Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Priscilla Teaches Apollos

24 Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, [3] he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately. 27 And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28 for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus. (Acts 18:24-28 (ESV)
“Though he knew only the baptism of John.” It’s a curious thing, in some way Apollos had come to believe in Jesus Christ, and even spoke, that is preached, and by all accounts he taught accurately, that which he taught. More than that, he was a highly educated man and very eloquent. It seems he taught the truth, but not the whole truth. Evidently, not knowing the baptism of Christ he did not know the whole truth.
This serves also to show that John’s baptism was not Christian baptism, but something very different from what Christ would baptize with, as John himself proclaimed. Therefore, Christ’s baptism by John doesn’t serve as a model for Christian baptism.
Now Priscilla and Aquila hear Apollos in the synagogue of Ephesus. They had to have been shocked, amazed and comforted to hear Apollos speak, but they are quick to note that his teaching is deficient. The text doesn’t come out and say what it was that was lacking from Apollos’s teaching, yet one can imagine that the most obvious is that Apollos didn’t teach concerning baptism, which is pretty central to Christian teaching and proclamation as can be seen by Peter’s first sermon at Pentecost. It is in baptism that the gospel is applied to the subject and they become Christians.

Priscilla and Aquila, Paul mentions Priscilla first because she seems to be the most influential where this is concerned, they take Apollos to the side and instruct him more accurately concerning the Christian faith. Apollos himself seems to have received this instruction, even from a woman, humbly. This made him all the more powerful a preacher and an encouragement to the saints both in Ephesus and in Achaia. Both the fact that Paul praises Aquila so often, and that Apollos so willingly accepted instruction from her, show the Christian openness to women that was not so well known among Jewish circles. A willingness to accept truth no matter what its source.This should also be brought into account when in other letters Paul prohibits women from teaching men or speaking in the churches. It is notable that Priscilla and Aquilla took Apollos aside, outside the context of worship, which is the context in which Paul prohibits women from speaking or teaching. Sometimes these verses are divorced from their context and become nothing more than a cover for misogyny. But this was not only on account of Christian teaching concerning the role of women in worship, but also in consideration that reproof is often more ably accepted in private then in front of a crowd where one may lose more face than he is comfortable losing, by accepting the reproof. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

The Kingdom of God is at Hand

14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”
16 Passing alongside the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net into the sea, for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 And going on a little farther, he saw James the son of Zebedee and John his brother, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 And immediately he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired servants and followed him.” (Mark 1:14-20 (ESV)

“Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God, and saying “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.”  
So Mark gives us a summary of Jesus sermon, his message of grace, good favor, the joyous and good news he preached to the people. News that they received as good, that comforted their souls in the wake of John’s imprisonment. That had to hurt, to see a man of God imprisoned, and everyone knew it was just a matter of time before he was beheaded.  Just isn’t the way we expect things to go for God’s prophets. And yet it is the way it goes every time for his prophets! Most dangerous job in the Bible. Jesus calls Jerusalem the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to you. It was a recurring theme. A theme that not even Jesus will escape.
Yet no matter how many times, the natural inclination is, if this person is sent from God it will go well for him, God will protect him from the trials and tribulations of the world. And then it touches home, if a man like John can be thrown in prison for speaking God’s word, if he can be put to death for it, what will happen to me? You can imagine all the quiet of the land who had gone down to the river to hear the man preach. Those who had confessed their sins in the waters. A slap in the face, a knife to the soul as the news was heard. The big question hanging over their heads, “now what?” The confusion, and anxiety, the fear for the future. Their rulers turning on them and shunning their religion. Perhaps they wondered how much more God would take before he abandoned them all.
And then Jesus comes. Jesus comes preaching the gospel. The good news. The time is fulfilled. The Kingdom of God is at hand.  The forerunner had gone, he who came to prepare the way had been removed because the way was prepared, and now Jesus was walking it. For John the way leads to a prison cell and a silver platter. He bulldozed the path alright. The path to death, to martyrdom. And now Jesus takes it follows the steamroller straight up Golgotha. Now the one for whom the path was blazed, now he takes it. The kingdom of God is at hand. It’s ready for the taking. The time is fulfilled. What seemed like bad news was good news, because Jesus couldn’t really start until the way had been prepared, and now the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe.
Repent and believe the gospel. See the thing that is being said here, is repent for not believing the gospel. You repent by believing the gospel. You repent by trusting God. You repent by listening to his word, his joyous news, the forgiveness of sins. I mean this is at the heart of repentance, and people hardly ever think of it this way. They always think repentance is making amends for your life, walking the straight and narrow, keeping your nose clean. They almost always think it is about them and what they have to do. Sometimes even believing they aren’t worthy of the gospel until they have managed to do it! That they don’t belong in church, unless they have managed to clean up and walk the straight line. But it isn’t like that. You don’t have to change to become a disciple of Christ, but when Christ calls you your life will change. You may not even notice it at first. But it will happen. No repentance is finally killing that old Adam, drowning him dead in the waters of baptism, letting go of yourself and saying, I’m forgiven. Because the kingdom of God, it isn’t found in what you do. It is found in what God does for you. It is at hand. It is right here, in the church, where his word is proclaimed, where he comes to you in bread and wine to give you the body and blood he broke and shed for you on the cross at the end of the road, John had prepared for him.
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Vow of the Nazarene

18 After this, Paul stayed many days longer and then took leave of the brothers [2] and set sail for Syria, and with him Priscilla and Aquila. At Cenchreae he had cut his hair, for he was under a vow. 19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there, but he himself went into the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. 20 When they asked him to stay for a longer period, he declined. 21 But on taking leave of them he said, “I will return to you if God wills,” and he set sail from Ephesus.
 22 When he had landed at Caesarea, he went up and greeted the church, and then went down to Antioch. 23 After spending some time there, he departed and went from one place to the next through the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples. (Acts 18:18-23 (ESV)
So aside from Priscilla and Aquila going with Paul as he returns to Antioch, the curious thing in here is the vow that Paul takes. This would be the vow of a Nazarene which requires a person to cut his hair at the beginning and not drink wine or cut his hair again until the vow was over. This was the vow that Samson had been born into, a Nazarene from birth.

The Book of Acts covers a time of transition between the Old and the New Testament.  During this time Christians were more or less a Jewish sect. Paul who was free was perfectly free to take on Jewish vows or not. The Christians would often worship in the synagogues with the Jews, and it seems in Corinth, even after the leaders of the synagogue converted to Christianity they still oversaw Jewish worship. But also during this time hostilities escalated between Jews and Christians, and it was normally the Jews persecuting Christians. But this period of transition comes to an end with the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 Ad.  Christians took this as a sign that God would no longer consider such worship to be a valid form of devotion. Now, because they reject Christ as the Messiah, and refuse to see him as God, we cannot acknowledge that they worship God, but now it is they who worship God contrary to the law. 

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Worship God Contrary to the Law

12 But when Gallio was proconsul of Achaia, the Jews made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, 13 saying, “This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.” 14 But when Paul was about to open his mouth, Gallio said to the Jews, “If it were a matter of wrongdoing or vicious crime, O Jews, I would have reason to accept your complaint. 15 But since it is a matter of questions about words and names and your own law, see to it yourselves. I refuse to be a judge of these things.” 16 And he drove them from the tribunal. 17 And they all seized Sosthenes, the ruler of the synagogue, and beat him in front of the tribunal. But Gallio paid no attention to any of this. (Acts 18:12-17 (ESV)
A year and a half passed. We know Gallio as the older brother of the famous Roman Philosopher  Seneca. We also know that he became proconsul in Achaia in 52. Corinth was the capital of this province. This is one of those things that allows us to date Paul’s work with quite a bit of accuracy.
But now when he becomes proconsul the Jews decide they have a chance to make a united effort and silence Paul. Gallio seems to have taken some of his younger brother’s wisdom though, and really could careless to hear the complaint. However in order to keep the peace, he doesn’t pay any attention as the disappointed crowd beats Sosthenes. Paul doesn’t get a chance to speak at this time but he will have his day in court soon enough.

The Jews complain that Paul is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law. This wouldn’t be anything against Roman law, not yet. .. The Jews had special permission to carry on with their customs and worship and refrain from worshiping Roman gods, or the emperor which would otherwise be considered impious. But the thing that bothered the Jews was the worship of Jesus who was a man. For them this was against the Torah, the law they speak of. The only problem is that Jesus is God. And deserves to be worshiped as such. He is the one who died and rose from the dead for our salvation. And the whole gospel is tied together with him being God. 

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Paul's Work Continues in Corinth

5 When Silas and Timothy arrived from Macedonia, Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. 6 And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” 7 And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. 8 Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. 9 And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, 10 for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” 11 And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them. (Acts 18:5-11 (ESV)
 Paul’s work among the Jews was perhaps becoming too successful by the  time Silas and Timothy  arrive from Macedonia, (Thessalonica). Paul is very occupied in testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. But since he has converted many to Christianity through his preaching, those who are still Jews begin to oppose him and revile him. Paul moves his work then Titius Justus, it would seem a gentile, a Roman who lived close to the synagogue. His house will become a center of Christian worship in this town.  Corinth was basically a colony of Roman soldiers who were given land in retirement. And Titius was probably one of these himself. There is now discussion of some of those who believed. It had to be a severe blow to the moral of the Jews that even the ruler of the synagogue is converted. You can imagine how bad the reviling had to be, but then the Lord tells Paul, not to be afraid. To not be silent but to keep speaking because he is with him, and no one will attack him for there are many in the city that belong to him. One can only imagine the comfort that brought to him. I’m sure he was a bit tired by now of being attacked and beaten.

We can’t always be certain that we won’t be attacked for the faith we confess. This sort of thing happens in this world. We can be thankful for those God puts in place to protect us. Sometimes “his people” are the last people you would expect. But no matter what, we can know that he is with us, and it may not always look like it, but he is blessing our work. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Paul Meets Aquila and Priscilla

“18:1 After this Paul [1] left Athens and went to Corinth. 2 And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome. And he went to see them, 3 and because he was of the same trade he stayed with them and worked, for they were tentmakers by trade. 4 And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 18:1-4 (ESV)
Paul meets Aquila and Priscilla. These two will become close friends and partners in the gospel. It’s really  a  major turning point in the story of the gospel and its spread through the ancient Roman Empire. Paul arrived in Corinth, demoralized, beaten, worn out and anxious. He will later remind the Corinthians of how he came to them. And in Corinth he meets Christians! Aquila and Priscilla take him in to their home, he was at this time traveling alone. He works with Aquila in his trade as a tentmaker to earn his own keep, and he works with Priscilla as an evangelist. Yes, Priscilla will take the fore when it comes to the work of the gospel.
Priscilla and Aquilla are there because they have been expelled from Rome. We know from Suetonius that Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome about 50 AD, because the controversy over Christ was causing too much unrest among them and it seems this was spilling out into everyday life. At the time, Christians were considered little more than a Jewish sect. I always find this interplay between the Bible and secular history to be absolutely fascinating. Today Christians often shy away from confessing the faith because the gospel still has the power to cause unrest, they get discouraged when it isn’t received well and people become argumentative about it, but that is just the gospel at work.  

Paul would meet at the Synagogue on the Sabbath, that would be our Saturday, and there he would work for the gospel. As a trained rabbi he would be invited to speak, or preach. The Greek word that is used here, translated reasoned, means to have a conversation. This was normally the way “sermons” would go in the early church and in the synagogue at the time. They weren’t so much prepared speeches, but topical conversations, perhaps a bit like one experiences in a college classroom today. Personally, I think sermons could do well to take a bit more of this form today. When Paul talks about able to teach in the Pastoral Epistles, he doesn’t mean being able to type our fifteen pages and read it in front of the congregation.  This is probably why  Paul also says his speech wasn’t eloquent, even though  he can write some pretty eloquent things, his sermons would take the form of off the cuff addresses to those within hearing. Speaking on the scriptures and guiding the conversation to the cross. But it was precisely in this “weak” speech that God shamed the strong, because there in Corinth, a city famed for its debauchery, the holy gospel had incredible success through the work of Paul. 

Sunday, January 18, 2015

King of Israel

43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” 50 Jesus answered him, “Because I said to you, ‘I saw you under the fig tree,’ do you believe? You will see greater things than these.” 51 And he said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you,  you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” (John 1:43-51 (ESV)
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” So Jesus responds to Nathanael, probably an alternate name for the disciple the other gospels call Bartholomew, who has followed Phillip to see Jesus, to see for himself if this could be the Messiah. Straight away he is mystified that Jesus would know anything about him. Probably took his words to be the flattery of a charlatan. How do you know I have no guile, no deceit? But when Jesus says he saw him under the fig tree, where Nathanael knows no human eye had seen him, when he understands that Jesus has heard his prayer, under the fig tree being a euphemism for prayer, then Nathanael confesses Jesus to be the Son of God, the king of Israel. It is to this confession that Jesus responds about the heaven’s opening and angels descending and ascending upon the son of man.
It is an allusion to a dream Jacob had, not far from where they are, Bethel, the town Jacob named the house of God, because of the dream he had there. It was there that God had visited Jacob, where Jacob was promised the land that would come to be named after him when he would be renamed Israel. There God had come to him. There the gates of heaven opened for Jacob. It was something he would never forget. God promised to be his God. God promised to watch over him and bless him, Israel.
Now Nathanael has called Jesus the King of Israel, and Jesus will show him what that means. Israel’s king, Jacob’s king, he who ruled over his heart was God himself. He ruled over it because of the blessing that came upon him when the heaven’s opened. It prompted Jacob to dedicate a tenth of all he earned to God. It wasn’t coerced, it was a response of joy for the grace showered upon him. Now here Jesus promises the same thing will happen to Nathanael, to Philip, to Peter and Andrew. They will learn the true meaning of Israel, the name meaning to wrestle with God.
God rules over those who wrestle with him, struggle with him. Jesus is king of Israel.  It is the nature of faith. To believe in God is to struggle with him, holding on to his promises to his word, when all around you it seems as if you are foolish to do so. Our sinful flesh pulls us in the direction of the world, of sin, lust, murder, envy, even despair. But God has blessed us in Bethel, his house. All that he promised to Jacob in the dream has become a reality. The heavens have opened, the angels ascend and descend upon the son of Man. Where he rules, there is blessing, forgiveness, salvation and holiness. There where this struggle occurs is Jesus himself making good on his promise wherever two or three are gathered in his name, coming to us through his word, bestowing upon us the Holy Spirit, opening wide the gates as he comes to us in bread and wine, offering us peace with God, the peace that surpasses all understanding, a peace he brokered for you who struggle, with his own death on the cross. That though we wrestle, we might also find rest for our weary souls in him, the king of Israel, our king, who comes to us, who fights for us against the rulers of darkness, who died for our salvation, who lives for our justification, he of whom Moses in the law, and the prophets wrote, the messiah, our Lord.