Do you have a friend, a co-worker, maybe a spouse or a family member who is a bit of a train wreck? They make bad decisions that lead to worse decisions. They are always in a crisis, they call you up again at 3AM to pick them up from somewhere they shouldn’t be. You know who I am talking about? If you don’t, it might be you :).
It’s exhausting being a friend or a family member of a train wreck. The closer your relationship, the more exhausting it is. Because the truth is that we’re not created to observe human relationships like train wrecks, detached and uninvolved. We’re tied to these people that God has placed in our lives. We don’t just watch them crash, at times we feel that we’re crashing with them - that perhaps “train wreck” is not that adequate a picture, its more like a shipwreck and we are in the boat with them, and if they go down, we go down together.
In Acts 27, the apostle Paul actually has this experience of being tied to the ill-fated decisions of those he is travelling to Rome with. They literally ship wreck. And the big theme of this chapter is that God has providentially placed Paul on this ship with these men - 276 of them - to warn them of their danger and to proclaim the hope that he has in god to them. They do in fact go through the crash together, but through it all, they also reach the other side together. As we work through this chapter, we see precisely why Paul is on this boat, and may it encourage you as you at time question, when your friend or family member is crashing again, why am I here? What am I to do?
German Philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer observed, “All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident.” In Acts chapter 26 we see truth passing through the first two stages with the apostle pressing hard to persuade his hearers into the third.
While there is only one formal trial described in this chapter, there are actually two men on trial here. In the first half of the chapter, Paul is on trial before Felix, the governor of Judea. In the second half of this chapter, it is Felix himself who is on trial, but not before Paul, before the supreme judge of the universe. As we look carefully at these two trials, we will see the difference in how the world accuses and the spirit convicts.
These past few years have seen the role of law enforcement spark controversy in various communities. While African American communities have always had what could be charitably described as an “uneasy” relationship with government authorities, the shooting death of Trayvon Martin was significant, for as I observed last week, while there have been many eras throughout world history that could be characterized as an “age of rage” the internet has brought the rage home to many of us, almost to an overwhelming degree. After Trayvon there was Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and the hashtag, #BlackLivesMatters became a movement, and a polarizing one at that. Those who defended the police as those who are trying to do an impossible job, employed the counter hashtag #bluelivesmatter, and lines were drawn in the sand.
This all corresponded with the rise of Donald Trump, who promised to restore law and order in American cities as part of his pledge to make America Great Again, and after his unlikely victory protests erupted in various american cities, sometimes erupting in violence as we saw last month in Charlottesville between the Alt-Right and Antifa, and sometimes it seems that anarchy rules on the streets. If America is a boiling pot, there are times when the waters spill over into Canada. The alt-right is here. Antifa is here. The anarchists are here. the government is here.
I don’t bring this up today to be sensational or to try to preach from the newspapers. But only to state that there are serious questions being asked today about the legitimacy of government to enforce laws and the manner in which our governments in particular enforce the law, and as Christians we not only live in this nation under the law, but we work with and go to school with and drink coffee in the shop with people who either distrust or defend, or sometimes detest the government and law enforcement, and we get in conversations, in which people may ask us, what do you think, and so often our answer as Christians is, I try not to get involved in all that.
It’s been said that we live in an age of outrage. Author Mark Manson writes:
Outrage is everywhere today, on the political left and right, with old people and young people, people of all races and economic backgrounds. We may live in the first period of human history where every demographic feels that they are somehow being violated and victimized. From the wealthy billionaires who have somehow convinced themselves that their 15% tax burden is simply oppressive. To the college kids who hijack stages and scream threats at people because their political views differ from their own.
Most people believe that people are becoming more polarized. According to the data, this is actually not true. People’s political beliefs are not that different than they were a few decades ago. What is changing, the data indicates, is how we deal with the viewpoints that make us uncomfortable.
It isn’t that our beliefs have changed, it’s that the way we feel about people we disagree with has changed. In short, people have become less tolerant of opposing opinions. And their reactions to those opinions has become more emotional and outrageous.
The era in which the New Testament was written has been referred to as one of these ages of outrage. Political tensions were extremely high in Palestine, and in its principle city, Jerusalem. And in Acts 21, the Apostle Paul returns to Jerusalem, led there by the prompting of the Holy Spirit, who has all along been preparing Paul that suffering and imprisonment will await him there. And in verse 17, Paul enters Jerusalem, steps into the tinderbox, and yes, is greeted by outrage. Not at first, and not by everyone, but by the end of this chapter, he is engulfed in it.
The personal journey of the apostle Paul begins in chapter 21 with Paul faced with a choice. You see, Paul knows precisely where the Spirit is leading him, yet all along the way strangers, friends, even his closest coworkers try to dissuade him from the path set before him. Even more difficult is that they seek to persuade him through so in very convincing, even spiritual means. And these first verses of chapter 21 are a bit foreign to us, a bit frightening to us, because they speak to a level of spiritual discernment, that quite frankly I don’t know how many of us would be well-prepared to sift through. What do you do when you believe the Spirit is telling you one thing, and everyone else - people you spiritually admire - is telling you something else?
Today, as we continue in the book of Acts, we see the passing of a baton, the baton from the apostles, the apostle Paul in particular, to a group of men set apart to lead the church at Ephesus. They meet and they say good bye at the beach of Miletus It’s one of the most moving stories in the Bible, perhaps it is for me because it was the passage my first youth pastor taught us on the night that he told us he was finishing up his ministry among us and would be transferring elsewhere. It’s a tale of departure. But within this sad tale of departure, the life of ministry is set before us in a compelling way, a calling way.
It sees like today we have a lot of people who are famous for very little. Celebrities who are famous for being celebrities. Today, we’re going to look at someone who tops them all, a guy who is famous for sleeping in church. Euthychus in Acts 20. Some commentators focus on anything other that the that a young man dies and is resurrected from the dead in the middle of the worship service. There’s another interpretation that focuses on the incident with Eutychus falling out of the window, and I call it the “poor Eutychus” interptreation. This is a modern interpretation which reads the passage through a somewhat humorous lens, often emphatic to young Eutychus who feel to his death an innocent victim of a preacher too in love with the sound of his own voice to get the sermon done before too long. Yet Luke’s intent with telling us the story of Eutychus is to warn us, that we might not spiritually slumber when we are so fortunate to have the word of God come to us.
In Acts chapter 19, the Apostle Paul comes to Ephesus, and encounters two groups of people who are trying to life some pale imitation of the Christian faith, for they each only possess and practice half of the gospel, to their frustration and indeed to their destruction. One group has heard the word of repentance, but knows nothing of the Spirit-empowered life. The other group tries to imitate the power of the Spirit, but has not first submitted to the word of repentance. the word of repentance which we proclaim, and the power of the Spirit in which we proclaim it are inseparable - two sides of the same coin.
We’re continuing through the missionary journeys of Paul, travelling with him from city to city, particularly as he has been called to bring the gospel to the Greeks, and here now he is in Greece with the Gospel. In Acts 18, we find Paul in Corinth. Corinth was the provincial capital of the southern province of Greece. It was nearly the size of Ottawa, and one of the leading business centres of the Ancient world. Corinth is a fascinating city, a city of staggering immorality - in fact, they Greeks had turn the name of the city into a verb referring to sexual immorality. But what’s conspicuous about this chapter, in which the gospel goes to Corinth, is how very little details Luke provides us about the mission there. We’re told that Paul spends at least 1.5 years there, the longest time spent in any city thus far, but very little is recorded out side of the the conversion of Crispus, the head of the synagogue, and the tribunal before Gallio, which surprisingly, had a pretty positive outcome for Paul. Other than that, the chapter is almost a travelogue, introducing us to some new places and people, but not much else. This is the main takeaway I am left with from the Acts chapter 18: This is God’s mission, not my mission. Not your mission. God graciously uses us and our different gifts, but it is he who sends, he who equips, He who provides the growth. There is no room for pride in Christian ministry. No room for ego, or for making our own individual kingdoms.