learning about holiday traditions, especially when they’re linked to our
ancestry. Last year, I did a Christmas blog on the German ritual and southwest
U.S. practice of placing a pickle on the tree. This year, on December 13, the
light of Saint Lucy shines on Scandinavia and Italy. It is Saint Lucy’s Day,
also called the Feast of Saint Lucy, signaling the arrival of Christmas. Though
her personal story is quite sordid, Saint Lucia shines the light of Christ for
all Christians. So, let’s bundle up and get ready to visit the countries of
Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Italy!
Who was Saint Lucy?
coinciding with the Winter Solstice (shortest day of the year), the Feast of
Saint Lucy has become a Christian festival of light since the 4th century.
Lucy was born in the year 283 to very wealthy and noble parents. She was a
devout Christian who promised her virginity to the Lord. Her father passed away
when she was five years-old, but as she reached her teenage years, her mother
arranged an engagement with a man who was a pagan and paid him a handsome dowry.
Against her religious beliefs, Lucy was not interested in a relationship not
condoned by God. She prayed He would spare her the marriage.
This young lady worked to help Christians hiding in the catacombs during their persecutions conducted by the Roman Emperor Diocletian. She brought them as many supplies as she could handle, wearing a wreath on her head. It had candles attached so she could see in the darkness of the caves.
devastated Lucy when her mother came down with a long-term illness, shortly
before her wedding. She went to the shrine of Saint Agatha to pray for her mother’s
health and was told by the saint her mother’s illness would be cured through
faith. Lucy returned home and convinced her mother to cancel the wedding and
donate the dowry to the poor.
at the snub, Lucy’s fiancé reported her to the governor for being a Christian.
She was arrested, tortured, and threatened to be taken to a brothel if she
didn’t renounce Christianity. But, something divine occurred…
the prison guards tried to remove her, she was a dead weight. No one could
budge her away! So, they built a woodpile around her, instead, and lit it
afire. In the name of God, she kept denouncing their horrific acts. One guard
stuck a spear through her throat, but she didn’t stop speaking, and another
gouged out her eyes. Miraculously, her eyes were restored. It is said Lucy could
die only when she was given the Christian Last Rites. Saint Lucy’s death, on December
13, 304, is celebrated with a feast and different rituals by each country.
popular tradition on this day is planting wheat grains, which will be full grown
on Christmas. It symbolizes a new life born in Bethlehem. They also place a
candle next to the plant for the Light of Christ.
Though not an official holiday in Sweden, St. Lucy’s Day has been a special occasion since 1764. Formal dinner parties are the protocol. In the school system, students choose someone to be Lucy, and she dresses in a long white robe, red sash, and a wreath with candles are put on her head. Then maids are chosen who dress in white robes. They even hold regional contests for the best Lucy.
also dress up in several attires. Some wear a long white robe with a
cone-shaped hat, or a Santa elf costume with a lantern, and some don
gingerbread men outfits.
Everyone snacks on Lussekatt, a special baked bun made with saffron. Early on Lucia morning, Swedish television airs a procession and concert, which features a different choir in a different church each year.
Lucy was first celebrated in Finland in 1898, and Helsinki Cathedral crowned
her St. Lucy of Finland in 1949.
Denmark, the Day of Lucy was first celebrated on December 13, 1944. It is a
yearly event in most churches at Christmas. Candles stay lit all night,
representing the light of Saint Lucy.
modern-day celebration of Lucia in Norway was adopted after World War II but it
only remains popular in kindergarten and middle schools. They, too, dress in
the white robes with wreaths and candles on their heads.
This Caribbean island was named after Saint Lucy and is celebrated as National Day. They hold the National Festival of Lights and Renewal the night before the holiday, and the capital is covered in lights and decorated lanterns
roots of this holiday are originally traced to Sicily, Italy. Lucy was born,
lived, and died a martyr in this city, and today, it points to the arrival of
Christ, the light of the world. Italians gather on December 13 to light candles
and torches, and to eat, drink, and be merry. Many religious parades and feasts
permeate the cities.
the darkness falls upon Northern Europe on December 13, let us help our
ancestors to celebrate Saint Lucia’s Day. Though not observed in the United
States, we can pray for a message of light and the hope of Christ in our hearts.
Want to receive the blogs in your email? Click HERE to begin today!
When you warned me, I did not listen; I tried to be nice; Ignoring the writing On the wall; Clear as it was; I thought around me I had human beings; Whereas I had wolves; Though they looked Like innocent lambs; Now, my eyes are open; I see better than I have ever done. I see the plane in the sky; I am wiser too. I have learned my lesson The hard way.
Who is learning As I am doing? I am learning To hate less And love more; I am learning To take less And give more; I am learning To frown less And smile more; I am learning To talk less And listen more; I am learning To fear less And dare more; I am Learning To criticize less And appreciate more; What about you?
How often do you drive down a road and notice the plants
and weeds growing along its edge? You might see them if they are shockingly
beautiful, but otherwise – not so much. Would you ever think a Mexican roadside
weed could become a symbol of Christmas, or be linked to Christianity?
Poinsettia, a name meaning “very beautiful,” grows as a
weed in Mexico and Central America. They grow wild in a tall, stringy form, and
the red flowers are actually not flowers. Similar to our Bougainvillea in the
United States, its upper leaves turn red, and the tiny flowers grow in the
middle of the bracts. Cultivated in a variety of colors now, an Aztec king once
prized it. So, how did it become a favorite Christmas plant?
The Aztecs used to pull these weeds to make purple dye for
clothes and cosmetics. They made the white sap in the stem into medicine to
treat fevers. In 1825, Joel Roberts Poinsett, the first ambassador from the USA
to Mexico, owned greenhouses on plantations in South Carolina. He began growing
these plants and sent them to friends and botanical gardens.
Joel’s friend, Robert Buist of Philadelphia, fell in love
with the plants when he received one. He began selling them as cut flowers,
using the name of Poinsettias. By the early 1900s in America, they sold whole
plants for landscaping and pot plants nationwide.
Albert Ecke, a German immigrant, increased the
availability of poinsettias in America when he sent cuttings by air instead of
fully grown plants by rail. By this time, the Ecke family had a profuse
inventory of single-stem plants. His grandson, Paul Ecke, Jr., was strong in
marketing, and he developed a brilliant idea for the poinsettias. Why not send
them to early television shows so they can be a backdrop during the holidays?
So, they shipped thousands of plants to the Dinah Shore,
Bob Hope, and The Tonight Show programs. The public went crazy over the burst
of color on the Christmas shows, and their popularity was born. Throughout most
of the 20th century, the Ecke family crop accounted for over ninety percent
of all poinsettias sold in the United States. The US Congress even deemed
December 12 as National Poinsettia Day to commemorate the date of Poinsett’s
As Christianity quickly spread across the Americas,
Mexicans became the first people to celebrate the holiday flower’s Christian
meaning. They saw its red leaves as a symbol of deep love and the blood of
Jesus at His crucifixion. Today, the poinsettia, with its star-shaped foliage
pattern, is used consistently in churches at Christmastime, for it is thought
it resembles the Star of Bethlehem.
I’m ending today’s blog with the Legend of the Poinsettia for your reading enjoyment. Be sure to join us again on Sunday, November 24, for the next “Everything Christmas Blog.” God bless!
The Legend of
Pepita, a poor
Mexican girl, had no gift to present the Christ Child at Christmas Eve
Services. As Pepita walked slowly to the chapel with her cousin Pedro, her
heart was filled with sadness rather than joy.
“I am sure,
Pepita, that even the most humble gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in
His eye,” said Pedro.
Not knowing what
else to do, Pepita knelt by the roadside and gathered a handful of common
weeds, fashioning them into a small bouquet. Looking at the scraggly bunch of
weeds, she felt more saddened and embarrassed than ever by the humbleness of
her offering. She fought back a tear as she entered the small village chapel.
approached the alter, she remembered Pedro’s kind words: “Even the most humble
gift, if given in love, will be acceptable in His eyes.” She felt her spirit
lift as she knelt to lay the bouquet at the foot of the nativity scene.
bouquet of weeds burst into blooms of brilliant red, and all who saw them were
certain they witnessed a Christmas miracle right before their eyes.
From that day on, the bright red flowers were known as the Flores de Noche Buena, or Flowers of the Holy Night, for they bloomed each year during the Christmas season.
Receive the “Everything Christmas Blogs” in your email. No obligation and you may cancel your subscription anytime. Just click HERE.
Take your time And feed your mind; It needs Food to eat And water to drink; So that it may grow; And grow well; Nourishing food Is what it needs to eat; And clean water To drink; Knowledge Is the food Of the mind, But, just like Not all food Is good For the nourishment Of the body, Not all knowledge Is good For the nourishment Of the mind; As you must feed your body With nourishing food; Do same with your mind; Learn useful things; Give your mind A balanced diet; Dont forget fresh air And enough sunlight, The crops will grow well. And yield An abundant harvest. Your barns will be full.
What makes a woman powerful? Is it money, fame, a
political position, or is it an Oscar-winning actress? Any of these attributes
may be true in today’s society, but not in biblical days. Many excellent
examples of strong, influential women grace the pages of the Bible, and I will
review two a week for the next four Sundays. Our ladies, now two thousand years
later, may find much wisdom in the biblical females. Use them as a guiding tool
in your personal lives and to develop a relationship with God.
The last point I want to express is “behind every
successful man is a strong and wise woman.” So true of these most powerful
women in the Bible! I hope you enjoy my review.
Mary of Magdala lived in a comfortable village of many
Greeks in Galilee. They depicted her as a prostitute in town. According to
scriptures, the single Mary Magdalene had a serious sickness caused by ‘seven
demons,’ so many people assumed she was a fallen woman. But, in biblical times,
certain illnesses such as schizophrenia, blindness, heart disease, and epilepsy
were thought to be demonic. The Bible is unclear what her specific situation
was, but bible scholars agree she was not a prostitute.
At some point in her life, Mary met Jesus in one of the
many villages He ministered to, and He healed her afflictions. She became an
immediate follower and a leader of a group of women who traveled with Jesus and
helped to support His ministry. Only a strong, self-confident woman would be so
brave to spread the Gospel in biblical days.
Jesus had two groups of people who accompanied Him – a
group of men led by Peter the Apostle, and a group of women led by Mary
Magdalene. However, according to religious tradition, females were meant to be
seen and not heard, but Mary, in controversy, was very close to Jesus. Just as I
wrote in the past, God chooses people to be His disciples that we least expect
to reach this broken world. Mary was one such example. Her great faith earned
special attention from Jesus.
On the day they crucified Jesus, Mary Magdalene, along
with two others, stood at the base of His cross and watched Him breathe His
last breath. Her heartbreak must have been unimaginable! In the Bible passages of Luke 23 and Matthew
27, Mary prepared Jesus’ body for burial by making a spice anointment for the
linens. She observed from afar as they placed His body in the rock tomb. Mary
visited His burial site every day as if waiting… did she know something?
In the early morning light, the following week, Mary visited
the tomb. As she sat and prayed an earthquake erupted and forced the rock away
from the entrance of the grave. Mary jumped up to look inside, and it was
empty! Suddenly, God’s angel appeared before her.
“Woman, why are you weeping?”
With tears streaming down her face, Mary replied, “They
have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Suddenly a voice from behind her spoke, “Mary! Why are
you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
Not recognizing the face, she said to him, “Sir, if you
have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him
away.” He responded with, “Mary!” It was Jesus standing before her.
She dropped to her knees, grabbed His hands, and said in Hebrew “Rabbouni!” Jesus told her not to hold on to Him because He had not ascended to the Father yet. Instead, He ordered her to go tell the disciples he was resurrected.
Mary ran to them and announced, “I have seen the Lord.”
It is interesting that in a society where women were held
in low regard, Christ showed Himself first to a woman. Mary loved her Lord, and
she was His truest, faithful follower.
What made Mary Magdalene a powerful woman?
She taught us to live courageously and faithfully for Christ. Jesus set her free by eliminating her ‘demons,’ and instead of going about her own life, Mary worked for Him. Even when she faced difficult times, and people called her hopeless, she allowed Jesus to work through her.
Mary was more loyal to Jesus than His own disciples. They hid as Jesus was led to His crucifixion, but Mary stayed with Him. She also anointed His linen with spices.
Mary was given the honor of being the first person to see Jesus after His resurrection. She was very important to Christ, or He would not have revealed Himself to her before the other disciples. It may be safe to comment Jesus changed the way women were viewed in society.
Mary teaches us that even if our lives are in terrible disarray, it is never too late to find hope in God.
Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends and His apostle, ostracized her work as a disciple. In the Gospel of Thomas, he said, “Let Mary leave us, for women are not worthy of the Life,” but her strength of character and love of God gave her the courage to move forward. Today, she is often called the first woman evangelist.
What happened to Mary Magdalene
after Jesus’ resurrection? Much controversy exists about this topic. One theory
suggests fourteen years after the crucifixion, she was put into a boat by Jews
and set adrift without sails or oars. The boat landed in southern France where
she lived in solitude in a cave.
Another theory claims she
accompanied John to Ephesus, where she died and was buried. Some say she
evangelized Provence, France during her last thirty years.
A recent book titled The Lost
Gospel even claims Mary and Jesus were secretly married and had two children,
but someone’s imagination was a little overextended.
Today, in the Russian Orthodox
church, they know her as the patroness of sinners and penitent women. One of
the world’s best-known monuments is the Church of Mary Magdalene in East
Hannah is an inspiring and
wonderful story of humanity and all its flaws. No one is the leading character
in the story of their own life.
Elkanah lived in the Ephraim
hills of a small town thirteen miles to the northeast of Jerusalem. He practiced
polygamy through his Levite religion. Hannah was his first wife, and he adored and
loved her, doting on her every need. But, she was infertile, and his family
name needed to be honored with children, so he married another woman. Peninnah
was envious of the love Elkanah had for Hannah. She cruelly taunted Hannah to
tears each time she gave birth to their ten sons, and Hannah lost her sense of appetite.
One day, Hannah traveled to the
sanctuary, and she spoke to the priest about her inability to have children.
Her soul was crushed as the tears flowed down her lovely face. She dropped to
her knees before the altar and prayed.
if you’ll take a good, hard look at my pain, if you’ll quit neglecting me and
go into action for me by giving me a son, I’ll give him completely,
unreservedly to you. I’ll set him apart for a life of holy discipline.”
Before the year was out, Hannah
conceived and gave birth to a son named Samuel. She told Elkanah she asked God
for this son. Hannah also explained when the child was weaned, she would
present him before God, where he would remain forever. He agreed with her
The day arrived when Samuel was
no longer dependent on Hannah for nutrition. She took him to Shiloh along with
a butchered bull, flour, and wine and presented him to the priest, Eli. “I
prayed for this child, and God gave me what I asked for. And now I have
dedicated him to God. He’s dedicated to God for life.”
Hannah and Elkanah dedicated their lives to God as they watched their son grow up among the priests. Hannah made Samuel little white robes cut to his size, and they took them to him. Eli often said a prayer over her on those visits, “God give you children to replace this child you have dedicated to God.” His blessings and prayers were heard as Hannah and Elkanah had three more sons and a daughter.
Today, we acknowledge Samuel as a
prophet by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, an equal to Moses. He wrote the story
of his life, including his mother, Hannah, in the Book of Samuel.
What made Hannah a powerful
Hannah’s main attribute was perseverance. She prayed for many years for God to give her a child. She had faith in the power of the Lord and never doubted He would answer her prayers. Hannah teaches us never to give up, even when we think something is impossible. Her faithfulness to the Lord bled into her son, who became a great man.
Her boldness, strength, and devotion were like no other for she was a mother who gave up her first-born to the Lord. I’m sure most parents would rethink this decision. But, Hannah recognized all things are God’s possessions, even our children. He honors parents with children as merely a gift, a temporary gift. We are to mold them in the ways of the Lord as a blessing to all nations. In Hannah’s case, because she fulfilled her promise to God, He blessed her with a legacy of five more children.
Hannah’s power is also demonstrated through a promise which she kept to God. Her integrity is in the commitment of handing her child over to God. She never went back on her word, for if she did, she might never have conceived any more children. God rewards us for loyalty.
Thank you, Hannah, for teaching
us we must trust in the Lord in everything in our lives. Life is not always a
bowl of cherries, but with persistent prayer, miracles can and will happen.
Dedication to the Master who created us, along with integrity, will reap you
blessings beyond your wildest imagination.
Hannah is buried in the Tomb of
Samuel in the West bank, beside her son Samuel, on top of a steep hill just north
of the Jerusalem neighborhood of Ramot.
We hope you enjoyed Part One and will return next Sunday for two more powerful women in the Bible.
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.
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.
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 (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
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 (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).
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.
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)
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.
“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.
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)
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.
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.
gazed at Chief Priest Ananias and said, “Friends, I’ve lived with a clear
conscience before God all my life.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
18:22-38: Paul’s detailed his final
meeting with the elders of the church in Ephesus in Miletus.
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.
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)
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!
Did you miss any parts of The Dynamic Story of Paul the Apostle? You may read them here:
The most massive resistance to Christianity encompasses
all the thoughts of evildoers. It’s black or white – you either love or do not love. A lack of
love carries traits of bitterness, jealousy, rejection, and envy. How sad we
instigate not loving another human being! So I ask, can you truly love if there
is an ounce of hate in your heart? There was only one word which
described Christ’s mission and it was the word “love.” Jesus, the son
of God, surrounded His ministry with this word. It gave birth to Christianity.
Miseo, the Greek word to love someone else less than you
love the Lord, is found 173 times in the New Testament. It’s a viral unrest in
the world which extends back as far as time permits. Why I wonder, do some hate
so much, especially if they claim to be a Christ-follower? I ask my Father in
heaven, why can’t we denounce hatred and share the benefits of having You in
our life? How can I word this emotion best?
I can begin by explaining Satan’s evil ways. Though he
runs rampant in the world, Satan will be short-lived because God has bigger
plans for his demise. Hatred is a dominating force where prevailing winds howl –
a lack of compassion. Wikipedia defines it well though as “a
prejudice-motivated crime.” It’s a fear of things different from us and a lack
of empathy. Did you know to hate others is also to hate yourself and God? This
is an emotion the Lord never created humans to endure.
If anyone says,
“I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who
does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not
seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his
— 1 John 4:20-21
I’ve often read and was told Jesus “hated” throughout his
life. Let me start by saying the Bible was translated hundreds of times from
its original script. Certain words, which could not be interpreted accurately,
entered the scriptures we read today, and “hate” or “miseo” is one such
example. Our Lord is not a God of hate, but true, righteous, and holy. “Hate” in
the Bible only describes the intense feelings of anger God has toward sin and
persistent sinners. It also implies, “to feel less love”. If Jesus hated
people, He would not forgive sin nor the sinner.
Hate is a state of mind and as barbaric as the animals in
the wild. It is an unwanted gift conceived by the principals of a demonic
character. Where there is hatred, there is no love. It’s impossible to speak of
love (and mean it) from one side of the lips yet spew out verbs to imply hatred
from the other side of the mouth.
I have a Sunday series currently posted about Paul the Apostle. This was a man who fought the hatred of Christianity every place he traveled in his missionary trips. It caused riots, his brutal beatings, imprisonment, and even his ultimate demise… and for what? Christianity is still alive. Paul stood up, dusted himself off, and walked back into their cities filled with love for the nation who despised him! What was the purpose of the Jews hating what Paul stood for when he always had God on his side? Hate’s negative energy doesn’t serve a purpose except to the sinner committing the crime.
If you pay close attention to your TV or even your children’s electronic games, evil hatred is broadcast, subtly agitating the subconscious of the brain. Enemy #1 becomes a deadly virus waiting to encompass someone’s life. Spiritual warfare is more pronounced today as Satan’s time is nearing the end. Fight to avoid falling into his pit of fire for it goes against the grain of our heavenly Father. God will, as always, prevail in your times of disasters and feelings of anger. Fill your ark with prayers for “Enemy #1: Miseo” to go away. A Christian must uphold God’s commandment to love one another.
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.
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.
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.
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)
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!”
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.
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
He told the story
of Jesus’ crucifixion and the laws of forgiveness. Paul ended his speech with
these final words:
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
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…
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
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…
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.
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.”
Stand up!” Paul yelled to
the man. The startled man jumped to his feet and started walking. (Acts 14:
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.
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
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!”
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
missionary trip teaches us several Christian highlights:
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.
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.
It is unnecessary
to fully convert non-believers. God uses Christians just to plant the seeds.
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.
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.
Are you aware Of this fierce quarrel? I call it schools issue quarrel; Whether schools should open, or they should not; Whether children should go to school Or stay at home? Whether children should be learned Or be illiterate When they grow up? An issue best appreciated in context; Education, no doubt is good; But what do we do When the context is a complicated one? That is where I and my people are. Caught between a wild fire And the deep sea. We are in deep trouble; May God help us!