This Week’s Reading Schedule
I threw a wrench in the system yesterday by just finishing Acts 12 through 14, but if you’re reading the commentaries, there are enough topics being covered, that it’s probably good to slow down a bit.
Thursday’s (today’s) Bible Reading is Acts 15-17
Friday, Mar. 30: Acts 18-23
The overall year’s plan is here.
Acts 15:1-21: The Jerusalem Council
Circumcision was a central practice of the Law. To have every male circumcised on the eighth day goes all the way back to God’s covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17:10-14).
Deciding whether to make circumcision part of the Gospel is an issue that goes all the way to the apostles in Jerusalem to be resolved. We’ve already seen that despite what Jesus said about preaching the Gospel to the nations, not even Peter really understood that God had admitted the Gentiles to the kingdom of God until the incident with Cornelius.
The council decides that they will ask just four things from the Gentiles, and they make it clear that circumcision is not necessary for the Gentiles. There may be people who understand why those specific four things were chosen, but I’m not one of them.
Some things to notice is that Peter mentions that this would be a "yoke that neither our fathers nor we were able to bear" (v. 10). The Jews were already aware that they were not successfully keeping the Law. Jews and Gentiles alike need their heart cleansed by faith and are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus.
We see again that the presiding person at the council is James, the Lord’s brother. He is the leader in Jerusalem, and his influence is strong (see Gal 2:11-13).
Paul, Barnabas, Judas, and Silas are given a letter to take back to Antioch. This encourages the brothers there.
Paul then decides it would be good to visit the churches they’ve started. Barnabas agrees, but he wants to take John Mark. Paul’s not willing because John Mark left towards the start of the first journey. The disagreement becomes so sharp that they go separate ways. Paul ends up traveling with Silas.
Paul goes back to churches he’s started. He meets Timothy, who will remain a central part of his life.
Oddly enough, even though he was delivering the Jerusalem decrees (v. 4), he nonetheless had Timothy circumcised (v. 3).
We might want to be very careful how strict we are when we go to enforce rules, even scriptural ones, that we believe we understand. Paul cared about the things that make for peace, so he avoided controversy where he could.
Once again, we are not given specific instructions on how Paul was "forbidden by the Holy Spirit" to go to Asia—which is modern Turkey, not the modern continent—but we see that Paul is being guided by the Holy Spirit as to where he is going, at least in this case.
Paul sees a vision of a man in Macedonia, which is in modern Greece, and so they go to Philippi.
Here we find Paul going to the riverside, to a place of prayer, rather than to the synagague. Perhaps there was no synagogue; we are not told.
Lydia and her household are their first converts there until Paul casts a demon out of a servant girl, which was distracting their work despite loudly supporting it.
The girl was making her masters money by prophesying, so Paul and Silas are beaten with rods and thrown in jail for teaching something other than Roman paganism.
The story is famous from there. They pray and praise God despite their circumstances, an earthquake comes at midnight releasing all the prisoners, but none leave. The jailer throws himself at the apostles’ feet and asks what he must do to be saved.
Paul tells him to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.
By now we know what that means. It means to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Spirit because that is salvation in Jesus Christ. It does not mean to pray a sinner’s prayer. We can tell this is so because Paul and Silas go to the jailer’s house and baptize his whole household … in the middle of the night! This was an entrance rite into the New Covenant, not a public testimony.
Finally, Paul was never afraid to use his Roman citizenship, which he had received as a result of being born in Tarsus, an important Roman city. Roman citizens were not to be beaten without a trial.
Paul and Silas go to Thessalonica, another Greek city, and there is a synagogue there. It takes three weeks for them to win some converts and be driven out by persecution.
Acts 17:10-14: The Bereans
It’s often said that the reason that the Bereans were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica is because they carefully searched the Scripture, rather than just taking Paul’s word for what he was preaching.
This is not true in a subtle but important way. The Bereans were more noble-minded because "they received the word with great eagerness" (NASB). That eagerness caused them to look in the Scriptures to verify that these things were so. This passage is commending openness to the Gospel, not skepticism.
Acts 17:15-34: Athens
Persecution drives Paul from Berea, too, and he ends up in Athens alone waiting for Silas and Timothy. He can’t bear the idolatry in the city, so he ends up talking with people in the marketplace. They send him to Mars Hill to talk to the philosophers there.
Paul chooses an unusual method to introduce the Gospel to them, but his presentation of the Gospel should be familiar to us by now. "God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because he has fixed a day in which he will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom he has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising him from the dead" (vv. 30-31, NASB).
Jesus is the Messiah, as proven by the resurrection. The apostolic Gospel is very consistent.
Paul got mixed reactions, but there were some believers as a result.