Sunday – Acts 15
You will remember from our readings in week 25 about Saul’s conversion on the Damascus road, and how he began his preaching to the Gentile nations, having changed his name to Paul.
At the beginning of this chapter Paul and Barnabas are in Antioch in Syria. They are visited by a group of Jews, and there is a dispute about whether circumcision is required or not. The covenant of circumcision was established in Genesis to be followed by Abraham and his descendants (Genesis 17:10). Paul was preaching to the Gentiles and so the question arises about whether non-Jews need to be circumcised, and if they should be keeping all of the Law of Moses. Paul and Barnabus travel to Jerusalem to put the question to the apostles and elders there. In verse 5 we find that the Pharisees believed that circumcision was necessary. The remainder of the chapter, however, shows clearly that salvation only comes through faith and by the grace of God (verse 11), and not through the act of circumcision or through keeping of the Law of Moses. The Jews had not been able to keep the Law (verse 10), and it was not necessary to burden the Gentiles with the keeping of it all. Paul explains this in more detail in his letter to the Romans (e.g. Romans 2:25-29; 3:28-30; 4:9-12 etc.).
Following discussion, the apostles and elders make it clear in a letter to the Gentiles that circumcision is not required of them (verse 28). When the letter is received (verse 31) the readers rejoice. There is a lesson here for us, in that when we don’t understand what we should do we should seek clarification from the word of God, and when we find the answer we should be glad and obey it.
It is interesting to note the record in verses 38 to 40 about the dispute amongst the disciples about who should go with whom to preach. The disciples and apostles were not perfect, they had contentions and disputes. The Bible tells it as it was: both the good and the not so good things are all recorded. Perhaps this makes it different from most man-made records, where we tend only to want to record our good points.
Monday – Acts 16
Having decided that circumcision was not required, we then immediately read of Paul circumcising Timothy. But it was for a reason: so that Timothy would be accepted by the Jews. This would allow Timothy to accompany Paul into the synagogues and to preach the word of God to the Jews (see 1 Corinthians 9:20).
Paul and Silas continue to preach and move to Macedonia in their journey. At Thyatira it is recorded that Lydia heard the preaching, believed and was baptised along with her household. Time and time again in the book of Acts we read of the same pattern: we need to hear God’s word, believe it and then act upon it (i.e. be baptised).
In verses 16 to 34 we read of Paul curing a woman who was being used by some as an income because of her ‘spirit of divination’. The response, however, is not one of thanks for the miracle of healing, but a night in jail for Paul and Silas. There is a positive outcome from this; whilst Paul and Silas pray and sing to God an earthquake opens the doors of the prison. They don’t take the opportunity to escape but stay put. The jail keeper assumes they have escaped and takes his sword to commit suicide rather than face death at the hands of others. He is stopped by Paul, and like Lydia hears the word of God, believes and is baptised.
Tuesday – Acts 17
In the early verse of this chapter we find Paul at Thessalonica, preaching in the synagogue about Jesus and how his life and death were foreseen in the Old Testament prophecies. The Jews are recorded as being envious in verse 5. They would have wished to convert the Greeks to Judaism, but were not successful in this, in comparison to Paul’s success in preaching of the true God and His Son. The Jews caused uproar in the city because of this. So the disciples move on to Berea.
At Berea their preaching was received more openly and we read that ‘they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so.’ This is the same reason that this Bible Reading Plan is offered. We are urging you to do the same today as those in Berea did nearly 2,000 years ago: read the Bible every day and act on its message.
After this Paul and Silas go to Athens, the Greek religious centre, and we read of Paul walking on Mars Hill, the Areopagus, where there were altars to the Greek gods. Amongst these altars was one which read ‘To the Unknown God’. As Paul says, they were so superstitious they had an altar to another god just in case they had missed one. It is this true God that Paul then preaches to them from verses 24 to 31. This is the same God whose message we are reading today.
We read the reaction of those in Athens in verses 32 to 34. Which group will you be in?
Wednesday – Acts 18
From Athens, Paul and Silas travel to Corinth where we read that Paul stayed for some time and worked as a tent maker whilst continuing to preach. He has a dispute with the Jews and as a result proposes to preach to the Gentiles. Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believes and is baptised. His example would have set a strong example for others.
Having previously been in places where he had been persecuted and chased out of town, the Lord appears to Paul in Corinth (verse 9) and tells him that no harm will come to him. When then the Jews bring him to the local deputy on an accusation of preaching contrary to the law, the case is dismissed even before Paul can open his mouth to respond.
After these things Paul moves on, with a view to travelling to Jerusalem. He uses the phrase ‘God willing’ to describe his future plans, acknowledging the hand of God directing his life – see James 4:15.
Thursday – Acts 19
Once again the first thing we read of Paul doing on arrival at a new city, this time Ephesus, is to baptise the believers into the name of Jesus. They had previously been baptised by John the Baptist, but had clearly not understood his full message regarding the one who would come after him, Christ Jesus. John had also spoken about the Holy Spirit, but these disciples seem ignorant of this too (e.g. Matthew 3:11). Understanding is important for baptism to be valid. Now that they finally understood what John had been speaking about, and how Jesus had come, had died and had been raised for the full remission of sins, they were baptised in the name of the Lord Jesus.
Paul remained at Ephesus for two years continually preaching to those who would listen. He was clearly successful as it had an effect on the trade of the idol makers, in this case those who created images of Diana of the Ephesians (Artemis). The temple of Diana at Ephesus was one of the ‘Wonders of the Ancient World’. Verse 25 confirms that the craftsmen were losing trade and income. As a result they created a stir amongst the people who rushed to the amphitheatre, although there was confusion amongst the people about what the actual issue was (verse 32). The town clerk has to intervene, verse 35, and subdues the crowd by telling them that the disciples have not committed any crime, verse 37. The crowd disperse once he has spoken.
Friday – Acts 20
Paul moves on from Ephesus and goes through a number of towns and is in Troas from verse 6, where he preaches. In verse 9 we read about a young man who falls asleep, because Paul was speaking for some time. Although appearing to be an aside in the narrative, it is interesting to note that here as in other places the Bible records the negative as well as the positive. We all know that if we hear a talk or are in a meeting that goes on for a long time, we become tired or lose interest. The Bible hasn’t skipped this issue; it tells us that this young man falls asleep. Since he was sitting on a window ledge, he falls out of the window. Verse 9 tells us he was thought to have died, but Paul, through God, revives him.
Paul continues his journeys and arrives at Miletus in verse 17, where he is joined at his request by some of the believers from Ephesus. He describes to them how he has preached to Jews and Greeks alike the message of repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 21). He warns them about the danger they will face from those who preach distortions of the true gospel, and how they must test what they hear against the word of God (verse 32).
Paul tells his listeners that he is going to Jerusalem and they will not see him again, but to continue in the things that he has taught them and to follow his example (verse 35).
Saturday – Acts 21
The first half of this chapter reads like a travel diary as Paul continues his journey towards Jerusalem. It records a number of places where they stop, and at each they meet with other believers. At Caesarea they stay with Philip and whilst there the prophet Agabus says that Paul will be bound when he reaches Jerusalem. Having heard this Paul doesn’t try to avoid such a possibility but puts his faith in God and says he is prepared to die for his faith (verse 13).
When he reaches Jerusalem, Paul reports on the outcome of the preaching to the Gentiles. But he is told that the Jewish leaders think that he has been telling the Jews on his travels to forsake the Law of Moses (verse 21). This is clearly not the case as we have read as we have followed Paul’s journeys and preaching throughout the book of Acts over the past few weeks. These Jews caused an uproar (verse 28), and Paul had to be rescued by the Chief Captain, who then arrested him, thinking him to be an Egyptian rebel (verse 38). Paul clearly tells him who he is, asks permission to address the crowd, and the final verse of the chapter sees Paul speaking to the crowd in their own Hebrew language.