1 John Lesson Two

1 John Lesson Two: 1 John 1:5-2:6 – The Necessity of Obedience

Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him. If we say, “We have fellowship with Him,” yet we walk in darkness, we are lying and are not practicing the truth. But if we walk in the light  as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus  His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say, “We don’t have any sin,” we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 

2 My little children, I am writing you these things so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He Himself is the propitiation for our sins, and not only for ours, but also for those of the whole world. 

This is how we are sure that we have come to know Him: by keeping His commands.  The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” yet doesn’t keep His commands, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoever keeps His word, truly in him the love of God is perfected. This is how we know we are in Him: The one who says he remains in Him  should walk just as He walked. (HCSB)

I’ll divide this lesson into two parts.

  • Fellowship with God – verses 1:5-2:2.
  • Walking in Obedience – verses 2:3-6.

Fellowship with God

As we begin our study of this passage, I’d like us to consider a theme that John likely implied in his message; the foundation of fellowship is repentance and obedience. Now, let’s take a closer look at this section.

  • God is light. What does John mean when he makes this declaration?
    • First off, John switches his focus from Jesus to the Father in this section.
    • It would seem that verse six holds the key to understanding the connection between the first four verses of the letter and this section.
      • Since God is light, there is no darkness in His character.
      • Only those who walk in the light have fellowship with God.
      • What does it mean to walk in the light?
        • To follow the instructions of God.
        • Although all of us will sin, the prevalent pattern is one of obedience to the Word.
  • What is meant by the use of the metaphors “light” and “dark?”
    • Light. We’ll look at what scholars and theologians believe is meant by the term.
      • It implies life.
      • It means to be ethical.
      • It means to be morally good.
      • There is no place for evil in the light.
      • It contains absolute truth.
      • It contains absolute righteousness.
      • It goes all the way back to Genesis 1:3.
      • It became incarnate in the birth of Jesus as the light of the world.
      • Jesus is the light and the source of life.
    • Darkness.
      • It implies death.
      • It is a picture of falsehood.
      • It signifies ignorance of the truth.
      • It describes a life controlled by sin.
      • Since God is light and only those who walk in the light have fellowship with Him, the idea of walking in darkness would be a barrier to fellowship.
      • Those walking in darkness are in a spiritual state of death since eternal life is only found in fellowship with Jesus.
  • People who say they are followers of Christ yet who habitually walk a path of sin don’t have fellowship with God. These people are false believers and are deceiving themselves.
  • When we do walk in the light, two things occur.
    • We have fellowship with other believers and with God.
    • Our sins are forgiven.
      • It doesn’t mean we are freed from our sinful nature.
      • The verb is in the present tense, meaning forgiveness is a continuous and progressive action.
        • Our sins are continually being removed.
        • We experience a progressive sanctification, a transformation into the likeness of Jesus.
      • All sins are forgiven. Even the most heinous will be forgiven if a person genuinely repents and follows Jesus.
  • In verse eight, John moves to the theme of a false understanding of sin. John may have felt this was necessary because either the recipients of the letter had fallen under the spell of false teachers or they somehow began to believe the idea themselves.
    • Let’s remember there are two kinds of sin.
      • Doing things we shouldn’t be doing.
      • Not doing the things we should be doing.
    • The longer we are a believer, the more likely it is that a believer will turn from sinful behavior and engage in edifying behavior.
    • At the same time, because of our sinful nature, we will never be able always to act as Jesus would act.
      • None of us are capable of perfect love.
      • Because we are incapable of perfect love, we have sin.
  • However, if we acknowledge and confess our sins, Jesus will forgive and cleanse us.
    • This is a key point. Even though we will always struggle with and commit sin, we can live in a state of forgiveness by confessing and repenting, being cleansed through the blood of Jesus.
    • At the same time, we shouldn’t abuse this grace by continuing to commit sin.
    • Scholars have two positions in the interpretation of verse nine.
      • The first one is that it refers to the confession of sins at the time of salvation.
        • This is a once-for-all confession that solves the problem of judgment for sin.
        • This would cover sins we commit after salvation but before we are able to confess them.
      • The second is that a Christian doesn’t have to confess their sins after becoming a Christian since they already have forgiveness in Christ.
        • We don’t have to keep a track record of our sins and confess them.
        • We live with the understanding that our sins are already forgiven, and we have freedom in Christ.
      • The problem with the second position is that Jesus taught His disciples to pray “forgive us our trespasses” in the Disciples’ Prayer.
      • When we think about healthy, loving relationships, the norm is to ask for forgiveness when you offend someone. The same should be true of our relationship with God. We should confess our sins and not just “assume” we are forgiven.
  • As we look at verse ten, we should remember there are numerous verses that tell us we continue to sin after our conversion.
    • Philippians 3:12.
    • James 2:10, 3:2, 3:8, and 4:17.
    • Because Christians do sin after conversion, we shouldn’t deny our sin.
    • When we do that, we are saying that God is a liar.
    • Instead, we confess our sins and receive restoration.
  • As chapter two begins, we see John adopting a tone reserved for people he would have had a fond connection with. The first two verses are a continuation of the end of chapter one, dealing with the theme of sin.
    • John encourages the readers not to sin, but knowing they will sin in some manner, is encouraging them in the knowledge that Jesus is our advocate before the Father.
    • Jesus has already paid the price for our sins and intercedes with the Father on our behalf.
    • We also see the limitless nature of His sacrifice. His atoning blood is sufficient to cover every individual who has ever lived. There are several facts regarding this statement.
      • Scripture is clear that not everyone will be saved – Matthew 7:14, 1 Corinthians 6:9, and Galatians 5:21. However, Scripture is also clear that everyone who desires can be saved – Revelation 22:17.
      • It also means that we, as believers, should be sowing seeds wherever we go. We never know who will respond to the Gospel. Our role isn’t to decide who gets to hear the message. Our role is to share the message whenever and wherever.

Walking in Obedience

In 1 John 2:3, John drives home a critical point all of us should remember, both for ourselves as well as fellow believers we interact with. Following the commands of Jesus and walking in obedience is a key litmus test. John was addressing an issue that was facing Christians in the region of Ephesus. Let’s take a closer look at this.

  • It appears that Gnosticism was the main threat to the faith of the believers around Ephesus.
    • Gnosticism prided itself on knowing God through mystical enlightenment.
    • However, this knowledge didn’t necessarily have an impact on their moral behavior.
    • Gnostics didn’t understand that sin was a barrier to their relationship with God.
  • John was making a direct rebuke to this false belief.
    • At the same time, we need to remember that John didn’t say we would never sin.
    • We may not even have a consistent desire not to sin.
    • But the bottom line is that believers won’t live in complete disregard to God’s commands.
    • The Gnostics weren’t even trying to keep God’s commands.
  • If, as believers, we say we know God but completely disregard His commands, we are lying to ourselves and to others. We are not being truthful. We should also remember the devil is a liar. 
  • However, if we do follow God’s commands, then the love of God is in us.
  • Scholars struggle with the meaning of “the love of God” in verse five.
    • Does it mean the love of God for the Christian?
    • Or does it mean the Christian’s love for God?
    • Actually, either is possible, and both are theologically sound.
  • This section concludes with 5b-6.
    • The understanding is similar to what James wrote; a believer is identified by his works.
    • John is saying we will identify believers by their walk. If they are genuine believers, they will walk as Jesus walked.
    • Works never save us, but they are a badge of identification that someone truly knows and follows Christ.

Applications

  • What is your attitude towards sin and confession of sin? Conceivably, we could lie from one end of the spectrum to the other, believing we no longer need to confess our sins to trying to laundry list every little thing we do wrong. One is a flippant attitude towards sin, and the other borders on legalism. The best practice to follow is to try and confess as soon as we commit a sin, especially those we know we committed. However, there may be times when we sin against someone and do not even realize it. I believe Scripture is clear, an example being the disciples’ prayer, that “general confession” will cover those sins we’ve forgotten the specifics of and the sins we are unaware we’ve committed.
  • If you think you don’t sin and are a “good person,” you are deceiving yourself. All of us will stumble at some point, and confessing our sins provides restoration in our relationship with God.
  • If we see a fellow believer clearly not walking in the light, we need to bring it to their attention. We need to do it with a gentle spirit, as in Galatians 6:1. There may be times when we need to ask our Christian friends to evaluate us. This is never an easy or comfortable practice, but it can keep us on the narrow path. Scripture commands us to correct disobedience and to walk alongside our brothers and sister, just as they should walk alongside us. 

1 John Lesson One

1 John Lesson One: 1 John 1:1-4 – The Foundation of Fellowship

1 What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have observed and have touched with our hands, concerning the Word of life— that life was revealed, and we have seen it and we testify and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us — what we have seen and heard we also declare to you, so that you may have fellowship along with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (HCSB)

Before we dig into the passage itself, let’s present information regarding the letter.

  • There is little debate among scholars that John is the author of the letter.
    • There are many similarities to John’s Gospel.
      • The use of “light and darkness.”
      • The use of “life and death.”
      • The use of “love and hate.”
    • The beginning of the letter suggests the writer had close, personal contact with Jesus during His earthly ministry.
    • The authoritative tone in the letter supports apostolic authorship.
  • Since the conclusion is that John wrote this letter, the next question is, when was it written? Was it before or after John wrote his Gospel?
    • The letter appears to have been written to confirm the faith of believers facing the challenges of proto-Gnostic teaching. This movement was growing during the last part of the first century.
    • John’s Gospel was used by the proton-Gnostic, suggesting some time had passed between the writing of John’s Gospel and 1 John.
    • Based on this, an acceptable date for 1 John is in the early- to mid-nineties.
  • The letter lists several reasons for the writing of 1 John.
    • So that the readers may have fellowship and joy.
    • To provide a foundation for the assurance of salvation for the readers.
    • To warn the readers of false teachers who reflected the spirit of the Antichrist.
  • The letter included three tests to identify those who belonged to God.
    • The test of right belief demands that we believe Jesus had come in the flesh – 4:1-3.
    • The test of right behavior demands righteous living – 2:29.
    • The test of right attitude demands evidence of brotherly love – 3:11.

As we begin our study of 1 John, in the opening verses of the letter, the writer revealed to the readers about his and other eyewitness experiences regarding eternal life through Jesus. His desire is that all might share in the same fellowship. Let’s take a closer look at this passage.

  • John talks about Jesus in a two-pronged manner.
    • “What was from the beginning” and “what we have heard” refers to the incarnate Christ. The incarnate Christ is the message, the Word. Jesus has always existed as part of the triune God. 
    • “What we have seen,” “what we have observed,” and “touched with our hands” refers to the incarnate Christ.
      • John used these phrases since he was combating heretical teaching.
      • False teachers were making claims that Jesus’ body was not a normal one or that He was an angel and not a man.
      • John made a frontal assault on these false teachings by explicitly stating he had first-hand interaction with Jesus. 
    • The message and the person are inseparable. Each explains the other. The message about Jesus is intimately related to who Jesus is.
  • This duality also applies to the timeline of creation.
    • The contrast between “that which was from the beginning” and “what we have seen…observed” is a contrast between eternity and an actual past event.
    • John and other eyewitnesses saw the deity of Christ incarnated in time/space/history.
      • The first-hand witnesses were with Jesus from the beginning of His ministry.
      • The false teachers distorted what Jesus taught, and their ideas were not verified by Jesus’ ministry.
    • The eternal Son of God, Jesus, had come in the flesh – John 1:14.
  • In verse two, John goes on to explain the source of eternal life has been revealed through the person of Jesus.
    • Life was meant to be eternal before the fall in the Garden of Eden.
    • This life was revealed in the person of Jesus.
  • This truth is the key purpose of this epistle.
    • John is fighting against a Christological heresy that denied the incarnation of the deity, Jesus.
    • The heresy involved the separation of “Christ” and “Son of God” from “Jesus.”
    • The heretics believed Christ to be someone other than Jesus.
    • This position would call into question the issue of atonement through the sacrifice of Jesus.
    • John is writing to assure his readers that belief in Jesus and separation from idols and false teachings (false christs and false religions) is the path to eternal life.
    • John is encouraging his readers to persevere in their belief in Jesus as the Christ, the incarnate Son of God.
  • The key idea in verse three is the term “fellowship.”
    • The same term is used in 1 John 1:6.
    • Fellowship also implies knowledge of Him, Jesus, found in 1 John 2:3.
      • The idea of fellowship is the apostolic preaching of the historical Jesus and the readers’ response of faith to that teaching. Fellowship implies obedience to Jesus’ teaching.
      • It is demonstrated by the readers walking in the light as God is in the light – 1 John 1:6-7.
        • Loving our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.
        • Because God is love, our Christian love originates from God.
        • Evidence of Christian love is having eternal life.
    • Faith in the incarnate Son of God, Jesus the Christ, moves one from the realm of death to life, from darkness to light, and by demonstrating love towards fellow believers.
    • The context of fellowship with the Father and the Son is eternal life with them.
      • Fellowship is first dependent on hearing the Gospel message.
      • Next, it means believing and accepting the Gospel message that Jesus is the incarnate Son of God.
      • It is a sign of oneness within the community of God, with other believers, the Father, and the Son.
      • This “oneness” is inseparable from eternal life. If we are one with God, we have eternal life.
      • It also implies perseverance in the faith. Falling away will break fellowship.
  • In verse four, it may appear somewhat selfish for John to use the phrase “our joy” in relation to others joining the fellowship of believers. However, that would be an inaccurate understanding of John’s intent.
    • John is writing from an apostolic viewpoint. This is no different than a pastor who is joyful when a person comes to Christ or when someone who is struggling preservers in the faith.
    • This idea is supported when we consider 3 John 4 – I have no greater joy than this: to hear that my children are walking in the truth.
    • However, it goes beyond this.
    • Since the context of these first four verses is oneness in fellowship, the joy is shared by all who are in the family of God. Both shepherd leaders, as well as members of the flock, should express joy as people become believers and persevere in the faith.
    • Although the “we” starting verse four refers to the apostles, every subsequent use of the term “we” in this epistle refers to the collective body of Christ.
    • What is the “joy” that John is referring to?
      • Being faithful followers of Christ.
      • Bearing fruit. If a person is a faithful follower of Christ, they will bear fruit.
      • There is a partial fulfillment of joy during our time on earth through fellowship with other believers.
      • Full joy will occur when Christ returns.
      • When considering John’s theology, it is impossible to take the joy away from a true believer.
        • John 16:22.
        • John 17:12-13.
      • Those who fell away from the faith were never true believers in the first place and were never part of the fellowship.
      • John’s theology was also a theology of perseverance in faith. Believers are sustained by being immersed in Scripture and the practical application of scriptural practices.  

Applications

  • Are you in meaningful fellowship with other believers? John is clear that fellowship with others and with God are essential parts of the assurance of our salvation. Being part of the body of Christ is more than attending a Sunday service. It’s being in meaningful relationships with other believers where we support each other through prayer, service, and sacrifice.
  • As we are involved in witnessing and evangelizing others, don’t add or take away from the Gospel. John was fighting against heretical teaching in this epistle. If we make substantial changes to the Gospel, we are part of the heretical crowd.
  • Even though we face trials and hardships during this life, does your life exhibit joy? Our hardships are temporary, but our joy is eternal. Focus on the eternal as you live each day.

Jonah Lesson Four

Jonah Lesson Four: Jonah 4:1-11 – Jonah’s Angry With God

But Jonah was greatly displeased and became furious. He prayed to the Lord: “Please, Lord, isn’t this what I said while I was still in my own country? That’s why I fled toward Tarshish in the first place. I knew that You are a merciful and compassionate God, slow to become angry, rich in faithful love, and One who relents from sending disaster. And now, Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” 

The Lord asked, “Is it right for you to be angry?” 

Jonah left the city and sat down east of it. He made himself a shelter there and sat in its shade to see what would happen to the city. Then the Lord God appointed a plant, and it grew up to provide shade over Jonah’s head to ease his discomfort. Jonah was greatly pleased with the plant. When dawn came the next day, God appointed a worm that attacked the plant, and it withered. 

As the sun was rising, God appointed a scorching east wind. The sun beat down so much on Jonah’s head that he almost fainted, and he wanted to die. He said, “It’s better for me to die than to live.” 

Then God asked Jonah, “Is it right for you to be angry about the plant?” 

“Yes,” he replied. “It is right. I’m angry enough to die!” 

10 So the Lord said, “You cared about the plant, which you did not labor over and did not grow. It appeared in a night and perished in a night. 11 Should I not care about the great city of Nineveh, which has more than 120,000 people who cannot distinguish between their right and their left, as well as many animals?” (HCSB)

As we conclude our study of Jonah, I’ll be splitting this lesson into two parts.

  • Jonah’s angry reaction to Nineveh’s escaping God’s judgment – verses 1-4.
  • God teaches Jonah about the value of people and repentance – verses 5-11.

Jonah’s Angry Reaction to Nineveh’s Escaping God’s Judgment

At the end of chapter three, we saw that Nineveh repented, and God spared them from the judgment they deserved. Now, as we start chapter four, we see Jonah’s reaction to God sparing them. Let’s look at some details in this first section.

  • We see several emotions come into play when we consider Jonah’s reaction to Nineveh being spared.
    • Jonah was displeased with God’s action.
    • Jonah became furious. It might be better to understand this as Jonah hated what God had done.
    • Jonah displayed a lack of understanding. The Ninevites had basically done what was required to avert the judgment; they demonstrated heartfelt repentance.
  • The question could be asked as to why Jonah reacted that way.
    • It could have been nationalism as a Hebrew prophet.
    • It could have been because Jonah knew that later Assyria would be the downfall of Israel. And because Jonah had obediently preached the message given to him by God, he felt a responsibility for the future downfall of Israel.
    • It could be because Jonah felt his reputation was at stake. He had prophesied the impending destruction of Nineveh, and it didn’t happen.
    • It could have been because Jonah was unsuccessful in moving the Israelites to a repentant heart and dependence on Yahweh. Maybe Jonah yearned for God to issue the same message to Israel.
    • At worst, we see a prophet with a disturbing disregard for human life and bitter hatred of those who experienced mercy.
    • At best, we see a prophet who misunderstood God’s mercy and had a limited view of God’s plan for the redemption of Israel.
    • Jonah failed to recognize the privilege of being an instrument of God in the salvation of a people group.
  • We see the selfishness of Jonah’s heart displayed in his prayer to God.
    • The words “I” and “my” occur multiple times.
    • Jonah wanted his desires to occur and not God’s plan to unfold.
    • The prayer bears a striking resemblance to the phrase, “see, I told you so.” In effect, Jonah is saying this is why he went to Tarshish, so the Ninevites wouldn’t have a chance to repent.
  • We also see the compassionate nature of God displayed in the prayer.
    • The second half of Jonah’s prayer is almost ironic in nature when the overall tone of Jonah’s prayer is one of complaining.
    • Jonah complains about God’s goodness.
      • Jonah is using an ancient formula that is, in essence, a quotation from Exodus 34:6-7.
      • The wording describes God’s character.
        • Merciful.
        • Compassionate.
        • Slow to anger.
        • Rich in faithful love.
      • Jonah didn’t use the words as a way to praise God. Instead, it was part of his tantrum against God.
  • Jonah then prays for God to take his life.
    • This was also a selfish request.
    • Since God hadn’t carried out Jonah’s wish, Jonah no longer wanted to live.
    • Nineveh was the recipient of God’s grace and would later be an instrument of Israel’s downfall.
  • The entire prayer is rather disturbing.
    • After Jonah’s rescue from the fish, he was obedient in carrying out God’s mission of delivering a sermon against Nineveh.
    • Yet, Jonah still lacked a submissive heart.
    • The purpose of Jonah going to Nineveh and preaching the message was so that the Ninevites would repent and avert judgment.
    • When that happened, Jonah reacted in a childish manner.
  • In response to Jonah’s prayer, God responds with a simple question, “Is it right for you to be angry?”
    • God was trying to correct Jonah’s bad theology.
    • Jonah’s anger was not justifiable.
    • Jonah was not displaying righteous indignation.
    • It’s possible the reason for God’s patience with Jonah is that deep down, Jonah was concerned for Israel.
    • Regardless of the reason, Jonah’s anger was inappropriate, and God wanted Jonah to understand His compassion for all people.

God Teaches Jonah About the Value of People and Repentance

The first issue to consider as we start with verse five is how much time elapsed between Jonah’s prayer, God’s answer, and Jonah leaving the city. Since the text doesn’t specify, let’s consider some options.

  • Some scholars believe Jonah left immediately after preaching his message and before the forty  days had expired. There is support for this position since the text states that Jonah waited to “see what would happen to the city.”
  • Some believe that 4:5 is actually displaced from its proper position of occurring immediately after 3:4.
  • Some view verse five as a “flashback.” However, the structure of the original Hebrew text doesn’t explicitly support it as a flashback.
  • The simplest answer is that Jonah left immediately after God posed His question in verse four.

Let’s consider some options regarding whether or not Jonah left before or after the forty days had elapsed.

  • The position that Jonah left before the forty-day period.
    • Jonah observed the repentant heart of the Ninevites and, in his anger, left before the forty days had elapsed.
    • Even though Jonah observed the repentant heart of the Ninevites, his inner hope was that they would revert to their previous practice and experience God’s judgment. Therefore, Jonah went to a location outside the city to observe the expected judgment.
  • The position that Jonah left after the forty-day period.
    • Jonah’s anger wouldn’t manifest itself until it was certain the Ninevites had escaped judgment.
    • There would be no reason for God to rebuke Jonah before the forty-day period had elapsed.

After leaving the city, Jonah sat down to the east. The two most logical explanations for his going east are that it was the direction he was traveling when he finished preaching or because of the higher elevation to the east of the city. 

The shelter Jonah constructed was likely a fairly crude one. The original Hebrew used here is the same word used for the leafy shelters constructed during the Feast of Tabernacles. Building one would have been familiar to Jonah. The construction itself was relatively simple; it consisted of interwoven branches of trees. Once Jonah was finished making it, he sat in its shade. Now, let’s ponder what Jonah could have been thinking about while he waited.

  • Perhaps Jonah was struggling with the fact the Ninevite’s repentance was genuine.
  • Jonah may have thought he had answered the question God had posed in verse four, that he did have a right to be angry.
  • It’s possible Jonah was waiting for the Ninevites to revert to their old habits and receive the judgment he thought was deserving.
  • Perhaps Jonah was waiting for destruction similar to what had transpired against Sodom and Gomorrah.
  • It could have been any one of those possibilities or a combination of more than one.
  • What was apparent is that Jonah still didn’t “get it.”

As we consider verses six through eight, we see God disciplining Jonah.

  • Although the shelter may have initially provided some relief from the sun and heat, the leaves would have quickly withered in the heat, and eventually, they would have fallen off completely.
  • Since the shelter was no longer providing adequate protection from the sun, God provided a plant to grow and provide shade to Jonah.
  • Considering what had recently transpired, this was an unmerited act of mercy. However, God was preparing a lesson for Jonah.
    • In a broad sense, God did to Jonah what Jonah wanted God to do to Nineveh.
    • It’s interesting to note that among scholars, there has been quite a bit of debate over the type of plant that provided shade. Some translations use the term “vine,” while others use the more generic term “plant.” In reality, it doesn’t really matter what type of plant God provided. The bigger issue is in the lesson it provided.
    • The phrase “to ease his discomfort” is a mild translation of the original Hebrew. In the original language, it means to “deliver him from his evil.”
    • Jonah’s discomfort could be attributed to a couple of things.
      • The average daily max temperature in the region is about 110 degrees fahrenheit, which would make it quite unpleasant.
      • It could also be due to Jonah’s hearing the people cry out in anguish to God for deliverance.
  • Because of the comfort the plant provided, Jonah was greatly pleased. There are a couple of things to consider here.
    • The meaning of the original Hebrew would translate as “Jonah rejoiced over the vine with a great rejoicing.” Jonah wasn’t just happy; he was filled with overflowing joy. 
    • For the first time in the book, Jonah is happy about something. Jonah’s happiness is directed toward a plant. There are likely two reasons for his joy.
      • The plant provided relief from the heat.
      • Jonah may have believed that the provision of the plant in some way was a vindication of his disappointment at Nineveh’s repentance or God’s withholding judgment.
    • However, the joy was short-lived.
  • The next day, God sent a “worm” to attack the plant.
    • Jonah’s joy and relief from the sun and heat were short-lived.
    • The worm’s actions quickly caused the plant to wither and die. Jonah was no longer getting relief from the elements.
    • There’s some irony in the fact that although destruction is a recurring theme throughout Jonah, the only destruction that actually occurred was to the plant. The one thing that brought Jonah great joy was destroyed.
  • The sun now beating down on Jonah wasn’t his only discomfort.
  • A scorching east wind now afflicted Jonah.
  • It is likely this wind was what is known as a “sirocco.”
    • It would cause the temperature to rise quickly.
    • The humidity would also drop quickly.
    • It would contain very small particles of suspended dust.
    • If a person was caught outside during one of the dust storms, it was extremely miserable.
  • The combined effects of the temperature and the wind made Jonah feel like he was going to faint.
    • The joy which Jonah had previously experienced was now replaced with a feeling of complete despair. 
    • As Jonah approaches exhaustion, he is despondent.
    • Jonah now repeats his request from 4:3; he wants to die.
  • As we look at Jonah’s circumstances and his request, we see the problem went much deeper than Jonah not understanding God’s fairness.
    • Jonah was completely frustrated by his life.
    • God asked Jonah to consider the rightness of his anger.
    • When the plant was provided for relief, Jonah may have felt his anger was justified.
    • Now, Jonah had been shown he was wrong. His anger wasn’t justified.
    • Depression was now gripping Jonah as he pondered whether his entire life had been wrong.
      • He had failed as a prophet.
      • In his heart, he believed he had failed God.
      • He wanted to die.
      • The picture of Jonah is not the picture of a mature disciple.
  • We now see another teaching moment from God.
    • God’s question to Jonah demonstrates the stupidity of his attitude.
    • Jonah was more concerned about his personal comfort than for the well-being of the city of Nineveh.
    • In using the phrase “is it right,” God is asking a bigger question. The implied question is, “What right do we have to demand that God show us favor and not others?”
    • Jonah’s response is self-condemnation.
  • Now God demonstrated His merciful character.
    • The phrase “cared about the plant” should be better understood as “having compassion” for the plant.
    • Since it is unusual, to say the least, to have compassion on a plant, God was demonstrating how ridiculous Jonah’s anger was.
    • Why should Jonah express anger over the death of the plant, which he neither created nor cultivated?
    • The main question God was trying to get Jonah to understand is, “Who are you to question Me?”
  • Jonah’s concern was over a plant, while God’s concern was over a city with more than 120,000 people.
    • The plant was insignificant.
    • People are God’s highest creation, created in His image.
  • God’s final question, which ends the book, captures the intention of the book.
    • It’s the focus on grace and mercy.
    • Jonah was provided a plant to provide shade which he didn’t deserve.
    • Nineveh was granted a deliverance from the judgment they did deserve.
    • God’s desire for all mankind is salvation, not destruction.
      • God is compassionate.
      • God is slow to anger.
      • God is abounding in love.
      • God will relent from sending judgment if repentance is displayed.
  • The book ends with a contrast between the ways of man and the ways of God. We will never completely understand God as His ways are so much higher than our ways. Our only solution is to walk in humble obedience to His leading and teaching.

Applications

  • Check your heart condition as you serve God. Are you selfish in your motives, or do you fully submit to God, regardless of what He asks you to do or who to serve? There may be times when God asks you to do something you may not be comfortable with doing. However, God’s plans are always perfect, no matter what we think.
  • Check what you complain about. Are you complaining about petty things that don’t really matter in the grand plan of eternity? Are people more important to you than “things?” Or do you have your priorities backward?
  • When you go through a trial, do you reflect on why it may be happening? God may be using it as a teaching moment for you. How you respond to the teaching moments is important for your spiritual growth.

Jonah Lesson Three

Jonah Lesson Three: Jonah 3:1-10 – Jonah’s Message to Nineveh

Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach the message that I tell you.” So Jonah got up and went to Nineveh according to the Lord’s command. 

Now Nineveh was an extremely large city, a three-day walk. Jonah set out on the first day of his walk in the city and proclaimed, “In 40 days Nineveh will be demolished!” The men of Nineveh believed in God. They proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth—from the greatest of them to the least. 

When word reached the king of Nineveh, he got up from his throne, took off his royal robe, put on sackcloth, and sat in ashes. Then he issued a decree in Nineveh: 

By order of the king and his nobles: No man or beast, herd or flock, is to taste anything at all. They must not eat or drink water. Furthermore, both man and beast must be covered with sackcloth, and everyone must call out earnestly to God.  Each must turn from his evil ways and from the violence he is doing. Who knows?  God may turn and relent; He may turn from His burning anger so that we will not perish. 

10 Then God saw their actions—that they had turned from their evil ways—so God relented from the disaster He had threatened to do to them. And He did not do it. (HCSB)

Now that Jonah was released from the great fish, he received a second commission to go and preach a message to the city of Nineveh. Jonah repented from his previous disobedience and followed the command of Yahweh. Let’s take a closer look at the details in this passage.

Chapter two ended with Jonah being vomited onto dry ground. Now, the narrative quickly changes to God giving Jonah the command to preach to Nineveh a second time. Let’s consider this quick transition.

  • Did Jonah expect such a quick deliverance?
  • How much time passed between his deliverance and receiving the word of God?
  • Did Jonah simply wait on the beach, or did he go somewhere in the interim?
  • Scripture doesn’t specify, but it would be safe to conclude that at least a short period of rest occurred between the events allowing Jonah to regain his composure.

Now, let’s move on to the passage.

  • The first two verses of chapter three are almost identical to chapter one.
    • The same three imperatives are there; get up, go, preach.
    • However, in chapter three, the reason isn’t included. This is likely because Jonah already knew the reason, and the emphasis is on delivering the message.
  • The message would come from Yahweh. There are three possibilities to ponder regarding this message.
    • Was it the same message as before?
    • Was it a new message God was giving at this point?
    • Would God give the message to Jonah once he arrived in Nineveh?
  • We don’t know which of the three it was, but we do know the message would be from God, and it would be a formal proclamation similar to one made by an official messenger or ambassador.
  • Because Jonah was obedient this time, we might think he has learned his lesson. However, we’ll find out in chapter four that Jonah’s heart still wasn’t in the right place as he became angry when Nineveh was spared.
  • Starting in verse three, we see the primary contrast between chapters one and three.
    • In chapter one, Jonah got up to flee.
    • In chapter three, Jonah got up in obedience to go to Nineveh.
  • Depending on where Jonah began his journey, the trip would be approximately 500 hundred miles.
    • If Jonah traveled by camel or donkey, the trip would take about one month.
    • If Jonah traveled by foot, the journey would take even longer.
  • Depending on the translation you use, the description of Nineveh may vary.
    • In chapter one, it was described as a “great city” and here as an “extremely large city.” Both descriptions should be interpreted in the same manner. Its greatness was its size, not that it was viewed in a positive light.
    • Some translations add the phrase “to God” after the descriptor large or great. The reader should understand that the original Hebrew implied this, demonstrating God’s dominion over Israel’s biggest enemy.
    • Regardless of the Ninevites’ relationship with Israel, God cares deeply about every person and desires to see them turn from their wicked ways.
    • Historical records also record the vastness of the city and the administrative district of Nineveh.
      • Records from the first-century b.c. say the circumference of the city was fifty-five miles.
      • The administrative district included the cities of Assur, Calah, and Dur-Sharruken. A position supported by Genesis 10:11-12.
    • Regardless of the various possibilities for the size of Nineveh, the point to take from the verse is that Jonah’s mission was a three-day event.
      • Since Nineveh was a major diplomatic center during this period, God’s message could not be shared in a hasty manner.
      • Jonah would have had to travel to various sections of the city to ensure everyone either heard the message first-hand or the message would be spread by those who did hear it.
      • There is also a minority position on the interpretation of a three-day walk. The ancient Oriental practice of hospitality required a visit of three days; the first day for arrival, the second for the primary purpose of the visit, and the third day for the return.

Now let’s move on to the visit itself and the reaction of the city.

  • Although the passage doesn’t give details, it’s probably safe to conclude that Jonah didn’t just wander into Nineveh and start shouting God’s message of impending judgment as he walked the streets. 
  • Typically, the first day of an “official” visit would include meeting with officials and, most likely, the presentation of some type of gifts to the dignitaries. 
  • The official meeting may have taken place in the morning, allowing Jonah to begin preaching by the afternoon.
  • There is scholarly debate about the contents of the message Jonah preached to the city.
    • In Hebrew, the message was only five words long.
    • It was probably more likely the message would have been delivered in Aramaic, the typical language of the region at that time.
    • From chapter four, we can also conclude Jonah didn’t want the city to repent, so it’s possible the message only included the coming judgment.
    • However, proclamations of judgment often were thought to include an implied deliverance if the offenders repented.
      • The inhabitants of Nineveh certainly felt that the judgment was not an absolute certainty.
      • When Jonah said it would occur in forty days, it implied a sense of ambiguity.
        • Was it a message that the judgment was imminent?
        • Did it mean the judgment could be avoided if a change occurred within forty days?
    • There’s another aspect to consider regarding Jonah’s message from God.
      • If this was a proclamation of an unalterable impending judgment, the prophecy ended up being false.
      • However, we know that God doesn’t lie, so the correct understanding of the judgment is that it would occur in forty if Nineveh didn’t change its offensive behavior.
      • Additionally, the book of Jonah never declares that this judgment is a prophecy from God. It is a message to be preached against the city of Nineveh.
      • Jeremiah 18:7-8 also clarifies that when God pronounces a judgment against a nation or kingdom, the judgment won’t occur if they repent of their evil.
  • There are a few key points to take from the warning and judgment in this passage.
    • The seriousness of sin.
    • The certainty of judgment if the sin continues.
    • The warning to those outside the family of God and the use of believers to deliver the message.
    • God’s concern for those outside the family of God and His plan for using disciples in the grand picture of salvation.
  • The city’s response to the message is quite amazing.
    • It is evident from the context of the passage that Jonah’s message spread throughout the city.
    • Not only did the entire city hear the message, they believed the seriousness of the message.
    • Just like the sailors in Jonah 1:5, the Ninehites’ reaction is summarized in three verbs; believed, proclaimed, and dressed in. These verbs describe three stages of response; inward, articulated, and outward.
    • Since the passage doesn’t indicate Jonah preaching beyond the first day, it’s possible the initial proclamation had such an impact that nothing was required beyond that point.
    • It’s not far-fetched to say that a miracle occurred.
      • Because of Nineveh’s reputation and normal behavior, the odds were heavily stacked against a favorable response to Jonah’s message.
      • As a comparison point, when Jeremiah preached against Jerusalem about one hundred years later, he was arrested and imprisoned for treason.
      • Why would the Ninevites accept the strong message from a complete stranger?
      • Think of the questions that might be going through their minds.
        • Who was going to destroy the city?
        • How would it occur?
        • Why should we believe this message?
    • The reason they accepted the message is that they believed Jonah’s God would do it.
      • In the original Hebrew, Jonah uses the word Elohim instead of Yahweh to denote God.
      • Jonah wasn’t proclaiming the God of Israel to an unbelieving nation.
      • He was proclaiming the “supreme God” was about to show His power and judgment.
      • From the book, there is no indication the Ninevites turned from their gods.
      • The Ninevites acceptance of the message doesn’t appear to be a salvation event; it was a postponement of judgment decision.
      • They didn’t have a lasting repentance. Later, the Assyrians would be defeated when Sennacherib invaded Judah during the reign of Hezekiah.
    • The citizens then proclaimed a fast and dressed in sackcloth.
      • Because Jonah’s message was accepted, the citizens proclaimed a fast to ward off judgment.
      • The fast included all groups of citizens, regardless of socio-economic status.
      • Sackcloth was a traditional expression of mourning for the sins of a nation.
  • However, not only did the citizens of the city react favorably to the message, the king did the same thing.
    • From the context of the passage, it appears Jonah’s message first resonated with the common people, regardless of their status, and then made its way to royalty.
    • We don’t know with certainty who the king was, but historical records seem to point to Assur-dan III. 
    • The king reacts with fervor to Jonah’s message.
      • He took off his royal robe and put on sackcloth.
      • He sat in ashes, a sign of deep humiliation.
    • The king then issues a royal decree, an official response to Jonah’s message. The first two are external, and the other two are internal and spiritual.
      • The decree describes four behavioral responses to Jonah’s message.
        • Fasting, consisting of two parts.
          • A general order to not taste anything.
          • A specific order to avoid food and drink.
          • Since the king included animals in the fast, it was an indication of the desperate state of mind of the king.
        • Wearing sackcloth.
        • Pleading with God.
        • Turning from evil and violence.
          • Their lives should match their prayers.
          • It’s a typical Hebrew way of joining the general and the specific.
          • The command is also singular in nature. Each person was to turn from their evil and violent ways.
      • The king’s words in verse nine are very similar to what the ship’s captain said in 1:6.
        • Both were looking for a divine response to their predicament.
        • In the present case, the king was looking for the anticipated judgment to be avoided if they changed their behavior and demonstrated contrition.
  • One can imagine the anxiety the city was experiencing during those forty days.
    • There was hope but no guarantee that God would turn from the proclaimed judgment.
    • Did the anxiety increase as the days ticked down?
    • Did Jonah faithfully make use of the forty-day time period by sharing the truth of God with them?
    • Scripture isn’t clear on any of those points.
  • The fact the Ninevites turned from their evil way demonstrated they at least understood and acknowledged their actions.
  • At the end of the forty days, God saw they demonstrated genuine repentance.
    • They turned from their evil ways.
    • In response, God relented from executing judgment on them.
  • An unmistakable point here is that God has a compassionate heart and is always sensitive and receptive to those who cry out with a genuine heart for mercy.
    • God possesses incredible mercy.
    • God demonstrated incredible love.
    • We find here irrefutable evidence that God doesn’t wish for the destruction of the sinner. Instead, He longs for the redemption and reconciliation of even the most evil of people.
  • The narrative of the sparing of Nineveh in chapter three parallels Jonah’s own experience.
    • Jonah had been the object of divine anger, yet later experienced God’s miraculous redemption.
    • The same thing happened to the Ninevites.
    • The same is true of every believer who takes God’s promise through Jesus Christ of salvation.
      • All have sinned and stand condemned.
      • Through Jesus, all have a path to redemption.
  • There’s one further point to consider here.
    • What God accomplishes through a person may be unrelated to the heart condition of that person, in this case, Jonah.
    • A successful pastor may not be in a close, obedient relationship with God.
    • An unsuccessful past may not have lost touch with God.

Applications

  • When given a task by God, do it without delay. Not only should you do it without delay, but you should also do it with a proper heart condition.
  • If you have committed sins, demonstrate repentance with a humble heart. The Assyrians were mortal enemies of Israel. Yet, they were spared judgment, at least for a period of time, because they repented with a humble heart.
  • God is long-suffering. He always wants the lost to come back to Him. But the onus is on the sinner to turn and run to God. Never doubt that God loves every person. Because of that, we should never hold back the message of salvation from someone because we don’t like that person or people group. 

Jonah Lesson Two

Jonah Lesson Two: Jonah 2:1-10 – Jonah’s Prayer

Jonah prayed to the Lord his God from inside the fish: 

I called to the Lord in my distress, 

and He answered me. 

I cried out for help in the belly of Sheol; 

You heard my voice. 

You threw me into the depths, 

into the heart of the seas, 

and the current overcame me. 

All Your breakers and Your billows swept over me. 

But I said: I have been banished 

from Your sight, 

yet I will look once more 

toward Your holy temple. 

The waters engulfed me up to the neck;

the watery depths overcame me; 

seaweed was wrapped around my head. 

I sank to the foundations of the mountains; 

the earth with its prison bars closed behind me forever! 

But You raised my life from the Pit, Lord my God! 

As my life was fading away, 

I remembered Yahweh. 

My prayer came to You, 

to Your holy temple. 

Those who cling to worthless idols 

forsake faithful love, 

but as for me, I will sacrifice to You 

with a voice of thanksgiving. 

I will fulfill what I have vowed. 

Salvation is from the Lord! 

10 Then the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land. (HCSB)

Before we start this lesson, let’s take a quick look at the ending of the first chapter. The sailors followed Jonah’s instructions to throw him into the sea. It’s safe to say that Jonah expected to die at that point. Instead, a huge fish swallowed Jonah, and instead of drowning in the sea, he finds himself in a most uncomfortable location. At the same time, Jonah may have started to rejoice in the fact he was alive and able to breathe. It would appear that at this point, Jonah sees a divine intervention in the fact that he didn’t drown and is now alive in a giant fish. Because of God’s intervention in this event, Jonah prays to God in a format that reminds us of a thanksgiving Psalm or prayer. The prayer contains four parts.

  • A summary of answered prayer – verse 2.
  • Details of his personal crises – verses 3-6a.
  • His divine rescue – verses 6b-8.
  • A vow of praise – verse 9.

Now, let’s take a closer look at this passage.

  • As Jonah comes to the realization he is alive, he prays to “his” God.
    • We could skim over the first verse without realizing the significance in the context of Jonah’s prayer.
    • Jonah acknowledges Yahweh’s position as Jonah’s God.
  • Jonah now prays to God as he is going through this trial, admittedly brought on by his own disobedience.
  • Jonah cries for help from “the belly of Sheol.”
    • In Hebrew thinking, it was a place of the dead, located under the earth and separated from God.
    • It was an expression signifying “being in the grave.”
    • Sheol was often thought to be under the floor of the ocean, and Jonah’s current location would place him close to Sheol.
    • The Old Testament understanding of death was close to a process instead of a single event. Jonah was undergoing a death process in the belly of the fish.
    • Jonah believed he was as good as dead as he began his prayer.
  • Jonah then recognizes God’s sovereignty in the event in verse three.
    • God is the one responsible for throwing Jonah into the sea, not the sailors.
    • The waves and breakers belonged to God.
  • In verse four, Jonah expresses both the depths of his despair and the heights of his hope.
    • Jonah has been banished from God.
      • The term “banished” is the same one used in Leviticus 21:7 to illustrate a woman whose husband has divorced her.
      • Jonah was out of favor with Yahweh.
    • However, Jonah had faith his relationship with Yahweh would be restored.
      • The expression “look once more toward your holy temple” may not refer to Jonah visiting the temple in Jerusalem, but Jonah’s intention to pray and his prayers reaching God.
      • It is also an indication Jonah will turn from running from God and accept the commission to take Yahweh’s message to Nineveh.
  • Verses five and six are connected to each other, representing Jonah’s current circumstances.
    • Verse five has similarities to Psalm 18:4 and 69:1. As Jonah contemplated his situation in the belly of the fish, he continued to reflect on his miraculous deliverance from drowning. Not only was he in the ocean depths, but his head was also wrapped in seaweed. The Hebrew word used for the neck is often translated in the Old Testament as “soul.” The wording should be interpreted as a reference to Jonah’s life.
    • In verse six, the phrase “sank to the foundations of the mountains” should be understood as the painful event of descending into his grave.
      • During the time of Jonah, it was a common belief the foundations of the mountains were in the depths of the oceans, covered by water.
      • Jonah was expressing the feeling of being as far removed as possible from other people. He was in the deepest part of the ocean, with help out of reach.
      • The term “prison bars” is difficult to interpret accurately.
        • It could refer to being in the depths of the ocean.
        • It could be a reference to Sheol, which was believed to be a fortified city in the underworld. Once the gates were closed behind a human soul, there was no leaving.
        • Once again, Jonah is expressing the deepness of his despair.
      • However, the last phrase in verse six is the turning point in Jonah’s prayer.
        • Jonah acknowledges Yahweh’s sovereign power. 
        • It’s a reference to the fish rescuing Jonah from the depths of the sea.
        • Jonah had been rescued from a hopeless situation by the power and grace of God.
        • Jonah is overcome with praise for God’s grace and mercy. 
  • Up until this point, we can draw a general conclusion about Jonah’s spiritual maturity; it wasn’t very good. However, through the four short chapters in the book, we do see him experiencing spiritual growth. In one aspect, Jonah is an Old Testament prodigal. Here verse seven is an example of where Jonah undergoes some spiritual growth.
    • In what Jonah may have thought were his last moments alive, he returns to God, who is the only avenue for salvation. 
    • The understanding of the Hebrew word translated to “remembered” is talking about the mental act of focusing attention on something and is almost exclusively used as a basis for taking action.
    • Just as in verse four, the temple does not mean the physical temple in Jerusalem. Jonah understood that his prayer had reached God’s heart.
  • Verses eight and nine conclude Jonah’s prayer, much like many psalms, with words of thanksgiving and praise.
    • A literal translation of the first part of verse eight would read, “those who guard/serve vanities of worthlessness.” The vanities refer to idols. In Old Testament times, these overwhelmingly referred to carved images that depicted some “god.” Today, those idols are anything that takes us away from focusing on God. Some examples are cell phones, social media, celebrities, and material possessions. One could argue there are more idols today than in Jonah’s day.
    • The second part of verse eight refers to idol worshippers missing out on the mercy and grace of God. Just as Jonah received mercy and grace once he turned back to God, idolaters could receive the same grace if they repented.
    • Just as chapter one ended with a sacrifice by the sailors and thanksgiving to God, here Jonah ends his prayer with a sacrifice by his voice of thanksgiving.
    • Jonah repents and says that he will fulfill what he has vowed. The vow was most likely connected to his role as a prophet, which he had walked away from when he tried to run to Tarshish. 
  • The chapter ends with God commanding the fish to vomit Jonah onto land.
  • We could view chapter two as the happiest section of the book.
    • Jonah comes to a decision of repentance for his act of running away.
    • Jonah affirms God’s sovereignty over creation.
    • Jonah is the recipient of mercy and grace in his deliverance.
    • He praises God with a spirit of thanksgiving.

As we look back on chapter two, we can summarize it with a few points.

  • In the first part, Jonah is deals with his own life and failings. He is indicating a willingness to repent.
  • At the same time, when we look at the book in its entirety, we see that Jonah hasn’t come to the point of complete repentance yet.
  • However, he is reflecting on the correct path, knowing that idols are worthless and only God is faithful.

Applications

  • Never lose sight of the fact that no matter how big our sin, whether before or after proclaiming Christ as our Lord, we can always restore the relationship if we are willing to reflect on our actions and repent.
  • No matter our circumstances, God can rescue us from them. It doesn’t always mean He will. Sometimes, we get ourselves in a bad situation through bad decisions, and we expect God to “rescue” us. It doesn’t always happen.
  • Never forget that God is sovereign over all creation. He is the creator, and we are the created.

Jonah Lesson One

Jonah Lesson One: Jonah 1:1-17 – Jonah’s Disobedience

The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: “Get up! Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because their wickedness has confronted  Me.” However, Jonah got up to flee to Tarshish from the Lord’s presence. He went down to Joppa and found a ship going to Tarshish. He paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish, from the Lord’s presence. 

Then the Lord hurled a violent wind on the sea, and such a violent storm arose on the sea that the ship threatened to break apart. The sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his god. They threw the ship’s cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down to the lowest part of the vessel and had stretched out and fallen into a deep sleep. 

The captain approached him and said, “What are you doing sound asleep? Get up! Call to your god. Maybe this god will consider us, and we won’t perish.” 

“Come on!” the sailors said to each other. “Let’s cast lots. Then we’ll know who is to blame for this trouble we’re in.” So they cast lots, and the lot singled out Jonah. Then they said to him, “Tell us who is to blame for this trouble we’re in. What is your business and where are you from? What is your country and what people are you from?” 

He answered them, “I’m a Hebrew. I worship Yahweh, the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.” 

10 Then the men were even more afraid and said to him, “What is this you’ve done?” The men knew he was fleeing from the Lord’s presence, because he had told them. 11 So they said to him, “What should we do to you to calm this sea that’s against us?” For the sea was getting worse and worse. 

12 He answered them, “Pick me up and throw me into the sea so it may quiet down for you, for I know that I’m to blame for this violent storm that is against you.” 13 Nevertheless, the men rowed hard to get back to dry land, but they couldn’t because the sea was raging against them more and more. 

14 So they called out to the Lord: “Please, Yahweh, don’t let us perish because of this man’s life, and don’t charge us with innocent blood! For You, Yahweh, have done just as You pleased.” 15 Then they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging. 16 The men feared the Lord even more, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. 

17 Now the Lord had appointed a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the fish three days and three nights. (HCSB)

As we begin our study of the book of Jonah, let’s look at facts known about Jonah.

  • Jonah was the son of Amittai – 2 Kings 14:25.
  • Jonah was from Gath Hepher, located in the territory of Zebulun in the Northern Kingdom – Joshua 19:13.
  • Jonah prophesied either during or shortly before the time of Jeroboam II – 793-753 B.C.
  • Jonah was a successor to the prophet Elisha.

Now, let’s look at historical facts about the city of Nineveh.

  • It was an ancient city dating back to around 4,500 B.C.
  • It was one of the major cities of ancient Assyria.
  • Nineveh was built by Nimrod – Genesis 10:11.
  • During the reign of Sennacherib, it was an extremely important city and, at one point, was the capital of Assyria.
  • It was located on the eastern bank of the Tigris River, opposite the modern-day city of Mosul, north of Zab.
  • Its “greatness” was a reference to its size, not its reputation.
  • Nineveh was Israel’s worst enemy at the time.

Finally, a look at Assyria.

  • It was an ancient empire that was considered the symbol of terror and tyranny in the Near East.
  • It was located in northern Mesopotamia, modern-day Iraq.
  • It derived its name from the city-state of Asshur.
  • The city of Asshur was the center for worshipping the sun god Asshur.
  • The Assyrians were known for their brutality.
    • The grandson of Sennacherib, Ashurbanipal, was known for tearing off the hands and lips of his victims.
    • Tiglath-Pileser would skin his victims alive and make large piles of their skulls.
    • They would bury their victims alive.
    • They would impale them on sharp poles exposed to the hot sun.

Now that the stage has been set with an understanding of Jonah, Assyria, and the city of Nineveh, let’s start digging into the first chapter.

I’ll separate the chapter into three parts.

  • God’s command – verses 1-2.
  • Jonah’s response – verse 3.
  • The consequences of disobedience – verses 4-17.

God’s Command

The book begins with the phrase, “the Word of the Lord,” a phrase which only opens one of the books of the Bible in Jonah. The phrase occurs in many other biblical books but in the setting of a larger narrative. The phrase occurs seven times in Jonah, clearly indicating that even though Jonah was attempting to run from Yahweh, God never gave up on Jonah speaking God’s message to the city of Nineveh.

Verse two is short but packed with meaning.

  • “Get up!” is a call to take action. In this case, prepare for the journey and task Yahweh had prepared for Jonah. The prophet was assigned a mission from Yahweh.
  • “Go,” implies a sense of urgency to the mission. Jonah shouldn’t take his time; he must set out immediately for Nineveh.
  • I’ve already mentioned the word “great” is simply a description of the size of the city and not a reflection of a positive reputation in the region.
  • “Preach against it,” indicates a prophetic word from God against the city.
    • Jonah’s message would inform them that their wickedness was known by God.
    • The message would also be a proclamation of a coming judgment for their wickedness if they didn’t repent.
    • At this point, there are no further details about God’s message. However, from various sections of Jonah, we can conclude what those details included.
  • “Their wickedness has confronted Me” gives the reader the sense of the great sin committed by the Assyrians.
    • All sin is an affront to God.
    • Biblical writings include examples of specific groups of people who had become so wicked that God made a special call for localized judgment against them.
    • The Assyrians now had a bullseye of judgment placed squarely on their back.

Jonah’s Response

Verse three contains three main points in Jonah’s decision not to obey God.

  • The destination of Tarshish.
    • The significance of the destination is underlined by the fact Tarshish is mentioned three times in one verse.
    • At this point in history, the Phoenicians were the major sea-faring nation in the Mediterranean. Joppa was the major port in Palestine. 
    • Tarshish was a Phoenician city in southern Spain, just west of Gibraltar.
    • In essence, Tarshish was the westernmost point of the “world” as it was known at the time.
    • Jonah was attempting to flee to the “end of the world” in an attempt to disobey God.
  • Jonah’s decision and following (likely) actions indicated a deep and planned out act of disobedience.
    • The decision to flee to Tarshish indicates Jonah didn’t plan on returning.
    • The cost to sail to “the end of the world” was likely not a small fare. 
    • Jonah would have sold his property and possessions before heading to Joppa.
    • Jonah used the proceeds to pay his fare.
    • What we see is not a spur of the moment; I made a bad decision act by Jonah. Instead, his response to God’s instructions was a deliberate one that required planning.
  • Jonah fled from the LORD’s presence.
    • First, it’s important to note Jonah didn’t believe he could actually escape from the purview of God.
      • Numerous passages in the Old Testament prior to Jonah’s life clearly indicated Israel didn’t believe Yahweh to be a local deity.
      • Jonah affirms this in 1:9 by his description of God.
    • In the case of Jonah, it declares his unwillingness to serve God.
      • We already know that Jonah was a prophet of Yahweh.
      • If a prophet is unwilling to pass along the message entrusted to them, they were renouncing their role as a prophet.
      • Jonah’s actions signify open rebellion against God and His sovereignty.
    • The reader, at this point, may consider that Jonah didn’t go to Nineveh because of fear.
      • Scripture has numerous examples of prophets being called to speak against other nations. And outside of Amos’s visit to Israel, no other prophet had made a “personal appearance” to speak the prophecy in the presence of a foreign or enemy country.
      • In this case, Yahweh was asking Jonah to make a personal appearance and speak a word of judgment against a nation well-known for its brutality.
      • While it’s true Jonah may have feared for his safety, it’s clear that wasn’t the predominant one. If we fast-forward to 4:2, we see the reason is that Jonah “feared” the Assyrians would repent!

We could summarize the first three verses with three statements.

  • God calls people to serve Him.
  • God cares enough about sinners to send a message of hope, love, and grace.
  • No one can run from God.

The Consequences of Disobedience

We see from the very beginning of this section of the passage that God’s response to Jonah’s disobedience wasn’t long in coming. God was going to use Jonah’s disobedience as a “teaching moment” for the wayward prophet. 

Let’s consider the storm.

  • Storms were not uncommon at sea.
  • However, this was no ordinary storm. This was a storm Yahweh would use to teach Jonah a valuable lesson and to introduce himself to the sailors who may not have heard of Him yet.
    • It was a “violent wind” that God sent. We don’t know exactly how strong, but it was strong enough that the ship was in danger of breaking apart. When we add the fact that the ship was going to make a journey to the “end of the world,” it is safe to assume the ship would have been one of the largest in the merchant fleet.
    • God aimed the wind right at the ship carrying Jonah, much like a warrior hurls a spear at an enemy. 
    • The term “threatened” used here is one used in Hebrew to denote a human or divine subject and means to consider or plan. When understood in this light, the ship is personified and was determined to break apart. 
    • We should understand verse four to signify a cooperative effort controlled by God between the wind, sea, and the ship to thwart Jonah’s plan of running away from his calling.

Let’s look at the actions of the captain and the ship’s crew.

  • The storm was strong enough that each one “cried out to his god.”
    • An indication the crew was made up of sailors from multiple countries or locations.
    • Even though these were likely experienced sailors, their reaction indicates a powerful storm and/or a brooding uneasy feeling about the nature of the storm.
  • In an attempt to lighten the load and prevent the ship from sinking, the crew began to throw the cargo overboard.
  • While this was going on, Jonah had gone to the belly of the ship and had fallen asleep.
    • It’s possible he was physically exhausted from traveling to the port and boarding the ship.
    • It’s possible, but not likely, that the tossing of the ship made him sleepy.
    • It’s possible Jonah was suffering from spiritual and emotional exhaustion from his decision to turn and run from God.
  • The captain approaches Jonah and tells him “get up” and to “call” out to Yahweh in the hope that Jonah’s “god” will save them. Each of the phrases in the original Hebrew bears significance.
    • “Get up” is the same phrase Yahweh used when He commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh.
    • “Call” is the same verb as preach. 
    • It’s possible the captain felt it was Jonah who was responsible as he was the only one not making an appeal to a deity.
  • With no progress being made in appealing to the various deities called upon, the sailors relied on a standard practice at the time, the casting of lots.
    • The standard way of casting “lots” was to throw two stones, which were painted on one side.
    • If two unpainted sides landed up, the verdict was “no.”
    • If two painted sides landed up, the verdict was “yes.”
    • If the result was one of each, the lots were thrown again.
    • The casting of lots signified Jonah was in some way responsible for the storm.
  • Although the sailors use a similar phrase, “who is to blame,” both before and after the casting of lots, there is a different nuance to the question being asked.
    • Before the casting of lots, they wanted to know who was responsible for the storm.
    • The question posed after the lots singled out Jonah refers to the sailors wanting to know about Jonah; who he is, why he is on the ship bound for Tarshish, and his country of origin and people group.
    • They wanted answers quickly since their lives were in danger, and they wanted to understand why the storm was happening.

Now, let’s look at the discussion between Jonah and the crew.

  • For the first time in the book, Jonah speaks.
  • Jonah answers their questions with a simple, two-pronged response.
    • First, he was a Hebrew. By calling himself a Hebrew instead of an Israelite, Jonah was using terminology that would be familiar to the crew.
    • Second, Jonah worshipped Yahweh, “the God of the heavens, who made the sea and the dry land.”
    • The original Hebrew for worship used here is understood as “fear” or reverent awe and respect. By using this terminology, Jonah explicitly lets them know it was his actions that caused the storm.
    • Since Yahweh was the creator of the sea and the land, He was the creator of the storm.
  • Once the crew heard Jonah’s answers, they were even more afraid. The expression in the original Hebrew would be understood as “they feared with a great fear.”
  • Their fear was two-fold.
    • They were horrified the storm was a divinely initiated judgment.
    • They were filled with a holy fear because Jonah served a “god” who controlled everything.
    • To run from a god was foolish; to run from the “God of the heavens” was suicidal.
  • Their next question, “what have you done” is not a question that requires a response. It was a question/statement that equaled an admission of horror regarding their situation. The depth of their fear increased.
  • The sailors had now determined who was responsible for the storm and why the storm occurred. They were unfamiliar with the angry deity. Now, they wanted to know what could be done to appease Yahweh.
  • Considering Jonah’s actions to this point, his response to the sailor’s question is quite fascinating.
    • Jonah’s response is a confession of his responsibility.
    • Jonah understands his actions have resulted in a storm that was threatening to sink the ship and kill everyone on it.
    • He then tells the sailors to throw him overboard so the storm would stop.
      • Jonah’s actions don’t exhibit any sense of repentance.
      • Instead, being thrown overboard was simply a solution to the problem.
      • We know from his actions in chapter four he wasn’t showing compassion for the pagan crew. Instead, it seems it was his conscience directing his actions.
      • Jonah wasn’t willing to throw himself overboard. It could be because of fear, or it could be he viewed the crew as agents of God’s punishment.
  • At this point, the sailors are in a quandary. They feared Jonah’s God but weren’t willing, at least not at this point, to throw him into the sea.
  • Their solution was to try to get back to land and rid themselves of the troublemaking cargo.
  • However, their attempts proved futile. The harder they rowed, the worse the storm became.
  • As the situation worsened, they realized the only solution was to follow Jonah’s advice. The solution is an illustration that repenting from rebellion and disobedience often requires a radical solution.
  • Before the sailors follow through on Jonah’s solution, they make a three-fold petition to Yahweh.
    • First, understanding that Jonah is the one responsible for the storm, they make a plea they won’t die because of Jonah’s actions. They might have also feared they might face some type of judgment for throwing Jonah overboard, indirectly killing him.
    • Second, because the sailors were not a witness to Jonah’s actions and Jonah hadn’t been convicted in a legal hearing, they used the term “innocent” when describing Jonah.
    • Third, the sailors indirectly charged Yahweh as “guilty” in the judgment of Jonah. They understood Yahweh’s power and wanted to reaffirm their innocence in the event which was about to take place.
  • The sailors then picked Jonah up and threw him overboard.
    • It appears the effect on the storm was immediate, as the “sea stopped its raging.” 
    • Jonah was proven correct that Yahweh did control the seas.
  • The impact on the sailors was profound. The “fear” they felt was the same reverent fear or awe that occurred in verses five, nine, and ten.
    • In this case, it resulted in submissive actions on the part of the sailors towards Yahweh.
    • We don’t know what they “sacrificed” to Yahweh and what vows they made.
      • The cargo had been thrown overboard earlier.
      • The transport of edible animals on ships was a rare occurrence.
      • It could mean they threw their idols overboard as an acknowledgment of Yahweh’s power.
  • We now get to one of the most recognized and debated verses in the Bible; a fish swallowing Jonah and his “captivity” for three days.
    • First, there is no doubt Jonah’s survival in the belly of a fish for three days is a miracle.
    • Second, for those who believe this part is fictional, if God was able to speak creation into existence, why is it not possible for God to protect Jonah for three days and nights in the belly of a fish?
    • The word “appointed” occurs four times in Jonah and always points to Yahweh’s power to accomplish His will.
    • We shouldn’t get caught up in trying to determine what type of fish swallowed Jonah. Doing so is a red herring to deflect us from the bigger picture in the book. 

When we take a broad summary look at the first chapter of Jonah, we see an illustration of what occurs when followers of Christ backslide in their relationship with Him.

  • There are numerous causes of backsliding.
    • A wrong attitude toward God’s will.
    • A wrong attitude toward witnessing.
    • A wrong attitude toward enemies.
  • The path of backsliding is downward.
    • Down to Joppa.
    • Down into the ship.
    • Down into the sea.
    • Down into the fish.
    • Disobedience always leads downward.
  • The consequences of backsliding are tragic.
    • No longer hearing God’s voice.
    • Losing spiritual energy.
    • Losing the desire and power of prayer.
    • Losing the ability to witness to pagans.
    • Losing influence for good.

However, even in backsliding, God will pursue the backslider to restore the broken relationship.

Applications

  • When God has a message or plan for you, pursue it and don’t run from it.
  • Don’t let your actions break your relationship with God.
  • When you realize you’ve been disobedient, repent and return to God in humility and submission.    

Acts Lesson Fifty-six

Acts Lesson Fifty-six: Acts 28:11-31 – Paul in Rome

11 After three months we set sail in an Alexandrian ship that had wintered at the island, with the Twin Brothers as its figurehead. 12 Putting in at Syracuse, we stayed three days. 13 From there, after making a circuit along the coast, we reached Rhegium. After one day a south wind sprang up, and the second day we came to Puteoli. 14 There we found believers and were invited to stay with them for seven days. 

And so we came to Rome. 15 Now the believers from there had heard the news about us and had come to meet us as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage. 16 When we entered Rome, Paul was permitted to stay by himself with the soldier who guarded him. 

17 After three days he called together the leaders of the Jews. When they had gathered he said to them: “Brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or the customs of our ancestors, I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 After they examined me, they wanted to release me, since I had not committed a capital offense.  19 Because the Jews objected, I was compelled to appeal to Caesar; it was not as though I had any accusation against my nation. 20 For this reason I’ve asked to see you and speak to you. In fact, it is for the hope of Israel that I’m wearing this chain.” 

21 Then they said to him, “We haven’t received any letters about you from Judea. None of the brothers has come and reported or spoken anything evil about you. 22 But we would like to hear from you what you think. For concerning this sect, we are aware that it is spoken against everywhere.” 

23 After arranging a day with him, many came to him at his lodging. From dawn to dusk he expounded and witnessed about the kingdom of God. He tried to persuade them concerning Jesus from both the Law of Moses and the Prophets. 24 Some were persuaded by what he said, but others did not believe. 

25 Disagreeing among themselves, they began to leave after Paul made one statement: “The Holy Spirit correctly spoke through the prophet Isaiah to your  ancestors 26 when He said, 

Go to these people and say: 

You will listen and listen, 

yet never understand; 

and you will look and look, 

yet never perceive. 

27 For the hearts of these people 

have grown callous, 

their ears are hard of hearing, 

and they have shut their eyes; 

otherwise they might see with their eyes 

and hear with their ears, 

understand with their heart, 

and be converted, 

and I would heal them. 

28 Therefore, let it be known to you that this saving work of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen!” [29 After he said these things, the Jews departed, while engaging in a prolonged debate among themselves.] 

30 Then he stayed two whole years in his own rented house. And he welcomed all who visited him, 31 proclaiming the kingdom of God and teaching the things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with full boldness and without hindrance. (HCSB)

I’m going to split this lesson into three parts.

  • Sailing to Rome – verses 11-16.
  • Paul’s first meeting with the Roman Jews – verses 17-22.
  • The Jew’s reaction to the Gospel – verses 23-31.

Sailing to Rome

The group spent three months in Malta before continuing their journey to Rome. Based on standard sailing times in the Mediterranean, they likely left around the beginning of February. Let’s look at some details from this section.

  • The twin brothers were tied to Greek mythology. Their names were Castor and Pollux, the sons of Zeus.
    • They were considered protectors of sailors.
    • They were a common feature of Roman ships as a plea for safety on the seas.
    • When their constellation was visible in the sky, it was considered a favorable omen for a smooth voyage.
  • Luke doesn’t specify if all 276 people continued on this ship or not. In the end, it doesn’t matter since the narrative is about Paul going to Rome.
  • The first stop on the voyage was at Syracuse, about 80 miles away.
    • Syracuse is located in the eastern section of southern Sicily.
    • There were two harbors there.
    • During the Roman period, it was the capital of the island.
    • Luke doesn’t give details for the three-day delay. It is possible the ship was doing business, or the winds were not favorable during that time.
  • The second stop was at Rhenium, 70 miles from Syracuse.
    • Rhenium is located at the southern tip of the boot of Italy, opposite Sicily and at the entrance to the straits of Messina.
    • It’s possible this leg didn’t go as planned as Luke says they “sailed around,” which may indicate the ship needed to tack against the wind.
  • The next stop was at Puteoli, about 210 miles from Rhenium through the straits of Messina. 
    • They encountered a favorable wind as the ship made very good time between the stops.
    • In Paul’s day, Puteoli was likely the main port in Italy for the grain fleet.
    • It is now known as Pozzuoli.
    • It was located about eight miles northwest of Naples and 130 miles by foot to Rome.
  • In their final stop before Rome, the party met a group of Christians who invited them to stay for seven days.
    • We shouldn’t be surprised that a Christian community was already established in Puteoli when Paul arrived.
      • The edict of Claudius, which Luke referred to in Acts 18:2, dealt with a dispute in the Jewish community in Rome.
      • The dispute appears to have involved Christ and is evidence the Gospel had reached Italy by a.d. 49.
      • Paul’s letter to the Romans is possibly the best evidence for a Christian church being established well before Paul’s arrival.
    • We might also marvel at the amount of freedom Paul enjoyed while being in custody. The freedom he enjoyed speaks to the level of trust Paul had established with his Roman guards.
  • The group now completed the journey to Rome on foot. The journey was about 130 miles and would have taken five days by foot.
    • On the Appian Way, about forty-three miles south of Rome, was the stopping place known as the Forum of Appius. It was here that Paul first encountered Christians living in Rome.
    • The group continued on, and about ten miles later, they were met by more believers at a way station known as Three Taverns.
    • It’s possible the two groups of Christians were from different house churches within the capital. Only here are Roman Christians mentioned in Acts. They would serve as a constant source of encouragement to Paul during his time in Rome.
  • Verse sixteen acts as a bridge between the travel narrative and Paul’s witness in Rome. Although Paul was given quite a bit of freedom, he was still under the supervision of a guard. Paul was a witness in chains.

Paul’s First Meeting With the Roman Jews

It’s interesting to note that as Luke begins to wind down the events in Acts, Paul’s witness is focused primarily on the Jews living in Rome. The reason for Paul’s journey to Rome was his appeal to Caesar. However, Luke doesn’t include anything regarding that meeting. Maybe the reader shouldn’t be surprised after all. A familiar pattern is repeated here; Paul’s initial preaching to the Jews, which is initially received in a favorable manner, followed by resistance, and finally, Paul turning to the Gentiles. Luke has emphasized this theme, Jewish rejection and Gentile acceptance of the Gospel, throughout Acts. Now, let’s take a closer look at Paul’s meeting with the Roman Jews.

  • Paul initiated the first conversation with the Jews.
  • Looking back at verse seventeen, it was a meeting with the Jewish leaders in Rome.
  • Rome had a large Jewish community, but it wasn’t a homogenous and seamless community. From the context of the passage, it appears there were several synagogues since “many” leaders came to him.
  • Paul then gives an abridged version of the circumstances that brought him to Rome. 
    • He hadn’t done anything against his fellow Jews or their customs.
    • He had been arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans.
    • The Romans found no substance to the charges against Paul and wanted to release him.
    • However, at every step the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem objected to Paul’s release.
    • Paul had no accusation against Israel.
      • He was a loyal Jew.
      • He was not guilty of any crime against the Jews.
      • He was innocent of any ill intent toward them.
      • He only wanted their commitment to Christ.
    • As stated in previous lessons, the real point of contention between Paul and the Jews was Paul’s belief in the resurrection of Jesus, that Jesus is both Messiah and Lord.
  • The Jewish leaders in Rome told Paul they hadn’t heard anything about him, either in official correspondence or by word-of-mouth. Although this may surprise us, we must also remember that Paul had left for Rome as late fall was setting in and, as evidenced by the storm they encountered, winter wasn’t far behind. 
    • The most likely reason for the Roman Jews not to have about Paul is because of winter and the delay in correspondence.
    • The other possible, albeit less likely reason, is that the Roman Jews were making a conscious effort to dissociate themselves from Paul and escape any fallout from the result of Paul’s trial.
  • Their second response, to hear about the Christian “sect,” indicates a lack of knowledge about the movement. This may seem puzzling since there was a well-established Christian community in Rome. It’s possible this lack of knowledge was due to the edict of Claudius.
    • The edict was issued about ten years prior to Paul’s arrival in Rome.
    • It involved a dispute within the Jewish synagogue over Christ.
    • If the Jewish leaders really didn’t know much about the Christians, it would seem the edict caused the synagogues to isolate themselves from the Christians completely.
    • It’s also possible the Roman Jews were being diplomatic and were keeping as much space as possible from the situation involving Paul.
  • From the Roman Jew’s actions, we deduce they found nothing wrong with Paul and had no accusation against him.
  • The first encounter with the Roman Jews focused on Paul’s innocence.
    • Paul didn’t have a martyr’s complex.
    • He didn’t come to Rome to die.
    • From the context of the last few chapters in Acts, it’s clear Paul expected to be released.
    • After his release, he likely felt he would evangelize Rome and then move west towards Spain.

The Jew’s Reaction to the Gospel 

In contrast to verse seventeen, it appears that a significantly larger contingent of Jews visited Paul in this section. Let’s take a deeper look at the final section of Acts.

  • Luke mentions that “many” came to see Paul. In Paul’s first meeting with the Roman Jews, he only met with the leaders. Now, it would appear that others joined in the meeting with Paul.
  • Since Paul was under guard, the Jews were required to visit him in his quarters. 
  • Paul spent the entire day presenting the Gospel to them.
  • Paul’s presentation focused on two terms.
    • The kingdom of God.
      • The Jews always looked to the coming of the Messiah.
      • When the Messiah came, God’s kingdom would be restored in a renewed Israel.
    • Jesus.
      • Jesus is at the center of God’s sovereign rule.
      • God’s people are gathered around Jesus.
  • The message throughout Acts had been this had already occurred with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Paul presented the same message to the Roman Jews.
    • The Law of Moses.
    • The words of the Prophets.
    • Luke doesn’t specify which texts were used, but it’s safe to conclude they would have spoken about the Messiah’s suffering and resurrection.
    • Jesus also used the Law of Moses and the Prophets to speak about himself in Luke 24:27, 44-47.
    • Peter did the same in Acts 2:17-36 and 3:12-26.
    • Paul had previously spoken the same message in Pisidian Antioch in Acts 13:32-39.
  • The result was a sharp division between the Roman Jews.
    • Some were persuaded by Paul’s message.
    • Others refused to believe Paul.
    • However, the synagogue as a whole didn’t believe Paul’s message.
  • As the Jews were arguing or discussing Paul’s message, Paul put in one final shot by quoting Old Testament Scripture. Paul’s use of this passage prompted the Jews to leave en masse.
    • Paul uses a passage talking about future unbelief among the Jews and not a passage about the Messiah.
    • The term “correctly” in the original Greek means “the truth.”
    • The Holy Spirit spoke the truth through the prophet Isaiah about the unbelief in Israel.
    • Paul also begins to create “space” between himself and the unbelieving Jews.
      • In verse seventeen, he addressed them as brothers.
      • Now he addresses them with the term “your ancestors.”
      • Paul hadn’t stopped being a Jew, but his faith in Jesus separated him from the Roman Jews who refused to believe.
      • Paul wasn’t one of the hardhearted Jewish ancestors who rejected the Gospel.
  • The section from Isaiah that Paul quotes is from the Septuagint.
    • The Greek version of the prophecy focuses on the people’s stubbornness in refusing to accept the message.
    • Three types of perception are highlighted in the text.
      • Their eyes are closed to seeing the truth.
      • Their ears are closed to hearing the truth.
      • Their hearts are closed to accepting the truth.
    • An understanding of the message would have resulted in repentance and receiving God’s forgiveness and healing.
    • The Roman Jews matched the prophecy in Isaiah.
      • They heard Paul preach the Gospel, yet the hardness of their heart caused them to reject it.
      • In Paul’s message to the Jews, the Greek verb “to hear” occurs five times at key points.
      • The quote from Isaiah refers to hearing three times.
      • The point is hearing isn’t really hearing if there is no response to the message.
      • The final time Paul uses the Greek verb “to hear” is when he is talking about the Gentiles.
      • The Gentiles would hear with receptive hearts and repent.
  • As the Roman Jews left Paul, he declared the Gentiles would be the recipients of the Gospel.
    • However, we shouldn’t interpret this as meaning Paul had finally given up on the Jews.
    • Paul was always able to reach at least some Jews in his missionary journeys, including here in Rome. 
    • As Acts concludes, Luke writes that Paul welcomed all who visited him. This likely included some Jews.
    • The statement about the Gentiles responding to the message is not a declaration about Jewish exclusion from God’s Kingdom; it’s about the inclusion of Gentiles into God’s Kingdom.
  • Paul spent two years in Rome preaching the Gospel to all who visited him.
    • Although Paul was, in essence, under house arrest, he was still given the freedom to entertain visitors. 
    • Paul preached with boldness.
    • Paul preached without hindrance. This likely means the Romans allowed him to speak freely, seeing nothing dangerous or subversive in his message.
    • During this time, Paul was also busy writing epistles.
      • Ephesians.
      • Philippians.
      • Colossians.
      • Philemon.
    • Most believe Paul was released after this two-ear period, around a.d. 63.
      • Paul likely continued his evangelism in the eastern portion of the empire.
      • It’s also possible Paul fulfilled his desire to reach Spain with the Gospel.
      • In 2 Timothy 4:16-18, we read of a second trial containing a tone of resignation over Paul’s future.
      • Paul was beheaded in Rome by order of Emperor Nero around a.d. 67.
  • At the end of Acts, we see a Gospel that is without chains, victorious over every barrier of superstition and human prejudice.
  • Although Luke ends Acts rather abruptly, it wasn’t meant as a biography of Peter or Paul. Acts is a narrative about the early church’s expansion and influence on the world.
  • However, Acts is not a finished book. Chapter 29 is still being written. It is the longest chapter containing the largest amount of people involved in evangelism. Chapter 29 is being written by us, by every believer from the time of Paul until Christ’s return. The question posed to every follower of Christ is, “what will your contribution be?”

Applications

  • We need to have patience as we encounter storms and see things through to the end. Paul’s life was an endless series of storms, some more severe than others. Yet, Paul never lost sight of the commission he was given, taking the message of the Gospel wherever Christ sent him. Do our lives exhibit the same traits? Or do we put into the nearest port and call off our journey as soon as things get rough? 
  • Don’t be afraid to preach the Gospel. Fear was never an issue with Paul; it shouldn’t be with us, either. However, some people feel they aren’t qualified or are just uneasy talking about the Gospel. If your church has any classes on evangelism, join the class. If you aren’t in a small group, join one and bring up the topic of evangelism. You could even ask who is actively involved in evangelism and your desire to participate with them and learn. There are numerous good books about sharing your faith. A couple that I have read are Share Jesus Without Fear and Evangelism Is…How to Share Jesus with Passion and Confidence.
  • Don’t limit yourself to evangelizing only a specific group of people. Paul always had a heart for his fellow Jews, yet he only had marginal success with that group. Instead, the Holy Spirit led him to evangelize the Gentiles, and the results were amazing. There’s a lesson for us here. Don’t be dogmatic in your evangelism. You may have a preference but go where the Spirit leads you and watch an amazing harvest unfold. 

Acts Lesson Fifty-five

Acts Lesson Fifty-five: Acts 27:39-28:10 – Shipwrecked on Malta

39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land but sighted a bay with a beach. They planned to run the ship ashore if they could. 40 After casting off the anchors, they left them in the sea, at the same time loosening the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and headed for the beach. 41 But they struck a sandbar and ran the ship aground. The bow jammed fast and remained immovable, while the stern began to break up by the pounding of the waves. 

42 The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners so that no one could swim away and escape. 43 But the centurion kept them from carrying out their plan because he wanted to save Paul, so he ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to follow, some on planks and some on debris from the ship. In this way, everyone safely reached the shore. 

28 Once ashore, we then learned that the island was called Malta. The local people  showed us extraordinary kindness, for they lit a fire and took us all in, since it was raining and cold. As Paul gathered a bundle of brushwood and put it on the fire, a viper came out because of the heat and fastened itself to his hand. When the local people saw the creature hanging from his hand, they said to one another, “This man is probably a murderer, and though he has escaped the sea, Justice does not allow him to live!” However, he shook the creature off into the fire and suffered no harm. They expected that he would swell up or suddenly drop dead. But after they waited a long time and saw nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god. 

        Now in the area around that place was an estate belonging to the leading man of the island, named Publius, who welcomed us and entertained us hospitably for three days. Publius’s father was in bed suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went to him, and praying and laying his hands on him, he healed him. After this, the rest of those on the island who had diseases also came and were cured. 10 So they heaped many honors on us, and when we sailed, they gave us what we needed. (HCSB)

I’ll be splitting this lesson into two parts.

  • The shipwreck – verses 27:39-44.
  • Their time on Malta – verses 28:1-10.

The Shipwreck

As the sun comes up on the people aboard the ship, they come to the conclusion they didn’t know where they were. However, they did see a beach that offered the opportunity to sail the ship, so they hoped, onto land after their two-plus-week adventure of riding out a storm. Let’s take a look at this section.

  • The best way to get everyone to shore and assess the condition of the ship was to run it aground on the sand of the beach.
  • Since they now intended to sail the ship onto the beach, they no longer needed the anchors to hold them in place. The crew cut the rope securing the anchors to the ship.
    • A logical question would be, why didn’t they raise the anchors instead of cutting the rope?
    • It’s possible they knew the ship was beyond repair, and there was no need to keep them.
    • It could have been more dangerous to try and raise the anchors, either one at a time or all at once, under the current sea conditions.
  • The rudders of ancient ships were large paddles. During a storm, they would be raised and tied down on the deck of the ship. Now, it was necessary to lower the rudders and try and steer the ship onto the beach.
  • The foresail was in the front of the ship and was often a primary means of guiding ships as they sailed.
  • Their plan was going well.
    • They were moving again.
    • They were headed towards the beach, their intended destination.
  • Then, they hit a sandbar, and further forward progress became impossible.
  • Although Luke doesn’t specify, it would appear from the context of the passage, both this one and the preceding lesson, that the ship was now in an area where the waves were breaking as they neared the shored. 
    • The resulting waves crashing on the back of the ship were steadily breaking up the rear of the ship.
    • One gallon of water weighs 8.3 pounds.
    • It is easy to estimate that each wave would have hundreds of gallons of water crashing against the ship. This would translate to thousands of pounds of force repeatedly hitting the ship, which wasn’t moving.
  • It became apparent to those on the ship they wouldn’t be able to stay onboard, and if they didn’t get off quickly, they were in danger of being injured or killed as the ship continued to break apart.
  • The soldiers then decided to kill the prisoners before getting off the ship was necessary. 
    • Roman law held guards personally responsible for those placed in their charge.
    • Guards who allowed prisoners to escape could be executed in these cases.
  • However, Julius stopped the soldiers from killing the prisoners because he wanted to preserve Paul’s life. Let’s look at some components of this truth.
    • We see another example of a Roman official who intervened to save Paul’s life.
    • It is evident that Paul’s presence on the ship was responsible for the preservation of the others on the ship, specifically the prisoners.
  • With the skiff now gone, the only way to shore was either by swimming or holding onto pieces of the ship.
    • Those who could swim were ordered to go first.
    • The rest made it to shore by holding onto floating pieces of the ship.
  • Luke then reiterates that everyone on board made it safely to shore.
  • From Acts 27:23 on, it is clear Paul’s presence on the ship and God’s protection of Paul were responsible for the deliverance of all 276 people on the ship.
  • In an interesting reversal of fortunes where many ancient shipwrecks were attributed to one person on board the ship, here the opposite occurred. Paul had advised against sailing, and if they had listened to him, they would not have experienced the storm. It was Paul’s presence that was the key to the deliverance of all on board.

Their Time on Malta

I will split this section into two parts.

  • Recovering from the storm – verses 1-6.
  • Ministry in Malta – verses 7-10.

Remembering back to Acts 27:39, all the people aboard the ship had no idea where they were. Even the seasoned sailors were now in a new location. For us today, exploring and visiting new places can be quite exciting; however, in the ancient world, that was not always the case. Sometimes those new locations didn’t want visitors, and the situation could instantly turn violent. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case, as those aboard the ship all make it to land.

  • They found out they were on Malta. Luke doesn’t tell us whether or not anyone on board previously knew of Malta, but that isn’t relevant for the events that followed.
  • Although Malta wasn’t on their original path, it did offer a relatively easy journey to Rome.
  • From the actions of the residents of Malta, they may have become accustomed to shipwrecks along their shore.
    • They treated passengers with kindness.
    • They lit a fire to warm them and help them to dry.
    • It’s possible they also provided some type of shelter to protect them from the rain.
  • Paul, never afraid of hard work, assisted in the gathering of firewood. However, in gathering the firewood, Paul brought along an unwanted visitor.
    • Because of the cold and damp conditions, the cold-blooded snake was in a semi-hibernating state.
    • Whether the snake was directly in the fire or close, the heat revived the reptile, and as Paul placed the firewood, the snake bites and locked onto Paul’s hand.
    • The Greek term Luke uses to denote the snake is normally used to identify a viper. 
    • However, this presents a problem. Modern-day Malta has no poisonous snakes. 
      • It’s entirely possible in the intervening 2,000 years that all poisonous snakes have been eradicated from Malta.
      • It’s also possible the snake wasn’t a viper but a harmless species of snake.
  • Although there is doubt from the text on whether or not the snake was a viper, the natives of Malta had no such reservation. They viewed the snake as venomous and expected Paul to perish.
    • The residents of Malta obviously knew their island better than we do.
    • Their reaction to the situation is the best clue as to how we should interpret the classification of the serpent.
  • From the perspective of the residents and the fact everyone had survived a shipwreck, they were convinced that Paul was receiving divine judgment.
    • Paul may have survived the shipwreck, but he wouldn’t survive the snake bite.
    • Their view reflected a common ancient concept.
      • The Romans told a story of a prisoner who escaped a shipwreck but died from a snake bite while recovering on the beach.
      • Jewish tradition had a story of a murderer who was killed by a viper.
    • But Paul was no criminal, and he shook the snake off of his hand and continued with what he was doing, showing no adverse effects from the snake bite.
  • As the residents of the island realized Paul was suffering no ill effects from the bite, they changed their view of Paul.
    • Paul was no longer a criminal receiving punishment for his actions.
    • Instead, in their minds, Paul was a god!
  • The reader might expect Luke to expound upon this incident and provide details on how the islanders reacted when they decided he was a god and how Paul handled their reaction.
  • But that wasn’t the point for Luke in writing this section. Luke was emphasizing the fact Paul was completely under the protection  of God.
    • Paul was delivered from a storm at sea.
    • Paul didn’t die after being bitten by a viper.
    • In both cases, Paul was the beneficiary of miracles.
    • Throughout Acts, miracles are associated with service to God. The miracles provide the opportunity for sharing the Gospel. 
    • Although Luke doesn’t give any evidence that Paul shared the Gospel while on Malta, it would seem to be entirely out of character if he didn’t seize the opportunity to talk about Jesus with the residents of the island. 

Luke now switches scenes from the initial landing on the beach to Paul’s healing ministry on Malta. What Luke doesn’t specify is how much time elapses between the initial landing on the beach and what transpires beginning in verse seven. We could make an educated guess based on the normal sailing window in the Mediterranean, and it was around late September to early October when they encountered the storm. Include the accepted norm of sailing beginning again in February and the likelihood they would have started their trip as soon as it was possible, then anywhere from one to three weeks could have transpired between their initial arrival on Malta and the healing ministry beginning. Let’s look at these four verses in detail.

  • Publius is identified as the leading man on the island. Researchers have discovered inscriptions on Malta with the same name and title.
  • Luke says that Publius welcomed “us” and showed hospitality for three days.
  • Who are the “us” Luke is referring to?
    • It’s possible it includes all 276 people aboard the ship. However, that is unlikely given the fact that this is a substantial number of people to stay in one place, even if it was the residence of the leading official of the island.
    • It makes more sense Luke is referring to the small Christian delegation.
  • Publius’s father was sick with fever and dysentery. 
    • It may have also included gastric fever caused by a microbe in goat’s milk.
    • At one time, it was so common it was referred to as Malta fever.
  • Paul went to the sick man and laid hands on him while praying.
    • This is the only time in Acts where praying and laying on of hands occurs together in a healing.
      • They occur together in commissioning narratives.
      • Paul was healed of his blindness when Ananias laid hands on him, but prayer wasn’t mentioned.
      • The closest parallel is when Jesus healed Peter’s mother-in-law in Luke 4:38f.
    • The news of the official’s father being healed spread like wildfire across the island.
    • Luke says the rest of those on the island who were sick came to Paul and were healed.
    • When it came time for everyone to continue the journey to Rome, the residents of Malta honored them and provided provisions for the remainder of their journey.
    • Luke’s emphasis on Maltese hospitality bears a closer look.
      • They welcomed the shipwrecked party with “extraordinary kindness.”
      • Publius welcomed them and showed hospitality.
      • The travelers were honored and given provisions as they readied to depart for Rome.
      • The hospital the Maltese extended reminds us of the hospitality the Sidonians showed in Acts 27:3.
      • Perhaps Luke was showing that simple pagan “barbarians” could extend hospitality to others and possessed the potential to become Christians.
      • Their hospitality would be a stark contrast to the reception Paul would receive from the Jews in Rome.

Applications

  • As we go through life, there will often be times when things don’t go according to plan. In this passage, it was the ship striking the sandbar and breaking apart. We shouldn’t be surprised when we hit “sandbars” in our lives. When that happens, we shouldn’t panic or lose sight of the end goal. Instead, make adjustments as necessary and continue forward with whatever God has for you to do.
  • Expect hospitality and friendship in unlikely places. It may not happen often, but God will present opportunities when we least expect it for us to be blessed and to bless others. Friendship and encounters with others should never be a one-way street unless it is us, blessing unbelievers. 
  • Use your talents and spiritual gifts whenever the opportunity arises. Too often, we try to live our “ministry” in a box instead of using it freely. For example, a former pastor of mine related a story about a very famous “healing” minister who was traveling through the area and charging fees to attend a healing conference in an auditorium. The former pastor said if this person really had a gift of healing, he should be visiting the hospitals free of charge instead of selling tickets and making a hefty “appearance” fee.  

Acts Lesson Fifty-four

Acts Lesson Fifty-four: Acts 27:1-38 – Sailing for Rome

When it was decided that we were to sail to Italy, they handed over Paul and some other prisoners to a centurion named Julius, of the Imperial Regiment. So when we had boarded a ship of Adramyttium, we put to sea, intending to sail to ports along the coast of Asia. Aristarchus, a Macedonian of Thessalonica, was with us.  The next day we put in at Sidon, and Julius treated Paul kindly and allowed him to go to his friends to receive their care. When we had put out to sea from there, we sailed along the northern coast of Cyprus because the winds were against us. After sailing through the open sea off Cilicia and Pamphylia, we reached Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. Sailing slowly for many days, we came with difficulty as far as Cnidus. Since the wind did not allow us to approach it, we sailed along the south side of Crete off Salmone. With yet more difficulty we sailed along the coast and came to a place called Fair Havens near the city of Lasea. 

By now much time had passed, and the voyage was already dangerous. Since the Fast was already over, Paul gave his advice 10 and told them, “Men, I can see that this voyage is headed toward damage and heavy loss, not only of the cargo and the ship but also of our lives.” 11 But the centurion paid attention to the captain and the owner of the ship rather than to what Paul said. 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided to set sail from there, hoping somehow to reach Phoenix, a harbor on Crete open to the southwest and northwest, and to winter there. 

13 When a gentle south wind sprang up, they thought they had achieved their purpose. They weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 But not long afterward, a fierce wind called the “northeaster” rushed down from the island. 15 Since the ship was caught and was unable to head into the wind, we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 After running under the shelter of a little island called Cauda, we were barely able to get control of the skiff. 17 After hoisting it up, they used ropes and tackle and girded the ship. Then, fearing they would run aground on the Syrtis, they lowered the drift-anchor, and in this way they were driven along. 18 Because we were being severely battered by the storm, they began to jettison the cargo the next day. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s gear overboard with their own hands. 

20 For many days neither sun nor stars appeared, and the severe storm kept raging. Finally all hope that we would be saved was disappearing. 21 Since many were going without food, Paul stood up among them and said, “You men should have followed my advice not to sail from Crete and sustain this damage and loss. 22 Now I urge you to take courage, because there will be no loss of any of your lives, but only of the ship. 23 For this night an angel of the God I belong to and serve stood by me, 24 and said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Paul. You must stand before Caesar. And, look! God has graciously given you all those who are sailing with you.’ 25 Therefore, take courage, men, because I believe God that it will be just the way it was told to me. 26 However, we must run aground on a certain island.” 

27 When the fourteenth night came, we were drifting in the Adriatic Sea, and in the middle of the night the sailors thought they were approaching land. 28 They took a sounding and found it to be 120 feet deep; when they had sailed a little farther and sounded again, they found it to be 90 feet deep. 29 Then, fearing we might run aground in some rocky place, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight to come. 

30 Some sailors tried to escape from the ship; they had let down the skiff into the sea, pretending that they were going to put out anchors from the bow. 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut the ropes holding the skiff and let it drop away. 

33 When it was about daylight, Paul urged them all to take food, saying, “Today is the fourteenth day that you have been waiting and going without food, having eaten nothing. 34 Therefore I urge you to take some food. For this has to do with your survival, since none of you will lose a hair from your head.” 35 After he said these things and had taken some bread, he gave thanks to God in the presence of all of them, and when he broke it, he began to eat. 36 They all became encouraged and took food themselves. 37 In all there were 276 of us on the ship. 38 When they had eaten enough, they began to lighten the ship by throwing the grain overboard into the sea. (HCSB)

I will split this lesson into two parts.

  • Smooth sailing – verses 27:1-8.
  • Stormy seas – verses 27:9-38.

Smooth Sailing

As the journey begins, we should note that Luke is in the travel party since he used the term “we” were to sail to Italy. There were sections in Acts where Luke was separate from Paul, but that is not the case as the journey begins. Let’s take a closer look at this section.

  • Two people are identified in the party besides Paul.
    • Luke may have been allowed to accompany Paul as his personal physician.
    • Aristarchus was most likely Paul’s personal attendant.
  • In addition to Paul, there were other prisoners on the ship.
    • A closer look at the original Greek shows the meaning to be “others of a different kind.”
    • These other prisoners were going to Rome to be executed and not to stand trial.
  • The prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius.
    • Being a member of the imperial regiment meant Julius was part of the auxiliary forces comprised of the local population.
    • Julius could also have been a special officer representing the emperor and not attached to a specific military unit.
  • The group boarded a ship from Adramyttium.
    • Adramyttium was the seaport of Mysia, southeast of Troas.
    • The ship was most likely a coastal vessel. These would travel along the short and stop at various ports along the journey.
    • It would have been unusual to find a ship sailing directly to Rome from Caesarea.
    • Julius probably took the first available ship with the intention of transferring to another ship later in the journey.
    • The ports along the southern coast of Asia (modern-day Turkey) would offer many chances of finding a ship bound for Rome.
  • The first stop was at Sidon, approximately seventy miles north.
    • Most likely, the ship needed to load or unload cargo there.
    • Paul was also allowed to visit Christian brothers and sisters in the city.
    • The establishment of a church in the city may be linked to early mission work mentioned in Acts 11:19.
    • Receiving “their care” was a reference to Paul receiving food and supplies for the journey since passengers were expected to provide for themselves.
  • Julius extended kindness to Paul by allowing him to visit these Christians.
    • It is apparent Paul garnered a high level of trust and esteem from the centurion.
    • It also testifies to the generous spirit of Julius.
    • Once again, Luke portrays Roman military leaders in a positive light.
  • Once the ship left Sidon, it sailed along the northern coast of Cyprus, using the island to block unfavorable winds. 
  • The ship then headed north from Cyprus to sail along the southern coast of Asia, skirting the regions of Cilicia and Pamphylia before reaching the port Myra located in Lycia.
    • Lycia was the southernmost portion of Asia.
    • Myra was the main port for ships that carried supplies throughout the Roman empire.
      • Grain from Egypt passed through the port.
      • It was the main hub for ships sailing between Alexandria and Rome.
      • Grain ships were often quite large, often in excess of one thousand tons and over one hundred feet in length.
  • From the context later in the chapter, it is evident the group now boarded a grain ship headed to Rome.
  • It was customary for grain ships to sail to the north of Crete as they made their way to Rome.
  • The distance from Myra to Cnidus is approximately 130 miles and shouldn’t have taken “many days.” 
  • However, the winds were not cooperating, and as the ship approached Cnidus, located in modern-day southwest Turkey, they needed to divert course and sail south of Crete.
  • Instead of sailing north of Crete and off the southern coast of Greece, the ship is now pushed far off course.
  • The trip was getting more arduous, and with difficulty, the ship made its way to Fair Havens.
  • It was time for the group to take stock of the situation and decide how they should proceed.

Stormy Seas

Up to this point, Luke had given precise details regarding the route of travel. Now, he provides a fairly precise clue as to the time of year. Luke lets us know the “Fast” was already over. He is referring to the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur since these events took place in either a.d. 59 or 60, which would place it towards the end of September or the beginning of October. The time the lost from Myra to Fair Havens had resulted in a delay where navigation on the Mediterranean was problematic. It was well known that navigation in this part of the Mediterranean was dangerous after September 14th and impossible after November 11th, and didn’t resume until the beginning of February. Let’s consider some points as they discuss whether to continue or not.

  • Paul may not have been a ship’s captain, but he was familiar with the Mediterranean and would likely know they were now entering a time of the year where travel would be extremely dangerous.
  • They had already encountered bad winds, which had blown them off course and delayed them.
  • The port at Fair Havens was not considered a suitable place to spend the winter.
    • It was open on a 180-degree arc and faced to the east.
    • The dangerous winter winds were generally from the east and northeast.
  • The ship’s crew knew of another port, Phoenix, a short distance to the west, where the opening of the port faced northwest and southwest, creating a better shelter from the winds.
  • Whether or not Paul’s words about the dangers of continuing the journey were prophetic, we don’t know for certain.
  • Since this was likely an imperial grain ship, the centurion would make the final decision.
  • After what was most certainly a lively debate about the pros and cons, the centurion decided to listen to the captain’s advice and continue the journey.

They left the relative safety of the harbor and began what they thought would be a short journey along the southern coast of Crete to Phoenix. However, not long after leaving Fair Havens, the winds again became their enemy. Let’s now take a closer look as the storm begins to rage.

  • As the ship left Fair Havens, a gentle southerly wind began to blow, and the sailors felt this was a positive sign they could make it safely to Phoenix.
  • The total distance from Fair Havens to Phoenix was about 35 miles in total.
    • They would travel six miles west and round Cape Matala.
    • The route would proceed north and then due west again.
  • With a favorable wind, this should have only taken a few hours.
  • The topography of Crete now likely came into play.
    • Crete has numerous mountains, some rising 7,000 feet above the sea.
    • Anyone who has ever lived around mountains knows it is not unusual to get powerful downslope winds.
  • The Greek word Luke uses to describe the “fierce” wind is typhonikos
    • In both Greek and English, the word describes a whirling, cyclonic wind formed by opposing air masses.
    • Luke called it the “northeaster,” the deadly winter storm of the Mediterranean.
  • Ships of that day were not built to withstand such storms. Instead of trying to fight against the wind, they would have shortened the sails and attempted to make progress the best they could towards Phoenix.
  • However, the ship was pushed about 25 miles southwest past an island called Cauda.
  • As the ship passed along the southern coast, they were offered a brief respite from the wind and were able to secure the ship as best they could.
    • The first step was to pull in the lifeboat. This was completed with some difficulty and likely required the assistance of some of the passengers since Luke uses the term “we.”
    • Then they used rope or cables passed under the ship to help reinforce the hull.
    • Finally, they lowered the drift anchor to slow their progress.
  • They were fearful of running aground on Syrtis.
    • Syrtis was a series of sand bars and shoals located off the North African coast.
    • They were located about 400 miles south of Cauda.
    • They were a well-known menace to shipping, and the sailors were taking no chances about the ship running aground.
  • In a storm of this magnitude, there wasn’t much a 1st-century ship could do.
    • They likely had lowered the sails.
    • Those on board were spectators as the storm drove the ship along.
  • It’s reasonable to conclude the ship was developing leaks as they began to throw the cargo overboard.
    • They may have thrown some of the grain overboard, but we know from later in this passage they didn’t throw all of it overboard.
    • Non-essential gear would also have been some of the first to go.
    • The crew was playing a balancing act; how much to discard to keep the ship afloat without throwing too much away.
  • The crew had now lightened the load to the point that the ship could stay afloat. For days those on the ship didn’t see the sun or the stars, only an ominous gloom as the storm continued to rage.
  • With no compass, the crew could only guess their location, and they were on a downward spiral of losing hope of being saved.
  • Luke may have intended a hidden meaning by the use of the phrase “being saved.”
    • He could have meant their physical salvation.
    • He could have meant their spiritual salvation.
      • For the Christians on board, they were already saved in a spiritual sense.
      • The same couldn’t be said for the pagans.
      • Luke doesn’t say whether or not Paul had preached to those on board during the storm, but it would seem, given the circumstances, that Paul didn’t miss an opportunity to share the Gospel.
  • As we read the account of this storm, we are reminded of the storm during the voyage of Jonah.
    • In the case of Jonah, the crew also threw cargo and equipment overboard.
    • They feared for their life.
    • Ultimately, the ship and crew were delivered.
    • However, there is a significant difference between the two events.
      • Jonah’s presence is the reason for the storm, and when he was thrown overboard, the storm ceased, and deliverance was ensured.
      • In the events in Acts, it’s Paul’s presence that leads to the deliverance of the ship and all those on board.
  • In the depths of their despair, Paul comes and speaks a message of encouragement.
    • Paul begins with an “I told you so” moment. It would be easy to misunderstand and think Paul was chastising them. 
    • Paul’s previous message was prophetic. He warned of the danger, was ignored, and it had come to pass.
    • In the same way, Paul’s current message, that everyone on board would be saved, was prophetic. Paul had been correct with his first message. Now, they needed to trust that he was speaking the truth once again.
    • The message was given by an angel to Paul during the night. The angel’s message contained two promises.
      • Paul would appear before Caesar. This was God’s plan, and it wouldn’t fail.
      • All those on the ship would be delivered from the storm.
      • Once again, unmerited grace will deliver people when all seems lost.
    • The situation now changes from one of despair to one of hope.
  • The deliverance does come with one caveat; the ship would have to run aground on an island. The implication is the ship would be lost in the process of its deliverance.
  • It was now the fourteenth day since the ship had been driven by the storm across the Adriatic Sea. The location needs some clarification. 
    • In modern times we understand the Adriatic Sea to refer to the body of water between Yugoslavia and eastern Italy. However, ancient writers referred to it as the Gulf of Adria.
    • In ancient times the Adriatic Sea was understood to mean the north-central Mediterranean between Greece and Italy and extending south to Crete and Malta.
  • The ship had been blown across 475 miles from Cauda to Malta.
  • On the northeastern tip of Malta, there is a feature known as Point Koura. The breakers against Point Koura can be heard for miles. It may have been the sound of these breakers that alerted the crew to approaching land.
  • The crew then began to take soundings. With the depth decreasing on two successive soundings, the crew realized the ship was rapidly approaching shore, with the inherent danger of hitting the rocks and breaking apart.
  • To avoid that possibility, the crew dropped four anchors to slow the ship and keep the bow pointed towards the coast. This was a common practice among ancient seafarers.
  • In a scene reminiscent of the shipwreck of Odysseus, the pagan sailors now prayed to their “gods” for daylight and deliverance. 
  • Their prayers would be ultimately answered, not by their “gods” but by Paul’s God.
  • However, before their final deliverance occurred, there was still some drama to unfold.
  • Some of the sailors demonstrated a lack of faith in their future deliverance and decided to take matters into their own hands.
  • Under the pretense of putting anchors out from the bow of the ship, which would help to stabilize it and was not an unusual practice, some of the sailors attempted to use the lifeboat and escape to shore.
  • Paul, knowing their intentions, informed the centurion that unless everyone stayed aboard, they wouldn’t be saved.
  • Obviously, Paul’s advice now went unquestioned as the soldiers immediately cut the ropes holding the lifeboat before anyone could get in.
  • The sun now began to rise on their day of deliverance.
  • Paul, knowing they would soon be headed to land, urges everyone to eat. Whether those on board had not eaten during the fourteen days or they had eaten very little because of the storm. Eating to regain energy was now essential.
  • Paul also tells them eating is connected with their deliverance, and none of them will suffer loss as they make their way from the ship to shore.
  • Paul then conducts what some have mistakenly interpreted as a form of the Lord’s Supper.
    • The breaking of bread and giving thanks was a traditional Jewish form of blessing a meal.
    • Paul was practicing this custom in the presence of a predominately pagan group.
    • Luke often depicted Jesus in meal scenes.
    • The implication is that Paul and other Christians are reminded of how Jesus broke bread with his disciples and continues to do so, as well as continuing to be present in the lives of believers.
    • The meal would have a meaning to the Christians on the ship that the pagans didn’t share. The Lord was always present with His people. The meal was more than sustenance; it was a sign of Jesus’ presence in their deliverance.
  • Paul’s confidence rubbed off on his shipmates as they all ate.
  • One might wonder why Luke would include the exact number aboard the ship, 276. The most plausible reason is to show this was a significant event, a host of people were saved from certain death at sea, and no one suffered any harm.
  • After everyone had eaten enough, they made final preparations to beach the ship. This involved throwing the remaining cargo overboard to lighten the ship and allow it to get closer to the shore before running aground.

Applications

  • Acting in a trustworthy and courteous manner will often lead to better treatment and acceptance from others, even if the two parties are on opposite sides of a dispute. Paul’s conduct had been above reproach, and the Roman soldiers treated him with respect and some measure of freedom. As we face struggles and persecution, we would do well to remember this. Too often, our present world would say we need to fight and be aggressive as we confront opposition. Except in confronting the Sanhedrin’s lies, Paul’s conduct had always been the pinnacle of cordiality.
  • Even if our message isn’t accepted, we should still speak the truth in whatever situation we find ourselves in. If our message has been rejected in the past, it shouldn’t prevent us from speaking the truth in the future. It’s easy to become discouraged and withdraw if we are consistently ignored or rejected. However, we need to continue to speak the truth no matter how often we are rejected.
  • If we find ourselves in the middle of a storm, do we act in a calm and faithful manner, or do we panic and look for the nearest exit? Sometimes the exit will lead us into bigger trouble. Go to God in prayer and surrender your situation to Him.
  • Give thanks even during your storms. Sometimes the storms come to test our faith. Sometimes the storms are to shape us for future service. We never know when God is using trials to mold us into what He desires. We are created to worship and serve God, not ourselves. 

Acts Lesson Fifty-three

Acts Lesson Fifty-three: Acts 25:23-26:32 – Paul Before Agrippa

23 So the next day, Agrippa and Bernice came with great pomp and entered the auditorium with the commanders and prominent men of the city. When Festus gave the command, Paul was brought in. 24 Then Festus said: “King Agrippa and all men present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish community has appealed to me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he should not live any longer. 25 Now I realized that he had not done anything deserving of death, but when he himself appealed to the Emperor, I decided to send him. 26 I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore, I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that after this examination is over, I may have something to write. 27 For it seems unreasonable to me to send a prisoner and not to indicate the charges against him.”

26 Agrippa said to Paul, “It is permitted for you to speak for yourself.” 

Then Paul stretched out his hand and began his defense: “I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that today I am going to make a defense before you about everything I am accused of by the Jews, especially since you are an expert in all the Jewish customs and controversies. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently. 

“All the Jews know my way of life from my youth, which was spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem. They had previously known me for quite some time, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand on trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers, the promise our 12 tribes hope to attain as they earnestly serve Him night and day. King Agrippa, I am being accused by the Jews because of this hope. Why is it considered incredible by any of you that God raises the dead? In fact, I myself supposed it was necessary to do many things in opposition to the name of Jesus the Nazarene. 10 I actually did this in Jerusalem, and I locked up many of the saints in prison, since I had received authority for that from the chief priests. When they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 In all the synagogues I often tried to make them blaspheme by punishing them. I even pursued them to foreign cities since I was greatly enraged at them. 

12 “I was traveling to Damascus under these circumstances with authority and a commission from the chief priests. 13 King Agrippa, while on the road at midday, I saw a light from heaven brighter than the sun, shining around me and those traveling with me. 14 We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice speaking to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’  

15 “Then I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ 

“And the Lord replied: ‘I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet. For I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen and of what I will reveal to you. 17 I will rescue you from the people and from the Gentiles. I now send you to them 18 to open their eyes so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that by faith in Me they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified.’  

19 “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. 20 Instead, I preached to those in Damascus first, and to those in Jerusalem and in all the region of Judea, and to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works worthy of repentance. 21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple complex and were trying to kill me. 22 To this very day, I have obtained help that comes from God, and I stand and testify to both small and great, saying nothing else than what the prophets and Moses said would take place — 23 that the Messiah must suffer, and that as the first to rise from the dead, He would proclaim light to our people and to the Gentiles.” 

24 As he was making his defense this way, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, “You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad!” 

25 But Paul replied, “I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. 26 For the king knows about these matters. It is to him I am actually speaking boldly. For I am convinced that none of these things escapes his notice, since this was not done in a corner. 27 King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.” 

28 Then Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?” 

29 “I wish before God,” replied Paul, “that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am—except for these chains.” 

30 So the king, the governor, Bernice, and those sitting with them got up, 31 and when they had left they talked with each other and said, “This man is doing nothing that deserves death or chains.” 

32 Then Agrippa said to Festus, “This man could have been released if he had not appealed to Caesar.” (HCSB)

I’ll split this lesson into three parts, with the last two being further divided.

  • Paul’s introduction to King Agrippa – 25:23-27.
  • Paul’s testimony – 26:1-23.
    • Introduction – 26:1-3.
    • Paul’s faithfulness to the Jewish hope – 26:4-8.
    • Paul’s persecution of Christ – 26:9-11.
    • Paul’s commission from Christ – 26:12-18.
    • Paul’s witness for Christ – 26:19-23.
  • The outcome – 26:24-32
    • Paul’s appeal for conversion – 26:24-29.
    • Paul headed to Rome – 26:30-32.

Paul’s Introduction to King Agrippa

Before diving into this passage, let’s take a moment to consider the first verse in this passage. One Jewish man who had been in confinement under false charges for over two years was drawing quite a bit of attention from the upper circles of society. Consider those who were gathered for this meeting.

  • King Agrippa and Bernice.
  • Festus.
  • Key military men.
  • Officers of the Roman government.
  • Likely some of the Jews.
  • Since Paul had been under house arrest for two years, it’s likely the vast majority of those present were aware of some of the details of the case.
  • Jesus had promised Paul he would witness before “Gentiles and kings” in Acts 9:15. It was now coming to pass.

Let’s look at Festus’ introduction of Paul to King Agrippa.

  • Festus was exaggerating when he said that the whole Jewish community appealed to him.
    • It made Festus appear important in the eyes of the Jews.
    • It also would make the Jews who were present feel better about the situation.
  • Festus declares that Paul is innocent of any wrongdoing, at least in regard to Roman law.
  • However, since Paul had appealed to Caesar, Festus was now obligated to send him.
  • Festus is implying that he is absolved of any consequences regarding Paul.
  • Paul is now responsible for the whole situation because he appealed to Caesar.
  • Festus now gives the agenda for the meeting. He needed something to put in the report that would go to the emperor regarding Paul.
  • But Festus had no specific charges against Paul. 
  • Festus needed Agrippa’s background and knowledge of Jewish religious matters to assist him in crafting a message to the emperor. It would make no sense to send Paul to Rome without any specific charge. 
    • These reports were not optional.
    • It could be fatal to Festus’ career if he failed to support his decision to send Paul to the emperor.
    • There’s a bit of irony in Festus’ statement in verse 27. The whole situation was unreasonable, and Paul should have been set free.

Paul’s Testimony

Introduction – 26:1-3

The first three verses are the formal introduction to Paul’s speech. The king now formally gives permission for Paul to address the assembly. Paul continues the solemn atmosphere set by the circumstances and audience who had gathered.

  • Paul begins his address by stretching out his arm to begin his defense.
    • This was not a gesture intended to quiet the assembly. Such a move would have been offensive to the king.
    • Instead, it was the typical outstretched arm of a Greek philosopher presenting his argument.
  • Of all the speeches recorded in Acts, this one is presented in the most elevated and cultured language.
  • This was not a defense in a formal sense. The hearing was designed to assist Festus in determining what to write in the report that would accompany Paul and be presented to the emperor.
  • Paul was not defending himself against any charge. Instead, he was giving his personal testimony as a Christian.
  • Paul then continues by saying he is fortunate to make his case before Agrippa. 
    • As the Jewish king, Agrippa would be familiar with Jewish customs and issues of dispute.
    • He was also a Hellenistic king living a Roman lifestyle.
    • This unique combination gave him perspective on the situation from both viewpoints.
    • It was also the reason Festus was eager to have Agrippa hear the case.
  • By this point, there is only one accusation left that was brought by the Jews.
    • Festus has already found Paul innocent of sedition and stirring up political unrest.
    • The charge that Paul defiled the temple had vanished due to a lack of witnesses.
    • The only charge left is that Paul was teaching against Jewish law.
  • Festus knew Agrippa was a better judge on those matters.

Paul’s Faithfulness to the Jewish Hope – 26:4-8

Paul begins his witness by outlining his early life and education in Judaism.

  • He grew up among his own people.
  • He lived and was educated in Jerusalem.
  • He was a member of the Pharisees and had lived according to the strictest requirements of Jewish religious law.
  • Just as Paul had done before the Sanhedrin, he states the real issue behind his arrest is his belief in the resurrection and that Jesus was the resurrected Messiah.
  • The hope of the promise made by God to Israel was the resurrection. 
  • The hope Paul spoke of aligned perfectly with Judaism but was missed by the religious leaders.
  • Let’s consider Paul’s “Jewishness.”
    • He was born a Jew.
    • He was raised a Jew.
    • He was trained in the strictest Pharisaic interpretation of Judaism.
    • He was still a Jew.
    • It was his faith in the resurrection that pointed to his loyalty to Judaism.
    • Israel’s hope in God’s promises was fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus.
  • The hope of the resurrection is something about which the Jews were passionate.
    • They prayed for it night and day.
    • It was shared by all of Israel, the twelve tribes.
    • Yet it was this very hope that caused the Jews to hate Paul, make false accusations against him, and attempt on several occasions to kill him.
  • Paul then turns from addressing primarily Agrippa to addressing the entire crowd. Was Paul aiming for the Jews or the Gentiles?
    • Gentiles couldn’t understand the idea of a resurrection.
    • Except for the Sadducees, the Jews believed in the resurrection.
    • It was Christ’s resurrection that Paul always pointed to.
    • However, all of them, Jew and Gentile, found it incredibly hard to believe.

Paul’s Persecution of Christ – 26:9-11.

  • Not only had Paul been a strict Pharisee, but he had also been a persecutor of Christians.
  • Paul had once felt it was God’s will for him to do everything possible to oppose Christ and His followers.
    • Paul had received official documents from the Sanhedrin to find and arrest Christians.
    • In this address, Paul changes the title for followers of Jesus. He now calls them saints. 
    • Paul also adds that he was actively involved in the execution of Christians, “I cast my vote against them.”
  • Paul’s retelling of his actions now gets darker.
    • Paul attempted to make the saints blaspheme the name of Christ, most likely under duress.
    • Paul would route out the Christians in the synagogues.
    • Paul then expanded his activity to cities other than Jerusalem. 
      • Either Paul doesn’t mention them, or Luke feels it unnecessary to record them.
      • We do know it was on the way to Damascus where Paul’s persecution ended with his personal encounter with Jesus.

Paul’s Commission From Christ – 26:12-18

This is the third time in the book of Acts where Paul’s conversion is recorded. However, this one has the fewest details.

  • Paul’s blindness is not mentioned.
  • The visit with Ananias is not mentioned.

Instead, Paul’s emphasis is on his commission from Christ. But it’s not only the commission; it’s the connection of the commission with the location on the Damascus road. On his way from Jerusalem and Jewish territory to Damascus and Gentile territory, Paul receives his commission to bring the Gospel to all people. Paul wanted to place the emphasis of the encounter on the commission and not the experience.

There are several significant differences in the Damascus road encounter in this passage.

  • Paul saw a “heavenly light.”
    • This occurred around noon and outshone the sun. In previous accounts, the light was associated with Paul’s blindness.
    • Here, the heavenly light is associated with Paul’s commission to witness the light of the Gospel.
    • In addressing Agrippa and the Gentile audience, Paul wasn’t concerned with relaying the miracle of recovering his sight. He was attempting to bring them the light of the Gospel he had received on the road to Damascus and the commission to carry it to all people.
  • This is the only account that says all those traveling with Paul fell to the ground.
    • The purpose of stating that is to emphasize the reality of what happened.
    • Although everyone fell to the ground, only Paul experienced the conversion and calling.
  • The message Paul heard was in Hebrew.
  • Although all three accounts list the question Jesus asks Saul, “Why are you prosecuting me,” this is the only one that adds, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”
    • This statement was a common proverb at the time, especially among Greeks and Romans.
    • It would be understood to mean, “why are resisting your destiny or fighting the will of the gods.”
    • It fit the context of what Paul was doing.
    • Paul was fighting against God’s will of Paul being set apart from birth, Galatians 1:15, to accomplish His purposes.
    • It was futile and senseless to fight against God.
  • Christ’s commission to Paul is given in a format that reminds us of how Old Testament prophets were commissioned by God.
    • Paul was directed to rise and stand on his feet – Ezekiel 2:1.
    • Paul was being sent to proclaim the Gospel – Ezekiel 2:3.
    • Jesus would rescue Paul from his enemies – Jeremiah 1:8.
  • Paul’s task is contained in two words.
    • Servant.
      • This emphasizes Paul’s relationship with Jesus.
      • He would serve his Master.
      • He would be faithful to his Master.
    • Witness.
      • Paul would testify to what he had seen and heard.
      • Paul had seen the risen Lord.
      • Paul had heard His commission.
      • Paul’s entire story in Acts demonstrated his faithful witness before Jews and Gentiles, Greeks and Romans, the poor, the educated, and kings.
  • The role of witness is key for every disciple.
    • Everyone who has encountered the risen Christ is commissioned to be a witness. 
    • Christ was the servant of God who opened the eyes of the lost and bring light to the nations.
    • Those who proclaim Jesus brought the light of the Gospel.
  • The turning from darkness to light is to turn from Satan to God.
  • The idea of two extremes, light and darkness, is found throughout the New Testament and is a metaphor for divergent ways of living.
    • To live in darkness under the dominion of Satan and apart from God; to live a self-centered life.
    • To live in the light under the direction of the Holy Spirit following God’s will; a life marked by righteousness and not self.
  • Paul concludes his summary of the Gospel by describing two results of responding to Jesus.
    • The forgiveness of sins and the removal of the barrier that separates us from God.
    • A place among the saints in God’s eternal kingdom.
  • Paul had effectively used this hearing to preach the Gospel to Agrippa and the Gentiles who were gathered.

Paul’s Witness for Christ

Paul now continues with his personal history as a witness for Christ.

  • Paul had been obedient to the heavenly vision he received.
  • Paul had not “kicked against the goads.”
  • Paul had been faithful to preach the Gospel wherever the Holy Spirit led him.
    • Damascus.
    • Jerusalem.
    • All the regions of Judea.
      • There is scholarly disagreement on what this means as Acts doesn’t specify this in detail.
      • It could mean Paul preached in every region among both the Jews and Gentiles.
      • This understanding would fall in line with Paul’s pattern of preaching first in the synagogues before turning to the Gentiles.
      • Paul followed this pattern in Acts 13-19.
    • To the Gentiles.
  • Paul then states the reason for his missionary work.
    • People would repent.
    • People would turn to God.
    • These two actions go hand-in-hand. True repentance is evidenced by turning from sin and turning to God.
    • The proof of repentance is a life characterized by good works. The works don’t lead to salvation but are evidence of salvation.
  • Paul then gives details about the opposition he faced on his return to Jerusalem while carrying out the Lord’s commission.
    • A mob seized him and was intent on killing him because of his witness of Christ.
    • However, through this event and previous ones, Paul was kept safe by God.
    • There were no boundaries in Paul’s ministry.
      • He traveled far and reached many different people.
      • He witnessed to both the poor and the rich.
      • There were no social boundaries.
      • Paul preached the same message to the peasant farmers of Lystra and the Jewish king.
  • Now Paul gives his final reference to the Gospel in this speech; the key to salvation.
    • It was the death and resurrection of Christ.
    • This is a typical pattern throughout Acts.
      • Referring to the Old Testament and demonstrating from “Moses and the prophets” that the Messiah must suffer and rise from the dead.
      • Paul doesn’t reference the Old Testament texts in this passage.
    • Paul was the servant of the Servant. He was fulfilling his commission to be a witness to Christ.
    • As Paul was witnessing for Christ, it was allowing Christ to be the light to all nations and enabling anyone who responded in faith to share in the resurrection life.

The Outcome

Paul’s Appeal for Conversion – 26:24-29

When Paul spoke about the resurrection, it was too much for Festus. Previously, Festus had told Agrippa about his lack of understanding regarding Paul’s claim that Jesus had risen from the dead. In a way, Festus’ response of “Too much studying is driving you mad” was a compliment. Festus was showing genuine respect for Paul’s knowledge while at the same time showing a level of prejudice that is often directed at scholars. Paul politely tells Festus he is far from crazy; he is speaking the truth to the gathering.

Paul then directs his following remark to the king. We need to remember this meeting was held for the benefit of Agrippa, and Paul had consistently addressed the king with his speech.

  • The content of the speech would have resonated with the Jewish king.
  • Paul emphasized his complete Jewish background.
  • The roots of the Gospel as the hope of Israel.
  • Agrippa knew the Jewish hope in the resurrection.
  • Agrippa would have been familiar with Scripture.
  • Agrippa would understand what Paul was talking about when he referenced the prophets.
  • Agrippa would have at least some understanding of Christians and their belief in the resurrection “since this was not done in a corner.”
  • The phrase “not done in a corner” could have a couple of meanings.
    • It wasn’t hidden from public view.
    • It wasn’t a small or insignificant movement.
    • Most likely, Paul meant it as a combination of both.
    • Paul had been open in his evangelism wherever he went, and Christianity was not some small movement. It was expanding and reaching many in that region of the world.
  • Paul then becomes even bolder in his remarks.
    • He states he knows the king believes in the prophets.
    • If Agrippa believed the prophets, why didn’t the king believe Christ was the Messiah?
    • Paul’s direct message to the king put him in an awkward position.
      • Agrippa didn’t want to deny the prophets.
      • But he wasn’t prepared to become a Christian.
      • Agrippa followed the expedient political decision; he evaded Paul’s question.
  • Paul was not discouraged at all by the king’s response. 
    • He left the invitation open to accept Christ.
    • Paul didn’t care whether or not it was an easy or difficult decision to convert.
    • Paul didn’t care how long it would take for them to come to a decision.
    • Paul wished that everyone present would become a Christian.
  • It is reasonable to believe that Paul would have continued his message if the king had not stood up.
  • Agrippa had heard enough of the matter.
    • He knew Paul was innocent of any wrongdoing.
    • He knew he wasn’t ready to become a Christian.
    • In a way, he was the most civilized of the Jews Paul encountered in Acts.
      • There was no sense that Paul deserved to be stoned for his position.
      • He listened to Paul politely, even showing interest.
    • In the end, Agrippa was not persuaded to repent and convert to Christianity.
  • In a way, Agrippa’s lack of decision tragically summarizes the Jews in Acts.
    • They were God’s people.
    • The prophets were their prophets.
    • Christ was their Messiah.
    • His resurrection fulfilled their hope.
    • They were still not persuaded.

Paul Headed to Rome – 26:30-32

The delegation who heard the exchange between the men now got up and left the meeting. The phrase “those sitting with them” likely referred to Agrippa’s advisory council on the issue with Paul. If that is true, this only enhanced the position that Paul was innocent of all charges because Luke states they all declared they couldn’t find anything which deserved death or imprisonment. For the fifth time, Paul has been declared innocent.

  • By the Pharisees – Acts 23:9.
  • By the Roman commander Lysias – Acts 23:29.
  • Twice by Festus – Acts 25:18, 25.
  • By Agrippa and the council.

Agrippa then states that if Paul hadn’t appealed to Caesar, he could’ve been released. However, when Paul made his appeal, he started a process that couldn’t be undone.

  • Festus couldn’t stop the appeal as this would have been an insult to the emperor and an admission he was incompetent by letting the entire process occur.
  • However, Festus now had enough information to craft a letter that accompanied Paul.
  • Paul was innocent of all charges.
  • Consider the parallels with Jesus.
    • Both the governor and the king declared Jesus innocent, yet he went to the cross – Luke 23:14f.
    • Both the governor and the king declared Paul innocent, yet he went to Rome in chains.

Applications

  • No matter the circumstances, be respectful in your conduct and plead your case with truth and restraint. Paul displayed remarkable qualities as he spoke to the gathering. Granted, this wasn’t the unruly Jewish mob he was addressing. Still, his conduct was above reproach.
  • Always base the words you say on the truth. Paul didn’t need to embellish anything. He spoke a powerful and truthful message. The recipients of the message were not offended by Paul.
  • Never miss an opportunity to present the Gospel. It took great courage to speak so boldly to Agrippa, yet Paul never wavered. Each person, regardless of their position, wealth, education, or social status, will be judged before God. Each will either enter heaven to spend eternity in God’s presence or be banished to hell to spend eternity apart from God.