Acts 19:11, 12 God did powerful things through Paul, things quite out of the ordinary. The word got around and people started taking pieces of clothing—handkerchiefs and scarves and the like—that had touched Paul’s skin and then touching the sick with them. The touch did it—they were healed and whole.
Back in the Middle Ages relics were a big deal. Wikipedia tells us “In religion, a relic is an object or article of religious significance from the past. It usually consists of the physical remains of a saint or the personal effects of the saint or venerated person preserved for purposes of veneration as a tangible memorial.” Enough pieces of the cross were sold to fill a forest. Apparently, something of this sort was happening in Ephesus when Paul was there. If you read on in this story you will find that many people gave up sorcery, burned their books of magic, and turned to Christ. We may not know what to do with some of these stories if they are far outside our personal experience. But we would be silly to believe that the only thing that is real is what we experience. the way we experience it. So don’t go out and buy a piece of the cross today. But don’t close your mind to the possibility that God can do more than we can imagine.
Acts 18:1-4 After Athens, Paul went to Corinth. That is where he discovered Aquila, a Jew born in Pontus, and his wife, Priscilla. They had just arrived from Italy, part of the general expulsion of Jews from Rome ordered by Claudius. Paul moved in with them, and they worked together at their common trade of tentmaking.
Should Christian churches have full time pastors? Some groups say “no.” https://www.compellingtruth.org/pastors-paid-salary.html states, “A somewhat common belief in modern days is that if salvation is by grace, ministry should be free. After all, the pastor only works two hours a week.” Leaders in the synagogues of the 1st century had other means of support. In the passage above we find Paul working at tentmaking to support himself. However, just a few verses later we find “When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was able to give all his time to preaching and teaching” (5). It seems they brought a financial gift for Paul that allowed him to devote all his time to his spiritual work. But, apparently the question was not totally settled in Corinth as Paul will later write back to that congregation, “Do you not know that those who are employed in the temple service get their food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar share in the sacrificial offerings? In the same way, the Lord commanded that those who proclaim the gospel should get their living by the gospel” (1 Corinthians 9:13, 14). In many parts of the world and in many congregations in the U.S. today there are not enough resources to support a full time pastor. New models need to be established and some have taken on the term “Tentmaking ministries” from the passage above. It is a wonderful blessing for a congregation to have a full time pastor; just ask a congregation who can no longer afford one! But those called by God to ministry will do whatever it takes to fulfill their calling. Will you?
Acts 17:4 Some of them were won over and joined ranks with Paul and Silas, among them a great many God-fearing Greeks and a considerable number of women from the aristocracy. (The Message Bible)
Remember Rosie the Riveter? Like Uncle Sam who became an image depicting the country, Rosie was, according to Wikipedia, a “cultural icon in the United States who represents the women who worked in factories and shipyards during World War II, many of whom produced munitions and war supplies. These women sometimes took entirely new jobs replacing the male workers who joined the military” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosie_the_Riveter). On this Labor Day we remember how this began a change in the workforce that continues in the present. Luke points out several times that it was women who became instrumental in forming the early churches. In addition to the above Luke mentions Lydia in whose home the church in Philippi resided initially (Acts 16:15). In the next town, Berea, “A lot of them became believers, including many Greeks who were prominent in the community, women and men of influence” (17:12). In the first major sermon in Acts Peter quotes the prophet Joel speaking for God that “When the time comes, I’ll pour out my Spirit On those who serve me, men and women both, and they’ll prophesy” (2:20). What hard working woman of faith changed your life?
Acts 16:37 Paul wouldn’t budge. He told the officers, “They beat us up in public and threw us in jail, Roman citizens in good standing! And now they want to get us out of the way on the sly without anyone knowing? Nothing doing! If they want us out of here, let them come themselves and lead us out in broad daylight.” (The Message Bible)
Paul and his traveling companion Silas had been tossed in jail in Philippi. Due to an earthquake, they had the chance to flee but chose not to, perhaps for the sake of the jailor who would have paid with his life if his prisoners escaped. But Paul had another card to play. He was not merely a traveling vagabond in these parts. He had been born as a citizen of the Roman Empire. The internet tells us, “Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, and Tarsus, where Paul was born, was a free city (see Acts 21:39). The emperor Pompey made Cilicia a Roman province in 64 BC, and its capital, Tarsus, was a free city from the time of Augustus. Although it is unknown exactly how his parents became citizens of Rome, Paul was a Roman citizen by birth, which was a privilege many did not have” (https://www.gotquestions.org/Paul-Roman-citizen.html). Philippi was a colony of Rome, designated as such after a famous battle there in 42 B.C. Colonies were places where land was given to retired soldiers. People in Philippi understood and valued citizenship. That is why Paul would later write to them in 3:20 of the New Testament book of Philippians, “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Citizenship has its privileges and responsibilities. A colony was a little piece of the Empire even though it was miles separated from the homeland. Paul demanded to have his Roman citizenship respected as well as his heavenly citizenship. What would it mean to you to be a citizen of Christ’s empire?
Acts 15:22 Everyone agreed: apostles, leaders, all the people. They picked Judas (nicknamed Barsabbas) and Silas—they both carried considerable weight in the church—and sent them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas with this letter (The Message Bible)
For one brief, shining moment, everyone agreed. They agreed that the non-Jewish people who came to believe in Jesus did not need to be circumcised (a big relief for first century adults!) but that they did need to respect their Jewish brothers and sisters by following some customs regarding sex and food that were important to traditional Jews back then. They wrote a letter to this effect but a letter wasn’t enough. They felt they needed to send people to verify and maybe expand upon the words of the letter. Written words are great. We have books and newspapers and webpages galore. We have the Bible to tell the story of God. But don’t we need to see it all come off the page into someone’s life? Don’t we need another human being to show us what the words look like in action? I think we do. Maybe you have such a person for you. Maybe you could be such a person for someone else.
Acts 14:11 When the crowd saw what Paul had done, they went wild, calling out in their Lyconian dialect, “The gods have come down! These men are gods!” (The Message Bible)
What Paul had done was be the vehicle for the healing of a man lame from birth. The folks who saw it concluded that Paul and his companion, Barnabas, must be divine and started spreading the word. The problem for Paul and Barnabas was that they didn’t know what the people were carrying on about because the people were speaking their own language, “Lyconian,” and not the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic that Paul and Barnabas understood. The next thing they knew the people were preparing to sacrifice an animal to them and that was the last thing they wanted. How do you connect with others who don’t speak the same language? Do we understand the language God speaks? These people figured that God had come to them in Paul and Barnabas speaking a language of the power to heal. It seems reasonable that if God wants us to understand him, he will find a way to speak our language. That’s exactly what he did in Jesus and through the prophets and in the scriptures. Are we ready to listen?
Acts 13:2 “Take Barnabas and Saul and commission them for the work I have called them to do.” (The Message Bible)
At this point, Barnabas’ and Saul’s (Paul) calling would send them on a 500-mile journey mostly walking but a few short boat trips as well. They would have even more in store for their future. We often think of a calling as something extraordinary and for these two it certainly was. But whatever work God has you set apart to do is just as important even if it seems ordinary or commonplace. As part of the Reformation Martin Luther proposed “Every occupation has its own honor before God. Ordinary work is a divine vocation or calling. In our daily work no matter how important or mundane we serve God by serving the neighbor and we also participate in God’s on-going providence for the human race.” Paul wrote to the Colossians “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (3:17). Forgiveness isn’t just about removing the bad, it is freeing us to move to the good that God made us to be. Did you ever consider what you are set apart for?
Acts 12:5 All the time that Peter was under heavy guard in the jailhouse, the church prayed for him most strenuously. (The Message Bible)
This chapter of Acts begins with the execution of one of the apostles named James. Next, Peter is arrested and we are told the king “was planning a public lynching after Passover.” Things were getting pretty scary for the folks in and around Jerusalem. So, what did they do? They prayed. The Message Bible says they prayed “most strenuously.” We pray differently when we are afraid, don’t we? Whether it is a health issue or money worries or relational stress, our prayers become heightened when we fear the future. For some folks, that is the only time they pray. The world is a messy place and there is lots of potential for things to go wrong. Maybe God allows these things so that we will learn how to pray strenuously. Now if we could only learn to praise and give thanks just as strenuously!
Acts 11:22 When the church in Jerusalem got wind of this, they sent Barnabas to Antioch to check on things. (The Message Bible)
The “this” above was the fact that lots of people were becoming followers of Jesus in that city who were not Jewish. This was something new in the first century and the folks from the home headquarters in Jerusalem thought they better check it out. But whom to send? They chose Barnabas. Why? They don’t tell us exactly but we know that Barnabas was from that general area and that he was someone they trusted. He had a track record with the Jerusalem folks. When it comes to spiritual matters, like how to live out your faith in community, whom do you trust? It’s an important question but an even more important question is are you a person that someone would trust regarding spiritual matters? What are you doing this week that will build a track record of spiritual trustworthiness in the eyes of those around you? Can you become a Barnabas?
Acts 10:34, 35 Peter fairly exploded with his good news: “It’s God’s own truth, nothing could be plainer: God plays no favorites! It makes no difference who you are or where you’re from—if you want God and are ready to do as he says, the door is open.” (The Message Bible)
I was at a Phillies game about a month ago when, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth and the Phillies down by a run and two men on base, the batter, one of their young players who hadn’t done too much up till then, hit the walk-off homerun. The stadium “fairly exploded with this good news!” around 20,000 fans cheered, jumped up and down, gave high fives, and various other forms of joy and excitement. If we can get that excited about a sporting event, how much more should we find excitement when we understand something wonderful about God and life? Peter was thrilled with the realization that God was now calling all categories of people into his kingdom “no difference who you are or where you’re from!” That could include you and me if we are interested. How interested are you?