On this Veterans Day let’s take a look at some of the things we saw this week. One of the things we saw was Paul and his Roman citizenship. When it suited his needs Paul used his Roman citizenship to frustrate his adversaries. His citizenship made kings and governors, soldiers and priests, and Romans and Jews think twice about their intended actions against him. But what did it mean to be a Roman citizen? The Roman Empire was the reigning power of its day. Being a citizen of the empire carried certain rights, responsibilities, and status. A citizen was liable for Roman property taxes and municipal taxes, but also had the right to vote in Rome. However, in Paul’s time there were different classes of people with different rights. A Roman citizen was guaranteed a fair trial and was protected against certain forms of punishment. A Roman citizen could not be executed without a fair trial and couldn’t be crucified except by order of the emperor. A citizen could even appeal to Caesar in order to be tried in Rome. Paul was born a Roman citizen, but how his family gained that citizenship is unknown. There were several ways to become a Roman citizen. Being born to Roman parents was one way. Retiring from the Roman army was another. Citizenship could be granted by an emperor or a Roman general to an individual or to an entire group. And, a person could purchase citizenship though it was very expensive. The empire of Rome was so powerful that few wished to incur its wrath by breaking its laws. Paul was smart enough to know all of his rights and savvy enough to know how to use them to his and especially God’s advantage. Not only did his rights as a Roman citizen often save his life in dangerous situations, they also allowed him to carry the gospel messages to jailers, shipmates, kings, and to the emperor in Rome.
One of the people we met is Philip. He was a prominent, Greek speaking, Jewish Christian. He was one of the seven men chosen to administer the food distribution program for the needy in Jerusalem. He was also one of the first to take the Good News of Jesus Christ outside the borders of Judaism. Philip was a strong and effective evangelists in the power of the Spirit. When Christian were forced to flee Jerusalem following the death of Stephen, Philip carried the Good News of Christ north to racially mixed Samaria. There he performed many miraculous healings and exorcisms, and people responded eagerly to his message. Many men and women were baptized, including a notorious sorcerer named Simon. Directed by an Angel, he headed southwest from Jerusalem towards Gaza. There he was directed by the Spirit to approach a carriage that carried an Ethiopian eunuch who was a treasurer for Candice, the Queen Mother. The Ethiopian was returning home after spending time in Jerusalem. When the Ethiopian asked Philip to help him understand the meaning of Isaiah 53, Philip used that as a launch pad to share the Good News with him. He baptized the man at an oasis alongside the road and then he was whisked away by the Spirit. The Ethiopian headed home, rejoicing. Phillip traveled along the coast until he reached Caesarea, sharing the Good News, teaching, preaching and healing as he went. Many years later Paul spent a night in Philip’s home in Caesarea. By this time Philip was known as Philip the evangelist, and he had raised four daughters all of whom had the gift of prophecy. Philip exemplifies early Christian evangelists, people the Spirit empowered and guided to authenticate their witness. Philip submitted to the power and guidance of the Spirit, and God used him to take the good News to those beyond the borders of Judaism.
Visions are a big deal in the Book of Acts. They are closely related to other revelatory experiences such as dreams. Classic examples are Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of the dry bones and Isaiah’s vision of God’s throne. Visions in the Book of Acts are typically connected to prayer or times of prayer. Cornelius was praying when an Angel visited him and the following day Peter received a vision as he prayed. The visions of Paul and Ananias are connected with prayer and highlight God’s involvement in their lives. These visions are not chance coincidences but instead the providential outworking of God’s saving purpose in the world. Visions give divine direction and show Christian workers the way in which they should carry out the Great Commission. Paul had visions on the Damascus Road at his conversion, on the threshold of his missionary advance into Europe, at Corinth, in the temple, and again in Jerusalem before he set out on his trip to Rome. Through visions God is active in guiding the affairs of the church and in extending its mission.
We got a closer look at John Mark. He was the writer of the earliest gospel, the gospel of Mark. He was also an assistant of three early missionaries; Barnabas, Paul, and Peter. He was taken along as an assistant by Barnabas and Paul on their first missionary journey but for unknown reasons, he left to return to Jerusalem before the trip was completed. Because of this, when Barnabas wanted to take him along on the second trip, Paul flatly refused. There was a sharp disagreement between the two men and they parted ways. Barnabas took John Mark with him and Paul chose Silas. Later it appears that the two were reconciled and that Mark once again served as Paul’s assistant. In Colossians Paul refers to Mark as a co-worker and suggests that he may soon be sending him to visit the church in Colossae. Still later, when Paul was awaiting execution in prison in Rome, he asked Timothy to bring Mark with him, because he thought Mark would be helpful or useful to him in his ministry. Mark also appears to have assisted Peter when Peter was engaged in missionary work in Italy near the end of his life. Early Christian tradition speaks of him as Peter’s interpreter. In one of Peter’s letters he speaks endearingly of Mark as his “son” who is with him. Early tradition says it was from Peter himself that Mark got the information for his account of the life and words of Jesus. Mark’s gospel is generally recognized as the earliest of the four gospels and scholars believe it was a source of information used by both Matthew and Luke when they wrote their own gospels. For this reason Mark’s gospel in considered one of the most influential of all the early Christian writings. Mark’s story reminds us that God can overcome human failings and restore rocky relationships for the sake of Christ and the Good News. Early failures do not disqualify a person from a life of effective service and even lasting significance.
There is also James, Jesus’ brother and a wise leader. He became the recognized leader of the church in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus’ resurrection. He is also recognized as the author of the Book of James. Though Jesus’ brothers were initially skeptical of His claims, they later became believers. James’ personal encounter with the resurrected Jesus might have helped convince him! Two of Jesus’ brothers, James and Jude, are known to have played significant roles in the early Christian community. James quickly rose to the position of leader in the Jerusalem church. At the council of Jerusalem James was instrumental in getting the Jewish church leaders to accept Gentile believers without being circumcised. This was a decision of major importance for Paul and the early missionaries to the Gentiles. Paul visited James after he had completed his third missionary trip, just as he had done earlier following his conversion. Like most Jewish Christians, James continued to follow the law of Moses. He emphasized the need for believers to observe certain key laws when among Jews. But James also recognized the validity of Paul’s missionary calling and emphasis on salvation by faith alone. However, many Jewish Christians did not. These Jewish believers demanded that Gentile converts be circumcised and observe the law of Moses in order to be saved. James’ Jewish background is reflected in his letter, which is full of practical advice for living, much of it in line with the traditional wisdom teaching of Jewish scripture. One paragraph of his letter reads very much like the work of the Old Testament prophets, Amos in particular. James is titled “the just” by his contemporaries. He was supposedly put to death for his faith by Jewish priests in Jerusalem.
Apollos was also a Greek speaking Jew, well versed in scripture, who became a strong evangelist and Christian apologist. He was a native of Alexandria in Egypt where there was a large Jewish community. He came under the influence of John the Baptist’s followers. He then became a bold and enthusiastic preacher of Jesus in Hellenistic synagogues, though he knew nothing about Christian baptism. When Priscilla and Aquila hear Apollos preach in Ephesus they invited him to their home and explained the way of Christ to him more fully. With the encouragement of the believers in Ephesus, who recognized his God given gifts and ministry, Apollos then travelled to Corinth. There he greatly helped the believers as an effective defender of the Good News in public debate with the Jews, boldly demonstrating that Jesus is the Messiah predicted in scripture. Apollos was a dynamic communicator who was popular with some of the Corinthians because of his intellectual style and his powerful speaking abilities. As a result of his powerful ministry, some in Corinth were more drawn to Apollos than to Paul. When they began to criticize Paul for not matching up to Apollos, Paul was forced to defend himself and his simpler, unimpressive way of preaching the Good News. Paul never criticized Apollos but instead called him a fellow servant and was grateful for the follow up work he had done. Apollos watered the seeds that Paul had planted and God blessed the work of both of them. Paul only criticized the shallow perspectives and divisiveness of those drawn to Apollos for superficial reasons. Perhaps Apollos’s reluctance to return to Corinth from Ephesus was due to concern over the divisions that resulted from his ministry. Still, Paul encouraged him. Several years later, when Apollos was ministering on the island of Crete, Paul encouraged Titus to make sure Apollos’s needs were being met as he set off for an unknown destination for further missionary service. Apollos, with his strong intellectual gifts and powerful speaking abilities, had a significantly different approach and style than Paul but both men proved effective and useful in the service of Christ.
Last but not least there is Luke, the writer of the gospel that bears his name and the Book of Acts, a two volume set. Luke was a medical doctor who became a convert and trusted assistant of Paul in his missionary work. We don’t know much about his background but he seems to have first encountered Paul and his preaching in Asia Minor, where he became a convert. Leaving his home Luke devoted his life to the service of Christ and the Good News as a dedicated assistant of Paul. Paul speaks of him warmly as “the beloved doctor” and one of his faithful co-workers. Luke is the only Christian who remained faithfully with Paul when he was awaiting execution in Rome. And, he is the only Gentile to have his writings included in the New Testament. In accompanying Paul on his last trip to Jerusalem, Luke probably acquired the information for his gospel and the early part of the Book of Acts from people he interviewed in Judea when Paul was imprisoned there for two years. Having talked extensively with people who heard and saw Jesus, and having studied carefully what others had written about Him, Luke then wrote his own careful account of Jesus’ life and teachings. When Paul was sent by ship to Rome to have his case tried there, Luke accompanied him. While Paul was under house arrest, awaiting his trial, Luke might have used the time to write the Book of Acts. The first 15 chapters provide a chronological account of the earliest missionary work as told to him by the early followers of Christ and by Paul himself. However, beginning in Acts 16:10, the point at which Luke joined Paul’s team, he provides a direct eyewitness account. Acts emphasizes the way the Holy Spirit empowered and guided the early missionaries in their witness and ends with Paul still under house arrest in Rome. We are truly indebted to Luke for many unique passages: the full account of Jesus’ birth, descriptions of Jesus’ ministry to women, many words about Jesus caring for the poor, and the only comprehensive account of the first 30 years of Christian missionary activity; all carefully documented. Through Luke’s writings we gain a much deeper appreciation of the crucial work of the Holy Spirit in the ministry of Jesus and the early missionaries.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W