Daily Meditations on Acts

Daily Meditations on Acts

During the series Improvise: Participating with the Spirit of God, Pastor Sean is encouraging the congregation to read one chapter in the book of Acts daily. Below are some meditations to guide you through this exercise.

The Book of Acts

Day 27 - Chapter 27

This is an exciting chapter filled with the voyage of Paul, who is on his way to Rome. We can read it on a surface level. In the old days, some would call this the “plain meaning” of the passage. This works sometimes. We do get something out of this chapter if we read it that way—i.e. this is simply a passage about Paul’s voyage and God’s care for him in the face of terrible, life-threatening circumstances. We can encourage ourselves that God will help us on our difficult "voyages." This is all true. However, we can also think deeper than that. When we do it is sometimes called "the art of biblical interpretation." 


In the ancient Jewish mind and literature (and indeed much of the Ancient Near Eastern world), the sea was symbolic of chaos and evil. You might remember Pastor Sean preaching about Genesis 1:1-3 and pointing this out. You may remember stories like Daniel’s vision (Daniel 7), when four sea monsters rise out of the waters. You may be reading this story about Paul being reminded of our series we did through the book of Jonah. There are some cool similarities (and part of Luke’s point is that Paul is not Jonah). From a literary standpoint, this chapter (and the ones proceeding) connects with the whole meta-narrative of Scripture but also the journey of Jesus. Luke is brilliant! Here's what I mean...


In Luke 23, Jesus is put on trial and taken away to be crucified. He is arrested by the Jewish leaders. He stands before the Roman governor. He then goes to Herod Antipas and back to Pilot. Finally, he’s taken to be crucified. And, of course, we know that resurrection comes after that. In the later chapters of Acts, we can look back and see that Paul was arrested by the Jewish leaders. Stood before two Roman governors and Herod Agrippa II. Then is taken away. But, Paul is not taken to a cross. After all he is not Jesus. And, he's not in that chapter of the grand story. His destination is not Jerusalem, it's Rome. And, he is takenthrough the waters to Rome.


Paul had already been shipwrecked three times before this voyage (2 Cor. 11:25). This was dangerous business. When we read this story, with the whole biblical story in mind, we see Paul going through the waters of danger, chaos, and evil to safety.  Like Noah survived the waters of the flood. Like his ancestors went through the Red Sea and later through the Jordan River. Like Jonah being saved and spit up on dry land. Like Daniel’s vision of victory over the monsters of the deep. Like John the Baptist and his reform movement of repentance and baptism and then, even baptizing Jesus. 

Luke is telling the big story that make all the smaller stories make sense—a story of salvation. He's telling the gospel story!


In the end, they are ALL saved. And, this is the point. Paul, a Jewish Rabbi transformed into a Jesus follower, leads this ship of 276 people created in the image of God through the waters to salvation. Luke simultaneously points us back to the story of humanity, Israel, Jesus, and then forward to the story and mission of the Church—our mission. Our calling is lead and walk with people, created in God’s image, through the process (which may feel dangerous, chaotic, and filled with “monsters”) of turning away from a life without God to a life in Christ. 


Acts Chapter 27 is the Gospel in story form. Do you see it? When we humble ourselves and learn to read with both fresh eyes and the old eyes of our ancient Jewish brothers and sisters, we find amazing treasures. 

Day 26 - Chapter 26

Four more chapters left! If you’ve been with us on this BIG READ through Acts, I’m thankful for you. It’s been amazing to re-engage the story of the early Christians. Today, Paul is standing before King Agrippa II. Luke, for the THIRD time writes about Paul’s “conversion” story on the road to Damascus.


Before that however, Paul once again makes his defense that he is simply living out the truth of what the Jewish faith has always been about—resurrection. All these other “charges” about the Temple and causing riots, etc. were false. He boils things down to the one thing he is being accused of proclaiming—again, resurrection. He keeps the focus on the main thing. “I am saying nothing beyond what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Messiah would suffer and, as the first to rise from the dead, would bring the message of light to his own people and to the Gentiles.”


In addition, Paul more than anyone, understands the radical way his accusers believe and live. He was one of them! See Gal. 1:13-14; Phil. 3:5-6; and Romans 10:2. Paul understands their zeal. However, he has now engaged the amazing grace of God. Do you remember when you first understood God’s grace for you? Take some time and think about that. Paul seemed to never get over that moment and Luke keeps reminding his readers about it.


Paul’s vision of Jesus now includes a new phrase. ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ Like an ox kicking against the sharp objects that are guiding the whole cart where it needs to go but only making things worse, Paul was kicking against the whole plan of God and making things worse for everyone. 


Just as Paul gets to the climax of his speech Festus interrupts him and tells Paul he is out of his mind. But Paul knows that Agrippa is familiar with all this. Agrippa tells Paul that he’s not going to make him a Christian so quickly. Whether short or long, Paul wants everyone to meet Jesus just like he did.


At the end of this chapter, they decide to send Paul to Rome, even though he has done NOTHING death or imprisonment.


As you read this chapter consider the following questions:

·      How do those not following Jesus normally respond to your faith?

·      How can you make the message of the gospel clearer for them?

Day 25 - Chapter 25

A new governor, a new trial, more charges, and the story goes on. In this chapter, Festus, the new ruler of the area, goes up to Jerusalem to meet the Jewish leaders. It’s been two years since Paul faced them but the intensity of their hatred for him has only grown. They want him dead! This is how hatred works. It grows into more and more ugliness. 


I sometimes wonder what Paul was doing for those two years in prison. No doubt he was doing some writing. We don’t know exactly which prison he wrote letters from. Most likely Rome but he could have written from Caesarea as well. Either way, Paul had to spend two years waiting. God had promised that he would go to Rome, which is exactly what Paul wanted to do. 

What are you waiting for today? How is that experience? 


The Jewish leaders came down from Jerusalem to bring their charges against Paul. Luke says that they surrounded Paul. He gives us the feeling that this encounter was intense and a bit out of control. Imagine yourself surrounded by angry enemies that want you dead. Again, the anger of these leaders who are accusing Paul falsely has only grown worse.


Paul defends himself again and includes that fact that he has not done anything against Caesar either. Everyone knows he’s innocent but justice seems to be evading him. Leaders often pursue personal power over the good of the people, indeed sometimes harming the people they are supposed to oversee. Festus, like Felix, wants to do the Jewish leaders a favor. He shows his true colors and his lack of strength and integrity. Paul is caught between the evil intentions of his own people and the political ambitions of the Roman government. But, he sees a way out.


Festus asks Paul if he will go to Jerusalem. He knows he’s done for if that happens. Luke even tells us that there is another plot to kill him if they can convince Festus to send Paul up to Jerusalem. Paul, seeing that he’s in a no-win situation, appeals to Caesar as a Roman citizen.


This story is a good example of how improvising with the Holy Spirit works. God has promised Paul that he will go to Rome. But, Paul had a part to play. He seizes the moment God gives him and this creates a safe passage to his destination. Sometimes, when we are waiting on God, we just sit still. However, at other times, God wants us to work with him—to get up and move. He wants us to do something.


How is God calling you to “work with him” these days?


Paul is then presenting to King Agrippa and Bernice. Festus makes a spectacle of the moment and claims that he doesn’t know what to write to Caesar concerning Paul and his appeal. I’ve often thought, why didn’t he just set Paul free? He could have in a second. But, I’ve also thought that there was no way Paul was getting out of Judea alive without Roman protection. The appeal was brilliant!


Next, Paul will have the chance to share his story and proclaim Jesus once again to those in high positions of leadership. Three more days left!

Day 24 - Chapter 24

Paul now stands before a Roman official again. He’s on trial and his accusers are bringing charges against him. The charges have two aspects to them. 


First, he’s “…stirring up riots among the Jews all over the world.” Indeed, there were riots but Paul did not stir them up. When the gospel is preached, it causes disruption for some. As we’ve seen before in our reading through Acts, the truth of the gospel of Jesus affects all of life. It causes an offense to many. Paul was preaching this gospel but it was others that took offense and lashed out. They were the ones who stirred up riots. 


The second aspect of the charges were that Paul was breaking Jewish laws and desecrating a holy place, the Temple. In fact, he was not doing any of the above. Instead, he was keeping a low profile and had done nothing wrong in the Temple. Outsiders from Asia were the ones who stirred up the riot in Jerusalem and they should have been there, Paul’s says, to bring any charges.


Paul moves on to share the gospel and why he is really there. It scares Felix and the chapter ends up by Paul being left in prison for TWO YEARS because Felix wanted to do the Jews a favor. 


It’s hard to avoid being frustrated at the injustice of it all. Imagine yourself in Paul’s position during that time. What conflicting thoughts and feeling would you be having? Think of a time when you were waiting for an extended period of time. What were your thoughts and prayers then? How can Paul’s experience encourage us during these times? 

Day 23 - Chapter 23

As Paul stands before the council, I wonder if he remembered his old dreams. When he was a leading young Pharisee, he may have dreamed of sitting on the highest ruling authority in Israel. Of course, they were only allowed to do so much because of Rome. However, that’s where he was headed. Now, he is on trial by that council.


The council is made up of both Pharisees and Sadducees. These groups do not like one another and do not believe the same things theologically. In their culture, the Sadducees are on the right and Pharisees on the left of a right-left spectrum. After being slapped in the face for his first few words, Paul realizes that he’s not going to get any kind of hearing or just treatment from this group. So, he plays an ideological card that blows the meeting up—resurrection. The Pharisees believed in a future bodily resurrection at the end of time. They did not believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. However, maybe Paul saw a “spirit,” like an angel or something that spoke to him. That they believed could happen because God kept the souls or spirits of people safe until the final resurrection. So, even though they wanted to kill Paul, they defended him in this moment because of their beliefs. Well, the Sadducees were not going to back down either. It was a mess, and Paul is pulled out before he’s torn to pieces.


Here is the key verse in this passage: The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.” Where do you need courage? Paul longed to go to Rome and share the good news. Now, he knew it would happen (although the circumstances would be different than he wanted).


I pray that you would sense God’s presence today. In our “left-right” world, may we, as Jesus followers, not be torn to pieces by the ends of the spectrum. Instead, may we see everyone as created in God’s image and worthy of love and community. May we listen to one another with respect and choose to work together for the sake of those who have yet to know Jesus in a personal, life-changing way.


There’s a crazy plot to kill Paul, his nephew (family rocks!) saves him. And, he’s off to another trial. More speeches will ensue…KEEP READING!

Day 22 - Chapter 22

Paul begins to address the crowd that just beat him. He speaks perfect Greek to the soldiers and perfect Aramaic to the crowd who hear him and wonder, "who is this guy? Maybe he's more educated than we thought." Indeed he was! He then tells them that he was the leading student under one of, if not the greatest Rabbis of their time—Gamaliel. He is the one who encouraged the Jewish leaders not to stop Peter and John from preaching in Jesus’ name. Paul was educated in Jerusalem and he excelled more than any of his contemporaries (Galatians 1:14). He was also zealous just like them. In fact, he was so zealous that he went against his teachers' advice. He told us what being zealous meant in Philippians 3:6 and he tells them here now. It meant that he was trying to stamp out "The Way," which was an early way to refer to Christians. He was dragging BOTH men and women (which was unusual) in to prison. If you want to stop a movement, who do you attack? It's LEADERS! Whoever has an ear, let them hear.  

How can someone this zealous and deeply radical change? By having an encounter with the living Jesus. 


Paul had an encounter with the living Jesus. He goes on to tell his story. What’s your story? How often do you get to tell your Jesus story to others? How do you tell it? Part of Paul’s story was that he had been a persecutor. Now the persecutor had become a preacher!


Paul’s love for his people, the ethnically Jewish, is all over his words and other letters. He even argues with God, while praying in the Temple, about leaving Jerusalem. His heart breaks for them so much that he is willing to put his own life on the line again and again to lead them to faith in Jesus. Who does your heart break for? 


When Paul mentioned the Gentiles, the people have all their suspicions confirmed. It’s interesting how people can listen to so much logic and truth and then be “set off” by one thing. It’s almost as if people sometimes have their minds made up and are looking for one thing to confirm what they believe. It’s almost as if people hear through “filters.” What are the different kinds of “filters” people hear through these days? What are your filters? We all have them. The key is be to aware of them and then be able to hear beyond or in spite of them. This crowd had predetermined what they believed about Paul and there was nothing that would change their minds in that moment.


They are ready to kill Paul. The commander is ready to have him beaten. Paul claims his Roman citizenship, which saves him. Whew! He’s put in chains and will now stand before the whole Jewish ruling council. His witness for Jesus continues... 

Day 21 - Chapter 21

After saying goodbye to the Ephesian leaders, Paul and his team head for Jerusalem. Finally landing in Tyre and close the end of their voyage, they meet followers of Jesus and stay with them. Very interestingly, Luke tells us that, “Through the Spirit they urged Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (4). For the past four Sundays, we’ve been talking about improvising with the Spirit. We’ve been talking about participating with what the Spirit of God is doing. Here “through the Spirit” Paul is warned NOT to go to Jerusalem. Why do you think he ignored that advise? 


Later, in Caesarea, Luke writes that “…a prophet Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, “The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” His friends beg him not to go but Paul, once again, refuses. In fact, he says, “Why are you weeping and breaking my heart? I am ready not only to be bound, but also to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” This was an emotional moment for everyone. Yet, Paul would not be persuaded to avoid Jerusalem. Was he doing God’s will? Did he ignore the Spirit? Eventually his friends give up and say, "the Lord’s will be done.” 


Sometimes in life, it’s very difficult to know for certain that we are following the will of God or understand exactly how the Spirit is leading us. When we pray, we are often longing for something to bring us more certainty. When we read the Bible, we want certainty. However, certainty has never been the goal. God invites us to walk by faith, with wisdom and love. It’s possible to sometimes ignore or miss the Spirit’s leading. It’s also possible that we are listening but the Spirit gives us freedom to choose. One of the hard things about walking by faith and not by sight is that it’s scary at times. But, if faith could be understood as a living conduit for a growing and intimate relationship with God, I wonder if the need for certainty could be left behind.


Where do you long for clear answers and certainty from God? How comfortable are you with mystery? What does it mean, to you, to walk by faith and not by sight? How have you experienced that?


Next, Paul makes his way to Jerusalem and meets with James (the brother of Jesus) and the other leaders. Paul reports about how the gentiles are turning to Jesus and everyone rejoices. However, in the next sentence, Luke shares about a group of very zealous Jewish Jesus followers who are spreading a rumor that Paul is telling the gentile Christians to basically ignore and chuck out the biblical Law of Moses. Hadn’t this issue been settled in Acts 15? Indeed, it had but some would not let it go and did not approve of Paul’s theology or leadership. Have you ever felt like Paul? Like brothers and sisters in Christ did not approve of your theology of the ministry you were doing?


Even though the issue of the gentiles was settled theologically and practically in Acts 15, there were literally thousands of new Jewish Christians who were so zealous that they insisted that gentiles become Jews to follow Jesus. How do you lead in a context like that? James tells Paul to lead some young men in a purity practice that outwardly should have communicated that even though they were not going to change the decision about the gentiles, out of love they would show respect to the Jewish culture in Jerusalem. The issues are more complex than they seem on the surface and Paul needs to use wisdom here. He is a Jew but has learned to live within any kind of culture as a Christ follower. Others had not.


He follows their advice, there’s a huge misunderstanding, and Paul is attacked and beaten. In the barracks, Paul asks to speak to the crowd and we are left hanging until the next chapter…


Keep reading!!