The Hope of Israel

Christianity is a faith with its roots in Israel and in Judaism. The people of Israel had waited for a Prophet. The people of Israel had waited for a Messiah. They had waited for the return of Elijah, and it is for this reason that they had asked John the Baptist if he was any of these when he had started his ministry and was baptizing people in the wilderness.

John said that he was not any of these, but there was one who was coming who would baptize with the Holy Spirit and with fire. This One is Jesus and he was the one that the Jews had been waiting for. They had waited for him for centuries, in fact for millennia, and many had essentially given up. Many thought that God had simply forgotten them, or abandoned them.

Yet those who maintained their hope continued to wait and watch. They continued to look for the one that would come, and when they saw the one who spoke in the way that God spoke, who did the things that only God could do, they correctly identified him – Jesus – as the Messiah, as the One for whom they were waiting.

As before, Paul, now in Rome before the Jewish leaders there, identifies Jesus as the hope of Israel. He is the Messiah that they have awaited.

It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.

Acts 28:20

Jesus fulfilled the Law and the Prophets and brought the waiting of the Israelites to an end.

We find ourselves in a similar place today. We are also waiting on Jesus. We are waiting for him to return. And many, like in the time of the Israelites’ waiting, have lost hope. They have thought that Jesus is not returning. Or they have rationalized that he isn’t real. Or they have believed in something else.

But Jesus is returning. He is not only the hope of Israel, he is the our living hope as well. He not only died, he arose, and Jesus will return to finally and completely establish his kingdom here on the earth. This is the hope that we cling to as well. This is what we are also waiting for. Like the Jews, we must not give up hope nor lose faith. God is not slow in coming. Our hope, like that of Israel, will be fulfilled.


Chains and Storms

The plan of God rarely works out the way that we see it happening in our minds. Frequently we think that God has sent us to do something, and the image in our mind of what we think God wants to do is full of good times and even glory for ourselves. Yet the way that the reality usually works out is quite different from this. It usually, instead, looks like one challenge after another.

Jesus’s plan for Paul was that he had chosen him to be sent to the Gentiles. This was a new thing that God was doing, opening the Kingdom of God to new people who had never had access to the Kingdom previously without becoming a converted Jew, but now Jesus is carrying out this plan through Paul.

Paul had traveled throughout what is modern-day Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Greece, and Macedonia, sharing the Gospel and planting churches through the entire area. Now Jesus was carrying out his plan to send Paul to Rome, the center of the Gentile world at the time as the Roman empire had conquered the largest portion of the world.

Paul wouldn’t travel there triumphantly, though. He would go there hidden. The Gospel would travel with him hidden. He was a prisoner, of no consequence to the Empire of Rome. Nothing from a human perspective.

When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.

The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.

Acts 27:39-44

Paul is traveling as a prisoner and has been in the midst of storms as he has moved with fishing vessels from east to west, having left Caesarea and headed to Italy. To those in charge, his life meant very little, but he was obeying the plan of God and moving in the way that God desired.

In some ways, this reminds me of how God also brought Jesus into the world. Jesus came as a baby, under the cover of darkness, hidden. Nothing particularly astounding about him and people really didn’t regard him highly, except that he taught with authority and performed signs that only God could do.

In the same way, Paul moved as a simple man, following the plan of God without fanfare, even following God’s plan while in chains and through great difficulty.

So we also should expect to move similarly as we see God use us. There will not likely be many friendly greetings from the world. There will not likely be any fanfare. Instead, we can expect the normal. We can expect the struggle. We can expect that, in the process of doing what God has called us to do, to need to overcome the obstacles of the world by depending on God’s help and leading.


To Open Their Eyes

Paul is giving his defense to King Agrippa, who is the great-grandson to King Herod who had attempted to kill Jesus as a baby. The line of Herod kings that had been passed down throughout the years had been brutal as they ruled over the land, working to stamp out any threat to their reign.

Yet here was Paul, speaking again of Jesus, the one that he would call both Savior and King, and he is doing it directly in front of a Herod, King Agrippa.

Paul explains that he has seen the fulfillment of the purpose of his people, and it is in this fulfillment that he has placed his hope. His people are the Jews and the role of the Jewish people within God’s plan has been to offer blessing and hope to the world. That blessing and hope was fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah, in the coming of Jesus Christ.

Paul explains that he has seen this hope for his people fulfilled. That is why he can say that agrees with the Pharisees. He was one, and he still believes everything that the Pharisees believe. They believe in the resurrection of the dead? Yes, so does he! And why does he believe it? Because he has seen it. He has seen the resurrected Messiah. He has seen Jesus and he has been commissioned and sent by him.

It is precisely this commissioning that caught my attention this morning as I read Acts 26. I noticed a significant shift in how Paul recounts what Jesus has said to him and the messages that God had given previously. Here is what I mean:

First, take a look at Isaiah. When God calls Isaiah, he sends him to his people with what seems to be a very strange calling. He says:

Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us? ”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

He said, “Go and tell this people:
“‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

Isaiah 6:8-10

Hmm… that’s really strange. God is telling Isaiah, His prophet, that he should go and tell the people that they should be ever seeing but not perceiving? Ever hearing but not understanding?

God’s people had disobeyed and walked away from Him. They worshiped other gods. They lived like the other nations. They refused God as their King, and for this God would bring punishment upon the Israelites. We see that the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans all come to rule over the Jews, taking possession over the land of Israel. So before they could repent and return back to God, their rebellion must be punished and so Isaiah’s role is to proclaim a message to the Israelites that the time of healing was past and the time of judgment and punishment was upon them.

Interestingly, even Jesus spoke in a similar way. He frequently spoke to the people in parables. In one time in particular, when the disciples came to ask Jesus why he always spoke in parables (presumably to ask why he doesn’t just speak to the people plainly!), Jesus said:

Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

Matthew 13:11-13

Jesus went on to say that the prophecy spoken to Isaiah was fulfilled with these people, these Jews specifically who were listening to him. He was giving them the knowledge of the secrets of the Kingdom, but they weren’t allowed to comprehend them. Only to those that Jesus had chosen would those secrets be revealed. These were the ones that Jesus would allow to understand the Kingdom of God.

But here is where we get to the difference. As Paul recounts what happened to him on the road to Damascus as Jesus appeared to him, he says that Jesus said something very different to him. He said that Jesus told him:

Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.

Acts 26:16-18

The time has come. God’s plan to reestablish His Kingdom on the earth is in motion and Jesus has come to redeem his people, purchasing them away from the kingdom of darkness to come into the Kingdom of light. The people can receive forgiveness for their sins and they can take their place within the Kingdom because they have been sanctified by Christ.

What is more, Paul says, none of this has happened in a way that is hidden. He points out to Festus and Agrippa that Agrippa would know all of these things. They have been done in the open, and now it is time to understand the meaning of all of these things. It is time to open the doors for all men, whether Jews or Gentiles – everyone! – to come to Christ. The time of judgment and punishment is over. The time for the Kingdom and the worship of the King has come. And this is the work that Jesus has given to Paul, to speak and open the eyes of all people so that they can clearly see and come to Jesus.


Playing Politics

The backroom deals can make things happen at times that leave you scratching your head. Just when you thought you knew the rules, you find out that the rules have been changed.

That is what the Jewish leaders try to do with Paul. As Festus, the new puppet king ruling over the area from Caesarea, comes up to Jerusalem, he stays there for about a week and a half where he meets with the Jewish leaders and works out a potential plan. The Jews ask that Paul be transferred back to Jerusalem where they will administer some “street justice” upon him by ambushing him while traveling back and kill him. Festus denies their request, but later reconsiders and asks Paul if he would be willing to go up to Jerusalem. Who knows…maybe Festus eventually realizes that he has a problem with Paul that he hasn’t been able to solve and just wants to clear himself of the issue? Hard to know why he had a change of mind, but clearly he was hoping to get Paul out of there.

But Paul sees through it. He knows that going back to Jerusalem would be death for him. And he also knows that Jesus has called him to take the message to Rome, so he sees his opportunity:

Paul answered: “I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!”

After Festus had conferred with his council, he declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!”

Acts 25:10-12

Paul had been left in prison for two years. He had been forgotten, and his case simply not dealt with. But now is the time to move forward. He appeals to Caesar in Rome, and Festus agrees. He says that Paul will go to Rome.

Throughout this entire process, we can continue to see Paul speaking with wisdom, depending on the people before whom he is standing. He used wise words before the Sannhedrin to be able to divide the leaders and be taken from Jerusalem to Caesarea. He did the same as he stood before Felix and the Jewish leaders to face the charges, identifying himself and his position to be the same as that of the Jewish leaders. And now, he does it yet again before Festus by pointing out that what Festus wants to do is unlawful and is stripping him of his rights as a Roman citizen. In each of these moments, at key times, I think that we can see the hand of God guiding Paul, helping him to move in the direction of Rome, fulfilling the words of Jesus from Matthew 10:19: But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say.

Jesus continues to walk with his people, especially in moments of trouble. We can depend upon him to complete his plan as he will be the one to guide us with his words and power, even when men devise schemes in an attempt to play out political agendas.


Everything in the Law and Prophets

As I noted yesterday, Jesus had told Paul that he would go on to testify for him in Rome. Paul wouldn’t stay there in Jerusalem. His story wouldn’t end there, but instead he would continue on and take the story of Jesus into the heart of the Gentile world of that time.

The commander Claudius had sent a detachment of two separate centurions down to Caesarea where Felix was the governor so that Paul’s case could be heard there. This is where Paul’s trial would begin, a trial that would take him, through the Roman governmental system, straight to Rome.

Paul was being accused by the high priest and the elders of stirring up the Jews and causing riots among the Jews. As Paul clearly points out, there certainly were riots, but it wasn’t because of his actions or because of what he had taught or done. No, the riots were the direct action of the Jews themselves. Because of their unhinged reaction to him, even while he was clearly and calmly following Jewish law and customs, Paul found himself now in chains, arrested because of what they had done.

Reading this story in Acts 24 this morning, I was reminded of what Jesus had told his disciples in Matthew 10. In fact, it seems to me that it is a direct fulfillment of what Jesus had warned his disciples. He had told them that they would be like sheep among wolves, that they would be beaten in the synagogues, they would be betrayed, they would be persecuted. And they would be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:18). Yet, despite all of this, Jesus said that he would be with them, and he would give them the words to say and would instruct them how to say it.

And that is exactly what has happened here in Acts 24. Jesus is directing Paul’s steps, leading him toward Rome by way of Caesarea into the Roman system, carrying out his plan. It isn’t necessarily Paul’s plan. Paul is being used by Jesus to carry out God’s plan to carry the message of Christ further and further into the heart of the Gentile world, just as Jesus said would happen. Jesus’s disciples would be brought before the governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. That is exactly what is happening!

Jesus is giving Paul the words that he must say and the way that he must say them. And in this case, we see that Paul does not try to fight the Jews. Nor does he change the story at all. Instead, he simply recounts what he had done and allowed his innocence to speak for itself.

But I noticed something very interesting in the way that Paul says what he says in his defense, and I couldn’t help but think that this may precisely be Jesus giving Paul the words, and more specifically the way that he should say them. Paul says:

I believe everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets, and I have the same hope in God as these men themselves have, that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.

Acts 24:14-15

Instead of fighting against his accusers, Paul identifies himself with them. He says, in fact, that he believes everything that they believe!

Now it is getting confusing. How would that be possible that Paul believes everything that they believe and yet the leaders of the Jewish people are here accusing Paul of crimes?

It is possible because Paul divides with them on the fact that he knows that the same Law and Prophets that they believe has been fulfilled in Christ. Jesus fulfilled the Law in what he had done and the way that he lived. He did not sin. And he fulfilled the Prophets because he is the Messiah that the Prophets spoke about as the One who would come.

But instead of going into all of these details in the midst of a court where he wouldn’t be understood or heard, Paul simply says that he believes just like them, his accusers – both in the Law and the Prophets – and what is more, that he believes in the resurrection of the dead. And why does he believe in the resurrection of the dead? Because he has seen Jesus. Jesus has shown himself to him. He doesn’t believe it theoretically. He believes it experientially. And so it is to this that Paul testifies. He is speaking of Jesus to the kings and governors in his defense because Jesus himself is leading him through the process where he wants Paul to go.

Now, as I’ve noted a few times before, it is important to realize that Jesus says that he will give us the words that we are to speak as we stand before the kings and governors, but he never said that he would protect us, at least not physically. In fact, he says that we will be beaten. And that happened to Paul. He said that we would be persecuted. And that happened to Paul. He said that we could be killed, and while the scriptures don’t specifically tell us that, we believe that Paul was probably killed in Rome. But Jesus also said that we shouldn’t fear those that can harm the body and nothing more, but instead we should fear the One who can determine what will happen with our soul in eternity. And that is what we see also happen with Paul. He clearly wants to serve God and is less concerned about his own welfare.

Paul could have left prison. He could have offered Felix a bribe. Surely he knew that. But Jesus’s plan was that Paul was to be in prison because that would lead him before more and more of the kings and governors. Paul would eventually appeal to Caesar, and that would take him to Rome. He would go there to testify about Jesus, just as he had been told.

Now, I am not saying that we should try to be placed in prison. However, I do ask who I – who we all – fear. The one who can harm the body and no more? Or the One who can determine the final fate of our souls in eternity. These are important questions that we need to consider because it determines the direction of our lives and what we are willing to do. Are we willing to give our lives for God’s glory? Or do we keep our lives for our own?


The Big Stage

Jesus had called Paul, having chosen him as his instrument to be the apostle to the Gentiles. From the Jews would come God’s blessing to all nations, so that God’s plan would be fulfilled through all of the earth. God had blessed Abraham saying that all nations would be blessed through him. Now Jesus, through his death and resurrection, had opened the way for all men to come to God through him, and Paul would be the one who would speak for Christ, to be the first one to take the message to them.

Paul had been carrying out these duties for the last 15 years or so and now, he is finally going to face the Jews in Jerusalem, just as Jesus had done before him. This confrontation had been prophecied as he had made his way to Jerusalem, even as far back as his time in Asia minor, but now the time had come.

Paul had given his testimony of what had happened to him, and how Jesus had appeared to him and sent him to the Gentiles, as he stood before the Sannhedrin. Now, due to his quick thinking and taking advantage of a well-known point of contention and division between the Pharisees and the Saducees, Paul had been taken away from the Sannhedrin by the Roman guard who was in charge of him. And it is at this point that Jesus comes to Paul again to speak to him, saying:

“Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

Acts 23:11

So Paul’s journey would continue. His work wasn’t done. He had always spoken first to the Jews, which he had done in this case, but as they rejected his message, which they had also done in this case, he went to the Gentiles. Jesus would now send him straight into the heart of the most Gentile of the Gentiles that world would have known at that time, to Rome, the capital of the Roman empire.

And consistent with his calling, Paul would be speaking about Jesus there. Paul would be carrying the message of grace and mercy and forgiveness to the Gentiles. He would carry the message that God’s light had come into the world. But there were also two very important additional messages that he would need to carry to the Gentiles.

First, given that he is carrying the message to Rome, one message would be very clear. Jesus is the King over every other king, and Jesus’s Kingdom will reign over every other kingdom. Many men will try to take the place of power and plant their legacy to continue forever, but only Jesus’s Kingdom will last forever. Caesar isn’t the true king. Jesus is the only true King. He is the one that we should serve and obey over all others.

And second, Paul would also carry a similar message that Jesus is God. There is One God. And only One God. And that God is Jesus.

The Romans were polytheistic and considered themselves to be highly religious. They allowed for the possibility that there were many, many gods, even having adopted many of the Greek gods in addition to those that they had worshiped. Why was this OK? Because none made a claim of deity over other false or fake gods.

And yet, that is exactly the message that Paul had been delivering to the Gentiles before and would continue to deliver now to the Romans. All of the other “gods” that they consider themselves religiously serving are simply manmade idols made from silver, gold, wood, and stone. And yet they continued to build temples and worship those things that they had made with their own hands.

But there is a God who made heaven and earth and everything in them and that God presents Himself to us as Father, Son (Jesus), and Holy Spirit. One God, and the rest of them are fake. That One God is continuing to reestablish His Kingdom in both heaven and here on the earth, having purchased His own people with His own blood, the blood of Jesus Christ.

This is the message that Paul would be taking to the heart of the government that ruled over the Gentiles in his time, and this is the same message that we, as Christians should be carrying throughout the entire world even today. The message hasn’t changed. The King is still King and our role is to continue to testify and proclaim Him on both the biggest and most grand, as well as the smallest and most humble stages all across the world. There is no place that the message must not go. No place that we are not called to proclaim it because our God wants that all people, everywhere, will worship Him.


No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

The people had heard that Paul had betrayed them and was teaching against the law of Moses and against the traditions, so the elders of the church in Jerusalem asked Paul to perform purification rites so that everyone could see that he was still a Jew and following the ways of the Jews.

Paul agrees to this, and even agrees to do the same with four other men, paying their expenses as well so that there wouldn’t be any doubt whatsoever about who he is and what his intentions are. Paul doesn’t want any of the Jews to stumble in their faith because of who he is, so he goes out of his way in his intent to show the people that he does live for Christ with the heritage of a Jew, especially there in Jerusalem, in the heart of Judaism.

But unfortunately, you can’t make everyone happy, and people will frequently go on what they think is right instead of what they know to be true and some Jews from the province of Asia start making untrue accusations against Paul and his treatment of the temple (wow, does that sound familiar?), saying that he had brought a Greek inside, when in fact, they didn’t know that to actually be the case.

When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Fellow Israelites, help us! This is the man who teaches everyone everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple and defiled this holy place.” (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple.)

Acts 21:27-29

Paul ends up being beaten, arrested, and taken away by the Roman soldiers despite being innocent of everything that he was charged with. Once again, it is as if history is repeating itself. Jesus had experienced this same thing in this same city, and now Paul was following his Master and King, going through very similar things to what Jesus had experienced.

We shouldn’t expect differently, even today. People very frequently act upon their emotions instead of understanding the reality of situations. So we should probably take a couple of different lessons:

First, spiritual realities run near and dear to our hearts, so we should know that, as we speak about Jesus with others, as we speak of the one who had to come to reestablish his Kingdom here in the world, who came to save us so that we could enter his Kingdom, we should expect that we will be running up against, and close to their emotions. We can expect blowback. We can expect emotional responses. And we must be able to speak truth in love in the midst of those responses.

And second, we should also closely and carefully examine what is being said by others. Does it align with the word of God? Or no? Beyond our emotions, we must know that we may not know everything. We can learn and grow. There are many things that we may not have understood up to now. Personally, I learned the overall plan and mission of God after having been in the church for almost 30 years. No one had ever explained it to me, and when I understood it, it changed everything for me. In some ways, that experience helps me understand what the Jews were going through. They were, in that very moment, seeing the fulfillment and the result of Judaism. Their entire way of life was being fulfilled as part of God’s plan, but they couldn’t understand it. They were spiritually blind and deaf.

I pray that we don’t make the same mistake.


Innocent of the Blood

After having been in Ephesus for a couple of years, the craftsmen that made the idols of Artemis began to put two and two together. They saw that their sales were down and fewer people were buying their silver statues because more and more people were turning to follow Christ. They rose up in a riot and accused Paul of being their problem. In the end, it came to nothing, but it made Paul decide that it was time to leave.

He traveled around, continuing to teach and lead his leaders, going to Macedonia, Greece, and Troas, then finally heading south and landing in Miletus where he had a meeting with the elders from Ephesus.

In the midst of this meeting with the elders, Paul tells them that he is innocent of their blood. Wait…what? How could he possibly be guilty for their blood? As far as we know, Paul hasn’t killed anyone…(at least not in Ephesus!) Here is what he says:

Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.

Acts 20:25-27

Paul’s main justification is that he has preached the Kingdom of God to them. He says that he has not hesitated to proclaim the whole will of God. He preached publicly and he taught from house to house. Paul came to them to speak and proclaim to them about Jesus, and that is exactly what he did. Despite all of the threats and danger, Paul did this without regard to his own life, and for this, he is innocent of their blood.

But again, what blood is he talking about? Why is he bringing up the possibility of being guilty of their blood?

Paul is speaking of a much greater reality. He isn’t talking about their physical blood, but instead of the life that is represented by their blood. Blood represents life throughout the scriptures and Paul is saying that there is no longer the possibility that he would be declared guilty for not having given them the possibility of life.

Paul knows that if he doesn’t give these people that possibility of eternal life, life after death, then he could be considered to have blood on his hands. If he didn’t do as he did, he could be said to have had the opportunity to act to prevent their deaths, and instead did not. He could have shown them the way, but instead did not.

But that is not what Paul did. Paul dedicated his life so that other people would know. He met with them publicly. He met with them privately. He endured hardship, and yet he did it with joy. Paul gave his life so that others would live. He followed Jesus in this way, and he gives each of us an example as a way we should live as well.

In the same way as Paul’s time, people are perishing. Jesus wants his Kingdom to continue to advance, and he calls upon his people to make his disciples so that their blood will not be spilt into eternity. Instead, they would have eternal life and life with Christ and with each of us forever. This is our calling as well as it was Paul’s. Let us live that calling even now and even today!


He Gives Life and Breath

As Paul traveled from one place to the next, he not only entered the synagogues to show the Jews that the Messiah had come, but he was also working against the prevailing religion at the time, Hellenism, where they worshiped the Greek gods and practiced animism, the idea that inanimate objects would have souls.

When Paul arrived in Athens, he found himself in the center, the very heart, of Hellenism. This is the place that housed the Areopagus and temples dedicated to the various Hellenistic gods. I can only imagine that, as he walked around the city and the various marketplaces, Paul was aghast at the worship of these other gods and all of the various symbols that he found there.

Paul is invited to come to speak at the Areopagus, so he goes and speaks of One God. One God who is the one who is unknown to the Greeks. They don’t know Him, but now Paul is going to introduce them. He is the one who made everything. Heaven and earth. They thought that Zeus and Artemis and Athena were great, but they are nothing more than images that have been fashioned by man out of gold, silver, or stone. Instead, God is the one God who made all things. There aren’t many gods, Paul says. There is One. One God, and only one God.

The practice of the Greeks was to build these “gods” with their hands and then build large temples to worship them. But Paul notes an important difference with the God that he is speaking about. This God does not need a temple.

The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

Acts 17:24-25

It is silly to think that God could be contained by a temple. The Jews tried it – in fact, they still, even today, go to a rock wall to pray to God. The Greeks were trying it. They built massive temples to each of the gods that they were serving.

But there is an important implication to what Paul is saying here. If God is not in the temple, and if God cannot be contained by the temple, we should understand and practice that God is worshiped and served not only in the temple but also everywhere else that we live and move, and do anything that we are doing.

Today, if you say this to a group of people, I think you would have almost universal agreement. “Yes, of course,” we would all say. Of course God isn’t just in the temple. God is universal. He is anywhere and everywhere that He wants to be. Everyone agrees.

But that is not at all what we practice, is it? Our practice is that we go to church. Our practice is that we go to religious places to do religious things. Our practice is that we go to our modern day “temples” to meet with God.

That practice limits us. In fact, it limits us severely. I would go so far as to say that it is preventing us from doing what Jesus has commanded us to do. We go to the place where the religious things happen and we watch the people who are leading the religious activities, and we somehow think that this is what God has called us to do.

That couldn’t be further from the truth, though. We are called, all of us, to belong to the royal priesthood. We are called, all of us, to serve God by day and by night. We are called to serve Him in the church, but we are called to serve Him also outside of the church. And how? By making disciples, just as Jesus told us to do. In connection with the church but also just as we go. Not by simply taking more people to the “temple”, into the church where the religious things happen. No, but each day, and that will have practical implications as we belong to the church where we are, and we make disciples amongst the people where are moving and living and working, seeing new churches continue to form where we are going.

It is God who gives life and breath and everything else. It is God who moves us. Not a place. Not a special people. God Himself. He is not served by human hands in a special place. He is served by human hands in every place. Let us live and move and work in this way, obeying Christ and being the royal priests that we are called to be within the Kingdom to which Jesus purchased each of us.


The Crowds Are Fickle

If you have a crowd, or even a large group, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are all in agreement with what you are saying. It certainly doesn’t mean that they will continue in the same way that you had planned or hoped.

Paul and Barnabas were traveling around on their first missionary journey, preaching that Jesus was the Christ and trying to help the Gentiles know the true God. While they were in Lystra, Paul was preaching and performed a miracle to make a man who had been lame and unable to walk to stand and begin walking. Having seen this, the people start to call out worship to Paul and Barnabas, saying that they believed them to be Hermes and Zeus, respectively. They even started bringing bulls to begin to sacrifice to them, despite the apostles’ protests.

So we see this incredible scene of adulation and adoration of Paul and Barnabas, and then comes the next sentence:

Then some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and won the crowd over. They stoned Paul and dragged him outside the city, thinking he was dead.

Acts 14:19

What in the world? Wasn’t this crowd just praising and worshiping Paul and Barnabas? And now they’re stoning him and leaving him outside of the city?

A crowd of people isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but neither is it a confirmation that they are all in agreement nor are sold out to what is being taught or led. You might, in this case, say that they were very much on Paul and Barnabas’s side given that they were even sacrificing to them, but what they were doing had nothing to do with their devotion to Christ.

I see this as a warning to the churches today that have crowds coming to their church services. You may, or may not have disciples. You may, or may not, have people that are truly following Christ and sold out to the Gospel. Maybe. But maybe not. The number of people means nothing.

This week, we had more people in our church meeting than usual. More than we had previously. And that was encouraging. Afterward, I was encouraged and excited about it.

But we’ve also had the opportunity to encourage a brother in Christ about making a good decision that reflects the character of Jesus in his life. Despite the hard situation that he finds himself in, he is trying to follow Christ and do what will honor Jesus.

This is the real work. Yes, we want more people to hear the Gospel, but we are looking for the people who truly want to follow Christ, and that is where we need to invest our time. In those people, God will do His greatest work. Through those people we will reach many others. It won’t be through the crowds who could easily turn. It will be through the individuals who make the hard decisions to follow Jesus even when it hurts.