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The Second Missionary Journey







We are two thirds of the way through this quarter's lessons on Acts. What an amazing record Luke has left for our study!


To put it in perspective, the Jewish people had been the object of God's supreme regard, the apple of His eye, and His chosen instrument for revealing to the world the Good News of the Messiah's mission for 2,000 years. The Jews had the law, the sanctuary service in types and symbols, the feast days, and a rich genealogical record stretching back to Abraham and Adam. The one problem with the Jews was this: though they knew the Scriptures and their history, they didn't know Jesus. When He came, they failed to see in the Suffering Servant the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.


Imagine the task at hand for the apostles: to build the church on a new foundation, Jesus Christ; to open the hearts of Jewish believers to accept people from every "nation, tribe, tongue, and people" into their midst as equal recipients of the covenant blessings in Christ; and to explain the meaning of the Old Testament types in light of the cross of Christ. The Jews certainly had much to learn and much more to unlearn.


The book of Acts provides a narrative of this journey. Our lesson this week picks up the story in chapter 16 with Paul inviting the young man Timothy to accompany him on a missionary endeavor. To work more effectively among the Jews, Paul circumcised Timothy, not because he had to, but because he didn't want this issue to be a stumbling block.


In Acts 16:4, Luke notes that as Paul and Timothy visited the churches in various cities, "they delivered to them the decrees to keep, which were determined by the apostles and elders at Jerusalem." It has ever been the case that God's kingdom is characterized by order; thus, the churches were instructed regarding the decisions made by the leaders in Jerusalem. "So, the churches were strengthened in the faith, and increased in number daily" (verse 5).


The life of a Christian involves daily surrender of one's plans to God. This was evidenced by Paul and his associates in their travels. It was their plan to go through Phrygia and Galatia, but "they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia" (verse 6). So, they decided to go to Bithynia, "but the Spirit did not permit them," (verse 7). Instead, Paul received a vision instructing them to go to Macedonia, which they did. We need to pray that our hearts will be as open to the leading of the Holy Spirit in our lives each day as were these early believers.


The stories that follow highlight the thrills and challenges of being missionaries for Christ. It must have been heartwarming for Paul and his group to meet Lydia, a worshiper of God. This hospitable woman did much to minister to the practical needs of her new friends, even inviting them to stay in her home. Glimpses such as this into the lives of the early believers help us to see that the Christian faith was no formal, stiff religion. True faith welcomes fellow believers with warmth and kindness, a respite along the narrow path to heaven, and a harbinger of the fellowship we will enjoy in our heavenly home.


There are times when we set out to minister for God with the best of intentions, and yet our labors attract more than just seekers for Christ. This was the case with Paul who was followed by "a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination" (verse 16). Her incessant chants "greatly annoyed" Paul, as she followed him around for many days. Have you ever experienced a disruptive element in your ministry? In this case the story ended in blessing for the girl who was at last delivered from the evil spirit through prayer. But her restoration disrupted the local economy of those who were enriching themselves at her expense. The crowds turned on Paul and Silas and soon they were thrust into prison.


That would be pretty depressing, wouldn't it? and painful? How did Paul and Silas respond? By singing hymns and praising God throughout the night! This led to the dramatic conversion of the jail keeper and his family, and the saving of all the prisoners.


The stories continue. On a journey to Thessalonica, Paul expounded on the Scriptures for three Sabbaths in a row preaching Christ and Him crucified. "And some of them were persuaded; and a great multitude of devout Greeks, and not a few of the leading women, joined Paul and Silas" (Acts 17:4). The thrill of this experience was short-lived, however, as "the Jews who were not persuaded, becoming envious, took some of the evil men from the marketplace, and gathering a mob, set all the city in an uproar and attacked the house of Jason" (verse 5). Their crime? "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too" (verse 6).


Persecution follows the preaching of the gospel. And who are the greatest resisters? The Gentiles? No, the "unbelieving Jews."


Following this experience, Paul and Silas were secreted away by night to Berea. "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (verse 11).


But more trouble was brewing. The unbelieving Jews from Thessalonica were not content to stay home, but traveled to Berea to stir up trouble there. Once again, Paul was forced to leave immediately. But it seems his energy and enthusiasm for the gospel knew no bounds.


Next, he appears in Athens where we find him exasperated by the idolatry everywhere. Philosophers and prognosticators were dismissive of Paul at first, but eventually gave him opportunity to speak. In every way possible he sought to reach his audience through identifying with their gods and literature, using this as a bridge to introduce Christ. But as is often the case in very secular, wealthy cities, the souls won from this endeavor were relatively few. But at least Paul wasn't persecuted in Athens.


The story continues at Paul's next stop, Corinth, where he befriended Aquila and Priscilla, sharing in common their occupation as tentmakers. As was his custom, Paul ventured forth to teach in the synagogue on Sabbath, persuading both Jews and Greeks and proclaiming Jesus as the Christ. In fact, he was compelled by the Spirit to do this. As usual, it ended badly. "They opposed him and blasphemed" (Acts 18:6). Paul shook his garments and said, "Your blood be upon your own heads; I am clean. From now on I will go to the Gentiles" (verse 6).


What relevance do these stories hold for us? The following quotes may assist in our application of this lesson for our day.


   Those who preach unpopular truth in our day meet with determined resistance, as did the apostles. They need expect no more favorable reception from a large majority of professed Christians than did Paul from his Jewish brethren. There will be a union of opposing elements against them; for however diverse from each other different organizations may be in their sentiments and religious faith, their forces are united in trampling underfoot the fourth commandment in the law of God. {LP 86.2}


   Those who will not themselves accept the truth are most zealous that others shall not receive it; and those are not wanting who perseveringly manufacture falsehoods, and stir up the base passions of the people to make the truth of God of none effect. But the messengers of Christ must arm themselves with watchfulness and prayer, and move forward with faith, firmness, and courage, and, in the name of Jesus, keep at their work, as did the apostles. They must sound the note of warning to the world, teaching the transgressors of the law what sin is, and pointing them to Jesus Christ as its great and only remedy. {LP 86.3}


~Patti Guthrie