen, you will recall, was chosen to minister to the widows among the Hellenists (chapter 7). In fact, Stephen is a Greek name, so he was himself a Hellenist. By now, however, the Greek Jews are tired of their number being proselytized, and they are ready to kill Saul. The “believers” (the Hellenists who have converted to the Way) get wind of it and take Saul down to Caesarea and put him on a boat to Tarsus. In other words, they send him back home. He is a bit much for them.

31: Now that Saul is gone, peace settles over the land.

32-35: Lydda is about 20 miles west-northwest of Jerusalem, toward the coast. Peter is making the rounds of the believers in the outlying areas of Judea, which brings him eventually to Lydda, located in the coastal plain of Sharon. There he finds a paralyzed man named Aeneas, and heals him in the name of Jesus Christ. The miracle sparks the conversion of the entire area to the Way.

36-43: Joppa is on the coast west of Lydda about 8 miles. Peter is summoned there because of the death of Tabitha/Dorcas. Verse 36 reads as though there has been a Christian presence in Joppa for quite some time. In a scene reminiscent of Jesus healing the synagogue ruler’s daughter (Mark 5: 40-42), Peter puts everybody out of the room where the body is laid, and prays her back to life. News of her resuscitation draws many others to the Way, just as it did when Jesus began to work miracles in Galilee.

 

Acts 10 (day 1028) 24 October 2012

          1-8: We meet a centurion named Cornelius, of the Italian Cohort stationed at Caesarea, which tells us this man is not Jewish. Cornelius is, however, a devout believer. He has a vision one afternoon of an angel who tells him to send for Peter in Joppa. It is obvious that Cornelius is ready for a conversion experience by the care he takes in whom to send to Joppa.

9-16: Meanwhile in Joppa Peter also has a vision which prepares him for their visit. The one thing that most obviously separated Jews from Gentiles socially was the dietary restrictions imposed by Jewish law, and since God was getting ready to send Peter to a Gentile household it is fitting that Peter be given another perspective on those differences separating them. Note that Peter’s vision and its message is evidence that God has already chosen Cornelius before Cornelius has made any kind of profession of faith in Jesus.

17-22: The arrival of the three messengers coincides with Peter’s vision.

23-29: He lodges the men overnight, a major break with his upbringing, and next day he goes with them to Caesarea along with some others (see verse 45). At Cornelius’ house he discovers that Cornelius has made some preparations for his coming by inviting all his relatives and friends.  Cornelius’ welcome, bowing down to him, is an extreme and rather extraordinary gesture of submission on his part which makes Peter uncomfortable. He tells Cornelius that God has shown him not to look down on anyone, Jew or Gentile, and asks why he has been sent for.

30-33: Cornelius tells Peter about his vision (shining garments seem to be the signature attire of angels, doesn’t it?) and says they are gathered to hear whatever Peter has been commanded to say to them.

34-43: Peter, like any good preacher, is ready, and gives them a brief summary of the Christian message about Jesus.

44-48: While Peter is speaking the Holy Spirit “falls upon” his listeners, a phenomenon that is verified by their speaking in tongues and praising God; speaking in tongues is not always associated with the coming of the Holy Spirit, but of course was the distinguishing sign on the Day of Pentecost. Peter orders that they be baptized, and then is invited to stay with them for several days.

 

Acts 11 (day 1029) 25 October 2012

          1-18: Peter has to give an account of his doings to the other apostles in Jerusalem. He tells the story of the vision and the ensuing encounter he had with Cornelius and the others in Joppa which we read about in chapter 10, without embellishment. The others rejoice to hear it and accept the fact that God has decided that Gentiles must be included in “the repentance that leads to life.”

19-26: The faith continues to spread because of – not in spite of – the persecutions; north to Phoenicia and Antioch, and out to the island of Cyprus at the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea. It has also spread to the coast of Africa where Cyrene of Libya is located (remember Simon of Cyrene who carried Jesus’ cross – see Mark 15:21). Some believers have come to Antioch from Cyprus and Cyrene and begin telling the story of Jesus to non-Jews with great success. The folks down in Jerusalem get wind of it and send Barnabas to investigate. Barnabas, you recall, was first mentioned as being one who sold his property and gave the proceeds to the apostles soon after the Day of Pentecost (4:36-37), and also as the one who introduced Saul to the apostles in Jerusalem(9:27).  Barnabas is an encourager, not an investigator, and he tells them to keep up the good work, then goes to Tarsus to look for Saul (who had been sent there because of the opposition he stirred up in Jerusalem – see 9:30) and brings him back to Antioch where they stayed for a year teaching and making converts. The tag “Christian” is first used in Antioch, and it stuck (a good thing because it’s easier to pronounce than “Jesusian” or “Messiahian”).

27-30: Agabus is mentioned only here and at 21:10-11, but it is by no means certain that it is the same person although many scholars believe that it must be. In any case, in both passages he predicts something that is about to happen; in this case a famine which will afflict the whole (Mediterranean) world during the reign of Claudius (41-54 A.D.). An offering is gathered and Barnabas and Saul are designated as couriers to carry it to Jerusalem.

Acts 12 (day 1030) 26 October 2012

1-5: Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem old Herod Antipas begins a persecution of the leaders of the church. He arrests James, son of Zebedee and brother of John, and has him summarily executed. Then he arrests Peter and puts him in prison, intending to throw him to the mobs after the Passover celebration ended.

6-11: Peter’s guard detail stays with him around the clock, but during the night an “angel of the LORD” woke him up and said, “Get up and get dressed and let’s get out of here.” They leave the prison, the gates opening for them as they go. Peter thinks he’s having another vision until the angel takes off.

12-17: He goes to the house Mary, mother of John Mark. We are told that others had gathered there to pray for him. He knocks. A young servant named Rhonda hears him at the door and goes to tell the others. They come to investigate and are surprised that he is out of jail. He tells them how it happened, asks them to inform James, then leaves. This James, by the way, cannot be James the brother of John (he’s dead – see verse 2), and most scholars believe it is James the brother of Jesus, whom we shall see becomes the leader of the church in Jerusalem.

18-19: The soldiers are at a loss to tell Herod how Peter got away. Herod is not happy with the way they have performed their duties and has them killed, then heads to his summer palace at Caesarea.

20-23: Herod dies a horrible death, sounds like.

24-25: The church spreads. Barnabas and Saul return from Jerusalem (some texts say they return to Jerusalem, but that doesn’t make sense) after completing an unspecified mission, bringing John Mark with them – the same John Mark in whose mother’s home they had gathered to pray for the Passover.

Acts 13 (day 1031) 27 October 2012

          1-3: Of the leaders named here, Manaen is mentioned nowhere else. Simeon appears at the Council of Jerusalem (15:14) and Lucius is named as one of Paul’s companions in Rome (Romans 16:21). Note that some of the leaders in the church in Antioch have come from Libya. Note also that the faith is not absent in the halls of government. I wish Luke would tell us more about how they know the Holy Spirit hasspoken to them. Somehow they know that to be the case, and Saul and Barnabas become a missionary team.

4-12: They sail to Cyprus with John (John Mark) and tour the island from east (Salamis) to west (Paphos). At Paphos the Gentile governor of the island, Sergius Paulus, summons them to hear what they have to say. Bar-Jesus, a Jew and probably one of the proconsul’s advisers, opposes them. Sergius Paulus is intelligent; Bar-Jesus is “full of deceit and villainy.” Luke underlines the conversion of the proconsul by turning the names of Bar-Jesus and Saul into their Greek names, Elymas and Paul. It was common for Jews who mingled with the Gentile world to assume a more international sounding name. It will be Paul from now on. Elymas is struck blind, Luke’s way of emphasizing his (and the Jews’ in general) opposition to the gospel.  I have to note, however, that Jesus never punished anybody.

13-15: From Paphos they sail north-northwest to Perga, situated on the Cestrus River a few miles inland in what is now Turkey. Perga is the cathedral city of the goddess Artemis. Up to this point Barnabas has been the leader, but from now on Paul will be mentioned first, and the rest of the book of Acts will concern his missionary activity exclusively. John (Mark) leaves them and returns to Jerusalem. Paul later says he “deserted” them (see 15:36-39). They did not attempt to preach in Perga, perhaps because there was no synagogue there – initially Paul’s missionary activity was to the house of Israel. They travel instead to Pisidian Antioch where they attend the synagogue gathering on Friday evening. The leader asks if they have a word. He probably regretted it later.

16-25: Paul addresses his comments both to the Jews and to “you that fear God,” meaning Gentiles sympathetic to the Jewish faith. His sermon uses a familiar form; a brief history of God’s relationship with the people of Israel, the promise of a Savior, and the appearance of John the baptizer announcing the coming of the Messiah. Now he will turn to the story of Jesus, but he has made it clear that it will be a continuation of the story of Israel.

26-41: Paul stops for a second, and then starts his sermon again, this time addressing all of them as “my brothers,” but he tailors his sermon specifically for use in a foreign land, drawing a distinction between his listeners in Asia Minor and “those who live in Jerusalem and their rulers.” It was a prominent feature of early Christian preaching that all of this was in keeping with what the prophets foretold. To that end he quotes several passages from the Psalms (2:7 and 16:10) and the prophets (Isaiah 55:3 and Habakkuk 1:5). He points out the sharp contrast between Jesus and David: David died, but Jesus’ body did not “see corruption.”  Jesus is the One through whom forgiveness is given. The Law does not have such power; it only has the power of convicting us of sin.

42-43: Paul and Barnabas have made a big splash. The people are eager to hear them again, but some of the leaders slink home that night licking their imaginary wounds, green with envy.  That’s just too many clichés to bode well for our team.

44-47: The next Friday the synagogue is crammed. The leaders have crafted an argument against Paul and Barnabas. Verse 46 and 47 are arguably among the most important verses in the New Testament. Ever since their experience on Cyprus Paul and Barnabas have no doubt debated the place of Gentiles in this new faith. When the confrontation in Antioch reaches an impasse, they fall back on what was surely an already agreed upon Plan B: if the Jews refuse the gospel, turn to the Gentiles. Rather than arguing themselves hoarse, they simply capitulate. Quoting Isaiah 49:6 they leave the synagogue, forever changing the face of Christianity. The verse they quote is an extraordinary one. They quote only the last part of it. Here is the whole of it: “It’s too easy a thing for you to serve me by raising up the tribes of Jacob and restoring the remnants of Israel; I’m going to give you as a light to all the nations, and you shall deliver my salvation to the remotest parts of the earth”(The Word Made Fresh version).

48-52: Paul and Barnabas are now having great success receiving many converts from among the Gentile population in Antioch of Pisidia, but their success comes at a price. The synagogue officials line up some powerful opposition in the city against Paul and Barnabas and drive them out of the city and the whole district. But our dynamic duo take it in stride and shake off the dust from their feet in a gesture suggested by Jesus himself when he sent out the first missionaries (Luke 10:11), and they leave behind a new church – “the disciples” in verse 52 is not a reference to Paul and Barnabas. They are apostles now. The disciples referred to here are the new converts in the city.

 

Acts 14 (day 1032) 28 October 2012

1-7: Iconium proves to be a similar experience. They preach with great success, but are eventually driven out of town because the leaders of the synagogue stir up opposition against them.

8-18: In Lystra Paul heals a crippled man, resulting in the crowds proclaiming him and Barnabas to be gods – Hermes and Zeus, to be exact. The priest of the temple of Zeus wants to organize sacrifices for them, and they have a hard time convincing them that they are just ordinary men.

19-20: Enemies from Antioch of Pisidia and Iconium arrive in town and stir up a mob against Paul, stone him and throw his body outside the city. He revives, however, and next day he and Barnabas move on. Preachers just sort of instinctively know when it’s time to leave a congregation. They head to Derbe.

21-23: After working in Derbe for awhile they retrace their journey through all the towns where they had nearly been killed – Lystra, Iconium and Antioch of Pisidia – recruiting leaders for the churches they have started in each place and shoring up the work. The planting of those first congregations takes extraordinary courage.

24-28: Paul and Barnabas return to their home base, passing again through Perga and Attalia, and give the leader s of the church in Antioch of Syria an account of their first missionary journey.

Acts 15 (day 1033) 29 October 2012

1-5: The “certain individuals” mentioned in verse 1 are not named, but are more closely identified in verse 5 as Pharisees. Yes, Pharisees can become Christians, too. (Paul himself was a Pharisee – see 23:6.) These simply could not give up their strict insistence on adherence to the Law, and had the idea that circumcision was necessary for salvation. It caused enough turmoil in Antioch that they sent Paul and Barnabas on another mission, this time to Jerusalem to receive guidance on the question of circumcision. On the way we discover that dynamic congregations already exist in Phoenicia and Samaria.

6-11: In Jerusalem a heated argument ensues. Perhaps it is not surprising that Peter is the one who puts forward a motion that circumcision is not required, given his experience in Joppa (chapter 10). The theme of salvation “through the grace of the Lord Jesus” appears here first, in verse 11.

12-21: That James who was one of the twelve disciples was killed by Herod Antipas (see12:2). The James mentioned here is thought by most non-Catholic scholars to be the brother of Jesus (Mark 6:3, Galatians 1:19). Catholic tradition, because the doctrine of the immaculate conception holds that Mary never conceived another child, is that the James mentioned here is James son of Alphaeus (Matthew 10:2-3) or another follower by that name. Whomever, he is clearly now the leader of the church in Jerusalem. He quotes Amos 9:11-12 (with some poetic license) as proof that God intended for the Gentiles to be included in his kingdom. The rebuilding of the temple actually occurred around 515 B.C., but Herod the Great had undertaken a massive rebuilding of the whole temple compound, an undertaking that was still going on after the birth of Jesus. James is taking the liberty of transposing Amos’ prophesy from that first attempt at building the Second Temple to Herod’s efforts, thus linking the prophecy to the present situation. James obviously has the authority to make a decision in the debate and does so. His ruling is that circumcision is not to be imposed, but curiously does impose dietary restrictions on eating food that has been dedicated to pagan gods and un-kosher meat, and “fornication,” a broad term referring to various acts of sexual immorality.

22-29: A letter is sent from “the apostles and elders” in the hands of Judas Barsabbas and Silas (who later becomes a companion of Paul’s) which informs the church in Antioch of their decision. The letter says the Pharisees who created the disturbance were not authorized to do so, and that the decision they are reporting was arrived at unanimously, although it sounded more unilaterally than unanimously back in verse 19. Barnabas and Paul are praised for their work. The same restrictions mentioned above are reiterated, but this time in a different order that puts the dietary restrictions first.

30-35: Everybody’s happy. Judas and Silas go back to Jerusalem, leaving Paul and Barnabas in Antioch. Some ancient authorities have Judas returning to Jerusalem without Silas, which makes sense given the following paragraph.

36-41: Paul and Barnabas have a falling out over whether or not to take John (his Jewish name) Mark (his Greek name) with them. Paul chooses Silas as a travel companion (see note above) and Barnabas chooses Mark.

Acts 16 (day 1034) 30 October 2012

1-5: Paul returns with Silas to familiar territory in Asia Minor where they recruit young Timothy to join them. Timothy, being of Greek-Jewish parentage, is not circumcised, and ironically – since this trip is to deliver the message about not requiring circumcision – Paul has him circumcised so as not to stir up the Jews he had encountered on his last trip there.

6-10: This paragraph is a brief travelogue that brings Paul and Silas and Timothy to the western end of Asia Minor to the port of Troas. It is a singular feature of this paragraph that the Holy Spirit and the Spirit of Jesus prohibited them from traveling to other parts of Asia Minor. The vision Paul has at night is also unparalleled in Paul’s experiences as described in Acts. The vision is of a Macedonian man begging him to come there.

11-15: So, off they sail to Philippi. They go to the river on the next Saturday.  It was customary to use the river as a meeting place and, there apparently being no synagogue in Philippi, Paul and his companions gather at the river. A merchant woman named Lydia is converted and invites them to stay at her house.

16-18: A slave girl who has a unique talent for fortune telling attaches herself to “Paul and us” (is Luke now part of the entourage?), annoying Paul to the point that he casts out the “spirit of divination.”

19-24: Unfortunately, that so-called spirit earns her owners a lot of money and they drag Paul and Silas into the marketplace where they succeed in having them publicly beaten and then thrown into prison, with their feet fastened in stocks.

25-34: From the earliest records in the Bible it is clear that God does not like his people to be imprisoned. In Acts it has been an act of downright foolishness to bother to lock any of them up. Such is the case now. This time an earthquake shakes the premises and results in the doors being opened and their shackles being disengaged. The jailer is awakened, sees what has happened, assumes that the prisoners have all escaped and decides he’d rather not have to answer for it. Paul calls out that they are still in the prison, and the jailer is relieved and astonished to find that to be the case. The jailer is immediately converted by the event, obviously having been exposed at least somewhat to Christian teachings. He tends their wounds and takes them into his own house and he and his family are baptized. When he asks, “What must I do to be saved,” however, baptism is not mentioned as a requirement; only belief in the Lord Jesus. Interestingly, Paul tells him that his belief will save not only him but his entire household as well. The baptism thus confirms that statement.

35-40: The next morning they are let out of prison – I suppose a flogging and a night in jail was all their tormentors intended to begin with. Paul now flaunts his Roman citizenship. The magistrates are properly cowed, but nevertheless ask them politely to leave town, please. They go to Lydia’s house first to encourage the small congregation that has started, and probably also to gather what belongings they have, and leave Philippi, but not forever.

 

Acts 17 (day 1035) 31 October 2012

1-9: Paul and Silas (and Timothy and Luke?) continue their journey through Macedonia to Thessalonica (named after Alexander the Great’s half-sister, Thessaloniki) where there is an established synagogue. Paul argues with them over a point concerning the Messiah. Paul’s argument is that the scriptures prove that the Messiah must die and be raised from the dead. Since Jesus died and was raised from the dead, he wants them to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Some of the Jews are converted to the new faith along with a number of Gentiles, but some of the Jews, probably leaders in the synagogue, start a riot. Paul and Silas are apparently staying at the home of one Jason. Jason is an enigmatic character who appears out of nowhere and disappears after verse 9. (A Jason is mentioned at Romans 16:21 as being a relative of Paul’s, but we have no way of knowing if that is the same man.) In any case, failing to find Paul and Silas they drag Jason and some others out of his house and haul him to the authorities and accuse them of treason. Jason is allowed to forfeit bail and they are set free.

10-15: They waste on time getting Paul and Silas and Timothy off to Beroea, however. Beroea is located about 50 miles west of Thessalonica and 25 miles inland at the foot of Mt. Bermius. In Beroea they get a better reception until the Jews in Thessalonica descend upon them and stir up trouble. Paul is sent on to Athens.

16-21: Athens is about 250 miles south of Beroea, and the trip there is probably made by boat. While Paul waits for Silas and the others he begins attending the synagogue where he argues with them that Jesus is the Messiah. He also takes advantage of the Athenians’ love of debate and grapples with the philosophers in the agora. Epicureans follow the teachings of Epicurus, who believed the highest good is the pleasure one might achieve through modest living. The Stoics are products of a school founded in Athens several hundred years before by Zeno. They teach a form of virtuous living that is particularly suspicious of the emotions.  The agora is a sort of marketplace and probably not the best arena for serious debate, so they take Paul to the Areopagus, an official site near the Acropolis where city officials examine the teachings of outsiders.

22-31: Paul presents his argument to the officials. The story of the “unknown god” altar is that hundreds of years before a plague had swept through the city. The poet Epiminides suggested that they send sheep throughout the city and wherever one of them lay down it was to be sacrificed to the god whose shrine was nearest. If there was no near shrine they were to erect an altar on the spot and sacrifice the sheep to “the unknown god.” Paul’s argument before the Athenians is that God is the uncreated creator who has shaped history. God created people so that they would seek God. For most of human history they have groped about searching for God, but those days are past with the coming of Jesus. A day of judgment is coming when Jesus Christ will judge the nations. The proof of his exalted status is his resurrection.

32-34: At least they don’t try to kill him, but most of them scoff at Paul’s ideas. Some, though, are convinced, including one of the Areopagus officials and a woman named Damaris, neither of whom is mentioned again.

 

Acts 18 (day 1036) 1 November 2012

1-4: Corinth is about 45 miles west of Athens. Paul finds Aquila and Priscilla, Jews who had been forced to leave Rome by decree of the emperor Claudius. This is the first hint of organized persecution of Christians by the Roman authorities. Paul and Aquila are both tent-makers, a common and prosperous trade in the Mediterranean world of the time. Of course, Paul became a fixture at synagogue gatherings.

5-11: Silas and Timothy finally catch up to him. Paul is finally frustrated by the resistance he receives from those in the synagogue, and makes a public display of shaking the dust off his feet and going next door to a Gentile named Titius Justus who is a believer. The president of the synagogue, Crispus (a Greek name, nonetheless), also becomes a believer along with many others. In the glow of this success Paul experiences a vision in which Jesus tells him he will be safe in Corinth, that there are many believers in the city, and that he should be bold in spreading the good news. He stays in Corinth for 18 months.

12-17: Corinth is located in the Greek province of Achaia, to which came a new proconsul, Gallio. Thinking they might persuade him to get rid of Paul some of the Jews bring charges against him. Gallio dismisses the case summarily. Mobs behave like mobs, and they seized Sosthenes, who probably had replaced Crispus as the synagogue official (see verse 8). Gallio proves to be utterly uninterested in Jewish affairs.

18-21: Paul travels through Cenchreae on the way to the coast, making some sort of oath on the way for which he has his hair cut as a sign, then sails for Antioch, taking Priscilla and Aquila with him. The first leg of the journey is across the Aegean Sea to Ephesus on the western coast of Asia Minor where he makes contact with the Jews of the city. He makes a favorable impression, but declines their invitation to stay awhile. He’ll be back, though. Priscilla and Aquila remain in Ephesus.

22-23: He sails next to Caesarea, then travels inland to Jerusalem, touches base with the church there, then goes on the Antioch, his home base. In time he leaves again, returning to Asia Minor to revisit churches he established in the towns of Phrygia and Galatia.

24-28: Meanwhile, back in Ephesus, a popular preacher named Apollos from Alexandria arrived and began preaching eloquently. Priscilla and Aquila had to straighten him out on a few things, influenced no doubt by their association with Paul. They send him on to Corinth in the Greek province of Achaia where he has a successful ministry of preaching and debating with the Jews.

 

Acts 19 (day 1037) 2 November 2012

          1-7: Paul returns to Ephesus where he finds a dozen or so Christians who have nevertheless only been baptized into John’s baptism of repentance. Paul persuades them to be baptized into the name of Jesus, the one whom John had proclaimed. Upon being baptized in Christ they are overcome by the Holy Spirit and begin to speak in tongues and begin to prophesy – two of the signs of the indwelling Holy Spirit which Paul mentions in his later correspondence (see 1 Corinthians 12:10, for example).

8-10: Paul goes to the synagogue to debate with the Jews, of course, and succeeds in converting a number of people, but opposition starts getting nasty and he leaves, taking his converts with him, and removes to a public lecture hall (the name Tyrannus is unknown elsewhere in ancient literature, but may be the name of the person who founded the school). Paul’s two year stay in Ephesus is probably his longest tenure anywhere.

11-20: The story of the seven sons of Sceva is told to demonstrate the power of faith in Jesus. The Jewish exorcists are from Jerusalem, being sons of a high priest. Seeing the success Paul is having they try to duplicate his “formula,” speaking in the name of “the Jesus whom Paul proclaims.” But their attempt to usurp the power of faith in Jesus is foiled by the strength of the demon-possessed man who recognizes (as demons seem often to do) that they are not authentic believers. As a result, Paul’s stock rises and even the local magicians are converted to the faith to the extent that they burn their valuable books of incantations.

21-22: Paul sends Timothy and Erastus (who is mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:20) to Macedonia to make provisions for his going there.

23-27: The first trade union strike occurs when a silversmith named Demetrius points a finger at Paul as the reason for their declining business.

28-41: A riot ensues and an angry mob gathers at the theater. Gaius and Aristarchus will both be mentioned a half-dozen times in the remainder of the New Testament. Aristarchus is called Paul’s fellow prisoner (Colossians 4:10). A leader in the Jewish community, one Alexander, tries to bring some order to the mob but is shouted down. After a couple of hours of rioting and chanting the town clerk is able finally to restore order, telling Demetrius and his trade union to follow the prescribed procedure for bringing a complaint. Note that in spite of the angry riot the Christian community seems to have gained a measure of respect, for both the Jewish leader Alexander and the unnamed town clerk defend Paul and his followers.

 

Acts 20 (day 1038) 3 November 2012

1-6: Preachers always know instinctively when it’s time to go. Paul sets sail for Macedonia to visit the churches he established in Thessalonica, Philippi and Beroea, then travels south to Greece, but we are not told whether to Athens or Corinth or both. After three months he decides to move on, but a threat from the Jews who were so vehemently against him before causes him to change plans and travel back through Macedonia instead of directly to Syria. A list is given of his companions – Sopater (his name occurs only here), Aristarchus (mentioned also at 19:29, 27:2; Colossians 4:10; Philemon 1:24), Secundus (not mentioned elsewhere), Gaius (whose name appears also at 19:29; Romans 16:23; 1 Corinthians 1:14; 3 John 1:1-2), Timothy, Tychicus (see also Ephesians 6:21; Colossians 4:7; 2 Timothy 4:12; and Titus 3:12) and Trophimus (21:29 and 2 Timothy 4:20) – quite an entourage accompanies Paul now. These apparently sailed ahead to Troas on the Asia Minor coast, leaving the reader to guess who the “us” refers to in verse 5 and the “we” in verse 6. Paul joins them in Troas after the Passover festival.

7-12: The first day of the week is Sunday, which for Paul and the Jews begins on what we call Saturday sundown. The breaking of bread mentioned here is thus the evening meal. Paul then preaches until midnight. (How things have changed!) Eutychus (mentioned only here) falls asleep and out the window and is feared dead, but Paul finds that he is in fact still alive. Back upstairs, after a midnight snack, they talk until dawn.

13-16: “We” – those named in verses 4 plus the narrator, possibly Luke – sail to Assos, eight or ten miles down the coast. Paul, who wanted to walk, joins them there and they sail to Mytilene, Chios, Samos and Miletus, skipping Ephesus so they would arrive in Jerusalem for Pentecost.

17-24: He does send a message to Ephesus, however, asking the elders to come and meet him somewhere along the coast outside the city. He reminds them of the example he set while he was with them and tells them that he is going to Jerusalem under the Spirit’s compulsion – reminding us of the way the Spirit sent Jesus into the wilderness to face the temptations. He believes he will face persecution and prison.

25-35: He tells them that he knows he will never see them again, and that he is free from responsibility for their blood. In other words, having faithfully taught them for several years, they know everything they need to know about living a life worthy of the gospel. If they fail to do so it is not his fault. He cautions them about those, externally and internally, who would lead them astray. Finally, he declares that he has no outstanding debts among them and encourages them to live by his example of earning his own keep. Their leave-taking is especially emotional and painful because he has told them this will be the last time they see him.

Acts 21 (day 1039) 4 November 2012

1-6: They sail on to Tyre by way of Rhodes, Patara, and Cyprus. They find believers there and stay for a week. When the ship is ready to sail again after unloading its cargo they go back on board.

7-14: Stopping at Ptolemais for a day they meet with believers there as well. This is Paul’s farewell tour of the churches in Greece, Macedonia, Asia Minor and Syria. At Caesarea they stay with Philip, “one of the seven,” referring to the seven Greek Jewish Christians who were selected to serve the Greek widows in the distribution of food (see 6:5). Luke is obviously impressed with Philip’s four daughters, though their names are not given, for they have the gift of prophesy, which sort of blows holes in the idea that Paul was against women ever saying anything of import. Agabus we met earlier (11:28) in Jerusalem. He uses Paul’s sash to prophesy what will happen to him in Jerusalem. Paul has already been saying goodbye to everybody anyway, and is not moved by their objection to his going there.

15-16: Some of the Caesareans travel with Paul and his entourage to Jerusalem, and stay at the house of Mnason (whose name appears only here).

17-26: Paul meets with James, the brother of Jesus, who is the leader of the church in Jerusalem, and reports on all his missionary journeys and the acceptance of the gospel by many Gentiles. The report is received joyfully among those present, but James is concerned that many of the Jews who are believers have heard that Paul has been belittling Moses and are not happy about it. He suggests that Paul join a group of four other men who are taking a vow, and pay for their visits to the barber. It was a popular ritual of the time to have one’s head shaved as a sign that one was under a sacred vow – Paul has done this before (see 18:18). The arrangement is that they will remain in the temple compound for seven days, thus keeping their vows in a public place where all can see what they are doing.

27-36: Do you remember those Jews in Ephesus and elsewhere in Asia Minor who kept hounding Paul from town to town? Well, here they are again. They accuse Paul of bringing uncircumcised Gentiles into the temple; an act of defilement of the holy place. It was a trumped up charge, of course. They had seen Paul with Trophimus (see 20:4) and assumed Trophimus had accompanied Paul into the temple somewhere along the way. A mob forms. Paul is dragged out of the temple and beaten. The uproar attracts the tribune who commands the cohort of Roman soldiers in the city. He rescues Paul by arresting him and taking him to the barracks.

37-40: Paul is bilingual, equally at home in Greek and Hebrew. He impresses the tribune with his excellent Greek and succeeds in getting permission to speak to the crowds, whom he then addresses in Hebrew.

 

Acts 22 (day 1040) 5 November 2012

          1-5: Paul begins his address by claiming kinship to the mob at the level of two generations. The greeting “brothers and fathers” occurs nowhere else in the Bible, and gets their attention. He gives his background and pedigree as a devout Jew, reminding them how he had persecuted and prosecuted the followers of Jesus so zealously that he even went to Damascus to bring some of them back to justice. The mob remains silent.

6-11: The story of Paul’s conversion is told three times in Acts: at 9:3-8, here, and at 26:12-18. The gist of the story is the same throughout, but there are some interesting differences. The first telling is Luke’s narrative; the second and third are purported to be Paul’s own words. The present instance – Paul’s first personal recounting of the experience         – tracks Luke’s narrative in chapter 9 closely. The version of the story in chapter 26 has obviously been enhanced by years of reflection. In any case, he tells the story to the mob how he met Jesus, to whom he refers as “Lord,” on the road to Damascus. The mob is silent.

12-16: Paul tells of his encounter with Ananias, the regaining of his sight, and his baptism. The mob is silent.

17-20: He tells them about his second message from Jesus, telling him to leave Jerusalem, and how he argued that the people there knew him – knew how he had persecuted Christians and presided over the stoning of Stephen. The mob is silent.

21: Then he tells them that Jesus sent him to the Gentiles. The mob explodes in rage. Strange, isn’t it, that they remained silent when he called Jesus “Lord,” and when he claimed that someone they thought of as a dead man spoke to him, but then one mention of the word “Gentile” sets them off?

22-29: The tribune orders the soldiers to take Paul back to the barracks and torture him until they find out what’s going on. Paul is silent while they tie him up and then calmly informs the centurion that he is a Roman citizen. The centurion reports to the tribune. The tribune questions Paul and finds out he was born a citizen of Rome in Tarsus in the province of Cilicia between Syria and Pamphylia. The tribune has overstepped his authority and is afraid.

30: Curiously, though, the tribune apparently leaves Paul tied up overnight. The next day he summons the Sanhedrin, unties Paul and brings him to the party.

 

Acts 23 (day 1041) 6 November 2012

1-5: Paul begins his defense but is interrupted by some old guy telling a man standing beside Paul to strike him, and the man hits Paul in the mouth. Paul angrily accuses the old guy of violating the law. He is so far removed from his former life now that he does not recognize the high priest! He apologizes.

6-10: Then Paul, who has become quite adept at starting riots, seizes on a plan of genius. Seeing the Sanhedrin is made up of Pharisees and Sadducees, he proudly proclaims his heritage as a Pharisee and claims the whole deal is about his belief in the resurrection. This sets off a fierce argument and the tribune sends the soldiers in to grab Paul and bring him back to the barracks.

11: Jesus appears to Paul that night, telling him that he will have the opportunity to testify in Rome. It is interesting that Paul’s experiences of conversations with Jesus have not been prominent at all until now.

12-15: 40 Jews plot to kill Paul. We wonder if the number 40 is more symbolic than actual; does it symbolize Paul’s time of testing, reflecting the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness?

16-22: It turns out that Paul has a nephew in Jerusalem, a nephew who apparently has some connection to the Jewish leadership. He hears of the plot and informs Paul, who informs a centurion, who takes the nephew to Claude the tribune (now, by the way, it is “more than 40” Jews lying in wait), who listens and tells him to keep their conversation to himself.

23-25: Claude the tribune summons two centurions and gives them orders to take Paul immediately with heavy escort to Felix the governor in Caesarea.

26-30: Claude the tribune sends a letter with the centurions to Felix, outlining the situation and telling him that he will order the Jews to come to him to present their case.

31-35: They travel in the night to the garrison at Antipatris, and the next day the centurions send Paul on to Caesarea with the cavalry. Felix reads the letter, questions Paul briefly and then orders him to be kept under guard until the Jews arrive to formally press their charges.

 

Acts 24 (day 1042) 7 November 2012

1-9: It didn’t take them long. The high priest Ananias and some elders from Jerusalem arrive in Caesarea with an attorney, a hired gun named Tertullus (a Roman name), to argue the case against Paul. Tertullus lays on a heavy layer of flattery for Governor Felix, actually not accusing Paul of much in particular except the general charge that his is an agitator among the Jews and a ringleader of the Nazarenes, the name by which the Jews are apparently labeling Christians, the followers of the Way.

10-21: Paul’s defense is that, far from being a troublemaker he is a bringer of alms to the distressed. Ananias, perhaps remembering the near riot Paul had caused between the Pharisees and Sadducees of the Sanhedrin, has apparently come to Caesarea accompanied only by Pharisees because no argument ensues among them when Paul again mentions the resurrection, first claiming affinity with them by telling Felix that they all agree about the resurrection of the dead and then insisting that the main reason he is under arrest is because of his belief in the resurrection. These assertions get no rise from the Jewish entourage, though, so, more to the point he tells Felix that a group of Jews from Asia are responsible for his arrest and that they should be the ones to press charges against him.

22-23: Felix is not so quick to make a decision, however. He says he will wait until Claude the tribune comes to Caesarea to present state’s evidence. Paul is kept in custody, but afforded some freedoms.

24-27: Luke has told us that Felix is acquainted with the Way, and indeed it turns out that his wife is Jewish; perhaps she is the source of his information. He is both fascinated by and afraid of Paul, but renders no decision in his case and keeps him under house arrest for two years until his term is up and another governor, Festus, arrives in Caesarea.

 

Acts 25 (day 1043) 8 November 2012

1-5: Porcius Festus, the new governor, immediately makes a trip to Jerusalem where he is accosted by the Jewish leaders who ask that Paul be brought to Jerusalem for trial. Festus is no dummy, however, and calmly replies that when he returns to Caesarea they can come make their accusations there.

6-12: Two years have passed since their last court appearance in Caesarea, and this time the Jews’ accusations seem to be much less focused than before. Paul refutes them. Festus asks if he wishes to go up to Jerusalem for trial, but Paul, a Roman citizen, insists that neither Festus nor anyone else can turn him over to the Jews and tells Festus that he appeals to Caesar. It is a legal maneuver aimed at keeping himself out of the hands of the people who want to kill him, but I wonder if what Paul really meant was that his should be tried by Roman officials in Caesarea, namely Festus. Festus, however, having been governor for less than two weeks, seizes the opportunity to wash his hands of the whole mess, and rules that Paul will indeed be sent to Rome for trial.

13-22: Herod Agrippa, Roman appointed king of the region, comes to Caesarea to welcome Festus as the new governor. Festus is eager to press Agrippa for a solution to the issue with Paul. Roman law prescribes that a citizen cannot be held without a trial for longer than two years, and that deadline is upon them. He recounts to Agrippa all he knows about the case. He is admittedly confused by the accusations brought against Paul since he is not Jewish. Agrippa offers to hear Paul’s defense.

23-27: Not understanding the charges against Paul, Festus summons him next day to speak to Agrippa, and asks Agrippa to help him craft a statement to be presented to Caesarea when he sends Paul to Rome for trial.

 

Acts 26 (day 1044) 9 November 2012

1-8: Paul is invited to speak, and tells his story. Notice that now he emphasizes his affinity with the Jewish faith – King Agrippa being Jewish, though not “practicing” – and claims that he is being prosecuted for his hope that the Jewish people will attain the promise God made to their ancestors. For Paul, of course, that means the coming of the Messiah, whom he believes is Jesus.

9-11: He tells how he initially persecuted followers of Jesus.

12-18: This is the second time Paul tells his conversion story, and the third time it has been told by Luke in Acts. If you compare this telling with the earlier one (22:6-11), you will see that Paul has added a great deal to the words spoken to him by the Lord. He has added to the Damascus Road experience the understanding that he gradually has acquired concerning the purpose the Lord has for his life.

19-23: Paul asserts that he immediately obeyed the voice of the Lord and began witnessing where he was – in Damascus – but once his mission began to include Gentiles (remember, he is speaking to King Agrippa, a Jew, but governor Festus, a Gentile, is also present) the Jews turned against him and in Jerusalem a couple of years ago and seized him and tried to kill him. He further claims that he is preaching nothing but what the prophets have already said about how the Messiah must suffer, rise from the dead, and draw Gentiles into the light formerly reserved for the Jews. Actually, that claim goes a little beyond the prophets, so I’m not surprised he doesn’t say which of the prophets said this.

24-29: Festus, the Gentile governor, interrupts just at the point where Paul talks about rising from the dead. Paul defends himself then directly to Agrippa, asserting that the king knows all about these events and that he must certainly believe the prophets, angling of course to get Agrippa to agree that the prophets have said what Paul says they have said about the Messiah. Agrippa resists becoming Paul’s ally. Of interest is that this is the first time the word “Christian” has been directly spoken by anyone, although Luke did tell us back at 11:26 that the word was first used in Antioch to describe the followers of Jesus. “The Way” has been the designation used by the apostles themselves. Paul’s response to Agrippa is a famous one.

30-32: Both Agrippa and Festus agree that Paul is not guilty of a crime, but not being willing to cross the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem, Agrippa lets Festus off the hook by saying exactly what Festus needs to hear him say: Paul has appealed to the emperor. Otherwise we might actually have no choice but to set him free.

 

Acts 27 (day 1045) 10 November 2012

1-8: Paul and other prisoners are placed in the custody of a centurion named Julius, of the Augustan Cohort, probably a section of the Roman military charged with the responsibility of escorting prisoners. The word “we” in verse 1 again makes us wonder if perhaps Luke is accompanying Paul. Aristarchus, whom we met before in Macedonia, is also with him. Julius takes a liking to Paul and treats him with some deference, allowing him to stay with friends in Sidon when the ship puts into port. From that point they have some difficulty navigating across the Mediterranean. They pass south of Cyprus and turn north to Myra on the southern coast of Asia Minor where they change ships. Cnidus is the next port of call, on the southeastern end of Asia Minor. Then they turn south and sail underneath Crete to Fair Havens.

9-12: There Paul urges them to stay the winter, but the ship’s owner and the pilot persuade Julius that Fair Havens is not a good place to winter, and they decide to sail on to the west end of Crete to the port of Phoenix about 100 miles away.

13-20: Of course they should have listened to Paul. That’s a no-brainer. They get caught in a storm and are driven further off course below Cauda (also Klauda, Clauda), a small island 20 miles south of Phoenix. There they are out of the worst of the wind for a while and are able to secure the lifeboat which they have been towing, and pass ropes around the hull of the ship to hold it together. They throw the cargo and ship’s tackle overboard and so are at the mercy of the storm and are afraid of entering a wide stretch of treacherous shoals off the coast of North Africa called “the Syrtis,” so they throw out anchors to impede the ship’s progress. (An ancient account, “The Argonautica” by Apollonius of Rhodes, describes the Syrtis as a gulf where ships become stranded because the ocean foam hides the shallows and thick seaweed that can stop a ship’s progress.) The storm continues unabated for days, and the passengers and crew of the ship lose all hope.

21-26: Paul announces that an angel has appeared to him and assured him that they will run aground somewhere, but that none of them will be lost. He also can’t help saying “I told you so.”

27-32: At night, fourteen days out, they are adrift across the sea of Adria (the Adriatic Sea). The sea of Adria is between Greece and Italy, considerably farther north than where they were before. Luke may be giving a misplaced reference here. If they are still in the storm it is probably difficult to get a good sighting of the stars to determine their exact location. They will land at Malta (28:1), just south of Sicily, and it is possible that in ancient times the Sea of Adria was considered to reach much further than generally accepted today. At night they take soundings which indicate they are approaching land, and the sailors try to escape but Paul thwarts their plan by appealing to his friend Julius.

33-38: Next morning before daylight Paul urges them to eat something and has a little communion service on board with somewhere between 75 and 275 others depending on which ancient text of Acts you read. After they eat they throw the rest of the food overboard to further lighten the ship.

39-44: The ship runs aground just off Malta. Paul’s friend Sergeant Julius refuses to let the soldiers kill the prisoners, and they all make it to shore safely, some swimming, others floating on debris from the ship. Luke doesn’t say whether he and Paul can swim or have to float.

 

Acts 28 (day 1046) 11 November 2012

1-6: The natives build a bonfire to warm the vagabonds in the rain and chill. Paul is characteristically helping them by gathering fagots for the fire when a snake wraps itself around his hand; note that the text nowhere says he was bitten by the snake. Paul simply shakes it off into the fire, but the natives are impressed that he is not harmed and wonder if he is mortal.

7-10: The islanders are friendly. The chief houses them for several days – the “us” in verse 7 probably not referring to all the shipwrecked passengers and crew but rather just to Paul and his companions. Paul heals the father of the chief and then has to man a clinic for everybody else when the word gets out.

11-16: Alexandrian ships, by the way, are large vessels used in the grain trade between Rome and the port of Alexandria in Egypt. Powered by three masts of sails and many oars they might be as long as 180 feet with a beam of 45 feet and a hold 40 feet deep. It was such a vessel that left them shipwrecked on Malta. Another one, though, was already wintering at Malta, and they were able to take passage on it. The people of Malta loaded them with provision (mentioned at verse 10). The “Twin Brothers” figurehead is most likely a carving representing Romulus and Remus, the mythological founders of Rome. Google ‘em if you want to know more. The ship takes them Puteoli on the west coast of Italy by way of Syracuse on the island of Sicily. They stay with believers there for a week and then pass on to Rome. Rome is 150 miles north of Puteoli. They are met in Rome by other believers from the Italian towns of Three Taverns and Fountain of Appius, which gives Paul much encouragement. Both are on the road from Puteoli to Rome, so it is likely that this last leg is overland. Paul is kept under house arrest with a personal guard who is responsible for his attending his trial when the time comes.

17-22: Paul takes the opportunity to meet with the Jewish leaders in Rome and try to smooth over relations with them. He may perhaps be a little disappointed that they don’t seem to have heard about him. They have, however, heard about the Way, and although what they have heard has tended to be negative, they are willing to hear what he has to say about it.

23-29: He meets with the Jews and has some success, but many of them disagree with him. He cannot resist using as a parting shot a quote from Isaiah 6:9, and declares to them that since they are unwilling to listen, the salvation God has granted through faith in Jesus will be available to the Gentiles.

30-31: The book of Acts ends with Paul in Rome for a couple of years teaching openly about Jesus. Various traditions have it either that he was finally tried and put to death in Rome, or that he was released and continued his travels. I prefer the latter.