Keep Giving The Word
Paul Didn't Learn His Lesson
1. The latter half of Acts puts the focus on Paul in particular. When we go back to reading it again, we can't escape feeling that this character Paul is quite peculiar. Still, it is curious, as it also seems on that alone, that he is truly fascinating.
2. There are a lot of impressive accounts in The Acts Of The Apostles that show Paul being odd. And yet, if I presented one as an example, I'd know exactly where I would take you, I would show the one over the events that took place in Lystra in the province of Lycaonia during his first missionary journey.
3. Before [Lystra], Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel in the towns of Antioch and Iconium. But, in various towns Paul and his group had come to encounter opposition from extremely strict Jews. The Jews in Antioch and Iconium pursued after Paul all the way to Lystra to inflict harm on him. The Bible says in chapter fourteen and verse nineteen, "However, the Jews had come from Antioch and Iconium, won over the crowd, stoned Paul and thought he had died, then dragged him out of town," (14:19). Later, in the epistle addressed to the disciples of Corinth, he wrote that he once was stoned (Second Corinthians 11:25), and I think he was talking about his experience at Lystra.
4. It seems the people at that time thought for sure that Paul was dead. They dragged Paul's body to the outskirts of town. The other disciples feeling themselves powerless, that they were unable to come to Paul's aid, were probably shedding tears of regret. But, Paul did not die. He got back up. Since a person normally dies upon being stoned, this was obviously a miracle of God. Whenever one is given life through a divine miracle, that life must be cherished. However, "Paul rose up and went into the town," says [the text], (14:20). He's acting dumb here. Won't he run into the same opposition? The next time he will be a goner for sure. Still, Paul goes back. Not learning his lesson he goes back for more.
5. Blessings like this don't automatically just come by, but the next day he was able to move on to Derby. But, the figure of Paul that we see in what happened changed his shape and pierced his preaching work. In Paul who went back not learning his lesson - the reader will repeatedly encounter a figure in him that we might truly call foolish, especially in his dealings with the Jews.
6. For instance, please look at chapter thirteen. In the second half of chapter thirteen, in Antioch of the province of Psydia a sermon Paul gave is delivered. The people who heard it request him to give the same one on the following Sabbath. On the following Sabbath almost everyone in town had come for assembly. But, when the Jews saw the crowd, they became so harshly jealous, spoke ill of him and went against what Paul was saying. Then, Paul and Barnabas said, "The word of God was supposed to first be preached to you. But you rejected it and made yourselves unworthy of obtaining eternal life. Behold, we are going to the Gentiles, " (13:46). No doubt here Paul left a sharp parting remark to the Jews with "We are going to the Gentiles!," and began to proclaim the gospel to the Gentiles. However, even after this, in Iconium where he moved onto, to [whom] did Paul go? He went straight to the Jewish synagogue. And again he came into contact with Jewish hostility like he usually did.
7. Let's look some more at another passage. [Let's look at] the events while [they were] in Corinth during the second missionary journey. Please look at chapter eighteen. Even here, as ever, Paul debates in the synagogue each Sabbath and keeps on preaching that Jesus truly is the messiah. But still, even in Corinth, Paul's messages are not accepted by the Jews. In the end the same thing happens. "But, they opposed him and as they spoke ill of him, Paul shook the dust off his clothing and said, 'Let your blood fall on your own heads. I am not responsible. From here on, I am going to the Gentiles,'" (18:6). If that's how it was, you'd think they should just go to the Gentiles from the get-go. What's more, as Paul had left them in such a manner using no uncertain terms, you'd think he would have gone far away from them, but then, the place he moved to was right next door to the synagogue! "Paul departed from there, and moved to the house of Titus Justus, a worshipper of God. His house was next to the synagogue," (18:7).
8. Even in other lands the situation was the same. Paul first would go to the Jewish synagogue. He spoke to the Jews first. Then he would meet with opposition. It was the same thing with the mission at Ephesus in chapter nineteen. He first began to speak in the synagogue. But, he would encounter opposition from the Jews. Then at last, he would separate from them and continue his mission by borrowing the lecture hall of a man named Tyrannus, a non-Jew. While spending about three years at the Ephesus mission, it was but hardly the first three months that he was able to speak at the synagogue. One can't avoid thinking that they should have just gone to the Gentiles from the start. If it would happen once, it would happen a thousand more times, same old song and dance.
Because Of The Mercies Of God
9. So, as we come to the end of Acts we also come to our passage of scripture for today; we come to Rome where he had struggled so hard to get to. He met with violence in Jerusalem and he had injury inflicted upon himself there. He had to go to appellate court. In Caesarea, where he was transferred as a prisoner, he was unjustly put in confinement for two years. While being escorted he met with a storm. He was wrecked onto an island where he spent the winter, then after all that, he made it to Rome. At the very end, the Book Of Acts cuts short its telling of the events in Rome. What was Paul up to there? He was giving talks to the Jews!
10. He continued his explanations from morning to night. He testified powerfully to the kingdom of God and by quoting the scriptures he kept declaring that Jesus indeed was the messiah. His continuous speaking from morning to night was strange. What was the result of his hard work? The Bible says, "Some accepted what Paul was saying, but others were not about to believe," (verse twenty-four). As we might surmise from Paul's words later on, the number of people who refused to believe was overwhelmingly many. When he was about to depart, Paul would say at the end, "The Holy Spirit truly spoke accurately through the prophet Isaiah to your forefathers. 'Go tell this people. You hear and hear, but you never understand. You see and see, but you never recognize. The heart of this people is dull, their ears far, their eyes have closed tight. Thus, they do not see with their eyes, nor do they hear with their ears, nor do they understand with their hearts, so they never turn [to me]. I will not heal them.' Thus, I would have them know. The salvation of God is directed to the Gentiles. They will indeed hear this and obey," (verses twenty-five through twenty-eight). In the end, we'll see the figure of Paul, doing the same thing even when he went to Rome. Furthermore, this is the final section in Acts.
11. As far as folly goes, this just might be it. In society, we call anyone who repeatedly has to re-learn the same thing like he did but doesn't, 'unteachable.' But, in spite of that, I am captivated by this figure of Paul. How fascinating he is! I've wondered why he is so fascinating. Perhaps it might be that both the biblical God and Paul have a direct correspondence in the way they are.
12. What we see in the Old Testament Bible is the way God is as he always still goes after Israel no matter how much he is betrayed again and again and again. The way God is is that he keeps calling out to Israel and keeps caring. Paul quoted from the words of Isaiah, which go back to the time Isaiah was sent as a prophet. While acknowledging that Israel was stubborn and that it would be resistant, God would still send Isaiah to the Israelites and try to speak to the people. Even as God says, "They do not see with their eyes, nor do they hear with their ears, nor do they understand with their hearts, so they never turn [to me]. I will not heal them," you still can't claim that he turns them over to be destroyed, but rather that he sends them a prophet to speak to them in their stubbornness. It all seems so strange, doesn't it? But, the biblical God does this very strange thing time and again.
13. At root to Paul's seemingly foolish behavior must definitely be the will of God. The reason Paul is always proclaiming the word of God to the Jews come what may is not just out of a strong sense of camaraderie as fellow country men. We understand why by reading the epistle Paul had written. In today's passage of scripture Paul pronounces that "The salvation of God is directed to the Gentiles." Yet, in the epistle he sent to the disciples at Rome, he wrote something about the Israelites that goes like this: "So, I will ask you. Has God rejected his own people? That is not true at all. I also am an Israelite, I am a descendant of Abraham, and am of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he has known in times past. ...," (Romans 11:1-2). Based on the fact that he was made a Christian [by God's Spirit], Paul undoubtedly could not but have felt the mercies of God upon himself and that God had not abandoned Israel now or ever. Because God has not abandoned them, neither could Paul abandon them. He might all the while be saying that "I'm going to the Gentiles," but still he always goes back to his own flesh and blood time and time again.
14. So then, we come to see again and afresh that the mercies of God as revealed in Paul's evangelistic mission is the mercies of God that is directed to us too and also to the world. Why has the church still been left on this earth even though the history of the church is smeared with sin and full of mistakes? Why do people such as ourselves still come together now and still have the word of God preached now? Aren't these signs? -- Signs of the mercies of God that God has not given up on the world at all, but that it is a world into which God has sent his son, a world into which God has put the cross.
15. Therefore, because of the mercies of God we are moved by God's love and keep on proclaiming His word. "Paul stayed about two years in a house that he rented at his own expense and he welcomed everyone and anyone who came to him for a visit, and being completely free without anyone hindering him, he proclaimed the kingdom of God and kept teaching on the Lord Jesus Christ," (verses thirty and thirty-one). The sequel to be added onto the sentences at the close of Acts is to be written by us, we who have taken part of the mercies of God just as [Paul did].