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Acts - Revelation - Part 2

Tom Pennington • Selected Scriptures

  • 2017-11-26 PM
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Well, that last song is a great place to begin our study tonight. All glory be to Christ. Ultimately, it is the glory of God in the person of His Son that is the theme of Scripture. In fact, the theme of the Bible we've encapsulated this way: God is redeeming a people by His Son, for His Son, to His own glory. That's what the Scripture's about. The Old Testament simply says He's coming and explains why it is that He needs to come. That brings us to the New Testament that we're studying together. The New Testament is a collection of 27 books written over 55 years by nine different authors. And it tells us in the gospels, He came. He Came, and here's what He began to do. The epistles tell us this is what His coming meant and how we're to live in light of it. The Book of Acts says this is what Jesus continued to do after His ascension. And the Book of Revelation says He's coming again. All glory be to Christ. That's the theme of the Scripture as it fits together.

We're looking at the rest of the story of Jesus Christ in the Book of Acts, because the Book of Acts is the last book of history in the New Testament. You have the gospel records, obviously, and then you have the Book of Acts. The rest of the New Testament, with the exception of Revelation, are really letters written by the apostles. And those letters, for the most part, can be filed into their historical context within the framework of the book of Acts. And so we're walking through the Book of Acts together to give us that framework for the rest of the New Testament.

Let me just remind you of the outline that we've chosen for the Book of Acts out of several we could have chosen. It's based on Acts 1:8. Turn there with me. Acts 1:8. And Jesus said to His disciples, "You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all of Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth." There's your outline for the Book of Acts. Jerusalem, chapters 2-7. Judea and Samaria, chapters 8-12. And the remotest part of the earth, chapters 13-28.

Let me just remind you of where we left off last time. We were talking about that first part, witnesses in Jerusalem, in chapters 2-7. We really ended by looking at Pentecost and the importance of that great event in Acts 2. That's followed in chapters 3-5 by the growth of the church in Jerusalem amid extreme opposition, chiefly from the Jewish leadership. You remember, on two separate occasions the apostles are called before the Sanhedrin and are told to stop and decease from preaching, and they refuse to do so. And the gospel keeps marching. Beginning in Acts 6 and running through chapter 9, we have persecution and expansion; it begins with a man named Stephen.

Chapter 6 details for us the need for there to be sort of the predecessors of the office of deacon. There needed to be men who were chosen (there were seven of them who were chosen) in order to minister properly to the widows, both the Hebrew widows as well as the Hellenistic widows; that is, those who were Greek speaking. And so there was a dispute that arose, and the apostles came up with a solution: you choose seven men whom we will appoint, and they will administer this. And the problem was solved.

And verse 7 gives us a second progress report in the Book of Acts: "The word of God kept on spreading; and the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith."

One of those seven was a man named Stephen. And Stephen, in his teaching and work, he begins to see increasing opposition. In fact, look at Acts 6:8:

And Stephen, full of grace and power, was performing great wonders and signs among the people. But some men from what [is] called the Synagogue of the Freedmen, including both Cyrenians and Alexandrians, and some from Cilicia and Asia, rose up and argued with Stephen. But they were unable to cope with the wisdom and the Spirit with which he was speaking.

Now what's interesting about that is this synagogue included some people, notice, from the region of Cilicia, verse 9 says. That was the region where Tarsus was. It is possible, I think even likely, that Saul was a member of this synagogue and was likely one of those arguing with Stephen.

Verse 12 goes on to say that false witnesses accused Stephen, and they accused Stephen of two crimes. Notice verse 13:

They put forward false witnesses who said, "This man incessantly speaks against this holy place and the Law; for we have heard him say that this Nazarene, Jesus, will destroy this place and alter the customs which Moses handed down to us."

And Stephen then answers their charges in chapter 7. Now I'm not going to walk you through his sermon. But it's worth reading and studying, because what he does is he shows respect for Moses and the Law while he demonstrates the nation and its leaders (before whom he now stands) are guilty of subverting that very Law that they're claiming to defend. He doesn't deny the charge that he taught that Jesus would supersede the temple, but he defends himself by showing that since God doesn't dwell in boxes, God doesn't live in human structures, it is impossible to blaspheme a building. He brings his sermon to personal application in verse 51:

"You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it."

Wow. That's straightforward preaching. Stephen's point was that Israel had consistently rejected those whom God had sent to deliver them. And they had talked about the Law a lot, but they had never really kept it.

And of course, you know the end of the story. Stephen is stoned. And I love this. When you read the story of his stoning, verse 56 says, "Behold, I see the heavens opened... and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." Jesus is elsewhere is portrayed after His ascension as sitting at the right hand of God, but here He's standing. He's standing to accept the first Christian martyr, the first witness who sealed his testimony with is own blood.

As a result of this, the ministry of Jesus through those He left on earth continues with part two, there being witnesses beyond Jerusalem in Judea and Samaria. We see this in chapters 8-12. Now this second part of the Book of Acts covers a period of about 13-14 years, from Paul's conversion until his missionary journeys, about 32-33 AD to about 47 AD.

Now I want you to notice, first of all, chapter 8, verse 1: "Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death." It's possible—the language allows for the possibility that Saul actually voted, perhaps as a member of the Sanhedrin, to put Stephen to death. We can't be sure of that. But verse 1 goes on to say, "And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered [watch this] throughout all the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles." Verse 3 says, "Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house… dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison." Persecution begins. But did you notice? Jesus and His mission isn't affected by persecution, because they are doing exactly what He wants them to do. They are playing into His hands, because He had said you will be My witnesses—where? In Jerusalem and in Judea and Samaria. How did He accomplish that? Through the persecution that came through the death of Stephen and through Saul.

What I want you to understand is we live in hard and difficult times ourselves. We live in times when the culture is increasingly hostile to the Christian faith. Don't be scared of that. Jesus said, "I will build My church." And He will. Persecution won't snuff out the Christian faith. It won't cause the Christian faith to loose its momentum. Instead, He will build His church. He will accomplish His purpose. You know, most people think of the church as like a flame you can snuff out. But in reality the church is more like a bird. You try to drive it from here, and it goes elsewhere, and it continues to spread. And that's exactly what happens.

Now you have then another one of those men, those unique men that were chosen, Phillip. And in 8:4 we read, "Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word." This was the point, wasn't it? You'll be My witnesses in Judea and Samaria. And so Phillip went down to the city of Samaria and began proclaiming Christ to them. And that's the story of most of chapter 8. And then, of course, the familiar story, beginning in verse 26, of Phillip and the Ethiopian eunuch as the gospel spreads into Africa.

Now that brings us then to chapter 9 and the conversion of Paul, or of Saul. I preached an entire message on Paul when I began Romans. If you weren't here then, go back and listen to it, because his life is an amazing life, and you need to understand how it unfolds. But I'm not going to do that here tonight. I just encourage you to go online and listen to that message on Paul and his life and background. Here I just want to comment, obviously, on his vision of Christ on the Damascus Road. Again, Christ, His mission to build the church isn't thwarted by some persecution, by some human individual trying to blot it out. Instead, He simply converts him and turns him into an apostle, one who will go on His behalf.

You have in chapter 9 the early Christian life of Paul. You'll remember his preaching in Damascus, and then his persecution there and escape in that miraculous way. And then he goes to Jerusalem, and there he preaches. He isn't received well. Barnabas takes him and takes him back to Antioch. And Barnabas then sends him back to Tarsus, back to his home. And that's where Paul is for a number of years. We'll talk more about that in a moment.

But the result is peace and prosperity for the church. Notice verse 31: "So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase." Again, what does Christ do with those who would attack the Christian faith? In this case, He saves them and creates peace for His church. But in so doing He accomplishes the mission that He has for us. And I want you to see that in your own life. Think of the troubles and the difficulties that come into your own life: persecution perhaps, trials, other events. Those aren't in any way thwarting God's purpose in your life. Just as for these first century believers, those things are accomplishing God's purpose in your life.

Part two goes on with the spread of Christianity to the Gentiles. Beginning in 9:32 and running through chapter 11, you have the spread of Christianity beyond the Jews to the Gentiles. It begins with Peter in Western Palestine, ministering there. But that really brings us to the key story, and that's the salvation of Cornelius in chapter 10. So Peter is over on the coast, the Mediterranean coast of Israel, and that's where this story of Cornelius unfolds. Now this is an absolutely key event in the Book of Acts. It takes two-and-a-half chapters to tell this story. Why? Because Christianity here with Cornelius transitions from Judaism and embraces Gentiles, no longer just approaching Jews but now Gentiles. Both Jewish and Gentile believers need to understand how that happened. This is a huge shift. It would be like girls joining the Boy Scouts. You have to somehow explain how that happened. Here you have Gentiles joining with Jews. What happened?

Well, it begins with a vision of Cornelius. Acts 10:1, "Now there was a man at Caesarea named Cornelius, a centurion." So he's a Roman soldier connected with "the Italian cohort. He was "a devout man." In other words, he was a proselyte to Judaism, a Jewish proselyte. And notice, "[He] feared God with all his household... [he] gave many alms to the Jewish people... prayed to God continually." And God gives him a vision and tells him to send, verse 5, "to Joppa [on the coast of Israel, not too far from Tel Aviv] for a man named Simon, who is also called Peter."

And Peter then has a vision in verses 9-16. And he is told—you remember, he sees this great sheet come out of heaven, and on this sort of heavenly blanket are all these animals. And they're unclean animals, animals he wasn't supposed to eat. And he's told to arise, "kill and eat." He's like, no, I can't do that. And again he's told arise, kill and eat. And while he's contemplating the meaning of this, the representatives from Cornelius arrive in verses 17-23. Peter gets it. He understands what the Lord was telling him, that the Gentiles are not an unclean people, that it's OK to go with these people and connect. And in verses 34-43 the gospel is brought to the Gentiles.

Look at 10:28. When he got there he found Cornelius and—verse 27 says Peter found Cornelius and "many people assembled."

And he said to them [in verse 28], "You yourselves know how unlawful it is for a man who is a Jew to associate with a foreigner or to visit him; and yet God has shown me that I should not call any man unholy or unclean. That is why I came without even raising any objection when I was sent for."

And then you know the story. He goes on to tell the gospel. Verse 34:

Opening his mouth, Peter said:

"I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him"

And then he goes on to preach the gospel, and these people believe. So now you have Gentiles for the first time embracing the Christian message, embracing the gospel.

Now, Peter's got to go home, and he's got to defend what he just did, because everybody else didn't have the vision. All of his Jewish brothers didn't have the same vision he did, so he needs to go back to them and defend it. And that's what he does in chapter 11. The key to Peter's defense comes in verse 17. He says, "Therefore if God gave to them the same gift [talking about the Spirit] as He gave to us also after believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?" He said listen, just like He gave us the Spirit at Pentecost, He did with these Gentiles. Why did God do it that way? He was making a point that the Gentiles were received and accepted. Their response, verse 18, "When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, 'Well then, God has grated to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'"

As the ministry continues in Judea and Samaria, an outlying place becomes a focal point. In what is modern Turkey, up on the coast, farther north beyond the Nation of Israel (as I said, in what is modern Turkey), there was the ancient city of Antioch. And Antioch becomes a Christian base of operations in chapter 11. It was the third largest city in the first-century Roman world. Rome was the largest; Alexandria, Egypt was second; and then came Antioch. And in Antioch a new outreach is added—to Greeks. You see, Cornelius was a Gentile, but he had been a Jewish proselyte. He had accepted Judaism before his conversion to Christianity. Here are Greeks who had not. They were not at all proselytes. And notice 11:21: "A large number... believed." So the ministry continues to expand. Then you have Saul and Barnabas in verses 25-26. As the work in Antioch grew, Barnabas needed a colleague. And so Barnabas (who, remember, had taken Paul from Jerusalem to Antioch and then sent him on to Tarsus, home to Tarsus) now goes and brings Saul back to Antioch. In Antioch they were called Christians for the first time, we're told here. Now that's important, because for the first time it indicates the separation in people's minds of the church from Judaism. So Antioch becomes a base. What is that important? Because Paul is about to have several missionary journeys, and he is sent out by the church in Antioch. They are the church supporting the expansion of the gospel. May God make us a church like the church in Antioch.

Before that happens though there is Herod Agrippa and the church in chapter 12. You remember the story. Verse 1 of chapter 12:

Now about that time Herod the king laid hands on some who belonged to the church in order to mistreat them... he had James the brother of John [so one of the apostles] put to death with a sword. [And] when he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also.

So he arrested Peter. And you remember Peter's escape from prison, miraculously, as it unfolds in this chapter.

And one of my favorite scenes in Scripture is when Peter shows up at the gate. Go back to 12:13. "When he knocked at the door of the gate." After he's been freed from prison, they're all in there praying. Verse 12 says,

[They] were gathered together... praying… he knocked at the door of the gate, a servant-girl named Rhoda came to answer. When she recognized Peter's voice, because of her joy she did not open the gate, but ran in and announced that Peter was standing in front of the gate. [And] they said… "[You're crazy!] You are out of your mind!"

And that's exactly what God did. He defeated Herod. Herod was not happy with the report that he heard. But God deals with Herod. Verse 19 says, "He went down from Judea to Caesarea... was spending time there." He was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they wanted to make peace with him. So verse 21 says,

On an appointed day Herod, having put on his royal apparel, took his seat on the rostrum… began delivering an address to [the people. And they kept saying,] "The voice of a god and not of a man!" [This is the ultimate brown nose.] And immediately an angel of the Lord struck him because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and died.

Josephus records the report of it. I wish I had time to read it to you. It's a fascinating description. But within a few days time he was dead.

Here's another point to register. Governmental officials who wish to stamp out the Christian faith or to slow its progress are no problem to Jesus Christ. Don't worry about that in our country either. God will deal with them as He chooses and in His way, and He has an infinite arsenal at His disposal. And as a result, the gospel continues to progress. Notice verse 24, "But the word of the Lord continued to grow and… be multiplied." You see the encouragement this book is? They lived in dark times as we do, but the Lord Jesus Christ continued to build His church.

Now at this point we need to interrupt the story and say that this was the timing for the first inspired letter of the New Testament. The first inspired book of the New Testament was James. It was written from James, the half brother of Christ, grew up in the family with Christ. He was in Jerusalem at the Jerusalem church, and he wrote to those who were scattered as a result of the persecution that's recorded here in Acts 12. But there's no mention of the Jerusalem council which comes later, and he would've likely have mentioned it if it'd already happened. So it was written somewhere between the years 44 and 49 AD, somewhere between Acts 12 and Acts 15. The purpose of James was to show the effects of true saving faith, to say this is what true saving faith looks like. But he wrote to those who'd been scattered as a result of the persecution.

Now that brings us to part three, part three of this wonderful book. And that is witnesses to the remotest part of the earth, chapters 13-28. Now we don't know much of what happened to Paul from his conversion in 32-33 AD to about 45 AD, when we're talking about now, between his conversion and his ministry in Antioch in Syria (or in modern Turkey). All we know is recorded in eight verses in Galatians 1. This is Paul before the missionary journeys. We know that in somewhere around 32-35 he had his early evangelist ministry in Damascus and then in Arabia. [In] 35-36 he had his first post-conversion visit to Jerusalem where he saw the apostles, you remember, and was affirmed by them, recorded in Galatians 1:18-20. And then there were nine years from about 36-45 AD, nine silent years of ministry in his home region Syria and Cilicia. This is mentioned in Galatians 1:21.

Now, while we don't know much about those years, we do know a few things. Let me give you three glimpses of Paul's silent nine years, those years when very little is recorded. First of all, we know that during those years he planted churches in Syria and Cilicia, his home region, because Acts 15:23 says they send this letter by them: "The apostles and the brethren who are elders, to the brethren in Antioch [and then watch this] and [to the brothers] in Syria and Cilicia who are from the Gentiles." So Paul was planting churches. In the previous chapters in Acts, there's no mention of other churches in Syria besides Antioch, and there's no mention of churches in Cilicia. So almost certainly Paul was involved in planting those churches

Number two, we know that during those silent years he suffered persecution. If you read that list of his persecutions and sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11, you find some interesting things. For example, you find frequent imprisonments. Acts only mentions one in Philippi, and then the one in Caesarea that ends the book. He also says three times I was beaten by rods. There's only one time that's mentioned in the Book of Acts. He says I endured three shipwrecks. There was only one in Acts (and that's after Paul wrote 2 Corinthians) at the very end of the Book of Acts. And then he says five times from the Jews I received thirty-nine lashes. There are no examples of that in the Book of Acts. When did these things happen? Well, we know that he ministered primarily in synagogues during these years, and it's likely that these things happened during those silent years.

Thirdly, we know that during those years he had a vision of heaven, because 2 Corinthians 12 says he had that vision (you know, he talks about where he was taken up into the third heaven) 14 years before he wrote 2 Corinthians. That would put it about 42-43, so it would have been in these silent years. That's all we really know about Paul during those years.

But then he begins the missionary journeys of Paul. Now the missionary journeys of Paul occur about 15-16 years after his conversion. Before this his ministry was primarily Jewish, although not entirely, and after this his ministry was primarily Gentile. Now let me give you an overview of the first missionary journey. First of all, it's recorded in Acts 13-14, those two chapters. The missionaries were Paul and Barnabas. They went to Cypress and southern Asia Minor. About 1,200 miles they covered in the late 40s AD, 47-48. And you can see the cities listed there on the slide that they went to. What I want you to see is the last four of those cities are all in Galatia. So Paul wrote Galatians to these churches. So these two chapters, chapters 13 and 14 of Acts, are the background for the Epistle to the Galatians. And of course, it was in Lystra that he was stoned.

Here's a map of where he went on the first missionary journey. You can get an idea. You see the coast of Israel there at the bottom right. And then above that, where the blue and red arrows begin, that's Antioch. That's in modern Turkey, and that was the sending church. They go out to Cypress and then they go up to that region of Asia Minor. And you can see where the trip took place. That's just to give you a big view of the trip.

Now that brings us to chapter 15 and to the Jerusalem Council. The date was about 49 AD. Let's see the theological issue. Look at 15:1. Here's why this council was necessary. Verse 1, "Some men came down from Judea [so from the Jerusalem area] and began teaching the brethren [this is in Antioch], 'Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.'" Underline those words. You cannot be saved unless you're circumcised. You have to become Jewish to become converted, to be saved from your sins.

But that isn't all they said. Verse 5, "Some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, 'It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.'" So in other words, these are the people that we learn to call the Judaizers. The Judaizers were people who believed exactly what you believe with two additions. They believed that also in order to be saved—they believed that Jesus was the Son of God, that He came, that He lived a perfect life, that He died, that He died a death for sin, that that death purchased forgiveness, that we were saved by faith, that we were saved by grace, and in addition, in order to be saved you had to become Jewish and you had to keep the Law of Moses. Paul calls it in Galatians chapter 1 a false gospel.

So there's a council called. Verse 2, "When Paul and Barnabas had great dissension and debate with then, the brethren determined that Paul and Barnabas and some others... should go... to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders concerning this issue." Let's have a church council. Let's find out what's going on here. There was a lengthy debate that ensued in verses 6-21. But James' summary is a great summary. Look at verse 19. This is James, the half brother of Christ, who is head of the Jerusalem church. He said, "It is my judgment that we do not trouble those who are turning to God from among the Gentiles." In other words, they safeguard the gospel. James says, no, we're not adding those things to the gospel. And yet at the same time they urge Gentiles to sacrifice their personal liberty out of love for their Jewish brothers.

So in consideration for the Jews who are worshiping with them, they ask Gentile Christians to abstain from four things. Food sacrificed to idols. In other words, don't go to the meat market and buy that cheap meat, because it's going to offend your Jewish brother. Number two, fornication. Now at first glance that's a troubling sort of word. I mean, aren't we all supposed to abstain from that? What's this about? Well we can't be absolutely certain, but it's possibly a reference to the breaches of the Jewish marriage law which forbade marriage between close relatives, Leviticus 18. The Gentiles were not so picky about marrying close, and so it's likely a reference to that. Thirdly, meat from animals killed by strangling. And then blood, probably drinking blood. The reasons for the last two are in Leviticus 17: "For the life of the flesh is in the blood." And animals weren't, then, to be strangled and eaten with their blood still in them. They were to be killed and their blood drained. So this is what they ask. In light of their conclusion they send a letter to the other churches, and the letter particularly arrives in Antioch in verses 30-35.

Now this is where the Book of Galatians comes in. This is Paul's first letter. It was written shortly after the Jerusalem Council in about 49 or 50 AD. It was written to the churches in Galatia that he'd founded on his first missionary journey. Apparently, the Judaizers had spread there after leaving Antioch. And the theme of the letter? Justification by faith alone. It's a defense of the pure gospel against the Judaizers and their false gospel. You can see why that letter becomes so important.

Now that brings us to the second missionary journey of the Apostle Paul. It's recorded in Acts 15:36-18:22. In this case it's Paul and Silas, and Luke joins them at Philippi. The region is Asia Minor and Eastern Europe. And the distance that's covered is about 2,800 miles. This second missionary journey happens after the Jerusalem Council in 49 AD and goes to about 52 AD. And there were many different cities (as you can see them there), some of the key cities in our New Testament. And we'll talk about them in just a moment.

Here is a map of the second missionary journey. Again you can see that they head from Jerusalem back to Antioch. And having then given the letter to the church in Antioch, they then go back through Asia Minor all the way over to Macedonia and Greece, and then back to Caesarea and eventually to Antioch. Now on this second missionary tour, they go back through Galatia. You can see, again, why. The churches in Galatia had been impacted by the Judaizers. Paul felt like it was important to go back there, reestablish the true gospel.

And in addition, a huge event occurs. God calls him, in 16:6-10, to Macedonia. This marks another one of those crucial shifts in Acts, because Paul had decided that he was going to to go where to minister next? Asia. He decided he was going to go to Asia. But the Spirit somehow forbids him and redirects him in a vision to Macedonia. In other words, to Europe. And as a result he ends up going to Philippi. In chapter 16, you know the story of Lydia, the woman who was converted there, and the Roman jailer. That church in Philippi had a most unusual set of founding members. Think about what their, you know, Christmas gatherings were like.

Then from there to Thessalonica (it's recorded in chapter 17), to Berea, to Athens, and then to Corinth. Corinth, in 18:1-17. Paul initiates the church there, plants the church. And Aquila and Priscilla, he meets them there. He ends up spending 18 months there in Corinth. And from Corinth he wrote the letters 1 and 2 Thessalonians, approximately 51-52 AD. And 1 Thessalonians are simply instructions for a new church. Having begun the church, he teaches them how to work out the new life of a new church. And then in 2 Thessalonians he corrects some misunderstandings about prophecy, about the Second Coming and the Day of the Lord.

By the way, what's interesting? Paul wasn't in Thessalonica very long, but in the time he was there he taught them about eschatology. You know, there are a lot of people in today's church who say, you know, I don't worry about eschatology, it doesn't really matter, we don't want to let that stuff divide us. Well, Paul taught a very new church, in the very short time he was there, eschatology. And then he bothered to write back to them to clarify their misunderstandings. The end of the story matters.

And then, of course, they return to Antioch to make their report after this second missionary journey.

Now that brings us to the third missionary journey. It's recorded in Acts 18:23-21:16. The third missionary journey is Paul, Timothy and Luke. They go back to Asia Minor. They go back to portions of Eastern Europe and to Palestine. About 1,600 miles, and from the year 52 to the year 57 AD. And you'll see why, because in Ephesus Paul stays for almost three years. Paul becomes essentially their pastor there for almost three years time.

Here's what the map looks like of that third missionary journey. Again, they leave from Antioch their sending church. They head across Asia Minor. And they head back up, retracing some of their same steps as before and hitting some new cities, and then coming back down to Palestine.

On this third missionary tour he makes a third visit to the Galatian churches. This is when he meets Apollos. And then there is this time in Ephesus that I said Paul spends almost three years there in Ephesus. While he was in Ephesus he wrote 1 Corinthians. During those three years—you remember, he had been in Corinth, been there almost 18 months. He now writes back to them from Ephesus in about the year 55 AD, near the end of his three-year stay there. And it was to correct the litany of problems that were in the church in Corinth. I'm so grateful to be the pastor of Countryside and not the church in Corinth, because there were constant, relentless, huge problems that Paul had to deal with in that church.

What ended his stay in Ephesus? Well, there was a riot. You remember? There was a riot from the silversmiths who made the little statuettes of the goddess Diana. And Paul and the church had made such inroads into that city, that massive city. I've had the privilege of visiting there. And, actually, we held a service in the amphitheater where for two hours they cried out "Great is Diana of the Ephesians!" And as result of that, Paul had to leave.

And when he left Ephesus after his three years of ministry there, he returned to Macedonia and to Greece to revisit the churches that he'd been involved with there. While he was in Macedonia he wrote 2 Corinthians, maybe from Philippi. And he did it to defend his apostleship. Because not only were there other problems in Corinth, but there were people in Corinth saying Paul isn't really an apostle, he doesn't merit your hearing, we are super-apostles. And he had to defend his apostleship. And also in that period of time, from Corinth he wrote Romans, the letter we're studying on Sunday morning, about 56 AD. And the purpose was to explain the gospel. Why? Because he wanted them to be his supporting churches as he began a new ministry to Western Europe and Spain. Also, Mark and Matthew probably wrote their gospels around this same time. That's how they fit into the timeline. The first gospels written were in this same period of time.

The next part of the Book of Acts is the journey to Rome. It begins in Acts 21:17, goes through the end of this book, Acts 28:31. And you can see the timeline there. Essentially, he sails for Jerusalem in about April of 57 AD. And he is taken into custody shortly after he arrives and quickly moved from Jerusalem over to the seacoast to Caesarea. And there he endures his first imprisonment. He was in custody in Caesarea, and from Caesarea, because he appeals to Caesar, he's taken to Rome. And in the year 60-62 AD he endures his first Roman imprisonment.

By the way, have you ever thought about this? God does what God does, and we don't always understand it. Here's the Apostle Paul who spends four years in prison. Wouldn't you, if you were God, think, I need him out evangelizing, I need him out preaching in churches? But God knew what we needed. We needed the letters that he wrote from those prison cells. It Gave him time to write, and we benefit greatly.

Those two years in his Roman imprisonment end with an innocent verdict from Caesar to whom Paul had appealed.

Now here's a map of his journey to Rome. You can see that it begins in Jerusalem, goes to Caesarea and then up to coast, skirts the Mediterranean. You remember, he suggests they winter on the Island of Crete. The Roman soldier in charge doesn't agree. They get caught in that terrible storm. There's the shipwreck at Malta, and then eventually they make their way up to Rome. That's the map of the journey.

You remember Paul goes to Jerusalem, and while he's there he is arrested and put on trial. There's a riot at the temple, because they think that he's brought a Gentile with him inside that wall. You remember at the temple there was a wall that said no Gentile can pass here. They thought he had brought the Gentile that they—they thought he was a Gentile; he actually wasn't. They thought that he had brought him inside that wall, and so a riot ensues. The Romans rescue Paul in Acts 21.

And then beginning in 21:37 and following, Paul requests permission to speak to the crowd on the Temple Mount. And he addresses the people in chapter 22. In fact, look at Acts 22:1:

"Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you."

And when they heard that he was addressing them in [Jewish Aramaic, that's] the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet.

And then he begins to unfold his story. He addresses the people, and another riot breaks out. And the centurion decides he's going to flog Paul. He thinks he's Jewish and doesn't realize he also has a Roman citizenship. And Paul uses his Roman citizenship to escape that beating.

From there he has a defense before the Sanhedrin in 22:30–23:10. Let's look at 22:30: "On the next day, wishing to know for certain why he had been accused by the Jews, he released him and ordered the chief priests and all the [Sanhedrin] to assemble, and brought Paul down and set him before them. [And] Paul, looking intently at the Council," begins to make his defense. But you remember this is when Ananias the high priest has him struck, and there's that interchange that ensues. And Paul appeals to his hope in the resurrection. That's the real issue, he says.

There's a plot to kill Paul, and so Paul is taken from Jerusalem over to the coast, over to Caesarea. And there he's held for the better part of two years. He's put on trial in Caesarea. This is what that looks like. I'm not going to walk through all of this. But three separate hearings in Caesarea over those two years, and they can't figure out what to do with him. Eventually he has a hearing before Agrippa, and I want you to see the reaction. Go to 26:24:

While Paul was [speaking] in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, "Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad." ...Paul said, "I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For the king knows about these matters, and I speak also to him with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner."

This hadn't been done in a secret place. He knows these things have happened. And then Agrippa's response is Paul, you are very persuasive. Verse 28, "In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian." But the mutual agreement that these men have is that he is innocent. Verse 31, "This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment." But because Paul had appealed to Caesar, that's where he must go.

And so there's the journey to Rome. After the two years in Caesarea he's taken on this journey, a difficult voyage, you remember in chapter 27, to make the Island of Crete. Paul gives his advice: we need to winter here, we shouldn't go on, the winds and the weather is against us. His advice isn't heeded, and there's the storm and the shipwreck. They then winter on the Island of Malta in 28:1-10.

And then chapter 28 ends with Rome. Rome at last. Paul is under guard, verse 16 says. And then he meets with the Jews in Rome. In verses 17-22 he has his first meeting with them. That ends in verse 22 saying, "We desire to hear from you what your views are; for concerning this sect, it is known to us that it is spoken against everywhere." And so, verse 23, they set a day, a day for Paul then to discuss these issues and to defend. And notice,

They came to him at his lodging [verse 23] in large numbers; and he was explaining to them by solemnly testifying about the kingdom of God and trying to persuade them concerning Jesus, from both the Law of Moses and from the Prophets, from morning until evening. [That's another time I would loved to have been a fly on the wall.] Some were being persuaded by the things spoken, but others would not believe.

But I want you to notice how the Book of Acts ends with an unhindered message. Look at verse 30: "He stayed two full years [there in Rome] in his own rented quarters and was welcoming all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all openness, [What's the next word?] unhindered." You say, well, wait a minute, he's imprisoned. But the gospel wasn't in chains. The gospel wasn't bound. And he was able to preach from his prison cell unhindered. Again, God had arranged for His church to advance, for the church of His Son the Lord Jesus Christ to continue to be built.

Now, during those two years Paul wrote what we call the prison letters: Colossians, Philemon, Ephesians and Philippians. Imagine for a moment that Paul had never been imprisoned and had never written these letters. This was God's plan. From the year 60-62 AD, while he was imprisoned in Rome, in his first Roman imprisonment, he wrote Colossians, which argues for the all-sufficiency of Christ. He wrote Philemon to a brother in Christ about his returning slave Onesimus, and it's a manual on forgiveness. And then Ephesians, the eternal plan of God. Philippians, basic Christian living. And we are so enriched by these wonderful letters.

Now what happened after he was released from his first Roman imprisonment? Again, at the end of that first Roman imprisonment he was freed by Caesar, to whom he had appealed. And in the year 62-65, he returns to some of the places where he had ministered before, and even possibility ended up in Spain. We can't be sure of that. We know that was his plan. After he was released from his imprisonment, we know that Luke wrote the Book of Acts, because it ends, obviously, with his two years of imprisonment. So it was written shortly thereafter. We also know that Paul wrote the pastoral letters. He wrote Titus (we don't know where from, but after his release) to Titus who served on the Island of Crete. And as we learned this last summer, adorning the doctrine of God is the theme of that wonderful pastoral letter. He wrote 1 Timothy (again, we don't know from where, but in this same time period) to Timothy who was pastoring in Ephesus. And the purpose was a manual for church life. He says, if I'm delayed I want you to "know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God." And we are so enriched by that.

During this same time period, Peter wrote 1 Peter. He wrote from Rome using the code name Babylon—probably is what's going on there. And he wrote in the middle 60's (probably shortly after Rome was burned in July of 64 AD) to the Christians in Asia Minor, anticipating the suffering and persecution that was coming as a result of what was unfolding in Rome. Standing firm through suffering.

In the year 65-67 AD is Paul's second Roman imprisonment. This is the imprisonment from which he would not escape. From that imprisonment he wrote 2 Timothy. From Paul in Rome to Timothy (probably) in Ephesus. And the purpose was to build some backbone into Timothy, to say listen, Timothy, the ministry is like spiritual combat, you've got to be a soldier. You've got to be like a farmer who's patient for the crop. You've got to endure hardship as a soldier of Jesus Christ. And then in the year 67 comes Paul's death. As a Roman citizen, probably beheaded.

The rest of New Testament history, very briefly, from the year 67, Paul's death, to the year 95 AD. Peter's death shortly followed. Before his death, obviously, he wrote his second letter from there in Rome to believers scattered in Asia Minor. And it was to distinguish between genuine and false Christianity. Christianity had already spread enough that there were a lot of those who weren't the real deal, and he needed to help them see the difference and understand false teachers. The book of Hebrews was written before the year 70 AD by an unknown author. I think it was probably Apollos myself. But it was written primarily to Jewish believers. It was written before 70 AD and the destruction of the temple, because there's no mention of it in a book that would've made perfect sense to mention it (if it'd already happened) when he's talking about the end of the sacrificial system. And the purpose of Hebrews is the superiority of Christ. The Book of Jude shortly follows, probably written from Jerusalem, to primarily Jewish believers, saying beware the pretenders, there're false prophets out there, there're false teachers. Boy, how the church needs to hear that today. And then in 70 AD comes the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and the Roman army.

In the 80s AD, John writes his gospel where he had gone to live (probably Mary had gone with him, the mother of Jesus) in Ephesus. He writes the Gospel of John to the entire world to present Jesus as the Son of God. Shortly following that comes 1, 2 and 3 John (again, probably from Ephesus) to the churches in Asia Minor, probably in the mid 90s before the persecution under Domitian, about 95 AD. First John was written to give tests of eternal life. Listen, if you question whether or not you're a believer, read 1 John. That's why it's written. He says I've written these things that you might know you have believed in the Son of God. They're tests of eternal life. Second John, hospitality and false teachers. How do you respond to false teachers? Third John, hospitality and faithful servants. Those who minister the gospel, how do you respond to them? So different than you respond to false teachers. And then, of course, in the mid 90s AD John is imprisoned on the Isle of Patmos. And from there he writes the Book of Revelation, addressed to the seven churches of Asia Minor, near the end of Domitian's reign in the years 94-96 AD. And the purpose is the Revelation of Jesus Christ.

That's the New Testament. Do you see how it all fits together? It all is woven, most of it is woven into the story of the Book of Acts. But here's the big picture I want you to get. Jesus Christ said in Matthew 16, "I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not [overcome] it" Will not overwhelm it. What's the gate to the grave? That's what he said. What is the gate to the grave? It's death. Jesus said death will not stop the advance of My church. The worst thing that the world can do, kill you, isn't going to stop the march of My mission to redeem a people that the Father has given Me. I hope you take hope from this. I hope you remember that this is our mission. We too are called to be witnesses. We too are called, as Jesus said to the disciples in Matthew 28, to "make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father… the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them [not just teaching them, but] teaching them to observe all [things which I have] commanded you." And then He says this. And as you carry out that mission, whether it's in the first century and what we've just studied together, or whether it's in the 21st century in Texas, "and lo, I am with you always" as you carry out that mission "even to the end of the age." Jesus is building His church. Let's pray together.

Father, thank You for this comforting survey of the New Testament. Thank You for the reminder that You, Father, are redeeming a people by Your Son, for Your Son, to Your own glory. Father, thank You that we are swept up in that great eternal plan of redemption, that we are swept up in our Lord Jesus Christ's mission to build His church, a mission that even death itself can't stop. Father, help us not to lose heart. Help us in these days, these dark days in the history of our world, in the history of our nation, help us not to lose heart. Remind us, Father, that when persecution comes, Your cause advances; that when governmental leaders take issue and they begin to try to curb the mission and message of the gospel, the gospel goes forth and the church thrives and advances. Father, encourage us. Make us bold in our workplaces, in our schools, in our neighborhoods, in our families as we come to this Christmas season where we'll be together again with family. Father, make us witnesses of what we have seen and experienced in Your Word and in our own lives. We pray in Jesus' name, amen.

Anchored Section 3