“Love One Another”, Says This Week’s Biblical Teaching. If Only We Would Follow It.

We Must Relearn What It Means to Love One Another

(Romans chapter 13)

hungry littile girl

In today’s lesson we are going to move on to Romans chapter 13. When we closed out chapter 12 last week, the apostle Paul wrote, “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”. As I wrote last week, this is very good advice at all times. But as the apostle Paul continued in chapter 13, he makes a statement as if to say, “And speaking of doing good, one more thing”. He then wrote as follows, beginning at verse one:

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, then pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.” (Romans 13, verses 1-7)

“….he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong.” As you can see, there will be no ruthless outlaws in heaven. Paul wrote in favor of obeying authority in this context not just because of who he was, but because he was a Roman citizen, and so it had little to do with his being one of the early apostles. The Roman Empire was Paul’s motherland, which further explains his fierce loyalty. I don’t know what he would say about America’s founding fathers and our Declaration of Independence. But Paul the apostle was in favor of paying taxes regardless of whether he thought they were fair or not. He did this because of his Roman heritage, but also because those taxes were collected with brutal efficiency under penalty of death.

In the modern world we have a completely different situation in that we have freedoms guaranteed by the US Constitution that the early Christians did not have, whether they were Roman citizens or not. It has been my observation that since a large percentage of the taxes that Americans pay are going towards the American empire – which has its overwhelmingly huge military all over the globe for mostly dubious reasons – modern Christians should take a stand on moral grounds against war and what amounts to illegal and unconstitutional military dominance and global occupation in all its forms. Being the anti-war activist that I am, I find myself compelled to oppose war and the taxes that support it because that’s what Jesus would do if he were physically here on earth today! Having said my peace, let me move on to verse 8. This passage of Scripture deals with loving one another unconditionally, and that is sound advice in any context for the same reason as I wrote in the first paragraph of page one. It’s what Jesus would do and it is what He has commanded us all to do.

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellow man has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘do not commit adultery’, ‘do not murder’, ‘do not steal’, ‘do not covet’, and whatever other commandment that there may be, are summed up in this one rule; ‘love your neighbor as yourself’. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Romans 13: verses 8-10)

“Let no debt remain outstanding except the continuing debt to love one another….”. If we are to owe anything at all to anyone or anything, it is that we are to love one another unconditionally. Should we love African-Americans if we are white? Yes, because racism has no place in the church and should have no place in our lives. Should we love liberals if we are conservative? Yes, because Jesus was a political activist and very liberal by today’s political standards and therefore so should we. Should we love Muslims if we are Christian? Yes, because we are worshiping a God who is above and beyond mere religious interpretation by other men. Should we love an atheist if we believe in God? Not only that, but we should be praying for them as well. Should we love the homeless if we have a roof over our head? Yes, because helping to take care of the poor and disadvantaged should be present in the life of every true Christian.

After all, at the rate that the US economy is going, it won’t be much longer before a whole lot more of us will wind up homeless when our jobs get down-sized or exported overseas, after which our cars will eventually get repossessed and our homes foreclosed on and the former owners wind up evicted. That homeless person that you buy a burger and some fries for today could be you in five or ten years (it once happened to me, and I didn’t think it could either). Should Americans love illegal immigrants? Yes, because in reality they are economic refugees from the third world, and we are and always have been a nation of immigrants, and because it is an American tradition to receive foreigners with open arms. It’s not just the American thing to do, it’s the Christian thing to do too. And just for the record, there is no such thing as an illegal human being. Every person has the right to be here, regardless of their nationality.

“Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbor”. The entire Bible can be summed up with these two sentences. We are to love everyone we can as far as it is possible, and in so doing remain at peace with everyone. And we are to continue doing this regardless of race, creed, national origin, gender, age, marital status, sexual orientation (yes, that too) or economic status of others (compared to ourselves) that we come into contact with. We are to follow the example that Jesus Christ set for us when he was crucified for all our sins. God loved us first and so he sent Jesus Christ to be the final Temple sacrifice for all of us. In the same manner, no matter what the cost, we are to love one another no matter who we are, where we have been, or what we have done. Let’s not judge one another in the process, for this does not please God. Paul then continues as he clarifies the point he is making when he wrote these words two thousand years ago.

“And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness, and put on the armor of light. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.” (Romans 13: 11-14)

“The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed”. When we first accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we start on a journey that lasts throughout our lifetime. We draw closer to Jesus as we continue along this journey through life. Christianity, then, is not a destination but rather it is a spiritual trek through the highs and lows of life. To put this quote into a modern context, Paul is literally telling us that it is time for us to wake up and smell the coffee. He is saying that if we are indeed going to be Christians, we need to start acting like it. That means we are to “put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armor of light”. The love of God is light in its purest form, and so we are to become imitators of this. Jesus said, “You are the light of the world” (Matt. 5: 15). To put on this armor of light, we are to “clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ”.

To clothe ourselves with Jesus means we are to put on the armor of light that is Christ. By clothing ourselves with Christ, we actually shield ourselves from the world with all its temptations and evils such as the pursuit of material gain and waging war against our global neighbors. It is impossible to shield ourselves from all the evils of this world by ourselves. We would be overwhelmed to the point of eventual destruction, dying a God-less death, never to inherit the eternal life that is ours in Christ. But the Bible says that “God is not willing that anyone should perish, but that all receive the gift of everlasting life”. So, by clothing ourselves with Christ we are to wear Jesus on our shirtsleeves and across our chests. We do this not by being religious and engaging in a bunch of religious rituals and circumstances thereof, but by living our Christian faith as a lifestyle, or as a conscious choice about how we will treat other people. We can do this by treating everyone we come into contact with as we would treat ourselves (“love your neighbor as your self”). This is a simple saying that takes a lifetime to learn, and that is how we grow in Jesus.

Let’s all begin to do this, starting today. We can put on “the armor of light” that protects us from evil people, things and situations. We most definitely can wear Jesus on our shirtsleeve as a choice of lifestyle, not merely as a religion that is only practiced on Sunday morning. And we can do this simply by loving our neighbor as well as we love ourselves, knowing that God is watching everything we do and listening to everything we say. One day when our lives are over, we are all going to have to stand before God and give an account of our lives and how we lived them. The time to begin preparing for that day, no matter how far off it may be, is right now. Join me in preparing yourself for eternity. You will feel so much better and more fulfilled when you do. Love your neighbor as yourself and watch your love grow. As you do, the love of God will fill you more and more each day, and that is a life well lived. And that’s the best part of all.

What if you just discovered you were adopted? What about if you were a foster child?

We Are All Abraham’s Children

Romans chapter 9

In today’s study we will be tackling part 1 of Romans chapter nine. This chapter is a little bit more lengthy than some, and so I will break it up into 2 halves for the sake of brevity. As we begin today, the apostle Paul is still elaborating on what we now know as the end of chapter eight. “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us”, wrote Paul at the close of last week’s study. This means all believers and Christ followers are totally ‘bad to the bone’ in their spirits, with unbreakable willpower and strength of mind and spirit. Today we will continue to examine these Scriptures verse by verse in order to better our understanding (mine included, since I learn something new every time I write another one of these). So let’s get started at verse one, shall we?

I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit – I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoptions as sons; theirs is the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the Law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen. It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because of his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary: ‘it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring. For this was how the promise was stated:’at the appointed time I will return, and Sarah will have a son’. Not only that, but Rebekah’s children had one and the same father, our father Isaac. Yet, before the twins were born or had done anything good or bad – in order that God’s purpose in election might stand: not by works but by him who calls – she was told, ‘The older will serve the younger’. Just as it is written: ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated’.” (Romans 9, verses 1-13)

We’ve all had those moments when we knew in our heart of hearts – still others have expressed it to me as “a feeling in their guts” – when we knew when something was either right or wrong, on target or a complete miss, or of simply finding oneself in a situation where they felt leery of the circumstances or the people in them for one reason or another. The feeling of something that is too good to be true is one such example. That is exactly what the apostle Paul meant when he wrote, “I speak the truth in Christ – I am not lying, my conscience confirms it in the Holy Spirit… ”. It is interesting to note here that Paul’s conscience had a direct connection to the Holy Spirit. They were interconnected in such a way that the presence of one element depended on the presence of the other. This is a goal that is worthy of attaining for the sake of our relationship with the Lord, that of unity of mind and Spirit. The more interdependent they are within ourselves, the closer our walk with Christ becomes.

Paul then goes on to lament his own people, the Hebrews of their day, for what they were missing out on as a result of their continued unbelief that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the Son of God. “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoptions as sons; theirs is the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the Law, the temple worship and the promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Christ, who is God over all, forever praised! Amen.” Paul was reciting a litany of his own faith as he wrote these words nearly 2,000 years ago. All he has written here is a summary of only a fraction of a part of the Law of Moses as it is documented from the books of Genesis through Deuteronomy in the Old Testament. The Jews of Paul’s day had Jesus crucified by the Romans. Instead of greeting him as their Savior and “Rabbi”, they had him executed.

It is not as though God’s word had failed. For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel. Nor because of his descendants are they all Abraham’s children. On the contrary:… ‘it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.’ In other words, it is not the natural children who are God’s children, but it is the children of the promise who are regarded as Abraham’s offspring.” When Paul wrote that “not all who are descended from Israel are Israel”, he was referring to Jacob and Esau, the sons of Isaac. Although they were twin brothers, Jacob became one of the patriarchs of Israel while Esau became the patriarch of the Philistines. (For more details on this topic you may refer to the book of Genesis starting around chapter 25.) Paul then expounds on the fact that it is not those who are Jewish by birth who are God’s children, but that it is all people – the entire world or body of believers – who have become Jewish by adoption with Jesus Christ as the head of our households. Only those who worship Jesus in Spirit and in truth will be adopted into the family of God, and all others will be rejected by God because of impure hearts and their clandestine motives.

If we had all of Romans 9 in front of us, we would see that we are at roughly the halfway point for this chapter. Beginning at verse 14, Paul the apostle continues to elaborate on whether God should be considered as just, as opposed to unjust, with respect to his seemingly inconsistent treatment of Jews and Gentiles. For a detailed study of the remainder of Romans chapter 9, watch for this in your inboxes or on your social media of choice. Until then, take care….

This week’s ongoing Biblical study series with Minister Paul J. Bern will be part 2 of Romans chapter 8

The Glory That Is In Store For Us

(Romans chapter 8, verses 18-30)


For today’s lesson we will continue in the book of Romans in chapter 8, beginning at verse 18. This part of Romans gives Christians everywhere hope for a blessed future that awaits all true believers. One could call this part of the Bible a pep talk being given by God through the apostle Paul as our heavenly Father takes on the role of a dad and life coach for all his children.

 

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subject to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage of decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” (Romans 8:18-21)

 

Our present sufferings in this life are not worthy of compare when contrasted to the glory that awaits all who truly believe in Jesus. All of creation itself waits eagerly for the sons of God to be revealed. Creation itself will be freed from bondage and “brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God”. For all those who truly believe in Jesus, this is what awaits us when our current life is at its end and we transition into our spiritual life, one that has no end. Try to imagine an eternity of “glorious freedom” in Christ outside the boundaries of space and time. One thing is for certain, it is an excellent reason for everyone to cling to Jesus knowing that all this is what awaits us.

 

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently. (Romans 8: 22-25)

 

In verse 23, the phrase “first-fruits” is taken from the law of Moses in the Old Testament. The Law of Moses is the first 5 books in the Old Testament beginning with Genesis and ending with Deuteronomy. First-fruits had to do with tithing 10% of what one had in the way of crops or livestock to the temple at Jerusalem at the time right after the beginning of the harvest. This was so that it could be offered up in sacrifice as atonement for sin, and this ancient Jewish tradition dates back well over 3,000 years. Notice there was no monetary system back then with printed money like we have today. That’s why the entire notion of paying 10% of our paychecks to churches is a distortion of the Scriptures at best, or a deliberate manipulation at worst.

 

So if we have the first-fruits of the Spirit of Jesus within us then we have a security deposit from God guaranteeing the eternity that is to come. That is why the very next sentence says that we “wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies”. Having the first-fruits of the Spirit guarantees our being literally adopted as God’s sons through Jesus Christ. In so doing we become Jewish by adoption just as Jesus was Jewish. And if we are adopted as Jews, we have become God’s chosen people with them. “For in this hope we were saved”. This gives us the Spiritual motivation we need to be living as if we have the first-fruits of the Spirit. And yet all along, “we wait for it patiently”, knowing all along that it will be worth the wait.

 

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we are to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Romans 8: 26-27)

 

In the same way as having the first-fruits of the Spirit of Jesus causes us to hope for an adoption that we do not yet have, the same Spirit overcomes our human weaknesses. Our inability to measure up to God’s standards set down by and through Jesus Christ is offset by Jesus’ crucifixion, death and resurrection first, and by the first-fruits of the Spirit second. Without the Spirit we wouldn’t know what to pray to God for even if we desired it, “but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express.” That’s why God knows our needs before we even ask Him. The Spirit, in turn, “intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will”. There are times when we don’t necessarily know what to pray for, only that we should start praying. This is one of those times. And who are the saints? They are all who worship Jesus Christ as the Son of God in Spirit and in truth, and that means us.

 

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined he also called, those he called, he also justified, those he justified he also glorified.” (Romans 8:28-30)

 

That first sentence consists of very reassuring words. “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him”. God is constantly on our side, so there is no need to worry or fret about what the future holds. As the Bible says, and as Paul wrote elsewhere, “If God can be for us then who can be against us?” God loved us first before any of us loved Him, wrote the apostle John. Now all we have to do is to return that love back to him, and we can start by obeying his commandments. And what are the commandments of Christ?”You are to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your spirit”, and “Love your neighbor as yourself.”After all, we have all been called according to his purpose.

 

Obeying Jesus’ commandments is a natural reaction of those who obey these two great commandments of Christ, which “sum up all the law and the prophets”. It is those who answer that call wholeheartedly who will become part of the family of God. That’s why the apostle Paul resounds the adoption theme from back in verse 23. Notice that Paul calls those with the first-fruits of the Spirit “those God foreknew”. We are predestined – Paul’s word exactly – to be conformed to the “likeness of his Son”. This is done so that Jesus would be the firstborn “among many brothers”. The “many brothers” here signifies the Church, which is the family of God here on earth and the Bride of Christ in the book of Revelation.

 

And so now we all know what it is that God has in store for all of us, and it is more than any of us can currently imagine, you can rest assured on that one. All we have to do is to cling to Jesus with all our heart, mind, soul and strength, and to treat others as we would have them treat us. If we will do these things, we can be predestined to an eternal life with God because we are called, and are therefore justified in the eyes of God and able to stand before Him to be subsequently glorified in our new spiritual bodies. These spiritual bodies with their inherent immortality will be the payoff of having the first-fruits of the Spirit. This will be because we have been adopted into the family of God where we shall have many brothers and sisters. I don’t know about you, but this sounds like an excellent way to spend eternity. Next week we will finish up Romans chapter eight. Shalom!

This week’s ongoing Biblical studies will move on to part 2 of the Book of Ruth.

Rev. Paul J. Bern

A Teaching on the Book of Ruth, and Why It’s Still Relevant (part 2)

by Minister Paul J. Bern

Last week in the Book of Ruth part 1, as we closed out chapter 2, we have now ascertained what I would call the ultimate identity of Ruth. Children get adopted all the time, and when they do they become a part of their new extended family. Many preparations must be made, and much paperwork must be signed, and let’s not forget those legal fees. But Ruth was already considered family, so she sat at Boaz’s table. This is where last week’s study left off, and I quote, “Then, in chapter 2 verse 14 the Bible says, “At mealtime Boaz said to her, ‘Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar’”. Here we see a Jew offering a gentile some bread dipped in vinegar. Contrast this to Matthew 27:48, where a gentile Roman soldier gives Christ Jesus, our Jewish savior, a sponge dipped in vinegar to drink as He hung on the cross at Golgotha. What a horrible way to pay back our Lord and Savior!

Later, in Ruth 2, verses 19-20, the true identity of Boaz is revealed; “…Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “‘The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz’, she said. ‘The Lord bless him!’, Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. ‘He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead…that man is our close relative; he is one of our kinsman-redeemers’”. Then, in chapter 3, Ruth goes to sleep at the feet of Boaz in verses 7-9. When Boaz discovers her during the night, he demands to know who she is. Verses 9-13 read as follows:

‘Who are you’?, he asked. ‘I am your servant Ruth’, she said. ‘Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer’. ‘The Lord bless you, my daughter’, he replied. ‘This kindness is greater than that which you showed me earlier. You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. And now, my daughter, don’t be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsman know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I. Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good. Let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the Lord lives I will do it. Lie here until morning’.”

Boaz calling Ruth “a woman of noble character” and offering to lead her, a Gentile, to a Jewish kinsman-redeemer, is without a doubt comparable to the apostle Paul leaving Judaism to lead the Gentiles to Christ. He preached this message in Antioch to the Jews in Acts 18:26, “Brothers, children of Abraham, and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent”. But this was explained more directly by Paul in Acts 18:4-6. “Every Sabbath he reasoned in the synagogue, trying to persuade Jews and Greeks. When Silas and Timothy came from Macedonia, Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ. But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles’”.

The noun ‘Greeks’ is a synonym for Gentiles in this passage. Paul also wrote of Gentiles seeking Jewish redeemers both in Galatians 4, verses 4-7: “But when the time has fully come, God sent His son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the spirit of His son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, ‘Abba, Father’. So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has also made you an heir”. Finally, in Ruth chapter 4, we have our happy ending! Boaz marries Ruth. In the same manner as Christ takes pride in His Bride, the Church, Boaz announces his pride in Ruth in chapter 4, verses 9 and 10; “Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, ‘Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion, and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records. Today you are witnesses’.”

Once we were like Ruth – without redemption, unbelieving and steeped in sin. Our names would disappear with our deaths. But Christ Jesus, our Lord and Savior, has redeemed us by claiming us as his own through his death and resurrection. The parallels between Boaz, a Jew, claiming Ruth, a Gentile, as part of his family and Christ claiming the Gentile nations as a part of his Bride, are unmistakable. Peter wrote on this subject in 1 Peter 2:9: “But you are a chosen people, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light”. Revelation 21:3 also speaks of this, “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God’”.

Christ Jesus is truly our kinsman-redeemer, whether we view ourselves as a Jew or not,. Ruth had faith enough to call Boaz her kinsman-redeemer, and she was rewarded by becoming part of his family. By claiming Christ as our kinsman-redeemer, we affirm that we are a part of the family of God through adoption. The apostle Paul wrote about this in Romans 8:15-17: “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of son-ship. And by him we cry, ‘Abba, Father’. The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs with God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory.”

I sure am glad that we can claim Jesus as our kinsman-redeemer, and I am so extremely grateful about being co-heirs with Christ. I am elated at God’s mercy, that He has called everyone who is a true believer his sons and his daughters. It is truly wonderful and astonishing that we, the Bride of Christ, can truthfully claim to be the adopted relatives of Jesus Christ. Aren’t you glad about that too?

Free Book Excerpt #5 from the upcoming faith-based series, “The Social Gospel Series Volume 1: the Apostle Luke”, by Minister Paul J. Bern

Peter Returns to Jerusalem With Great News

[Acts chapter 11, verses 1-18]

When we last left off at the conclusion of Acts chapter 10, Peter was staying and teaching at Caesaria at the home of newly-converted Cornelius the Roman centurion, having been sent there through a vision he had. This week as we start part 1 of Acts chapter 11, we find the apostle Peter has returned to Jerusalem some time later to tell the believers there about everything that had happened on his journey. So let’s take up where we left off starting at verse one.

The apostles and the brothers throughout Judea heard that the Gentiles had already received the Word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him and said, ‘You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ Peter began and explained to them everything precisely as it happened: ‘I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision. I saw something like a large sheet being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to where I was. I looked into it and I saw four-footed animals of the earth, wild beasts, reptiles, and birds of the air. Then I heard a voice telling me, ‘Get up, Peter, kill and eat.’ I replied, ‘Surely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ The voice spoke from heaven a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean’. This happened three times, and then it was all pulled up to heaven again.” (Acts 11, verses 1-10)

Let’s all keep in mind that, to the Jews at least, their promised Messiah was a Jewish Messiah for Jews only, since that is what certain sections of the Old Testament taught. So for the Jews in Jerusalem, the very idea of salvation in Christ being available for Jew and Gentile alike was, frankly, more than some of them could stomach. The ones most vehemently opposed, of course, were the Sanhedrin (the ruling council of the Temple, the Jewish equivalent of the Vatican for Catholics), the very ones responsible for handing Christ over to the Romans for execution. This is why it reads in verse 2, “….You went into the house of uncircumcised men and ate with them.’ Peter began and explained to them everything precisely as it happened….”.

So the apostle Peter relates all that had occurred to the eager, if slightly confused, Jews in Jerusalem who found themselves thinking outside the box when it came to Gentile salvation. Although many Jewish people since have come to know Jesus Christ as their Messiah, Lord and Savior, the vast majority still await Him. That is between them and God, and so because of that I refuse to condemn them. As you all know by now, the Bible warns us repeatedly not to judge others (see Matt. 7: 1-5, Romans 14: 6-13 and James 4: 11-12). But I would like to appeal to my Jewish brothers and sisters that there is still time to follow His Majesty the King! There is still time to give your heart and mind to Jesus!

But for now, and to finish up the first part of this week’s study, Peter tells his Jewish brethren “everything precisely as it happened….”. He spoke of his vision on the roof where he was in prayer, of the definition of “clean and unclean” as far as ancient Jewish customs were concerned, combined with his discovery that there are no unclean people, since Almighty God is the creator of us all. This ‘clean vs. unclean’ paradigm that had been in place for 2 millennia was done away with for good due to Christ sacrificing himself on the cross for the whole of humanity. Ever since, everyone and everything that God has made is considered clean and wholesome when they are considered equally, since God has made it all equal. And so now let’s move on to part 2 of this week’s study, starting at verse 11.

“’Right then three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea stopped at the house where I was staying. The Spirit told me to have no hesitation about going with them. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered the man’s house. He told us how he had seen an angel appear in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He will bring a message through which you and all your household will be saved.’ As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning. Then I remembered what the Lord had said: ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.‘ So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?’ When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So, then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.‘” (Acts 11, verses 11-18)

So now we begin to see why this part of the Book of Acts was included, even though it may seem repetitive in places. The apostle Luke wrote this to be a teaching tool for all future generations of believers so everyone would know exactly why things unfolded as they did with respect to Peter’s ministry. And it’s all because of the words of Christ: “John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Notice that Holy Spirit baptism was freely given to all the people with no preconditions, and that is was distributed verbally while Peter spoke to everyone in the home of Cornelius the centurion, and so it was much the same everywhere the Twelve went (“As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit came on them as he had come on us at the beginning”). There was no ceremony or laying on of hands such as what we see in some denominations today (primarily Protestant). The laying on of hands upon an individual by the church leadership is something normally reserved for healing, not Holy Spirit baptism.

So I think at least some of these churches, who I will decline to name, are not being Scriptural when it comes to baptism of the Holy Spirit. In order to receive the Holy Spirit, one must first receive and embrace the Word of God that is bringing that Holy Spirit word upon the entire congregation, no matter who they may be. I certainly don’t believe that Holy Spirit baptism involves standing up in church and babbling unintelligible things when there is no one present who may interpret those who are performing their version of ‘speaking in tongues’. For additional info you may want to read the first 24 verses of 1st Corinthians chapter 14, everything regarding speaking in tongues is right there. But for Peter and the other six brothers from Caesarea, the baptism of the Holy Spirit came about through the preaching of the Word, which was done in a language everyone could understand – their own!

“’So if God gave them the same gift as he gave us, who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could oppose God?’ When they heard this, they had no further objections….” As we can all see, the Holy Spirit, together with the Father and Son, had already made his presence abundantly clear to all. This is most noteworthy, I believe, considering the fact that only six others in the group besides the apostle Peter had been there to witness all these things. Everyone else was running on raw faith, just like we are. So take heart and do not be concerned, because as true believers in Jesus you are in some pretty exceptional company!

“….they had no further objections and praised God, saying, ‘So, then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life’.” This sentence sums up the entire New Testament! Just as God has created and loves all men and women equally, so he has sent his only Son as the blood payment for our sins (as in previous studies, including my own), and this blood payment has similarly been distributed equally. This is the Gospel of Christ – that all of us are reconciled to God through the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who is the Son of God! Formerly the Bible, which consisted of what we now call the Old Testament, was during the time of Christ the only ‘Bible’ there was. It was a Jewish book written for Jewish people, calling them God’s chosen ones.

But after the ascension of Christ into the heavens, the Gospel has been extended to all because of the positive qualities God has seen within those who call upon his name, and who profess their undying devotion to God’s only Son. So there you have it in a nutshell, people. This is just another way to explain how one may obtain eternal salvation. The first step is to hear the Word, or in this case to read it. What you do with it is entirely up to you, and I would advise you to pray before proceeding. But proceed we all must, because where our souls will spend eternity depends on it. See you all next week for the second half of Acts chapter 11.

The Gospel Spreads Like Wildfire

[Acts chapter 11, verses 19-30]

Last week as we finished up part one of Acts chapter 11, we found Peter and six other brothers from Caesarea explaining everything that had transpired at the home of Cornelius the centurion. The primary thing that caused everyone concerned to stop and do a double-take was that the Holy Spirit was being received by Jews and Gentiles alike, something that had previously been unheard of. Centuries of Jewish religious and cultural domination was crashing down all around them, which would end with the fall of Jerusalem and the entire Middle Eastern region at the hands of the Roman Empire in 70 A.D. Still, that historical occurrence was at least 30 years into the future as far as the early Church was concerned at this point in time. So, for this week’s study of the apostle Luke’s narrative, there will be a shift in the scenery as Luke moves us onward to the medium-sized city of Antioch (pronounced ant-ee-ock), which was in modern-day southern Turkey. So, let’s take up where we last left off, beginning at verse 19.

Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Steven traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, some men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord. News of this reached the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.” (Acts 11, verses 19-24)

You’ll all recall back in chapter 9, when Saul had to be lowered in a basket out of a window in the wall surrounding the city of Damascus after his conversion to Christianity. The religious and legal authorities had put out a ‘kill order’ on Saul for heresy and blasphemy against the Jewish ruling council in Damascus, and for treason against Rome for siding with the Christians that he was being paid to round up to be transported back to Jerusalem. Saul is currently lying low while he awaits further instructions from the Lord. In the meantime, all those who had fled the persecution brought on by Steven’s stoning death had wound up in the places listed above in verses 19 and 20. You already know where Antioch and Cyprus are located. Phoenicia was in Greece, and Cyrene was an ancient Greek city on the North African coast in north-eastern Libya. (The precise location of the ancient city was thirteen kilometers from the coast).

“….some men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.” Evidently a very large number, possibly a majority of the population, were being converted as a result of the testimony of the brothers from all these places, and they had all combined their spirits to come and perform Spiritual warfare on the Lord’s behalf! As it was in the upper room on the day of Pentecost, and that very morning in Jerusalem as Peter gave a sermon that brought 3,000 men to the Faith (not counting women and children), and as it was at the home of Cornelius the centurion, so it also was at Antioch as the believers and those who testified to what the Lord had done for them through his Holy Spirit retold their experiences. Their messages were received loud and clear, and the very sound of the men’s voices testifying to the crowds who gathered wherever they went, was sufficient for the Holy Spirit to baptize everyone who asked for it.

There was no formality or order of service as we understand it, because the Holy Spirit doesn’t operate that way. Although those who taught spoke in tongues, or other languages, taught and preached in those tongues, they knew those languages supernaturally. Jews taught to Greeks, Egyptians, Cypriots, Syrians and many others situated in modern Turkey, Jordan and Iraq as they taught each other. All did so supernaturally. None had any formal training in those other languages since there were no schools as we know them today. There was some rudimentary education for some, but for the majority there was none at all. So it was extraordinary that they could teach and inspire one another in each other’s native language.

But today we have churches – even whole denominations – whose idea of speaking in tongues is standing up and babbling a bunch of gibberish and what amounts to baby-talk, and that passes for ‘speaking in tongues’. Except that that’s not speaking in tongues, it’s just people putting on a show for the most part. The apostle Paul wrote in 1st Corinthians chapter 14, verses 1-25, a detailed explanation of what speaking in tongues entails. You can find my study on the first half of that chapter from this link. But my point here is that the apostle Paul wrote that people shouldn’t speak in tongues out loud unless there is someone there who can interpret. You can pray in tongues in an unknown language, Paul wrote. But to paraphrase, if nobody else would understand the tongue in which you are praying, pray anyway, but only between yourself and God. Otherwise, no one will understand you and it will confuse or even drive away new believers.

News of this reached the church at Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts.” You’ll recall from chapter 4 that Barnabas’ was actually a nickname which meant ‘encourager’ or ‘the son of encouragement’. Evidently he had a positive, upbeat kind of personality that is always welcome wherever it may go. So we can see that Barnabas’ arrival in Antioch was precisely what the Lord had in mind. The Holy Spirit was with Barnabas, and spoke through him to all who would sit and listen, and who were willing to be taught. So it is profitable to seek out such people today just like back then. Nothing has changed. In the world in which we live there are really positive and really negative people living side by side, and not always harmoniously. Unless, of course, you stick with only the positive people, like Barnabas was. Better yet, become one yourself! Be the change you are seeking! And now let’s finish up the second half of this week’s study starting at verse 25.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch. During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread out over the Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” (Acts 11, verses 25-30)

So now we have advanced within the apostle Luke’s narrative to the point where Saul, who had been cooling his heels in his home town of Tarsus after barely escaping from Damascus with his life, is brought to Antioch by Barnabas. I am struck by the great lengths people had to go to back then in order to get things accomplished. In today’s world, Saul could have been summoned with a phone call and a plane ticket. How easy things are today compared to the first century A.D.! Back then, Barnabas first had to go from Antioch to Tarsus, which was a fishing village on the shores of the eastern Mediterranean sea (this would be in southeastern Turkey today). This is a distance of approximately 123 miles by today’s standards. Then he found Saul, who didn’t have much luggage due to his clandestine escape from Damascus, and they went back to Antioch – all without a car! Now that’s what I call ‘dedication’! Could any of us walk a 250 mile round trip today just to bring someone back with them? Barnabas did exactly that.

So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were first called Christians at Antioch.” So here it is evident that Saul, who shortly afterward would rename himself ‘Paul’ and who ultimately wrote one third of the New Testament, was mentored by Barnabas at Antioch prior to his performing any preaching or teaching on his own. Considering that Saul had formerly arrested, jailed and sometimes even executed Christians, his now being taught and mentored by Barnabas amounted to a radical career change for Saul. There’s no overstating that fact, that a paid executioner had been transformed into a humble and willing student! That is what the awesome power of the Holy Spirit truly looks like! As a result, others who saw visually what we are seeing here in my words on this page received, and continue to receive, the inner peace and presence of the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, Savior and Redeemer!

Then a man named Agabus stood up and predicted a widespread famine, which actually occurred not too long after that. Consequently, the early church in Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside of Judea received an offering from the believers further north in Antioch, as it is written in verses 29-30: “The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” This gift, and the others described by other apostles, was always in the form of trade-able goods or food stores. There was no cash as we know it today. So they sent gold or silver coins, nonperishable foods, and likely a sword or two. Today, they would be called “preppers” and would have to endure the humiliation of a criminal prosecution.

They sent each other assistance as they had need of. One church or group of churches would send another an offering during times of famine, which happened more frequently back then than it does today. They didn’t have to get on radio or TV to get their needs met like so many churches do in modern times They didn’t need to demand that everyone pay 10% of their income, either. All they had to do was to come together in prayer in the Spirit, with each person in the group combining the internal habitation of the Holy Spirit within themselves together with everyone else, like a team prayer, and their needs would be met. This was, and still is, especially true when all other means have been exhausted. God supplies all our needs each and every day! And next week we’ll begin part 1 of chapter 12.

This week’s ongoing Bible teaching will be part 2 of Acts chapter 28

Paul Preaches in Rome Under Guard

Acts chapter 28, verses 17-31

Last week when we left off at verse 16, the apostle Paul, together with the apostle Luke plus some other Christians who were traveling under guard, had shipwrecked in an exceptionally severe storm along with 260 additional souls. It turns out they had landed on the island of Malta, which was approximately 900 nautical miles from Rome, their original destination. Having spent the winter there, they had embarked on the last part of their journey, having arrived in Rome after some stops in several ports on the west coast of what is modern Italy today. Paul and the other Christian believers along with him, combined with a sizable group of onlookers, was about to give their testimony, along with Paul, who by this time had become the unofficial spokesman for the group. So let’s begin this week’s study of part 2 of Acts 28, starting at verse 17.

17) Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: ‘My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. 18) They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19) The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. 20) For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.’ 21) They replied, ‘We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22) But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.‘” (Acts 28, verses 17-22)

“He” in verse 17 is Paul the apostle calling a meeting with his accusers just prior to his giving his testimony before Caesar Augustus, the Roman emperor of that time. Paul then reiterates his innocence of the charges against him, citing the Roman governor Festus as one one who expressed a willingness to release Paul immediately, as it is written: “18) They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19) The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar…..” And so there he was, standing before his own blood relatives, pleading his case. He finishes by stating that, “20) For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.

Paul is there to testify on behalf of Christ the Lord and Savior. Moreover, he considered his accusers back in Jerusalem to be unworthy of his testimony, and said as much to the all-Jewish audience he was talking to. “21) They replied, ‘We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22) But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.’” Owing to the fact that news traveled at a snail’s pace compared to today, many of those present were hearing about the apostle Paul and his testimony for Christ for the first time, just as it’s written: ““We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22) But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”

So Paul and his compatriots found themselves confronted with what must have seemed to be a deep mystery to the Jewish leaders who were present. They wanted to know why Christianity – or The Way, as it was known during the days of the early Church – was so controversial and reviled. The answer was, as Paul spelled it out to them that fateful morning, was that pure Christianity posed a major threat to the bases of power by presenting a much better alternative to governing and management. Up until then, these persons in charge were the deity who was also the president, and those he or she appointed to keep things running smoothly. But due in large part to there being only 1 true God, the early Church presented a viable alternative to worship of the king or queen. That part is what his audience had already concluded, and now Paul lets them have the rest of it, starting at verse 23.

23) They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. 24) Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25) They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: ‘The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet: 26) ‘Go to this people and say, ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.’ 27) For this people’s hearts has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.’ 28) ‘Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!’ 29) After he said this, the Jews left, arguing vigorously among themselves. 30) For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31) He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ – with all boldness and without hindrance!

The apostle Paul, “….witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus.” So Paul was using examples from what we now call the “Old Testament” as a way to motivate his audience to embrace Christ as Lord and Savior. He used something they could relate to as a means of persuasion because he already knew that is what would have worked best. “24) Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25) They disagreed among themselves and began to leave….

The rest of verses 25 and 26 are of Paul quoting Isaiah chapter 6, verses 9-10. To paraphrase Paul, ‘You have had the Word of the Lord and of the prophets for at least 1,000 years. You have read it and studied it half to death, and you have had it before you for all this time, and yet you still do not see that Jesus Christ was the Son of Almighty God?’ Paul then finishes up with, “28) ‘Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!’ 29) After he said this, the Jews left, arguing vigorously among themselves”. They were arguing, all right, but there was something even more basic than that.

Many of the Jewish accusers who were there had followed Paul in one way or another so they could refute him at every turn. It’s because they were all guilty by association of being accessories to murder in the crucifixion and death of Christ the Lord. By this time the name of Jesus had surpassed the relatively small following he had attained during the course of his life. By this time, the name of Christ was a name held sacred by untold multitudes of people, easily in the 100,000 plus range at this point, and maybe hundreds of thousands more. In short, Christianity had become – and remains – unstoppable. “For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God ….with all boldness and without hindrance!”

The Book of Acts, as far as we know, ends right here. At the very least, the above passages are all we have, nor do we possess a sequel of any kind. The book ends with the main character, the apostle Paul, under house arrest in Rome, awaiting a trial before the Emperor Nero. It is not known why Paul’s companion Luke, the author of Acts, chose to end the book at this point without revealing the results of the trial. However, there is strong biblical and historical evidence that Paul was acquitted at his trial and had an additional “season” of adventures before his eventual martyrdom. For some additional background about this topic, click here.

Several lines of reasoning support the conclusion that Paul was acquitted at his trial in Rome. First of all, the case against Paul, as described in Acts, was not very strong. When Paul was initially tried before the procurator Felix in Caesarea a few years earlier, three charges had been made (Acts 24:5-6):

  • · Paul had been the cause of riots all over the (Greco-Roman) world.
  • · Paul was the ringleader of a dangerous Jewish sect.
  • · Paul had brought Gentiles closer to the Jerusalem Temple than was permitted, thereby desecrating the Temple (Acts 21:28).

Roman courts tended to show little interest in charges like the second one, figuring that the Jews could best sort out their own sectarian arguments. In Corinth, the proconsul Gallio had dismissed similar charges against Paul (see Acts 18:12-16).

The third charge had been made by some Jews from Asia Minor, who did not bother to come to Caesarea to make their case (Acts 24:19). There were also no witnesses in Caesarea to support the first charge. Paul was only kept in custody after this trial because Felix hoped to receive a bribe from him (Acts 24:26). When Paul presented his case before Agrippa II two years later, Agrippa observed, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar” (Acts 26:32). After Paul arrived in Rome, he found that Jewish leaders there were unfamiliar with this case (Acts 28:17-21). This suggests that no one, as yet, had come from Jerusalem to present the accusations against Paul. If the case was not seriously prosecuted, then chances are it would have been dismissed.

This week’s ongoing Bible study series will be part 1 of Acts chapter 28

Ashore on Malta Healing Many, and Onward to Rome

[Acts chapter 28, verses 1-16]

Last week as we concluded our study of Acts 27, we finished off part 3 with the shipwreck described in vivid detail by the apostle Luke. After being blown around by a major storm that lasted 2 full weeks – due to the sailing ship’s lack of mechanical propulsion – the pilot and his crew managed to beach what was left of the ship on the eastern shores of Malta. Malta is situated in the east-central part of the Mediterranean sea, with Sicily to the north, Algeria to the west, Libya to the south, and the island of Crete far off to the east by roughly 1,000 miles or so. So the island of Malta isn’t near much of anything. So much so that the culture there seemed a bit backward and superstitious to Paul, and the other men with him couldn’t help but notice it. With that in mind, let’s plunge right in to the refreshing waters of the apostle Luke’s testimony, starting at verse 1.

Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. 2) The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. 3) Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. 4) When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.’ 5) But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. 6) The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.” (Acts 28, verses 1-6)

Sometimes in life we are taught things that later turn out to be wrong. Denominational church dogma has a disconcerting habit of repeatedly doing just that (based on my own experiences). Things that we learn from first-hand experience, on the other hand, tend to stick with us for our entire lifetimes. Unless, that is, something or someone comes along and completely upsets our entire way of looking at things. Jesus Christ is such a person as that. Just as the Holy Spirit of the risen Lord is a consuming fire, so the large bonfire that evening consumed the cold night air as a metaphor for the mercy and goodness of the Lord Almighty. The great kindness of the Maltese people lifted the spirits of all 260 people who had been on that ship. Anytime anyone can raise the tired spirits of any group of strangers, and with the absence of organized religion, that’s when you know the Holy Spirit is at work.

Next in verses 3 and 4, we have the little incident with the apostle Paul and the snake that found itself flung into the bonfire. The fact that Paul was unharmed by that venomous snake obviously startled the people of Malta, as it is written: “4) When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, ‘This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.’ 5) But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects.” There is a God who stands for Justice and Mercy, but his real name is Jesus Christ. OK, so if we tie this into what I said in the previous paragraph about “Sometimes in life we are taught things that later turn out to be wrong”, the suspicion directed at Paul by the Maltese people was one of those instances where this was the case. The apostle Paul demolished the superstitions of the island’s inhabitants once they saw he was unharmed.

The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.” See what I mean? The Maltese people based their initial judgment of Paul on what amounted to folklore by our standards. But folklore by our standards was all they knew, so the whole tribe thought that only an escaped murderer or one who was protected by “the goddess of Justice” could have done what Paul did in the presence of everyone. They were witnessing and experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit for the very first time, and there is nothing that compares with the Spirit of the risen Lord. Bearing that in mind, let’s move on to the second part of this week’s lesson, beginning at verse 7.

“7) There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. 8) His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. 9) When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10) They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.” (Acts 28, verses 7-10) The apostle Paul was very grateful for the shower of hospitality, as were the other 260 or so people who were on board the storm-stricken vessel that we covered in lasts week’s study. So when Paul saw an opportunity to heal someone, he did not hesitate to do so. Many were healed following the first one in the house of Publius, and many sick or handicapped persons were healed on Malta. And now, let’s close this week’s installment beginning at verse 11.

11) After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island – it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12) We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13) From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli. 14) There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome. 15) The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. 16) When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.

The verses from the above passage comprises several consecutive weeks of sailing, with stops at 4 different ports along the way. The first was Syracuse, on the southern tip of Sicily, followed by Rhegium on the southern tip of the Italian boot. Afterwards there were 3 more ports closer together, going up the western coast of Italy towards Rome. The 1st of those three was Puteoli, where Paul and those with him met up with some “brothers” (notice the absence of titles, unlike today’s churches?), many of whom were accompanied by their fellowship of believers. Having spent an entire week there and being rejuvenated by the hospitality of Puteoli’s people, they completed the final leg of their northward journey to Rome days later. “And so we came to Rome. The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged.”

As you can see, Christianity had developed quite a following by the time this was occurring, which was roughly 15 or maybe 20 years after the Resurrection of Christ the Lord. So much had the Christian faith grown by this time that Paul, who was nearly killed on 3 separate occasions, had nearly achieved near rock star status by the time he reached Rome. For the apostle Paul, it was more than enough validation for all the bad experiences he had endured, including the attempts on his life at the hands of his fellow Jews. He gave thanks out in public for his deliverance from a watery grave, and for the opportunities to heal all those whom he could heal. And now, Paul was on his way to Rome, the final stop on this particular journey. A trial awaited him, that much was certain, but the outcome of it all was anyone’s guess. To find out what happens, please be sure and stop back next week for the final installment of the Apostle Luke Gospel Study Series.