How Wise Were They?

The most beautiful story in history is the birth of our Lord, Jesus Christ, which we celebrate every Christmas. Joseph and Mary, along with a string of other characters, remind us of how holy His birth was to all Christians. But through centuries of translations, this special event has become inundated with a lack of facts and/or misinterpretations. Let’s revisit a section of the nativity’s chain of events – that which involves the three wise men. I think it will surprise you to learn a few details never explicitly revealed in the Bible. For this blog, I will refer to the nativity story as written in the Book of Matthew 2:1-12.


Who Were the Three Wise Men?

Matthew tells us they came from “east of Jerusalem.” If we examine the historical facts, east of Jerusalem was the Parthian Empire (also known as Persia), which is today’s ancient Iran. They rivaled Rome during the time of King Herod’s reign and occupied much of Palestine.

Image of Persian Empire courtesy of Wikipedia

When the Medes (ancient Iranians) and Persians conquered Babylon, the Persians formed a priesthood of wise men known as magicians or magi. This appears to be the point of origin for the wise men, who held dual priestly and governmental authority. They were called the magi of the Parthian Empire but were NOT considered kings. (So, how did we invent the Christmas song, We Three Kings??) They were perhaps advisers to the kings.

Most residents of the empire practiced the Zoroastrianism religion, now considered being the oldest practice in the world. They believe in one universal, supreme deity, Ahura Mazda, or the “Wise Lord.” Despite their religion, they understood a new Savior would be born through the prophet Daniel’s prophecy. (Daniel 9:24-27)


Names of the Three Wise Men

Following the format of most stories in the Bible, the three wise men were never named, and only legend and many interpretations assigned the names Gaspar, Melchior, and Balthasar. The Catholics kept the names and honored them as kings and saints, but their real names were never revealed in scriptures.

The three wise men, today, are called “Magi,” “the Three Wise Men,” and “three kings.” We’ve already confirmed they were not kings. “Wise men” translated is “magos,” which means an Oriental scientist, magician, sorcerer, or wise men. They interpreted dreams, were fortunetellers and royal astronomers. The gospel writer, Matthew, referred to them as ma’goi, or magi.


How Did the Wise Men Become Involved in the Birth of Jesus?

Many territories around Bethlehem had close links with King Herod, including the Parthian Kingdom. They knew Herod as a treacherous king who committed many murders, including his wife, her brother, and father, many friends, and military leaders. He didn’t trust anyone.

Image of King Herod courtesy of Wikipedia

The day arrived when the wise men appeared in Jerusalem, and they began asking questions around town. They wanted to know where they could find the new King of the Jews. A major stir developed because people believed their earthly king was Herod.

When Herod learned of the chatter, he became furious because he was the only king of the land. He approached Jewish religious leaders who told Herod what was written in God’s word. They told him the Messiah would be born in the town of Bethlehem:

“But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.” Micah 5:2

Furious at the news, Herod secretly called a meeting with the wise men. They told King Herod they witnessed a star which they believed to be the prophecy of the Jewish King. (Many Christians conclude the wise men followed the star, but the Book of Matthew only says they SAW a star).

King Herod, the conniving leader he was, acted thrilled about the magi’s news, but he was seething inside. He sent them to Bethlehem to find the Messiah.

“Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.” Matthew 2:8


The Magi’s Journey

The Gospel of Matthew does not place the wise men at the birth of Jesus. It is written they arrived at a house with a young Jesus, by His mother’s side. It’s estimated He was about forty days old to two years of age, but not in a manger. They dropped to their knees and gave praise to the new Savior.

Image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org

The evening of the magi’s visit, David, the archangel, paid a visit to the wise men. He warned them not to return to Herod, and he also told Joseph that night to pack up his family and move to Egypt for safety.

The wise men “departed into their own country another way.” (Matthew 2:12) Realizing he was snubbed by the magi, King Herod madly ordered the death of every boy between the ages of birth and two years old. He thought he would find the Messiah, but not before his death.


How Wise Were They?

I believe they were quite wise men! The word wise means having good judgment. They studied the word of God and obeyed His commands, even though they were of another religion.

Are the three wise men fact or legend? We can decipher the answer by reviewing the written facts above, but there is one profound message in their story… wise people acknowledge their need for a Savior.


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Before There Was Santa

The excitement of Christmas is right around the corner. Shoppers fill the malls while jolly men dressed in red suits with a white beard chuckle, “Ho Ho Ho,” to the smiling children. Oh, there’s nothing better than good cheer this time of the year!

Santa Claus, a commercialized entity in the United States, was a mere Coca-Cola sketch in 1931, which grew into a life of its own. But, before there was Santa, the true patron saint of children, St. Nicholas, filled the shoes (quite literally). Yes, this is the true story that links the roots of Santa Claus and a man named Nicholas.

Nicholas was born about 280 A.D. in the village of Patara on the southwest coast of Turkey. A devout Christian, he was left with a large inheritance when his wealthy parents died in an epidemic. He gave all of his money to the needy, sick, and those in distress. A servant of God, they blessed him with the title of Bishop Nicholas at a young age. His heart, though, remained with children.

One would not think such an honorable man (and the first Santa) could be a victim of Christian persecution, but this event tells us otherwise. In 325 A.D., Nicholas attended the Council of Nicea meeting, and the fundamentals of Christian faith was the topic of discussion. He challenged a lecturer, named Arius, on the beliefs of Orthodox Christianity. An argument ensued, and Nicholas slapped Arius in front of the Roman Emperor Constantine. The Council put Nicholas in chains, stripped him of his leadership position, and jailed him for assault.

Nicholas prayed for forgiveness and humility. He hoped God would forgive him. A recall of the story claims the Lord visited him in prison one night, removed his chains, and returned his garments. The next morning, prison guards discovered him praying and dressed in his bishop attire. The Emperor received word of the mysterious event and ordered Nicholas to be released – it was divine intervention. Nicholas rejoined the Council of Nicea and helped to create the Orthodox Christian religion as we know it today.

Many stories are told of Nicholas’ good deeds through the centuries, and they portray him as a gift-giver. But how did he receive this name? The following incident forever links him to Christmas stockings…

A poor man had three daughters whom he wanted to marry off to prospective husbands. In those days, however, a woman’s father offered a dowry for marriage. The larger the payment, the better the chance of finding a husband. Having no money, he knew his daughters would soon be sold into slavery.

Nicholas learned of the family’s harrowing story. On three different occasions, bags of gold balls were tossed through an open window of the poor man’s house, and they landed inside the stockings and shoes, drying near a fire. Today, three gold balls are one of the symbols for St. Nicholas. Do you recognize the connection to Christmas stockings?

You may also ask how St. Nicholas was linked to Christmas, so I will tell you. After his death in 343 A.D., many miracles involving children occurred, and they were all contributed to St. Nicholas. Small gifts and candy silently appeared for poor children on the holiday celebration, Feast of St. Nicholas, which is celebrated on December 5 and/or 6. Are the stories true? I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Image courtesy of Pinterest

Most European countries still celebrate the Feast of St. Nicholas today. It is a day about giving and recognizing those who contribute to society. Good children receive treats or small gifts in their shoes. The Europeans teach us that to celebrate Christmas, large amounts of gifts unnecessary – keep it simple to retain the real reason for the season.

Over the centuries, St. Nicholas transformed into another similar figure called Santa Claus. Known as Sinterklaas in Holland, their customs entered the United States and the fat man in a red suit, was soon born. But, let us not forget the roots of St. Nicholas, who came before there was Santa. Compassion, charity, and giving the greatest gift of all – himself – took center stage. This should be the image of Christmas!


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Creating Creches

Last Christmas, my wife and I attended the largest private showing of manger scenes in the world. Made of every substance possible, I was in awe of their delicate beauty. I immediately knew we would have to collect nativity sets – I was hooked! The inspiring creches represented almost every country in the world, and every cost range too.

Nativities from all over the world – images owned by Bicks Books LLC

So, this year, as we began gathering topics for the Christmas blogs, I remembered the local church’s display of nativities. Detoured from my train of thought, I began searching the internet for sets made in Bethlehem. I couldn’t believe the splendor of these handmade creches of biblical olive trees. With my mind really ambling now, I wondered how long ago people made the sets, which signifies Jesus’ birth, thus today’s Christmas blog.

It surprised me to learn Saint Francis of Assisi, in 1223, created the first nativity scene in the town of Greccio, Italy.  He wanted to make an extraordinary experience for people who attended Mass at Christmas, and others who visited the area. But, his scene differed from those we purchase on the internet because he brought it to life!

Saint Francis of Assisi

Inspired by a recent trip to the Holy Land, he set up the Christmas scene in a cave just outside of town. It featured a wax figure of the baby Jesus, costumed people playing Mary and Joseph, a live donkey and ox, which a friend loaned St. Francis.

During the Mass, Francis told the Christmas story, then delivered a sermon. Afterward, many people strolled to the cave to watch a live enactment of the sacred event. He told the story of Mary and Joseph with tears and piety, and people responded with joy. His first manger scene became so popular that others soon followed his lead.

With time nativity sets evolved into an artisan craft. Today, the oldest set remains in Italy. Constructed in 1289, out of marble, it is attributed to Arnolfo di Cambio. He was an Italian architect and sculptor whose most famous work was the bronze statue of St. Peter now placed at St. Peters Basilica.

Creche sets of the 1300s were made of marble, wood, or terracotta. They placed most of them in chapels and churches for year-round displays. The most famous of these was a set carved in wood, in 1330, for the Poor Clare Sisters at the Convent of Saint Clare in Naples, Italy.

As Christianity progressed, Martin Luther used these holy scenes to counteract the pagan beliefs of Christmas trees. The creches became front and center of holiday celebrations for Christians.

Today, the tiny town of Bethlehem, in Connecticut, boasts a restored 300-year-old handcrafted nativity scene displayed in a barn on the grounds of a monastery. Thousands of people stream through the doors to view one of the country’s most exquisite artworks, dubbed the Rembrandt of creches. A coronation gift to the King of Sardinia in 1720, this masterpiece sits in a 15 by 10-foot area. The sixty-eight terracotta figures adorn colorful silks with gold embroidery. The creche is a lasting impression, for all walks of life are represented throughout the artwork. This must go on my bucket list!

Image owned by Robert Fenton Houser

Creating creches, whether in a live show or by the loving hands of true workmanship, will always remain the resounding reason for the season. They are a simple reminder of the humble King who would grow up to sacrifice His life on a cross for sinners. Let us never forget the gift of Jesus coming to earth to offer salvation to all people.

Be blessed!

www.danabicksauthor.com

The Schwan Christmas Tree

The year was 1843, and Heinrich Christian Schwan was a newly ordained minister. Six years later, Heinrich and his new wife, Emma Blum, moved to the United States from Horneburg, Germany (a province of Hanover). The Puritan practices were all but gone in the U.S., so he was free to preach Christianity and practice his childhood traditions from Europe. Zion Lutheran Church, in Cleveland, Ohio, was the perfect start.

On Christmas Eve 1851, the first winter storm of the season hit, and Rev. Schwan decided it was time to put a tree up in his church. He wasn’t sure how well it would be received by parishioners, but he took the risk. Most of his congregation were from Germany, so he was pretty sure they had seen a Christmas tree. (The U.S. did not formally celebrate the holiday until 1870).

Rev. Schwan and his wife made the garland of colored paper and used cookies, nuts, and candles to decorate the beautiful large tree. It was important to share his happiness of the birth of the Christ Child. The next morning, as the congregation arrived for the Christmas service, mixed reactions filtered throughout the church. Some were delighted to see the tree, yet others were offended and angry.

Within a couple of days, the Schwan Christmas tree was headline news, but it wasn’t positive. A prominent newspaper called it “nonsensical, moronic absurdity, and silly.” The media even suggested the church be shunned for idolatry practices. Rev. Schwan was devastated, for he thought it expressed joy. He couldn’t believe many people considered it to be sacrilegious, so he began making inquiries to fellow clergymen about Christmas trees.

A letter arrived one day from the Imgaard family in Wooster, Ohio. Lighting a Christmas tree was part of their family tradition since 1847! So, the following year, Rev. Schwinn met with the community leaders and his congregation to share this news. He convinced them it was not pagan or wicked.

On the eve of Christmas, 1852, another tree blazed in the Zion Lutheran Church. As fate would have it, decorated trees began popping up all over town, and within five years, they appeared all over the country.

It was believed for a very long time, the Schwan Christmas tree was the first to appear in a church in America. However, we found facts that show Rev. John Muehlhaeuser of Rochester, New York, used a tree in his church as early as 1840. However, it was placed there to charge admission and raise money for his building. Today we read that they used Christmas trees in churches in Philadelphia, in 1834, and Fort Dearborn in 1804. Pastor Schwan is fully responsible, though, for gaining the widespread acceptance of Christmas trees in the church. His pastorate later continued by serving many years as the president of the Evangelical Lutheran School of Missouri.

Image courtesy of readtheplaque.com, Bryan Arnold

I would like to touch on the pagan roots of Christmas trees. Using Jeremiah 10:2-4, some Christians believe the following verse maintains their position that Christmas trees are pagan…

“Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen… For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.”

May I say the Christian belief is the Christmas tree is merely a symbol. To be considered idolatry, it has to be worshiped like God. We do not place our trust in a piece of wood – this is ridicules! Christians need to follow their conscience, though, when deciding if they want to use a Christmas tree. For sure, it should not be a debate that divides us.


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“The History of Hope”

Today, I acknowledged a miracle of words when I picked up my sacred golden pages known as the Bible. I was seeking special words of encouragement to share with my readers when a light shone on a preface. Among the Scriptures and descriptions of my Bible were four simple words clear as the morning sky – The history of hope. Wow! This Christian compilation of sixty-six books and letters, written by over forty authors, says more about the complexity of God’s holy words than anything else. What better way can you describe the Bible than hope!

If I ever find time to pen, ‘A Bible for Dummies,’ I’ll use these encouraging words to show the love God shares with humanity. I often mention the voids we have in our souls. We look for something to fill the emptiness deep inside us. Its HOPE, of course, hopes our faith will withstand the depression of the world we live in today.

This divine and extraordinary book is God’s plan for our salvation. The Bible gives us deliverance from sin, repentance, a roadmap for faith, and a refuge in times of trouble. It’s a sourcebook for everyday living, regardless of your religion. Even though its stories took place in Asia, Africa, and Europe, the message is still the same for all believers – everyone needs hope.

Everyone dreams of a better future, but what do we use as guidelines to make it happen? We can rely on our wisdom and knowledge, or we can refer to biblical scriptures for the exact answers. I know someone right now is saying, “I can’t understand or comprehend the Bible.” Guess what? Neither can I, but I take one passage at a time, and I ask for God’s help…and it works! Another resource for better comprehension is to do a careful search on the internet. Only use resources written by the church and their ministry.

The word “hope” in the Bible means “a strong and confident expectation.” It deals with things, yet unseen, and the testimony of God’s promises. In other words, the Bible is HOPE. Hope – based on heavenly realities, which gives us the power to live courageously, and to be all we can be through Christ Jesus.

The words “The history of hope” alone alludes to peace and sovereignty. Hope gives us strength and courage. Never give it up nor the hope in the power of our Lord!


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New Manifestations of Idolatry and Impurity in the Modern Mainstream Church

LGBT, Christianity

Some very recent revelations of actions within two mainstream Protestant church denominations are manifesting levels of idolatry and impurity which are unprecedented and extremely disturbing but are also unfortunately not unexpected. They are but the latest logical extensions of the philosophy the Leftchurch has been operating under for many decades.

One of these actions involves a Seminary famous for its Leftist leanings, while the other involves a local church body belonging to a denomination of which this author was once a member. One act was a blatant display of pagan idolatry, while the other was an act of insanity and impurity.

The Idolatry: Confessing Sins and Giving Worship to Plants

…because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen. Romans 1:25 [ESV]

Union Theological Seminary in New York is a very influential “progressive Christian” institution that teaches church leaders from many different Protestant denominations. On September 17, 2019, a professor of worship urged his students in afternoon chapel,

to “confess to the plants” their sins against them.

The purpose of this ‘exercise’ was to give a confession as,

an “expression of worship” and as a “liturgical response to our climate crisis.”

Union Theological Seminary in New York

This is giving worship to what has been created instead of the Creator. It is blatant idolatry in an institution that claims the mantle of “Christian.”

However, I cannot say this is an unexpected development at this institution in particular. The phantom “climate crisis” is but their latest excuse to champion Leftism over God.

On Union Theological Seminary’s website, their “Statement of Mission” begins with an acknowledgment of their Leftism.

Progressive theology has long taken shape at Union, where faith and scholarship walk together to be a moral force in the world.

Continuing on the same page, Union’s “Vision Statement” begins,

Education at Union Theological Seminary is deeply rooted in a critical understanding of the breadth of Christian traditions yet significantly instructed by the insights of other faiths.

The vision statement drones on for another hundred words and this is the only place where the word “Christian” is mentioned. There is one other mention of the word “Christian” in the “Mission Statement.”

However, there is no mention of the words, God, Jesus Christ, Holy Spirit, Lord, Great Commission, or Bible in either official statement of the Seminary. In fact, Christianity is officially regarded as a hodge-podge of “traditions”  to be “significantly instructed by the insights of other faiths.”

Moreover, Union has a very revealing “Statement of Diversity” that includes this;

We recognize that our mission is best fulfilled when we notice and embrace diversity across all social identities (race, class, gender, sex, ability, faith/belief, sexual orientation, age and all of the dimensions of identity that live within us),

Inset.2.9.21.2019The key to comprehending the all-inclusiveness declared here is the phrase “embrace diversity across all social identities” with a parenthesis clarifying that they really mean ‘all’ such identities. This is full-throated advocacy of identity politics and all the dangerous refuse that accompanies it.

The most recent and vociferous identity group to come to prominence has been the ‘transgender rights’ crowd. This movement promotes fantasy over reality and has produced an astounding amount of support for the prospects of child abuse even with toddlers, as this journal has documented several times.

The movement toward transgenderism has now permeated all corners of modern society in the western world. This occupation seems almost complete with the successful foray into formerly “Christian” denominations who are now welcoming and affirming the rights of “transgendered” individuals to lead their congregations.

The Impurity: Calling a Transgender Pastor

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, Romans 1:21-24 [ESV]

A local church in Ohio did something on July 1, 2019, that I believe is unprecedented among any of the plethora of Baptist church denominations. This congregation enthusiastically called a “transgender woman” by the name of Erica Saunders to be their new pastor.

Peace Community Church in Oberlin, Ohio, welcomed Erica Saunders as their new leader, an LGBT-affirming pastor who started identifying as a female in her first year of seminary at Wake Forest University School of Divinity.

14349176502_719a4da182_mTwo items from this quote stand out right from the start. One item is that the author of the article has perhaps unintentionally accepted that ‘Erica’ is now a ‘her’ despite the biological reality that ‘Erica’ is actually a ‘he.’

Secondly, as was the case with Union Theological Seminary, the aberrant ideas took hold in the academic institution of training for church leaders. I have some experience combatting this kind of mindset in the same denomination which includes this Ohio church.

Peace Community Church is affiliated with the Association of Welcoming & Affirming Baptists, the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America, the Alliance of Baptists, and the American Baptist Churches of the Rochester/Genesee Region.

I served as pastor of an American Baptist Church for nine years until I left both the congregation and the denomination. I spent a considerable amount of that time battling with many others against the incursion of groups such as the “Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists” aka AWAB and the “Baptist Peace Fellowship” into the American Baptist Churches.

The furious struggle of that time in the late 1990s through the mid-2000s was whether or not American Baptist Church congregations should be allowed to “welcome and affirm” practicing homosexuals into leadership positions in the local church while still affiliated with the denomination.

For my part, with God’s urging, I presented the biblical view that this should not be allowed through petition, and in a personal one-on-one meeting with the highest-ranking congregational authority in the ABC. The meeting resulted in a polite but firm refusal to attempt changing this policy of accepting LGBT leaders into the denomination.

The Spirit also moved me to present the biblical case in the form of a proposal at the Biennial Regional meeting of the ABC. All but 3 churches represented there voted to adopt that proposal, however, the vote was disallowed on a procedural technicality. Moreover, even though hundreds of churches and an entire region of the country left the ABC over this, the denomination remained resolute in its insistence upon this radical ‘inclusiveness.’

The church I served tried to carve out a middle way through this morass. On my recommendation, the congregation amended its Constitution to prohibit calling leaders who espoused the LGBT “welcoming and affirming” position. Against my recommendation, they also decided to remain affiliated with the larger American Baptist Churches denomination.

Inset.4.9.21.2019Nor is the ABC the only denomination providing such examples of sinful insanity and impurity within its ranks.  Those who also support the LGBT position include the Episcopal Church, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Church of Christ, the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and even some in Reform and Conservative Judaism.

The three largest Christian organizations, Catholics, Southern Baptists, and Pentecostal or Assemblies of God churches do not support such positions. The generally Leftist United Methodist Church has yet to endorse ordaining LGBT supporters, however, it is under some pressure towards that end.

The Indictment: The Mainstream Church has Crossed the Rubicon

“Crossing the Rubicon” is a phrase taken from a historical event in 49 BC. It refers to  Julius Caesar crossing into Italy leading his army specifically against Roman law.

At the time, Caesar was a powerful general of the Roman army and the Governor of the region of Gaul, located in modern-day France. He wanted to enter Italy at the head of his army, which was expressly forbidden by the then Republic of Rome.

When he crossed the Rubicon river, he violated that law and set in motion a war which he would win and become the first ‘unofficial’ Emperor of Rome. It was written that just before Julius Caesar crossed over into Italy, he declared “Let the die be cast!”, and led his troops across the water.

For Caesar, that meant there was no turning back from their course now. It was a course that would rend a republic that lasted almost 500 years, and create a tyrannical dictatorship which would decay into decadence, division, and destruction.

The mainstream church has now crossed her own “Rubicon.” There is no turning back for those who practice idolatry and sanction impurity, except to confess their own sin in sorrow to the LORD Jesus Christ, repent, and “sin no more.”

Inset.5.9.21.2019That is incomprehensible to the Leftist mainstream church leadership today who proudly display their destructive, unrighteous behavior for all to witness. They have become the same as those Paul excoriated who are “claiming to be wise,” and yet they “became fools.”

However, there is a very bright ‘silver lining’ around these stormclouds. That silver lining is the transparency of the modern technological age provided through the advent of smartphones.

This means that the rise of cult-like Christian doctrine is not veiled in secrecy as it once was, because almost anyone anywhere can find these “new” teachings through an internet search. Thus, no person should be able to claim ignorance if they choose to be or remain a part of any organization espousing such evil.

Conversely, this also provides a critical tool for the faithful to warn others away from heretical teachers with the truth of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ. It has literally never been easier to access Scripture online and all the tool needed to understand the Bible.

Anyone can access not only multiple versions of the Bible but the tools needed to find and decipher the original Hebrew and Greek of the Bible and do so for free. For example, my primary source for this is e-sword and can be downloaded for free.

Arm yourselves with the truth, and prayer and the support of brothers and sisters so that, like Jesus, you can tell others that in Christ,

you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32 [ESV]

D.T. Osborn

Sources: The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, Crossway Bibles, 2001

Featured and Top Image courtesy of David’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 1 courtesy of David Merrett’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 2 courtesy of michael_swan’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 3 courtesy of Equality Michigan’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 4 courtesy of Sam T’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 5 courtesy of Kigali Wire’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License

All other sources linked or cited in the text

Originally published in TIL Journal

The Dynamic Story of Paul the Apostle: Part 4, The Conclusion

Paul needed much rest at home in Syria after his second missionary trip, so he spent his time with the Antioch Christians and other apostles. He preached and taught at the Antioch schools. But, after a couple of years, he felt it was time to revisit his established churches and friends across Asia Minor.

* SPECIAL NOTE: Bible scripture does not specify if Timothy traveled with Paul on this trip. It was rare for missionaries to travel alone in biblical days, but it appears Paul did just this on his journey.

Paul’s Third Missionary Trip map courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org

GALATIA and PHYRYGIA (Acts 18)

Approximately 53 A.D., Paul headed northwest to check in with his first established churches in Derbe, Lystra, Iconium, and Pisidian Antioch. He put a fresh heart into their leaders and congregations. As he traveled from town to town, his old friends, Aquila and Priscilla, sent him news of a powerful speaker who arrived in Ephesus. Apollos was an enthusiastic Jew, born in Alexandria, Egypt, who was highly recommended to preach by their Ephesian friends. But, there was one problem – Apollos’ knowledge of Jesus stopped at John’s baptism. So, Priscilla and Aquila (the first Christian missionary team) taught him of Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. Then Apollos left for Corinth, and Paul headed down the mountains for Ephesus.


EPHESUS (Acts 19)

Soon after Paul’s arrival in Ephesus, he met twelve disciples, and a conversation began with questions and answers. He discovered they only knew of John’s baptism and had not been born again by faith in Christ. They were, for sure, Apollo’s students. Paul taught them the complete gospel. He baptized them in the name of Jesus, and they praised God in tongues.

The next three months, Paul spoke to the Jews in their synagogue. He tried to convince them of the realness of God’s kingdom. A resistance formed as evil rumors swirled about the Christian way of life. The Jews rejected the reason for Jesus’ crucifixion and especially the resurrection. So, Paul stopped teaching in the synagogue. The twelve disciples and Paul set up a new worship place in the school of Tyrannus for the next two years. Paul taught there in the afternoons when Ephesians took their siesta – it was less risky than mornings. Many Jews and Greeks from Asia attended his daily lessons. Paul also wrote letters to the church in Corinth (known as 1 Corinthians), as they were struggling with moral issues.

School of Tyrannus image courtesy of FreeBibleImages.org

God worked powerful miracles through Paul, which spread quickly around the area. Soon people started taking pieces of his clothing and began touching the sick with them. They believed his items healed others. A Jewish exorcist tried his hand at this when an evil spirit spoke back to him, asking who he was – he wasn’t Paul. This ended in a bloody brawl, and the news of the incident led Jews and Gentiles to believe only God was behind the voice. It led to witches and warlocks burning their books of spells and incantations and sovereignty for Paul ruled the land.

It wasn’t long before another large ruckus in Ephesus occurred over Paul’s presence. (Acts 19: 21-34) Demetrius was a silversmith for shrines of the goddess, Artemis, and he employed many artisans in the city. His business was failing because Paul discredited his statutes as being a real god. So, he gathered all his workers, and they rioted. After several hours of ranting and screaming, the town clerk settled everyone down and sent them home.

Paul called the disciples together and gave them lots of encouragement. He said his goodbyes and left town quietly on a ship headed to Macedonia.


MACEDONIA (Acts 20)

The apostle stayed a short three months in Greece. While Paul was there, he revisited his churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea and encouraged the ministry. He also wrote another letter to the church in Corinth (known as 2 Corinthians in the Bible) as some false disciples attacked his reputation.

Paul’s initial plan was to return to Syria via Jerusalem. However, he learned of his death plot by some Jews who would attack him on the ship. So Paul returned to Macedonia by land and gathered some apostles who would meet him in Troas – Timothy, Sopater from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, and Tychicus and Trophimus from western Asia.

Paul stayed for Passover Week in Philippi and set sail for Troas.


TROAS (northwest Turkey) (Acts 20:7-8)

All the disciples gathered to meet Paul when he arrived in Troas. On Sunday, they met the church congregation, and Paul preached long into the night. As Paul talked, a young man named Eutychus went to sleep sitting on a windowsill of the third-story room. He toppled out the window and was declared dead. Everyone began crying and gasping at the horrible sight. Paul ran down the steps and stretched himself over Eutychus. Squeezing him tightly, Paul said, “No more crying. There’s life in him yet.” The boy was alive so Paul continued telling stories of faith until dawn.

A short week later, Paul wanted to get back to Jerusalem for the Feast of Pentecost. The disciples met him in Assos and then watched him board the ship for Miletus (southwestern Turkey).


MILETUS

Paul sent messengers to Ephesus for the elders in the church to join him. After three years of working closely with the church, it was necessary to have a final conversation with the bishops. He owed it to them.

When everyone arrived, he began the speech with his qualities, characteristic of his servitude. He talked of being a humble yet persecuted servant of God, but through it all, he still encouraged them to continue spreading the word of God. Now it was time for his sad news… (Acts 20:17-35)

22 “And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. 23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.

25 “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. 26 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of any of you. 27 For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God. 28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (Acts 22-28) NIV

Paul gained a reputation for being against the Law, and he knew he would be killed when he returned to Jerusalem. Through tearful goodbyes and prayers, he encouraged the elders, and they walked him to the ship.  He could see the fear in their eyes, so they knelt on the beach and prayed together one last time.

Ruins of Ephusus

CAESAREA (Acts 21:7-16)

Paul stayed with Philip the Evangelist for several days. On the fourth day, Agabus, a prophet from Judea, came to visit Paul. Dramatically, he prophesied Paul getting mobbed and imprisoned if he went to Jerusalem. Paul didn’t budge nor show fear.

He responded to Agabus, “You’re looking at this backwards. The issue in Jerusalem is not what they do to me, whether arrest or murder, but what God does through my obedience.”

A couple of days later, a group of friends escorted Paul to Jerusalem where everyone stayed at the home of Mnason, a disciple.


JERUSALEM (Acts 21:27-36)

Paul was in Jerusalem for a week when some Jews from Ephesus spotted him in the synagogue. At once they ran and grabbed him. They screamed he was the man who was telling lies against the Jews. Soon the whole city came to get in on the upheaval. They dragged Paul outside the synagogue and beat him until soldiers arrived and arrested him. As they took him to the holding cell, Paul requested to speak to the crowd. He told the Jews he was Saul of Tarsus and gave them some background of his history.

Paul goes to jail.

People began shaking their fists and cursing, so the police dragged him inside the jail. The Roman centurions wanted to interrogate Paul under torture to find out what he did wrong, but when they realized he was a Roman citizen, they took him before the high priests.

Paul gazed at Chief Priest Ananias and said, “Friends, I’ve lived with a clear conscience before God all my life.”

The priest’s aides slapped Paul across the face for being disrespectful to the Chief Priest. He apologized and explained he didn’t know he was a high priest. Paul knew the council consisted of both Pharisees and Sadducees so as he spoke who he was, their decision to keep him split in half. A violent council caused the centurions to take him back to jail, for his safety.

That night, as Paul slept behind bars, Jesus spoke to him. “Have courage! For as you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”

The following morning, Paul’s nephew arrived at the jail, and he was allowed to speak to Paul. He informed him of a plot to murder his uncle by some Jews in Jerusalem. His nephew also talked to the captain of the jail. An ambush was set to occur if he removed Paul from the jail. The captain immediately placed a plan in action.

About 9 PM that evening, two hundred soldiers, seventy cavalrymen, and two hundred light infantry were placed in Caesarea.  Paul was transported safely and placed on house arrest in King Herod’s official quarters.


CAESAREA: PAUL ON TRIAL (Acts 24:1-21)

Within five days, the Chief Priest Ananias arrived with a trial lawyer, and they presented the governor with their case against Paul. They charged him with disturbing the peace, stirring up riots against Jews all over the world, and being the ringleader of the Nazarenes.

Paul defended his innocence. “It’s because I believe in the resurrection that I’ve been hauled into this court. Does that sound to you like grounds for a criminal case?” They dismissed Paul until the captain decided a resolution. Meanwhile, he remained at King Herod’s home where he was allowed freedom in the house and visitors who could help him.

Paul was heartbroken the church never came to his defense as he maintained house arrest status for the next two years. During this time, a Jewish couple, Felix and Drusilla, listened to Paul talk about Jesus Christ, moral discipline, and the coming Judgment. One day, Felix was replaced by the new governor, Porcius Festus. For sure, his agenda was not a good one.

Festus went to Jerusalem to see the high priests and top leaders, and he renewed their vendetta against Paul. They wanted him sentenced to death. Ten days later, Paul was led into the courtroom with jeering Jews. He asked for an appeal to Caesar in Rome, and it was awarded because it was a religious argument. Paul had the right to defend his innocence.

Several days later, King Agrippa and his wife, Bernice, asked to meet Paul as they wanted to hear his story. Paul was led into the Great Hall. Festus began by saying all the charges made by the Jews were lies and nothing else. Paul took the stand and told of his background and history. (Acts 26)

It was too much for Festus! “You are out of your mind, Paul! Your great learning is driving you insane.”

Paul appealed to their sense of religion. King Agrippa, the governor, Bernice, and their advisors stood up and left the room. They quickly agreed on Paul’s innocence. Agrippa faced Festus and said, “This man could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”


SAILING FOR ROME (Acts 27:27-28:5)

Under the supervision of a centurion named Julius, Paul and a few other prisoners boarded a ship headed for Rome. They sailed close to the shoreline because the strong winds were blowing against them. Then they transferred onto another ship at the port of Myra. The weather was horrific until they reached the island of Crete at the start the winter. Paul saw disaster ahead if they set sail any further, but the centurion ignored him and headed for Phoenix, a few miles further ahead.

No sooner was the ship out to sea when the gale-force winds struck and they lost control. With lifeboats readied, they drifted near some rocky shoals of an island, but it was impossible to get ashore. The ship’s drift anchors stopped them for crashing into the rocks from the whipping wind.

For two weeks the ship drifted on the Adriatic Sea until they realized they were approaching land. Paul gathered everyone together and asked them to eat some bread for strength. By daybreak, the centurion could see a beach so he decided to run the ship upon the sand. They hit a reef, and the boat began to break into pieces. Everyone swam to the shore.

The passengers soon learned they were on the island of Malta as natives came to their rescue. The head man of the island, Publius, took them into his home. He fed them and left them stay for three days, but the crew spent three months on Malta, waiting for another ship.


ROME

House arrest was imminent for Paul again as he entered Rome in 60 A.D. He stayed in his own private quarters with a soldier assigned to watch over him for two years. Many visitors came to see him, and he presented all matters of the Bible to them. He continued to preach God’s word as a prisoner of Jesus Christ.


CONCLUSION

What a cliffhanger! As I researched what happened to Paul after his Rome arrest, I found a lot of articles written by biblical scholars relishing in their own opinion. The Bible, though, does not speak of how, where, or why Paul died. We may assume Nero’s military beheaded him or he passed away as a martyr, after the Great Fire of Rome in July 64 A.D. Persecution of Christians was at an all-time high during this period in history. Are we to understand, then, Paul was released after his trial in Rome? There is no clear indication to confirm this question.

Paul’s entire story is written in the Book of Acts. However, it is believed many of the passages are not entirely accurate because they are missing Paul’s letters which revealed his deepest thoughts.

The apostle wrote four books of the New Testament during this last segment of his life:

            Acts 18:22-38:  Paul’s detailed his final meeting with the elders of the church in Ephesus in Miletus.

            1 Corinthians: This is the letter Paul wrote to the church in Corinth addressing immorality and divisions which had arisen among its members. He covered issues such as sexual immorality, marriage problems, and lawsuits with other believers. “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (6:9). He also corrected the doctrines which spoke of women in worship, the use of spiritual gifts, and observing the Lord’s Supper. Finally, he talked about the topic of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

            2 Corinthians: Written in Macedonia about 56 A.D., it is another letter to the church of Corinth defending and protecting his apostleship. Paul detailed the characteristics of an apostle so members could recognize a false prophet. He also spoke of the persecution of Christians, but he also instilled hope in Jesus Christ. Paul used the theology of his suffering as an example. The last thing he wrote in this Book was how to know if you are a real Christian. He said it was necessary to test yourself by examining the scriptures. (13:5)

            Romans: Paul wrote to the Romans from Corinth in 57 or 58 A.D. beginning the letter with “to all God’s beloved in Rome.” Addressing the Christian church of Rome, it is the most profound coverage of the Christian faith. He spoke that a believer’s relationship with God couldn’t be repaired by just good deeds, but by faith and serving the Lord. Paul also teaches about the sinful nature of man and how to gain freedom from the evilness of sin. Finally, he explained how to obtain a holy lifestyle; many makes the mistake of conforming their lives to the world, instead of to God.

Paul the Apostle was a real study in Christian character. The description of himself was so accurate -“a slave to Jesus Christ.” He served God first, man second, and himself last. His devotion to the Lord was like none other. I think he contributed more to the growth of Christianity than any other apostle.

This apostle is an exemplary example of working for God, be it as a missionary or in the ministry. In fact, Paul’s life parallels the missionaries who serve around the world today. These servants of God remain devoted regardless of the cost to their life. The courage to go into uncharted territories and preach Christianity can only be done through God’s anointment, and God bless them for this dedication.

Though Paul suffered many tribulations and felt deserted by everyone, he found strength in God through his weakness. I hope, one day, to meet Paul and find out the many stories he did not write about in the Bible. God gave him more than any person could handle, but God delivered the apostle by the grace of prayer. I encourage you to read Paul’s books in the Bible and learn to apply the scriptures to your own life. Absorb it, live it, and teach it… it’s Christianity. Thank you, friends, for reading this series – we hope you enjoyed it!


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The Dynamic Story of Paul the Apostle: Part 3, Second Missionary Trip

Paul and Barnabas settled back home and enjoyed leisurely visits with the disciples. They discussed their handpicks for church leaders in their first journey. They also detailed how God used them to open the door of faith to people of all nations. Excitement filled the air.

Not long after their arrival home, some Jews from Judea appeared at Antioch (of Syria) and insisted they must circumcise every man for eternal salvation. A fierce protest ensued, so the church sent Paul, Barnabas, and a few others to Jerusalem to settle the dispute. (Acts 15)

The Jerusalem conference happily received Paul and Barnabas. They knew about the good works of the two disciples. The meeting began, and it wasn’t long before they argued both sides. After a long period of heated discussions, James (the brother of Jesus) declared the decision. Non-Jewish people would not be burdened with circumcision. A letter would be given, instead, to every male – ‘Do not get involved in idolatry, guard the morality of sex and marriage, and do not serve offensive food to the Jewish Christians.’

Paul and Barnabas returned to Antioch, reported the decision of the conference, and it relieved many – they were pleased with the result. It was time to return to their missionary work. Paul wanted to return to a few of his earlier churches to give them continuing encouragement. But Paul and Barnabas went their separate ways. Paul chose Silas, a leading member, and preacher of the early church, to make this three-year journey with him through Asia Minor.


Image of Paul’s second missionary trip courtesy of freebibleimages.org

LYSTRA/ PHRYGIA (Acts 14:8-16:40)

It was the fall of 51 A.D., and Paul and Silas arrived in Lystra. He met a disciple named Timothy whose excellent reputation preceded him. Paul took the young man under his wing and mentored him, but one stipulation applied before he could travel with Paul… he must be circumcised so he wouldn’t offend the Jews who lived in Lystra. Timothy became one of Paul’s most steadfast and trusted companions as they traveled from town to town, presenting the Gospel. Day after day, the congregations grew larger and stronger in faith throughout Lystra and Phrygia.


MYSIA to MACEDONIA (Acts 16:16-40)

The apostles went to Mysia (northwest corner of Turkey) at the suggestion of the Holy Spirit. They finally arrived in the seaport of Troas which sat on the Aegean Sea. Macedonia would soon prove to be an eventful trip.

The night of Paul’s arrival in Troas, he could barely sleep. He had a vision of a Macedonian standing on the far shore yelling to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” Paul understood God’s message; He wanted Paul to settle into Europe, so he quickly put his plans and map in place.

When they arrived in New City, Paul and Silas walked to Philippi, the main city and a Roman colony of Macedonia. They prepared the list of cities they would visit, which also included Apollonia, Amphipolis, and Thessalonica.

Several days later was the Sabbath, and the apostles strolled down to the river where there was to be a prayer meeting. They sat amongst the women who gathered there and talked with them. Lydia, a purple-dye textile dealer from Thyatira, was a good God-fearing woman. She developed a lasting relationship with the disciples, and they even stayed as guests in her home until they moved to their next location. But, before the disciples left, Paul baptized Lydia and her family. Today, we know her in the Bible as the first European convert to Christianity.

Image of Lydia courtesy of freebibleimages.org

Some time passed, and a discerning incident occurred in town. The disciples ran into a slave girl on the street who was a psychic. She began following Paul around for several days, sarcastically yelling to everyone, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!”

Paul became irate one day and turned to her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And the spirit departed from her.

When the slave girl’s owners realized their fortune-telling business was bankrupt, they gathered many people together. They searched and found Paul and Silas and viciously attacked them. The mob dragged the disciples by their feet into the market square where the police arrested them for disturbing the peace. They put Paul and Silas in a maximum-security cell with their legs clamped in round ironclads.

Paul and Silas in jail; image courtesy of freebibleimages.org

About midnight, other prisoners in the jail heard praying and singing of hymns. Paul and Silas were clearly amused at their arrest. Then, without warning, the ground beneath their feet started moving and shaking – it was an earthquake! The walls of the jailhouse shook, and every door flew open.

Badly shaken by the disruption, the warden fell on his knees before Paul and Silas. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The apostles stood shocked and examined his pitiful face.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” The warden took Paul and Silas home. He bandaged their wounds and fed them a meal. In the morning hours, Paul and Silas baptized the jailer and his entire family.

The next morning, the court judges sent word the apostles were free. Paul objected based on the principle it humiliated them in public and good standing Roman citizens. Surprised the apostles were Romans, the judges hurried to them and apologized for the mishap. It was time for the ninety-seven mile trip to Thessalonica.


THESSALONICA (Acts 17:2-9)

Thessalonica was an ancient and prosperous city of Macedon in northern Greece. It was a major trade route with many cultures. Paul and Silas took refuge in a man’s home named Jason, who was a Jewish Christian.

A community of Jews inhabited the area, so Paul immediately preached in the synagogues, “this Jesus I’m introducing you to is the Messiah.” The apostle won many of the God-fearing Greeks. Mad with jealousy, the Jews gathered a group of brawlers off the streets, and they hunted every street in search of Paul and Silas. They broke into Jason’s house but couldn’t find the apostles, so they collared Jason and his friends instead and dragged them before the mayor.

The Jews yelled hysterically, “These people are out to destroy the world, and now they’ve shown up on our doorstep, attacking everything we hold dear! Jason is hiding them, these traitors and turncoats who say Jesus is king and Caesar is nothing!”

The crowd of people and the mayor were alarmed by their charges. Jason had to post a heavy bail while the case was investigated. In the dead of night, Paul and Silas slipped out of town, but not before contacting Antioch (in Syria) to send Timothy to Berea.


BEREA (Acts 17:10-15)

A more matured Timothy joined the apostles in Berea, a city in northern Greece. They, again, met with the Jewish community and were treated so much better than in Thessalonica. The Jews were enthusiastic to hear Paul’s message, and many converted to Christians.

After only three months in Berea, reports filtered back to the Jews in Thessalonica that the three apostles were in town. Another Jewish mob scene began, and with the help of Timothy and Silas, Paul was put on a boat and taken out to sea. When Paul reached Athens, he sent word back to Timothy and Silas to come as quick as possible.


ATHENS (Acts 17:16-34)

Paul toured the city of Athens while he waited for Timothy and Silas to arrive by his side. The city was full of junkyard idols. Paganism gripped the town and works of art such as statues were pillaged. It was clear the Romans deserted the city. He spoke with many of the locals and developed good friendships. His preaching of Jesus and the resurrection was often met with sarcasm, but many were intrigued too. “That’s a new slant on the gods. Tell us more!”

They soon approached Paul to make a public presentation of “his God” at the Areopagus, a hill west of the Athenian Acropolis, where the government council often met.  He took his stand and faced the audience.

Image of Areopagus courtesy of freebibleimages.org

“People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship—and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.”

Paul’s notorious speech on that day won the conversion of a few people and some Greek poets who attended the program in Athens. A successful trip it was but fifty-five miles to the southwest, Corinth was calling him.


CORINTH (Acts 18:1-11)

Corinth was a thriving cosmopolitan city. Shortly after his arrival, Paul met Aquila and Priscilla, who shared the trade of tent making with him. They were new arrivals to Corinth too; since they were Jews, they were banished from Rome by the emperor, Claudius. A friendship quickly formed between the three, and Paul was invited to live and work with them.  But every Sabbath he was at the meeting place doing his best to convince both Jews and Greeks about Jesus.

At long last Silas and Timothy arrived and now he could devote his time to preaching, but something was wrong. They persistently argued and contradicted Paul, so he walked out and went to the home of Titius Justus. Titius was a God-fearing man who lived next to the Jews’ meeting place. Paul assigned Timothy to be one of his leading troubleshooters for congregational problems within the churches of Corinth.

Many Corinthians converted to Christianity, and with the Lord’s encouragement in the middle of the night, Paul was successful in his mission. He stayed another year and a half preaching while he also wrote two epistles to the church of Thessalonica. These earliest apostolic letters today are known as First and Second Thessalonians of the Bible.

Christian persecution, once again, played in the forefront. The Jews campaigned against Paul, hauled him into court, and filed charges of seducing people into acts of worship that were illegal. Gallio, the governor, could not have cared less so he let the charges drop against Paul.

Paul stayed a little while longer before he left Corinth with his friends, Aquila and Priscilla, at his side. He wanted to go back to Jerusalem to observe the Pentecost. They boarded a ship in the harbor town of Cenchrea and headed for Ephesus in present-day Turkey.


EPHESUS to CAESAREA (Acts 18:20-21)

Priscilla and Aquila got off the ship and stayed in Ephesus. They pleaded with Paul to stay awhile longer, but he promised he would come back soon. He left the ship briefly to preach to the Jews (the first person to preach Christianity in Ephesus) and then returned to take a boat to Caesarea.

Paul disembarked in Caesarea and headed to Jerusalem where he greeted the assembly of Christians. It was a long three years, and it was time to go back to Antioch and rest.

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SUMMARY OF PAUL’S SECOND MISSIONARY TRIP

During this second missionary journey, Paul formed many disciples from all backgrounds. He took a young Timothy under his wing and mentored how to preach and exhibit patience, purity, and integrity. It was important to encourage their congregations, or it will be lifeless.

In Philippi, Paul disciples and baptized a businesswoman by the name of Lydia. She was the very first person to convert to Christianity in Europe. Many Christian denominations today recognize her as a saint, especially in the Orthodox church. A modern baptistry is located, today, on the traditional site where Lydia was baptized by Paul. In, we have to wonder if he had Lydia in mind when he wrote: “Not slothful in business, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” (Romans 12:11)

Paul developed a strong bond with the married couple Aquila and Priscilla. He disciples them, and they eventually became a first-century Christian missionary team. In some religions, we often think her to have been the first female preacher or teacher in early church history.

Image of Paul, Aquila, and Priscilla courtesy of freebibleimages.org

He planted the church in Philippi during his second missionary journey somewhere the year A.D. 49 or 50. His ministry was so successful that even when he left Philippi, the Philippian Christians supported Paul sending him monetary gifts at various times when he was in financial need. He wrote about this in Philippians 4: 15-16:

“When I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need.”

He loved them for their commitment to the Lord, and they became his closest friends.

During the time they imprisoned Paul in Philippi, he suffered mentally and physically, but he knew life was never truly hopeless. God can rescue us from any trouble. We can note the earthquake which occurred while he was in jail was not felt or observed anywhere else in Philippi – another of God’s miracles.

Athens was a disturbing experience for Paul as idolatry overpowered the beauty of this lost city. He wrote about it in the Book of Romans claiming Gentiles and Jews are under divine condemnation, hopeless and helpless, and in need of salvation. His Areopagus sermon was infamous, though, because it was his first attempt to explain the nature of Christ to highly cultivated philosophers. He emphasized the need to know God, rather than worshiping the unknown. The part of his speech which covered “the resurrection of the dead” was his kiss of death. The Greeks felt it foolish and impossible, so they threw out Paul’s entire message. We can find his ministry teachings to Athens in 1 Corinthians: Chapters 1, 2, and 3; Romans chapter 1; and Colossians chapters one and two. Paul never founded a church in Athens.

Corinth, though many people were Greeks, they were more worldly and from other parts of Greece and foreign lands. They were more receptive to Paul and his message that the Savior was the highest expression of love. He made it known there is no higher love than that which gives up a son to die for their sins. It was a different psychological approach to those who praised other gods. Paul successfully founded a church in Corinth.

I hope you are enjoying this series about Paul the Apostle. Next Sunday, I will conclude with his third and final missionary trip and the circumstances of his death. As many finds the Bible confusing, I pray I have shed a light and deeper understanding of the complexity of Paul.


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The Dynamic Story of Paul the Apostle, Part 2: First Missionary Trip

The year was 46 A.D., and with the death of King Herod, the church was again free to preach the gospel. However, the persecution of Christians in Jerusalem by the Jews and Roman authorities increased; they forced many believers to leave the area.

Paul and Barnabas headed to Jerusalem to meet Cephas (birth name Simon but later renamed Peter, by Jesus). Cephas was the fourth child born to Noah after the great flood. The men spent fifteen days fasting and praying. One day, news arrived the melting pot church in Antioch (in Syria) wanted missionaries to preach to the Jews and Gentiles. Many believers moved during the upheavals in Jerusalem, and they needed churches throughout the region.

The Holy Spirit spoke to the church elders in Antioch, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” (Acts 13:2) The church laid their hands on Paul and Barnabas in 47 A.D., and they boarded a ship headed to the island of Cyprus on their first missionary trip.


SALAMIS/ PAPHOS

They arrived in the port city of Salamis. The Roman influence was everywhere – public baths, a large theater, and a temple dedicated to Zeus. The Graeco-Roman world was ready for the message of the gospel. Focusing on the Jews, Paul and Barnabas wasted no time proclaiming the word of God in local synagogues. Most who spread the word of God were Jews who scorned and persecuted Christian missionaries. But many believers were ready to receive Paul’s ministry across the island.

Three months passed, and the two disciples decided to walk westward to Paphos, the seat of the Roman government. It was the worship center for the goddess Aphrodite (Venus). Word spread quickly they arrived in town. Soon a message arrived – the island’s Roman governor, Sergius Paulus, wanted to meet them and hear God’s word. It was also an investigation who was causing all the commotion in his community.

When the governor entered the room, Elymas (also called Bar-Jesus), a threat to the Christian community, strayed in behind him. Paul heard about this false prophet (sorcerer), and he became infuriated of his intentions, but just the same, they spoke the message for the governor. Elymas turned to the official and urged him not to pay attention to their untrue words. Paul was livid and stared Elymas in the eyes. He remembered his own experience in Damascus and knew blindness would humble a proud man.

“You son of the devil, full of every sort of deceit and fraud, and enemy of all that is good! Will you never stop perverting the true ways of the Lord? Watch now, for the Lord has laid his hand of punishment upon you, and you will be struck blind. You will not see the sunlight for some time.” (Acts 13:10-11)

Image courtesy of wikipedia.org

Elymas stepped back, and a mist and darkness came over his eyes.

“Help me! I can’t see! Someone, please, take my hands and guide me out of here!”

The governor’s eyes opened wide, and he proclaimed the gospel as truth.

*SPECIAL NOTE: This incident was a critical turning point for Paul and his ministry. He became the team leader, initiated by Barnabas because Paul showed unusual faith and courage. The move showed Barnabas was selfless enough to set the good of others above personal glory. Instead of always striving for power, it is always seeking to help.


PERGA/ PISIDIAN ANTIOCH

Paul and Barnabas set sail once again, this time to the mainland of Turkey. They arrived in Perga, an ancient city of Pamphylia, and proceeded onward to the Roman colony, Pisidian Antioch. On the Sabbath, they visited a synagogue and the church leaders invited them to speak.

Paul lifted his hand and began his speech. He started with the Israelite history, and finally, he introduced Jesus.

“It is one of King David’s descendants, Jesus, who is God’s promised Savior of Israel! Before he came, John the Baptist preached that all the people of Israel needed to repent of their sins and turn to God and be baptized… Brothers – you sons of Abraham, and also you God-fearing Gentiles – this message of Salvation has been sent to us!” Acts 13: 23-24

He told the story of Jesus’ crucifixion and the laws of forgiveness. Paul ended his speech with these final words:

“Brothers, listen! We are to proclaim that through this man Jesus there is forgiveness for your sins. Everyone who believes in him is made right in God’s sight – something the law of Moses could never do. Be careful! Don’t let the prophets’ words apply to you.” Acts 13: 38-40

Many of the Jewish and Gentile listeners were so enthralled, they invited him back the following week. This time, the whole city gathered to hear the news. Angry, jealous Jews stood in the crowd slandering, and they created arguments with Paul. Persecution soon followed Paul and Barnabas. In a state of frustration, they declared they would no longer preach the word of God to Jews…

“…since you have rejected it and judged yourselves unworthy of eternal life, we will offer it to the Gentiles. For the Lord gave us this command when he said, ‘I have made you a light to the Gentiles, to bring salvation to the farthest corners of the earth.’” Acts 13: 46-47

The Ruins of Antioch

The elated Gentiles spread the Lord’s message throughout the region. They celebrated their conversion to Christianity. However, the furious Jews gathered prominent members of the city to expel Paul and Barnabas from their city. They did not want the missionary’s blasphemy in Antioch. So be it…


ICONIUM

With a smile in their heart, and the happiness of converting many Jews and Gentiles to Christianity while in Pisidian Antioch, Paul and Barnabas headed southeast to Iconium. They preached much in synagogues, and the Lord gave them the power to perform miracles. The city became divided in their beliefs of the Good News – is it Judaism or Christianity? Upheavals ensued, and the opposition grew in strength. A huge plot to kill Barnabas and Paul spread across the town. Rumors of their impending death instigated the missionaries to flee Iconium. Paul and Barnabas left immediately and traveled to the remote city of Lystra, just twenty miles away.


LYSTRA

This little city laid within tall Roman walls and many beautiful temples dedicated to Greek Gods stood tall and proud. The temple of Zeus was the most popular for he was the father of the Greek gods. Paul and Barnabas settled right into their new surroundings. They continued to minister in the synagogues and converted many to Christianity.

One Sunday, Paul looked out over the audience and noticed a man with crippled feet intently absorbing his spoken words. Paul thought, “He needs the faith of God.”

“You! Stand up!” Paul yelled to the man. The startled man jumped to his feet and started walking. (Acts 14: 8-10)

A loud gasp of shock, then cheering erupted from the crowd. People everywhere shouted, “These men are gods in human form!” (Acts 14:11)

The priest of the temple of Zeus and a crowd of people began laying wreaths of flowers and some pulled bulls to the town gates. These were signs of sacrifices to Paul and Barnabas. The people mistakenly thought Barnabas was Zeus and Paul was Hermes. The apostles tried to convince the crowd they were mere men.

“Friends, why are you doing this? We are merely human beings – just like you! We have come to bring you the Good News that you should turn from these worthless things and turn to the living God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them.” (Acts 14: 15-18)

It was impossible to restrain the crowd. In the distance, Paul and Barnabas saw some Jews from Antioch in Turkey and Iconium arrive on the scene. Were they here to support them? No! The Jews yelled out to the masses.

“These men are imposters! They are blasphemous! Stone them! Stone them!”

Stoning of Paul. Attribution to Sweet Publishing/FreeBibleimages.org

The crowd, in great anger, surrounded the apostles and pounded Paul with rocks and stones. (It was never disclosed if Barnabas was also stoned in the Bible). In the agony of pain, Paul passed out, so the angry people dragged him out of the city. A small group of believers gathered around him for they thought he was dead, but God had different plans. The Lord miraculously healed Paul on the spot, and he got up off the ground and walked right back inside the city.

The next morning Paul and Barnabas made the grueling thirty-mile walk to Derbe in central Turkey.


DERBE

Paul preached the Bible with great success in Derbe, and in each town, he established priests to say Mass and celebrate the sacraments. The early Christian churches were quickly establishing themselves as a stronghold in every city he visited on his mission trip. Eighteen months passed, and they felt it was time to go home.


REVISIT TO LYSTRA, ICONIUM, AND PISIDIAN ANTIOCH

Though victims of persecution, Paul and Barnabas decided to retrace their steps. They would return through Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch on their way to the ship. The apostles strengthened and comforted believers and they appointed elders in the church of each city. Paul was confident the Lord would protect these early churches.


GOING HOME TO ANTIOCH OF SYRIA

Paul and Barnabas returned home by ship to Antioch of Syria in 48 A.D. Paul gathered his church together and reported all of his good deeds while in each city. “…we’ve opened a door of faith to the Gentiles,” he exclaimed with delight. The gospel spread far and wide. Paul’s journey was a preparation of more to come.

COMMENTARY:

Paul’s first successful missionary trip gives us an idea of the very beginning of Christian churches in the world. King Herod’s reign boasted fear and hatred, particularly amongst the Jews. After he died, Christianity took hold of the land for many witnessed the life and resurrection of Jesus. The church of Antioch of Syria was the foundation for sixteen more Antioch’s built in the ancient world. They had several outstanding leaders of which Paul and Barnabas were two of them.

What can we learn about the early Christian churches?

  1. Though God selects who will disciple His word, the early churches developed the skill of leadership. They meticulously trained their missionaries and ministry teams which came from many diverse backgrounds. Strong support for their apostles came in the form of prayers, education, and mentoring skills.
  2. The first Christians were Jewish Christians, either by conversion or birth. They revered the Hebrew bible in religious text which was often in Greek. They were a sect of Judaism in Rome.
  3. The early Gospels spread only by word of mouth, so training of leaders was critical for success. Preaching included the history of Jesus and His parables, salvation, and forgiveness.

Paul built many early Christian churches in this eighteen-month trip. His first journey covered the regions of south-central Asia Minor, Turkey, and Syria. He traveled about 1,400 miles spreading the Good News.

Paul’s first missionary trip teaches us several Christian highlights:

  1. Christianity met with horrible opposition and much persecution. As I’ve always said, history repeats itself for this perplexing situation still continues today. God warns all Christians; many will not believe in Him. Walk away from non-believers and pursue those who want to find a better way of life. In Paul’s case, he always began teaching to the Jews, but the Gentiles became the church’s followers.
  2. Perseverance is a virtue and is a mark of great spiritual maturity. A strict dedication to God is the only way to covert doubters to believers.
  3. It is unnecessary to fully convert non-believers. God uses Christians just to plant the seeds.
  4. Paul demonstrated the ultimate meaning of forgiveness. They expelled him from Perga, plotted his murder in Iconium, and almost died from stoning in Lystra, yet he walked back into every city and pardoned their people. He prayed for their forgiveness of sins.
  5. Paul could perform unusual miracles, but they were done as a last resort – to testify of God’s power and strength.

In conclusion, I pray for those who do not know the light of God. Let us never give up planting seeds, but remain in constant prayer… just as Paul.

Did you miss Part 1? Click here to read it.


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Christianity and The Siren Song of Socialism [Video]

Christianity, Socialism, Communism

Lately, there have appeared some statements by certain church pastors extolling the ‘virtues’ of Socialism and claiming its endorsement in the Bible. Nor are they the only class of religious leaders who have been publicly and strongly advocating the Socialist way.

Though this phenomenon has been very visible recently, it is hardly a new thing. Various portions of Christian church bodies have been enamored with and even actively practiced forms of Socialism in America more than 150 years ago.

“Bible Communists” in 19th Century America

The “Bible Communists” were a group founded by one John H. Noyes and a few disciples in 1841. They got their start in Vermont and later flourished after moving to Oneida, New York.

 

Bible Socialism

Noyes himself was a seminary and Yale Divinity school graduate who embraced an extreme form of the doctrine of perfectionism and promoted it publically. As a result, Noyes was rejected for ordination.

Perfectionism as Noyes perceived it, was the teaching that upon salvation the sinner is immediately able to become perfectly free of sin. This also led to Noyes further embracing the notion that whole communities of disciples could form perfected groups of people living in a utopian paradise.

As many cultists tend to do, Noyes managed to gather a cadre of disciples which numbered 306 people at its height in the Oneida location. There were a few other satellite sites in Vermont, Connecticut, and New Jersey as well.

Moreover, as cultists also invariably do, Noyes took a few biblical truths and then added his own abhorrent notions in abundance thus twisting sacred doctrine to his taste. Here is a small taste of just one of Noyes’ teaching concerning the family system in “Biblical Communism.”

Noyes’s …considered sexual union very important but rejected monogamy and the idea that one man and one woman should become closely attached to each other. The application of his views led to the practice of complex marriage in his community, in which every woman was the wife of every man and every man was the husband of every woman. Noyes also believed that Socialism without religion was impossible and that the extended family system devised by him could dissolve selfishness and demonstrate the practicality of perfectionism on Earth. …Though marriage was complex, the Perfectionists denied the charge of free love. Sexual relations were strictly regulated, and the propagation of children was a matter of community control. Those who were to produce children were carefully chosen and paired. Children remained with their mother until they could walk but were then placed in a common nursery.

The consequences of this system resulted in the first experiments in eugenics through selective breeding of human beings in the Oneida Community. That is, Noyes and the ‘community’ determined who would be paired sexually with whom based on superior human characteristics.

Between 1869 and 1880 there was a selective breeding programme (“stirpiculture”) with parents chosen for intellectual, physical and spiritual characteristics. Fifty-eight children were born.

That these practices were considered remotely biblical was and is absurd. Thankfully, “Biblical Communism” met its demise in a relatively short period of time.

The communities surrounding Oneida in New York began to object to these family practices in particular. Eventually, due to the public pressure, the Oneida Community disbanded in 1881 and Noyes and a few others moved to Canada where he exited this life in 1886.

In case the name “Oneida” seemed familiar to readers you should know that, ironically, they became an independent manufacturer of silver plates and silverware and are still around today. Some of the followers of Noyes had developed skill in this area which they used to generate revenue for the “Biblical Communists” and this ended up becoming a Capitalist enterprise!

The Promise of Heaven on Earth Is the Siren Song of Socialism

6329871274_427534f28e_mAccording to Greek mythology, the Sirens were half-human beings who lured sailors to their doom by singing a bewitching song that was irresistible for any human. For some who claim Christ, the Socialist promise of heaven on earth is akin to a Siren’s song.

The “Biblical Communism” of Noyes and his group was similar to Marxism in all areas with one glaring exception. Noyes tried to include Christianity and God into the mix.

However, even that inclusion couldn’t save his Socialist endeavor for one reason in particular. He confused the inclusion of God with the sovereignty of God.

Marx’s dream of a workers’ paradise and Noyes’ dream of human perfectionism are both versions of a utopian heaven on earth. The problem is God has sovereignly declared that earth and heaven are forever separated and therefore heaven on earth can never exist!

It doesn’t matter how much you or I or anyone might desire heaven on earth, God has decided differently. According to His Word, there is a glorious paradise awaiting the faithful and a new earth and new heavens will comprise the real perfection in our future lives with Christ.

The Siren song of heaven on earth is deceptive and comes from a false notion that imperfect human beings can create a perfect world. In biblical terms, it could be called the lie that sinful people could make a sinless world.

However, this hasn’t stopped many ‘leaders’ today who still attempt to adopt a Socialist view of Christianity within their organizations. A recent exchange on social media concerning a pastor’s insistence that Christianity endorses Socialism is illustrative.

In a twitter exchange, a Baptist pastor made the following claims,

Rev. William Barber stated, “When we embrace moral language, we must ask, does our policy care for the least of these? Does it lift up those who are most marginalized and dejected in our society? Does it establish justice? That is the moral question. If someone calls it socialism, then we must compel them to acknowledge that the Bible must then promote socialism. Because Jesus offered free healthcare, and he never charged the leper a co-pay.”

Congressman Dan Crenshaw from Texas gave a proper rebuke to these claims on Twitter,

Crenshaw tweeted, “Deliberate misreading of Biblical principles by DNC to promote socialism. The Bible teaches charity with one’s own time and money. Socialism teaches charity with other people’s time and money. So….not the same thing.”

The real destructive force of Socialism in practice can only be appreciated when testimony is given by those who have lived under its cruel mantle. Here is an important and timely video posted on Twitter from such a person who escaped the Castro regime in Cuba.

The Erroneous Biblical Justification for Christian Socialism 

The Leftist faith leaders who champion Socialism in Christianity aren’t limited to a Baptist pastor on social media. In fact, the current Pope has recently been tagged with that accusation.

Inset.3.9.5.2019In 2015, Pope Francis produced both an encyclical [a ruling interpreting Christian practice] and a speech with the message of Socialism as a righteous system at its core. He attacked Capitalism as,

the “mentality of profit at any price, with no concern for social exclusion or the destruction of nature,” and an “idolatrous system which excludes, debases and kills.”

His proposed solution calls for the government to guarantee,

rights to land, labor and lodging—

In order for the government to provide these guarantees, it has to exert a Socialist level of control over the means of production and distribution of goods. In other words, the state has to force the people to give their production to the state and trust it will be redistributed “fairly.”

The consequences of this procedure have invariably been disastrous throughout history. What is the justification for such foolishness in both Catholic and Protestant groups?

There is one passage of Scripture used by all who promote some form of Christian Socialism to justify their beliefs. The passage describes the experience of the first community of Christians in Jerusalem from the fourth chapter of Acts.

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own and with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, and laid them at the apostles’ feet, and they distributed to each as anyone had need.  Acts 4:32-35 [NKJV]

One can easily see that the possibility of living in a faith community like this would be very attractive. However, it is erroneous to believe that this was anything other than a unique event, and human attempts to duplicate it are rife with the failure of human pride.

Inset.4.9.5.2019The Jerusalem church at birth and infancy was unique in two particular areas. First, it was directly administered by the apostles themselves and none questioned the rightness of that and all gave willingly believing in that, at least for a short time.

Secondly, it was the closest example to a ‘perfect’ church ever, and even there, just as in the Garden at the beginning, sin crept in quickly. Once that happened, the idea of a humanly perfected Christian church on earth was an impossibility.

The remainder of the New Testament gives abundant witness to this fact. From Acts chapter 5 through all the letters to various churches by Paul, Peter, and John, the story told is of a church broken up into small groups in various cities, imperfectly struggling against persecution, legalism, greed and false doctrine.

Teaching that the Bible, and therefore Christian doctrine, supports a Socialistic system is a prime example of human pride overstepping Divine bounds. As the Word of God reminds us, overstepping Divine bounds is always fraught with terrible consequences.

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened.  Romans 1:18-21 [NKJV]

D.T. Osborn

Sources: The Holy Bible, New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, 1975

Featured and Top Image courtesy of Andrew Aliferis’ Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 1 courtesy of Syracuse University Library, Department of Special Collections
Oneida Community Collection
Inset Image 2 courtesy of stu mayhew’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 3 courtesy of Republic of Korea Flickr page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image 4 courtesy of Andrew E. Larsen’s Flickr page – Creative Commons License

All other sources linked or cited in the text

Originally published in TIL Journal