On Paul's final visit to Jerusalem, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. From bad advice on how to correct wrong perceptions, to a misunderstanding and a mob mentality, Paul could have been understandibly bitter with the results of this disastrous visit. However, he kept the right perspective, that God can use bad situations, caused by bad information, and acted upon by bad people, to spur us to deeper commitment.
Every time we participate in the Lord's Supper, we should remember that this special time of remembrance is a symbol of the love of Jesus. We should also celebrate the truth of His return. Finally, we should treat this as something special because we come together with the church, not just of today, but with the church throughout time, when we observe this ordinance.
As Paul was making his way to Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit was telling him, and others, that he was headed for much trouble there. Many of these other people discouraged Paul from continuing; though their intentions were good, they were completely misunderstanding the message they were being given. We, too, must be sure that we do not misinterpret what God is telling us, and be careful to not end up playing the role of the tempter in their lives.
In today's passage, Paul bids goodbye to the Ephesian church. While it was sad from an emotional perspective, looking at Paul's message to them shows us what we should leave behind us when it is time to go - a testimony to others, faithfulness that helps others, and a sure foundation for their faith.
When Paul encountered philosophers while traveling alone through Athens, he siezed the opportunity to address the people where they were, using that as an inroad to preach the gospel. We, too, have a great opportunity in our world, where 90% of Americans still believe in a “higher power” of some sort, to speak about the gospel. It still runs contrary to human understanding, but God can still change hearts when His truth is declared.
As Paul continued through his travels in Macedonia, he finds himself in the city of Athens. Struck by their idolatry, Paul seeks to meet the residents of Athens where they are, in their context to share the truth of the gospel. This passage is a great example of how we, in 21st century America, should seek to share the gospel message with the people around us, wherever they happen to be.
Paul and Silas find themselves thrown in prison after casing a spirit of divination out of a slave girl who had been following them. As they were locked in a cell, their feet in the stocks, singing and praising God, an earthquake of supernatural origin caused all of the doors and locks to be opened. When the jailer saw that the prison was open and all of his prisoners must have escaped, he despaired and planned to take his own life. When Paul called out to stop him, and assured him that all of the prisoners were still in their cells, the jailer asked the most important question of his life. What must I do to be saved.
Following the mission team split, Barnabas and John Mark continued on to visit the churches that were started on the first missionary journey. Paul and Silas traveled throughout Asia-minor with the plan to spread the gospel as they went. Instead, the Spirit of God prevented them from the work in Asia-minor, and instead directed them to Macedonia, where some of the strongest New Testament churches began, including the church at Philippi.
As Paul and Barnabas continue on their mission work, a point of conflict arises concerning the inclusion of John Mark in the mission work. This passage teaches us that even though we may share a vision with other believers about the work of the kingdom, conflict will arise within the body. When it does, we need to seek forgiveness and reconcilliation, and we need to stand amazed that God will use our folly to further the growth of his kingdom.
Decisions have a great impact, setting a course for success or failure. Today's passage takes us to one of the first doctrinal decisions the early church made as a body, and when we look at that decision, we know it was the right one. Its echoes remind us to not be ruled by tradition, to remember what God has done in the past, to be firmly anchored in the Word, and to protect the fellowship of our body.