In today’s reading the missionary efforts of Paul and his co-laborers are challenged by a variety of outside forces for reasons that, on the surface, have little to do with the gospel. Remember that Luke is making choices about what to include and exclude in his book: his observations have both a narrative and a teaching quality to them.
Back in chapter 13, the Jewish leaders in Pisidia had first invited Paul and Barnabas to give a “word of encouragement for the people.” Even after preaching the Gospel of Jesus they were unchallenged. But the next Sabbath, when it seemed the whole city came out to hear them, the synagogue leaders were filled with jealousy and began to contradict what was spoken by Paul, reviling him. We’ve seen this before, haven’t we? Today these Jews follow Paul and Barnabas to Lystra, where they stir up trouble even among the Gentiles.
On Paul’s second journey he comes to Macedonia, to Philippi, where he casts out an evil spirit that’s possessing a slave girl. When her owners, who had been exploiting her ability to prophesy, saw that their hope of gain was gone, they accused Paul and Silas as troublemakers, landing them in jail. Follow the rapid details of what happens that night: an earthquake at midnight, the terror of the jailer, Paul shouting in the dark… and the comedic turn of fear onto the heads of the magistrates.
Also in chapter 16 look out for a subtle change from third person narrative to first person. It’s a brilliant human touch. I don’t want to tip you off too much, but it sounds like Paul picked up more friends on this journey than Silas and Timothy.
In the middle of all this is a journey to Jerusalem, where a decision must be made once and for all regarding the Gentile converts. What transpires is a most significant turning point, but is more an observation of God’s evidence than a human decision. The Apostles come to share Gamaliel’s earlier prophecy: “If this plan or undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!”
Our verse for this week is Hebrews 13:8: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Acts 14 through 16. Now let’s read it!
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.