Welcome to Miller Avenue Baptist Church, an Evangelical* and Reformed Congregationdually aligned with American and Southern Baptists. We are a small congregation, always have been, and always will be. Our focus is on bold proclamation of the word of grace, the Gospel, and the discipling of followers of Jesus. Pastor Philpott thinks of himself as an old time Gospel preacher and Bible teacher. We have a Reformed theology—not rigid or legalistic—but grace oriented. *We claim the original, non-political, Biblical meaning of “Gospel Proclamation”
Our sermons are mostly verse by verse preaching from the Scripture. We are fairly liturgical in our worship, including the reciting of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4), the Apostles’ Creed, and the Collect of the Day (a prayer said by Christians around the world every Sunday), with one or two sermons and receiving “Jesus in the Bread and the Cup” each Sunday morning. We like the old hymns and have no concern to be contemporary, but we do have guitars, singing, and piano playing of two Jesus People type choruses at each morning service, as well as a choir piece, usually in the Black Gospel genre.
Jesus uses physical objects as metaphor to teach spiritual realities. Here His body is likened to bread and His blood to wine. The crowds misunderstand that He is pointing ahead to the cross where He will die and His blood be shed. As that which is physical gives life, bios, so does the death of Jesus: His broken body and shed blood bring life that is eternal in nature. To trust in Jesus as Savior is to “ingest” Him, and then it can be said that Christ is in us and that we are in Christ.
Now we encounter the first of seven “I Am” sayings. The construction of the Greek phrase “I Am” matches the name God spoke to Moses when Moses asked who it was who was sending him to the Egyptian Pharaoh (see Exodus 3:13–15). There is bios, or physical life, but then there is zoe, or spiritual life. To “eat” of Jesus gives eternal life. And in this passage we find the statement that only those whom the Father gives to Him will come to Him, and these will never be cast out.
Miracles stir up the crowds, and they set out to find Him. They find Him in Capernaum. It is noted that Jesus never alludes, in any way, to either the feeding of the 5,000 or the walking on water. They are seeking Jesus to feed their stomachs. But Jesus tells the people to do the “work” of God: to believe Him on whom He has put His seal. He warns then not to work for that which perishes. Miracles do not yield saving faith. Salvation in Jesus produces something far deeper and more significant.
Two miracles of nature, defying the laws of science. 5,000 men plus women and children are fed from one boy’s basket of food. Then 12 leftover baskets of food are collected. When the crowd sees the miracle, they want to make Jesus king, but He slips away. Then Jesus walks on water across the tip of the Sea of Galilee. These are signs as to who Jesus is. The miracles are stated in a simple manner and not trumpeted.
Jesus continues defending Himself by showing that He has witnesses to His claim to be equal with God the Father, witnesses that are needed according to the law that requires two or more. First the Father witnessed to Him, then John the Baptist, then are the works Jesus performs, the signs and wonders, and also the Scriptures, the words of Moses. Jesus concludes the presentation of His witnesses by stating if they do not believe Moses, they will not believe Him.
When the religious leaders hear Jesus say, “My Father,” they accuse Him of blasphemy, since He claims equality with God. Jesus proceeds to identify Himself as equal with God to the point that He says the Father has committed all judgment to Him. He goes on to say that to dishonor Him is to dishonor God the Father. If Jesus’ claims are not true, then He is guilty of blasphemy. Now again Jesus and the religious authorities are in conflict, which will continue.
In Jerusalem was a pool where the ill came hoping to be healed. Jesus finds an invalid man there and asks him if he wants to be healed. The man says he cannot get into the pool quickly enough, and Jesus tells him to get up, take up his bed, and walk. He does, but religious authorities accost him for carrying a bed on the sabbath—a sin. Jesus later finds the healed man and tells him to sin no more. When the religious leaders question Jesus He tells them “My Father is working, and I am as well.”
An official, probably attached to Herod Antipas at Capernaum, had a son who was near death. He travelled to Cana hoping to bring Jesus back so Jesus could heal his son. Jesus responds that unless someone sees “signs” they will not believe. Jesus tells the man that his son will live. The man believes Jesus’ word, starts for home, and on the way his servants tell him his son is recovering, which began at the very time Jesus told him his son would live.
Jesus heals the son of an "official" from a distance, and the man and his household "believe" in Jesus. What does this mean for the process of coming to faith? Must we see miracles in order to believe? Is it our faith itself that is the key, or is it Jesus, the object of our faith?
At Jacob’s well near the Samarian town of Sychar, Jesus engages in conversation with a Samaritan woman. The disciples return from town to find Jesus speaking with the woman, who then rushes back to her town to tell others that she has found someone who may be the Christ. The disciples want Jesus to eat, and He tells them He has food to eat they know nothing about. The food is doing the work the Father has sent Him to do. Citizens of Sychar come to the well, and after seeing and hearing Jesus, they become convinced Jesus is the Savior of the world.
After learning that the party of the Pharisees knew of His growing numbers of followers, Jesus leaves Judea and begins a journey to Galilee and in doing so travels through Samaria. The disciples, leaving a “weary” Jesus beside Jacob’s well, go onto Sychar for provisions. A woman of Samaria had come to get water, about noon, and he initiates a conversation with her. Jesus tells her that she could receive “living water” from Him. Jesus proceeds to tell her that she has had five husbands and the man she is now with is not a husband. Shocked, the woman grasps that she is talking with a prophet.
John the Apostle now writes of the ministry of John the Baptist. John continued to baptize, and Jesus began baptizing as well. (Jesus did not baptize, only His disciples. See John 4:2) Over time those following Jesus outnumbered those following John. Envy thus arose among John’s followers, and the Baptist responded by saying Jesus must increase while he himself must decrease.
The most memorized verse in the Bible is John 3:16. These words of Jesus express the why God sent His Son into the world. Jesus is the light that shines in the darkness, yet we loved darkness rather than the light, because our deeds are evil, and we fear exposure.
The most famous quote in the New Testament (Greek Bible) is, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." Pastor Kent preaches verse by verse through this passage and gives new insight.
What actually happened on the first Pentecost in Jerusalem 40 days after Jesus ascended to heaven? Kent Philpott gives a very credible explanation.
An esteemed Pharisee and member of the Sanhedrin comes to Jesus by night. Nicodemus, who will one day become a follower of Jesus, speaks well of Him. Jesus states that to enter the kingdom of God one has to be born from above. Nicodemus is dumbfounded and either sarcastically or sincerely declares such is impossible. However religious one is, it is no avail in terms of seeing the kingdom of God. Nicodemus, and all people, are utterly dependent upon the saving work of the Holy Spirit.
At Passover every male is to make a sacrifice and pay the temple tax. Hundreds of thousands descend upon Jerusalem to do this. For a fee, agents change travelers’ money into the proper currency. Animals for sacrifices have been moved into the Court of the Gentiles. A noisy, stinky den of robbers awaits all who desire to obey the Law. Jesus disrupts the entire proceedings. Jesus will not entrust himself to those in charge; he knows what is inside of human beings—inner corruption and pollution.
Jesus’ first sign occurs at a wedding in a town near Nazareth. Jesus’ family, mother Mary, and his disciples are part of the wedding party. The wine runs out, and Mary informs her son Jesus. After an unusual exchange between them, a miracle occurs. Jesus directs that stone jars be filled to the brim with water. New water from the same source is discovered to be very good wine, perhaps signaling that the Jewish rites of purification are ending, and something new is come.
Two men who are with John the Baptist hear John point out the Lamb of God as Jesus walks by. These two men, Andrew and an unnamed one (John the Gospel writer?) spend time with Jesus and acknowledge that this Jesus is the promised Messiah. Andrew then finds his brother Peter and tells him about Jesus.Then Jesus calls Philip to be His disciple who then testifies to Nathanael (this is likely Bartholomew of the Synoptic Gospels) who tells him he has found the Messiah.
John the Baptist, coming in the spirit and power of Elijah, prepares the way for the arrival of the Lamb of God, that sacrificial offering for sin. John is not the Christ, he is not Elijah of Malachi 4:5, nor is he the prophet of Deuteronomy 18:5 in answer to those Jewish leaders sent to get answers. But John points to another one who is presently among them but whom they do not know. John knows Him for he saw the Holy Spirit descend on Him. This one does not baptize in water but in the Holy Spirit and fire.
Here we are introduced to John the Baptist who came to bear witness to the fact that “light” was coming into the world and this light is Jesus Himself. (Jesus would later declare that He is the light of the world.) Also all that exists in the created cosmos came through Jesus, and without Him, there would be no universe at all. Jesus reveals the very glory of God, glory being the actual presence of God. To see Jesus is to behold God in the flesh.
The first five verses of the Prologue of John’s Gospel are presented beginning with a profile of the Apostle John. John’s essential theme is that Jesus is the promised Messiah and Son of God, and that by believing in Jesus there is eternal life. The Logos or Word of God, who is later identified with Jesus, is God in His entirety. John is essentially reaching out to a Graeco-Roman audience who would have acquaintance with the concept of a Logos.
Which is more important, the crucifixion or the resurrection? It is very clear that both are completely necessary; you cannot have one without the other. On the cross Jesus took our sin away, and the proof of this is in the resurrection. We have the Suffering Servant of God dying on the cross, fulfilling Isaiah 53 and other prophetic passages, and then the Conquering Champion of God defeats death.
The word “peace,” in both the Hebrew and Greek Bibles, can mean either peace with individuals, nations, religions, etc., or an inner peace that God gives to those whose sin is covered by the act of justification by Jesus’ dying on the cross. Still, while the Christian has peace with God, s/he is at warfare with those who are not believers, even family members. Paul speaks in Ephesians 6 of the believer’s warfare with the powers of darkness, namely Satan and his demons. Thus, Christians are at peace but wage war with the demonic kingdom.
In John 6:47 Jesus says, “whoever believes has eternal life” and then in verse 54 Jesus says, “whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life.” Does one equal the other? Yes, says those who see the Lord’s Supper as an ordinance, a memorial and a command to observe, the great event to be remembered. However, many who claim it is a sacrament say that the bread and the juice become the actual body and blood of Jesus, or that the body and blood is within the elements. The former sees salvation by faith; the latter sees salvation by an act of the Church’s priests.
Resting comes first—ceasing to try to save ourselves. Rather it is Jesus who took our sin upon Himself, dyed in our place, was buried, rose from the grave, and is seated at the right hand of the Father in heaven. Jesus’ work is complete, and now we rest in His work, ours being irrelevant. However, once safely resting in Jesus Christians strive to honor and glorify God via committing ourselves to the finished work of Jesus, growing up into the fullness of Christ, and seeking to do what He commands.
On the one hand God knows our needs before we ask Him, yet we are to make our needs known to Him in prayer. Both of these are true and actual at once. Even the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with “groaning” too deep for words. Prayer is surrounded in mystery, but at the heart of it is the concept of fellowship, which John speaks of in his first letter. The Creator God desires fellowship with His Chosen people, and until we are with Him in heaven, we have prayer.
The Hebrew Bible paints two pictures of Messiah, also called The Anointed One, whom God sends to His people. One is Messiah Son of Joseph, the suffering servant of Israel who redeems the chosen people. Isaiah and the Psalmist in Psalm 22 prophesy about one who is sacrificed for sin. Joseph was the 11th son of Jacob (Israel) who was betrayed by his brothers, sold as a slave into Egypt, but who saves all of his family Israel. Then Messiah Son of David, after the great king David who reigned over his people in the golden era of Israel. Jesus has come as Messiah Son of Joseph and will return as Messiah Son of David.
Saving faith is a gift of grace. Salvation cannot be earned but is given to us by the working of the Holy Spirit. And yet, we are urged, commanded even, to believe in Jesus Christ. Jesus even said that to do the work of God is to “believe in him whom He has sent.” Therefore the paradox: salvation is at once a gift yet we are told to believe in Jesus.
The paradox: God is ultimate love yet judges at the same time. If God were not to judge and put away sin into hell, then He could not be a God who loves His creation. Biblical love is to act for the benefit of another, to bring them the very best. Therefore, injustice will not reign but will be banished all together. Scripture speaks of the resurrection to life and the resurrection to death and is seen in His putting away sin and Satan and all those who belong to the demonic realm forever.
We Christians are both perfect and sinners at the same time. We are perfect in that all our sin has been “nailed to the cross” of Jesus Christ. All our sin, from day one to the last day of our lives. Gone and forever. The born anew believer in Jesus is cleansed from all sin. However, we continue to sin. And this is the paradox: completely forgiven yet still sinners who are to confess sin regularly. God is not bound by time, but we are. Christians do not have a license to sin; no, the Christian will be sensitive to their sin and will need, to be spiritually and emotionally healthy, to repent of sin on a continuing basis. See Romans 7:4–25; 2 Corinthians 5:16–21; Colossians 2:6–15; 1 John 1:8–2:2; Revelation: 7–10.
All the religions of the world except biblical Christianity teach that the Creator rewards those who do good deeds and think right thoughts. Biblically oriented Christianity teaches that this avails nothing but deception and cannot earn for us forgiveness of sin or salvation. Rather, good action and thought flow from the grace of God in the new birth. Thus, grace comes first, that free gift that only God can give, and works follow. See Romans 10:5–17; Ephesians 2:8–10; James 2:14–26; Hebrews 11:1–3; 12:1–2.
The problem of evil, known to us as the “theodicy,” will never be completely understood. It is plain in Scripture that both exist side by side. God’s creation is good, but an evil presence invaded creation and brought sin and disaster to what God had made. Humans suffer, God dies to redeem us from the curse, and we wonder what this is all about. Paul said we see through a glass darkly (KJV), or in a mirror dimly (ESV), but one day we will understand even this incredible mystery. See Genesis 1:31; 3:1–13; Isaiah 14:12–20; Romans 8:18–25; 1 Corinthians 13:1–13; Hebrews 2:14–15; Revelation 22:1–5.
The “Logos” (Greek for ultimate and ageless truth and wisdom) who was and is God, became flesh and lived with humans. This Logos is Jesus, in whom “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.” What Jesus said and did is the exact “Word” and God’s full revelation to us. Jesus is and did what God foretold by His prophets as found in His written word. See John 1:1–18; 20:24–29; Colossians 1:15–20; Hebrews 1:1–4.
Where did we get the Hebrew and Greek Scriptures? Philpott walks us through the books of both the "old" and "new" testaments. And, according to 2 Timothy 3, the words are God-breathed or inspired.
From Paul in Philippians 2:5–11, we see that Jesus emptied himself and became man. How is a mystery, but God came to be with us—"Emmanuel" and the why was to reconcile us to God.
Our passage is John 1:1—Now that it is plain that God the Son became fully human, did He retain deity? The biblical material, and again both from the Hebrew and Greek Bibles, shows that Jesus is fully God as well as fully man. A seeming absolute contradiction, yet this is clearly the evidence from Scripture.
Passage: John 1:14—
The core biblical paradox has to do with Jesus; who is He? Is He God? Is He man only? Could Jesus be both God and man at once? The answer is that indeed He is both at once, eternally, the God-man.
In this opening sermon the case is made, based on the biblical material alone, in both the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) and the Greek Bible (New Testament), that He is both God and man. This reality is summed up in John 1:14, where the Apostle John declares Jesus is the Word, or Logos, become flesh.
Recorded live at Miller Avenue Baptist Church in Mill Valley, CA, this is another sermon rendition of the "Two Debtors" parable of Jesus. Jim Daley preaches once a month at MAC, and has a completely different style than Pastor Kent Philpott. This parable looks at the inter-related issues of love, forgiveness, and grace as demonstrated by the woman who washed Jesus' feet with her tears and hair. She, in turn, is the example of gratitude that the two debtors would have in differing amounts according to how much they were forgiven.
Nineteen parables are summarized here, and briefly the central points of the parables are enumerated. It is seen that so much of what Jesus taught and preached are contained in His parables.
Here is a parable given in the midst of a real-life event. Jesus is the guest of a Pharisee named Simon, when a woman, likely a prostitute, enters in and washes His feet with her tears and hair, then anoints His feet with a costly perfume. Simon thinks Jesus could not be a prophet seeing He allowed a sinful woman to touch him. Jesus then gives a parable to Simon about two men who were relieved of debts, one much more than the other. His question is, who will love the more? Simon answers, the one forgiven the most. Jesus turns to the woman and points out her behavior showed how much she had been forgiven. This would be startling to Simon since he knew only God can forgive sin.
Jesus speaks of the reality of demonic spirits possessing people and He warns that when a person has an unclean spirit cast out (and such was the case for so very many during Jesus’ ministry), that since the indwelling Holy Spirit had not yet been actuated, there is the danger of other and worse spirits coming back in.
Then Jesus warns of not building one’s life on a strong and sturdy foundation. The floods will come, and the house not build on a rock, but on sand, will be swept away. Faith in Jesus is the rock of our salvation.
One of the more complex of Jesus’ parables, it seems the point is, Christians should use whatever of material wealth that falls into their hands for the glory of God. And by so doing may hear God say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of your master.”
A rich man dies and is found in hell. A poor beggar, at the steps of the rich man’s house, dies and is found in heaven. The rich man requests that Lazarus help him and also to warn his brothers not to come to such a dreadful place. But a gulf or chasm is fixed and no one passes from heaven to hell and vice versa. Indeed, “the lot of the righteous is infinite happiness, while the lot of unrighteous is indescribable distress.” William Hendrickson.
A man came to Jesus and asked Him to tell his brother to divide an inheritance with him. Jesus then tells the parable about covetousness. A farmer whose abundant harvest needed more storage room. He built it and said to himself, “Eat, drink, and be merry,” thinking his life was now one of leisure and good times. But, that very night he died. Then came the question about who will now own all that the fortunate farmer had. Jesus then warns that this is how it is for those who lay up treasure for themselves but are not rich toward God.
A lawyer wanting to put Jesus to the test, asks Him how he might attain eternal life. Jesus advises him to keep the two great commandments, to love God and one’s neighbor. But the lawyer, seeking to justify himself, asks, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus then tells the story of a man who is robbed, beaten, and left to die on the Jericho Road. First a priest, then a Levite, finally a Samaritan, come upon the man, but only the reviled and hated Samaritan helps the man and at considerable expense. Jesus asks, “Who showed mercy?” The lawyer gives the correct response. Jesus tells him to do likewise.
One talent was worth 20 years’ labor, thus an emphasis on a very large amount a king, or master, entrusted to three people. One given 5, another 3, and still another 1. The first two doubled the money, while the third buried the talent out of fear, since he figured the master was a hard and difficult person. To the one who brought the master 10 talents and to the one who brought the master 4 talents, the response was, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The third person, who only brought the original talent back, heard the master say, “Away with him into outer darkness.” The point is, that while the master is away, the servants are to go about their work patiently and faithfully.
The parable has to do with the Return of Jesus and being ready for that event. The setting is a typical Jewish wedding in Israel during the first century A.D. The bridegroom comes at an unknown hour to gather up his bride. (In Scripture, Jesus is seen as the Bridegroom and the Church is figured as the Bride of Christ.) Five of the virgins (girls) are ready, five are not. When the bridegroom comes for the bride, the five not ready are not admitted into the marriage celebration. When they attempt to enter, the five “foolish” virgins are told, “I do not know you.”
First: A man had two sons and asked each one to work in his vineyard. The first said no but later went to work. The second said yes but did not go to work. Which one did the will of God? The first. Jesus then says that tax collectors and prostitutes believed John the Baptist and went into the kingdom of God while the religious did not believe John and thus rejected entering into the kingdom of God.
Second: A king gave a wedding feast for his son and sent out his servants to invite everyone to come. Many refused, so the king sent others out to invite anyone they could find. Finally, the wedding hall was filled. The king finds a guest without a wedding garment. (It was customary for such a personage to provide garments for the attendees.) The king ordered the usurper to be bound and cast into “outer darkness,” a phrase meaning hell. Jesus concludes with, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
The master of a vineyard sends a series of workers into his vineyard to collect the harvest. He hires workers all day long, even some who work only one hour. Nevertheless, gives all, and beginning with those who worked only one hour, the exact amount, one denarius. Those who worked all day long were paid last and they grumbled that though they did the heavy work they received no more than those who worked one hour. The point is that God will do what He will and we should not begrudge His generosity.
The first parable begins with Peter asking how many times it is necessary to forgive someone who sins against us. Jesus tells a parable about a servant who is forgiven a large sum by his master. This same servant chokes and then imprisons a fellow servant who owed him a modest sum. Others saw this and informed the master, who then threw this unforgiving servant into prison. The point: We are to forgive others their trespasses against us, and without limit.
Second: there is a widow who has been wronged and repeatedly seeks justice, but the judge ignores her. Finally, after the widow continues to press the issue, the unjust judge gives the widow her request. The point: We are to pray and God will give us justice. This continually praying is a sign of faith.
“Lost” is the key word. A shepherd with 100 sheep loses one, searches for it, finds it, and returns home with it. Then he holds a big celebration. A woman loses one silver coin of ten, which might have been her dowry. She searches diligently for it until she finds it, then celebrates. A father loses his younger son when the young man squanders his inheritance through “reckless” living. When the young man realizes he is “lost” and returns home. His father sees him, rushes to him, and welcomes him home. His older brother begrudges the ensuing celebration. The point of all three parables: this is how the Father is; He searches for the lost and celebrates when they are found.
Jesus earlier, in Mark 11:12-14, had cursed a fig tree because it bore no fruit (metaphor for Israel). Now, after describing events leading up to the end of the age, Jesus speaks of a fig tree that puts out its leaves since summer is near. As with the fig tree, when Jesus’ followers see the events He had described in Mark 13:1-28 taking place, they would know that the end of the age was near. Then Jesus makes it clear that no one knows the day or hour of the final great event. But like the servants of a man who leaves on a journey do not know when he will return, nevertheless they continue to work faithfully. And the servants must stay awake, even they do not know when their master will return.
Jesus uses childhood games to speak to the attitudes of the scribes and Pharisees. Kids played a wedding and a funeral game but no one danced to the wedding music or mourned at a funeral—fickle kids—and Jesus said this is what the Jewish leaders were doing with both He and John the Baptist. But, in time this behavior would be shown to be error. Then, the contrast between the self-righteous Pharisee and a tax collector, who both went to the temple to pray at the same time. No one was lower in the Jewish community than a man who sold out to the Romans and cheated his own people out of money. The tax collector who prayed, “Lord, be merciful to me a sinner” was forgiven and justified rather than the boastful Pharisee.
Jesus’ hearers would be familiar with foreigners owning large tracts of land and then bringing others in to manage the land and its products, in this case, grapes. A certain owner planted grape vines, put up walls, a tower, and a wine press then retired to his home. When it came time for a percentage of the crop to be given to the owner, the tenants treated the owner’s servants very badly. Finally the owner sent his beloved son to collect his due, but the tenants conspired with malice aforethought to kill the son, ignoring obvious consequences. Then the owner of the vineyard destroyed those tenants. The Jewish leaders who heard the parable understood Jesus was speaking directly about them, but fearing the people they did not react against Jesus at this point.
The parables of the Hidden Treasure and the Pearl of Great Value are similar in meaning. When the treasure or pearl is found, nothing else compares in value, and all else is counted as loss. Here the treasure or pearl is Jesus Himself and the salvation that is in Him alone. The Net parable has to do with God Himself being the Judge at the end of the age; Christians are not to attempt to make judgment themselves. New and Old Treasures are the great revelations of both the Old—the Hebrew Bible—and the new—the Greek Bible or the words of Jesus, and both inform the preachers of the Gospel.
Appearances are deceiving. The tiny mustard seed yields a tree large enough for birds to nest in it. A small lump of yeast will cause even a large amount of dough to rise. Jesus’ hearers would know about this. The message to His disciples is: what looks like very little will yet be useful. Large or small is not what counts, a lesson of comfort for many Christians. Jesus affirms that His followers are to prophecy (proclaim or preach) and depend on the work of the Holy Spirit to bring faith.
In the field of the sower will be weeds growing up alongside the wheat. Some might think that it would be proper to tear out the weeds. But Jesus says no, let the wheat and the weeds grow up together. Pulling out the weeds might mean some wheat would also be lost. That we must wait is the teaching; let the angels of God, under His direction, do the work of harvesting. The meaning of this parable will help His followers minimize their concern about the weeds. “Let it be” is the answer.
A sower/farmer scatters seeds everywhere, and some fall on a path, some on rocky soil, some among thorns, and some on good soil. Four different soils, but only the seed upon good soil bears a crop. Jesus points out that in the case of the seed on the path and rocky ground, nothing happens at all. In the case of soil with thorns, there is a plant but no fruit. Jesus is preparing His followers, in that day and this, how it will be when His great commission to present the Gospel is undertaken. No surprises, but there will be a harvest.
Parables were used by some of Israel’s prophets, like Ezekiel. They usually had one primary point and were more easily remembered. Jesus explains in Matthew 13:10-17 why He speaks in parables, and surprisingly, he quotes Isiah 6:9-10, where in commissioning Isaiah to his prophetic ministry, God tells him that people would not understand what he was saying nor listen to him. Jesus wants His disciples, whom he is sending out to evangelize, that their hearers would not understand the message.
End of October, Paul and all on board survive a shipwreck. While gathering sticks for a fire, Paul is bitten by a snake but survives. The locals expect him to die, but when he does not, they think he is a deity. Later Paul prays for the leader Publius’ father, who is made well. Paul and company are treated royally as a result. Little by little Paul arrives in Rome. He is in a sort of house arrest, and leaders of the Roman Jewish community come to visit him. Some believe, but many do not. Paul supposedly writes Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon while here. Luke ends his account with Paul in Rome. (This is the last in the series on the Book of Acts.)
Luke gives us an eye witness account of a sea voyage from Palestine to Rome during late Spring and early Fall. The year is AD 59. Paul and companions are aboard a “coasting ship” at first, then a large grain boat whose destination is Rome. Julius, a Roman centurion, is in charge and sees to Paul’s needs. Paul is assured by God that all will reach shore safely despite the “northeaster” that descended upon them. Though the boat is broken apart, all (2)76 persons on board survive the ordeal.
Before King Agrippa and his sister Bernice at Governor Festus’ headquarters in Caesarea, Paul recounts, for the third time in Acts, his conversion while traveling to Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus there. Paul’s message is most penetrating and convicting, to the point that Agrippa stops him by asking, “Do you think to make me a Christian is so short a time?” Here is the first time the word “Christian” is used for followers of Jesus. Agrippa and Festus agree that Paul could be released from custody had he not appealed to Caesar.
Before governor Festus at Caesarea, Paul avoids a group of assassins by appealing to be tried in Rome by the emperor. One of the Herodian family, Agrippa and his sister Bernice arrive in Caesarea to welcome Festus, the newly appointed governor. Agrippa wants to hear from Paul himself and so opens an opportunity for Paul to speak of Jesus and the resurrection. Paul proceeds to tell the story of his encounter with Jesus while traveling to Damascus.
The testimony cannot be ignored; it must be silenced. Very zealous religious men vow to kill Paul at all costs. The plot becomes known to Paul via his nephew, who informs the tribune, so Paul is sent away under heavy guard to Caesarea, where the Roman governor Felix resides. Once again the attempts of Paul’s and the Way’s enemies are frustrated, and Paul has the opportunity to present the Gospel message to a combined audience of Jews and Romans. His focus is on the reality of a coming judgment day and the resurrection of both the just and the unjust, echoing Daniel 12:2.
The tribune is ready to scourge Paul as a form of examination, but he desists after Paul informs him he is a Roman citizen. The tribune then brings Paul before a meeting with the Council, or Sanhedrin, presided over by Ananias, the high priest. As Paul begins, the high priest orders someone to strike a vicious blow to Paul’s mouth. Paul, temporarily angered, seems to rebuke the high priest. Later, Jesus comes to Paul and assures him he will finally reach Rome.
After being beaten by an outraged mob in the Temple, Paul is rescued and arrested by the Roman tribune quartered with his troops in the Fortress of Antonio. After being carried by soldiers up the steps of the fortress to the barracks and reaching a landing, Paul asks permission to speak to the crowds below. The tribune had thought Paul was a notorious rebel, but finding otherwise allows Paul to speak. Paul addresses the crowd respectfully, they quiet down, and Paul begins an apology or defense wherein he describes his conversion.
Paul and company travel to Jerusalem, mostly by boat. Along the way Paul is warned that he will be made captive there, but that does not thwart him. Upon arrival in Jerusalem he visits James and the elders who are concerned about his presence as there are those who will not accept him. The elders and James want Paul to pay the expenses of four men under a vow so that their opponents will know Paul has not ceased being an observant Jew. However, when Paul enters the court of Israel they think he has brought a Gentile, one of Paul’s companions named Trophemus into the sacred part of the temple and a riot erupts. This results in Paul’s arrest by the Roman tribune.
Paul arrived at Miletus from Troas and invited the Ephesian elders to join him; it was a two day 30 mile trip to the Ephesian harbor of Miletus. There Paul delivers his only sermon to Christians, a most magnificent message. Paul is committed to the work of evangelism; his goal is to present the Word of grace, synonym for Gospel, as broadly as possible. He does so in a most humble manner. He says twice that he did not “shrink” from declaring to them the whole counsel of God. When Paul’s very moving sermon is concluded, he bids farewell to the Ephesian elders, overseers, and pastors who are saddened that they will not see him again and express warmly their love for him.
Ephesian merchants sold silver images of the goddess Artemis (Diana in Greek). A silversmith guild leader, Demetrius, organizes opposition to Paul and the Christians. Ephesian authorities calm an almost riot, which allows Paul to set out for Macedonia, heading east across the Aegean Sea. Paul travels from place to place, until he comes to Troas, at the northwestern part of Asia. Paul speaks to the Christians there in a home with a third story. Long into the night, on the first day of the week, a Sunday, the believers have gathered to “break bread.” Paul preaches on and on, and a young man between the age of seven and fourteen falls out a window and is killed. Paul comes down to him, and says he is alive. This young man is Eutycus, and the church there rejoice
Extraordinary miracles are occurring, and the city of Ephesus is stirred up. Jewish exorcists, who used magical formulas to exorcise evil spirits, see Paul and try to copy him. Whether the sons of Sceva were directly related to a member of the high priestly family is not known, but the covenant name of God, from Exodus 3, was thought to have power which a high priestly person might know. In their attempts to “adjure” a person with demons, they failed and they were beaten up and fled. The result was that many Ephesians turned from magical practices and brought their books of secret chants and rituals together and burned them, worth about 50,000 silver drachmas. The word of God grew rapidly as a result.
Paul is now on the western edge of the Roman province of Asia (modern day Turkey), in the great city of Ephesus. Paul encounters twelve “disciples” who only had been baptized with John the Baptist’s baptism. They had not even heard there was a Holy Spirit. Paul begins to teach them the rest of the story. While speaking to them, the Holy Spirit falls upon them, and they begin speaking in tongues and prophesying. This is now the fourth “Pentecost” recorded by Luke in Acts. First Jerusalem, then Samaritan, followed by the Caesarean Pentecost. Paul, as usual, goes into the synagogue and boldly proclaims Jesus.
With Priscilla and Aquila, Paul travels to his home church, Antioch of Syria, thus ending his 2nd missionary journey. Before reaching Antioch, he arrives at Ephesus where he leaves the couple, and as always, he goes to the synagogue and speaks there. They want Paul to remain, but he leaves, saying he will return. Paul then goes to Jerusalem, then on to Antioch for a short time, after which he then leaves to visit the Churches in Galatia and Phrygia.
Luke now speaks of Apollo who was in Ephesus. Though a powerful preacher for Jesus, he does not know the full story. Priscilla and Aquila contact him, take him aside and more fully instruct him. Apollo leaves Ephesus and goes to Corinth where he continues boldly declaring Jesus.
Leaving Athens, Paul travels on to Corinth where he encounters a Jewish couple, Aquila and Priscilla, who had been forced to leave Rome due to an edict by the emperor Claudius. The three are all leather workers, and Paul stayed with them. Paul speaks in the synagogue as usual. Also as usual, Paul runs into trouble, yet many believe and are baptized. In the midst of the turmoil, Paul has a vision wherein Jesus encourages him to continue with the work and that he will be protected. Troubles continue, and Paul is brought before the Roman governor who refuses to engage in the charges made against him.
Paul politely addresses the “men of Athens” and calls attention to one shrine dedicated “To the unknown god.” This God Paul proceeds to describe as the Creator of all things, who does not live in temples made by humans, and is sovereign over all things. And this God of Paul’s is not distant but present, and humans are his offspring. Thus God cannot be represented by means of gold and silver. However, Paul announces that the days of ignorance God has overlooked and now calls for all people to repent or change their mind about just who God is. Some mock Paul, others want to hear more later, and some believe.
Alone in Athens—the home of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle—Paul is both grieved and amazed at shrines and temples of gods and goddesses. Historians say about 30,000 of these dotted the city. He speaks in the synagogue at first and is then invited to the Areopagus to present his “philosophy.” Those belonging to the Epicureans and Stoics are especially interested in Paul’s presentation, since he speaks of Jesus and the resurrection (anastasia in Greek), which they misinterpret to be two different gods.
Paul and company continue to run into both political and religious opposition. A church is begun in Thessalonica despite it all. (Paul will soon write a letter to this fledgling church, and we know it as 1 Thessalonians). Berea is about 50 miles from Thessalonica. Apparently, joining Paul and Silas there is Timothy, whom Paul sends back to Thessalonica to care for the new gathering of believers in Jesus there. The Bereans are serious Bible students who realize the Scripture, here the Old Testament, is of great value and study it to determine if what they are hearing about Jesus is true. Those who opposed Paul and Silas in Thessalonica soon hear that the missionaries are in Berea and travel there to once again stir up trouble. Paul is forced to flee again, this time to Athens. Silas and Timothy remain in Berea.
Still in the second missionary journey, Paul and Silas leave Philippi and walk about 95 miles to Thessalonica, which is a city of about 200,000 people and is the capital of Macedonia. As was their custom, they visit a synagogue, and Paul presents the essential gospel message. Some listeners are converted and join with Paul and Silas, (about AD 51) which provokes jealousy from those who do not trust that Jesus was the Messiah, and they stir up trouble. Those who feel threatened by the message of the apostles seize Jason, with whom Paul and company are likely staying. They force Jason to post a bond, which he will forfeit unless he sends the missionaries on their way. The brand-new followers of Jesus think it best to send them away under the cover of darkness, and they travel to Berea.
With no thought of escape, Paul and Silas are in pain and discomfort in the darkness, yet they are singing and praying—joyous despite the misery. The jailer, who lives above the prison with his entire household, hears the missionaries. An earthquake suddenly strikes, which open the doors of the prison and snap the restraints of the prisoners. Miracle or natural event? Nothing is said as to the cause, but the jailer rushes into the inner prison and is about to kill himself, since he would have to be executed according to Roman law if a prisoner escaped, when Paul calls out to him that no one has escaped. Overwhelmed, the jailer comes to Paul and Silas and asks that he might be saved, and Paul tells him to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The miracle of conversion occurs, and the jailer, along with his household who had certainly also heard the preaching, is baptized. The magistrates, those in power, determine that Paul and Silas should be sent on their way in silence. Paul refuses to simply leave and wants these leaders themselves to come to them and see to their departure.
Philippi in Macedonia, named for Alexander the Great’s father Philip, is the first city the missionaries visit in Europe. There was no synagogue there, but some women gather on the Sabbath beside the Gangites River for prayers. Lydia from Thyatira in Asia (modern day Turkey) hears Paul speak, and God “open[s] her heart.” She is baptized along with her household, who were likely there by the river and heard the gospel message. At some later point, Paul and Silas encounter a slave girl who gives fortunes and brings much gain to her masters. Paul casts a demon out of her, which ends her ability to fell fortunes. Her owners then cause a commotion the result of which lands both Paul and Silas in prison after a terrible beating. They are placed into tight security, with their feet in stocks.
The second missionary journey, now by the team of Paul and Silas, begins by revisiting new churches that were begun on the first journey. Silas is a leader in the Jerusalem church and is described as a prophet, a preacher, a leader, a Roman citizen—perfect to connect with Gentiles. Likely in Derbe, Timothy joins with Paul and Silas (see 2 Tim. 1:3-5). For strategic reasons, Paul has Timothy circumcised, though he knows neither circumcision or uncircumcision count for anything (see 1 Cor. 7:19). As the missionaries continue, they deliver the proclamation from the Jerusalem church that Gentiles are not required to be circumcised. Then, in a dream, Paul sees a man whom he determines is a Macedonian (from the northern part of Greece), who calls out for the missionaries to help them. Now for the first time, the Gospel will be presented in Europe.
The leaders of the Jerusalem church then decided that James’ points be written up and sent to other churches newly formed in Gentile areas. The letter encourages compliance only and does not demand it. The point seems to be that if Gentiles do observe certain activities that the Jewish believers, and all Jews, found repugnant, then fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians would be possible. Cultural considerations are therefore important. It must be noted that pagan practices common in the Graeco/Roman world were unholy and against the Scripture. The issue seemingly settled, Paul and Barnabas propose a new evangelistic venture. Barnabas wants to take his cousin Mark along, Paul protests, and there is a falling out between the two Christian brothers.
Following Peter’s narration of how Gentiles had been converted, Paul and Barnabas do the same. They describe how, by signs and wonders of the Holy Spirit, Gentiles had been saved. James, the half brother of Jesus, acting as would the president of a synagogue, now the leading authority figure in the church in Jerusalem, speaks in support of what Peter, Paul, and Barnabas said about Gentiles coming to faith in Jesus. James quotes Amos 9:11-15, which included “and all the Gentiles who are called by my name,” thereby showing the intent of God. James concludes then that Gentiles who were believing in Jesus should not be troubled but advises that Gentiles should avoid four things: food sacrificed to idols, sexual immorality, meat strangled, and from blood.
Some brothers from the Jerusalem church travelled to Antioch of Syria and were teaching that Gentiles needed to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul and Barnabas debated the issue. The church at Antioch gathered to address it, and Peter related how the Roman Cornelius had been converted by the power of the Holy Spirit just as Jews had been. Peter’s conclusion is that Gentiles will be saved just as they all had been
Peace in the Bible means both the absence of conflict between nations, tribes, and individuals AND the reconciled relationship between individuals and God made possible by the work of Christ Jesus on the cross.
What is joy, actually? See 1 Peter 1:8–9 “Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” Joy is not always what we think it is.
Throughout John’s gospel, chapters 14–16, Jesus speaks to his disciples about who he is and what he came to do. He says, “Let not your hearts be troubled,” “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” “No one comes to the Father except by me,” etc. Jesus is the way to the Father. He is our reconciler and mediator.
Christ was prophesied by OT prophets of Israel. We discuss 20 of the prophesies fulfilled by Jesus, including the virgin birth, the seed of Abraham and Judah and David, born in Bethlehem, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, the year predicted in Daniel 9, the flight to Egypt from Hosea 11, the slaughter of the innocents from Jeremiah 31, John the Baptist as forerunner from Malachi 3, the Son of God from Psalm 2, his Galilean ministry from Isaiah 9, the triumphal entry from Zechariah 9, etc.
Lystra was the home of Timothy (perhaps Timothy is converted now), and there is no synagogue there. Paul and Barnabas come across a man who is disabled, never able to walk, and he is healed. Local legends had it that Zeus and Hermes, two chief Greek gods (Jupiter and Mercury in the Roman Latin) had done something similar, and as a result, the people of Lystra begin to honor the two as Zeus and Hermes. In Lystras were shrines to these gods, and the head priest of Zeus prepared to offer sacrifices, a bull decorated with wool garlands, but the apostles rush about to abort that attempt. Paul then presents a sermon unlike one he would preach to a Jewish audience, which is focused on the grace of God in the creation. Opponents from Antioch and Iconium arrive and stir up the crowds. Paul is stoned, recovers (not sure if it is a resurrection from the dead or not), and the apostles leave Lystra and head to Derbe, 60 miles away. After some period of preaching there, they return the way they had come and appoint elders in the churches in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch.
Iconium is 80 miles from Antioch of Pisidia in the Roman province of Galatia. (Paul’s first letter, about AD 49 will be written to the churches in Galatia) The apostles are not discouraged, though forced out of Antioch. They take the Roman road to Iconium. As usual, they go first to the synagogue and speak in such a way that many believe in Jesus as Messiah. Opposition arises again. Still they remain for a considerable period of time and boldly presented the Gospel. Hearing of a plot to abuse, even stone them, the apostles flee Lystra and Derby, cities of Lycaonia. On their way, they continue to preach.
That next Sabbath Day (Saturday morning about 9am) a large crowd gathers to hear the apostles, although opposition arose during the week, out of Jealousy Luke tells us. They present the message with boldness despite the dangers. This now prepares the way for the Gospel message to be preached to Gentiles, predicted in Isaiah 49:6. Paul always went to his Jewish brethren first then to the Gentiles, as we see in Romans 1:16. On hearing the gospel the Gentiles rejoice and “as many as were appointed to eternal life believed.” More and more then hear the Gospel message around that region, which provokes more opposition. Still, the new believers are filled with “joy and the Holy Spirit.”
Paul is speaking to a predominately Jewish audience and is able to quote from the Hebrew Bible passages that speak of resurrection: Psalm 2, Isaiah 53:3, and Psalm 16:10. David died and saw corruption (of his body), but Jesus rose from the dead, and His body did not experience corruption. And in Jesus there is forgiveness of sin, which forms the core of Paul’s message. The Law of Moses serves to show us our condition, which is hopeless. The power of the Holy Spirit is present as the hearers “beg” to hear more.
Some unknown time after the conversion of Sergius Paulus, Luke says that “Paul and his companions” left Cyprus and arrived at Perga, in Pamphylia (modern day Turkey) and from Perga they went to Antioch in Pisidia. John did not make this trip but returned to Jerusalem. The missionaries visit the synagogue in Antioch and are invited to speak. Paul then proceeds to preach a sermon quite similar to the one Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost, a message that the Jewish listeners would be able to follow and appreciate. Paul is bold to show how the Old Testament looked forward to someone in the line of David to be the Savior/Messiah. Paul shows that John the Baptist, who was widely considered a prophet, pointed to Jesus as the long awaited Savior. He shows how, according to Scripture, this one from God would be killed on a tree, but that God raised him for the dead. This “good news” Paul proclaims to his fellow Jews.
At the church at Antioch were prophets and teachers, five of whom are named. The first one mentioned is Barnabas, the last is Saul. Of the other three, one is likely a black man from North Africa, another perhaps an Arab, and the third a Roman; thus we see the diversity of the early church. The Holy Spirit, in a way that is unknown, calls for the setting apart of Barnabas and Saul to that which “I have called them.” Off the two go to Cyprus, which is Barnabas’ native country, and in the city of Salamis the first missionaries run into a Jewish false prophet named Bar Jesus and Elymas. Elymas means magician. He had gotten attached to the proconsul Sergius Paulus who wanted to hear the “word of God” from Barnabas and Saul. The magician opposes this, and Saul miraculously causes the magician to go blind. This event has a major impact on Sergius Paulus, and Luke reports that he “believed.”
It was meant to be Peter’s last night alive, but an angel of the Lord rescues Peter without the sixteen Roman guards even being aware of it. Peter heads for the home of Mary where believers are present. A servant girl, Rhoda, hears banging on the gate of the large home, so she goes to it. Peter announces himself, but she is so excited, she does not open the door, but runs up to the gathering and announces that Peter is at the entrance to the house. The believers think she is mad, despite their praying, but eventually Peter is brought in. Peter requests that “James and the brothers” be told about what happened then leaves to parts unknown. Then follows the story of Herod, who falls prey to a terrible illness, only described as “eaten by worms,” a common idiom meaning dying badly due to an invasive disease.
“Herod the King” born in 10 BC is Herod Agrippa 1, son of Aristobulus and grandson of Herod the Great; he ruled from AD 41–44. His mother Mariamne was Jewish and her son considered himself Jewish and attended the morning and evening sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem regularly. His desire to please the Jews resulted in his persecution of the followers of Jesus in Jerusalem. He killed the apostle, James Zebedee, with “the sword,” meaning he had James beheaded. This met with approval, so Herod proceeded to arrest Peter as well. Peter was placed in ‘maximum’ security with 16 soldiers guarding. This happened at the time of Passover/Unleavened Bread, a 7–day feast, and it was necessary that nothing happen to Peter until the holiday was completed. Meanwhile the “church” was praying for him.
Luke now goes back to a time after the scattering of believers following the death of Stephen, some of whom had travelled to Phoenicia, Cyprus, and Antioch. Some of those who went to Antioch preached Jesus to Gentiles, and a great number of them believed. This event was reported to the Church in Jerusalem which then sent Barnabas to Antioch. Barnabas, the encourager, did encourage the growing number of new converts to Christ. Barnabas then went north to Tarsus to find Paul to bring him to Antioch to help disciple the new Christians. It was in Antioch that followers of Jesus were first named “Christian.”
It was not long before the “apostles and brothers” in Jerusalem heard that Gentiles had received the “word of God.” Upon Peter’s return to Jerusalem the “circumcision party” criticizes him for fraternizing with Gentiles, thus provoking a defense and explanation from Peter. His focus is on the falling of the Holy Spirit upon the Gentiles at the home of Cornelius. Peter had heard Jesus say that the Holy Spirit would baptize, and obviously this very thing had happened for Gentiles. What then could Peter do but baptize them in water, which Jesus had also commanded. The Church in Jerusalem rejoices at this report.
Peter’s brief but succinct preaching is interrupted by the action of the Holy Spirit “fallen” upon the Gentile hearers. This amazes the Jewish contingent who had accompanied Peter from Joppa, but this was unmistakable, since this is what had been experienced in the Upper Room in Jerusalem, when the disciples began speaking in tongues and extolling God. The evidence of he work of the Spirit is so evident that Peter knows these new believers should be baptized, and in the “name of Jesus Christ” they are. Peter now remains some days in Caesarea with the new Gentile followers of Jesus.
Following the vision the men sent by Cornelius arrive at Simon the Tanner’s home in Joppa. The Spirit prepares Peter to do as the men will request. The following day Peter and six others make the journey to Caesarea and find upon arrival that Cornelius has assembled a number of people. Cornelius explains to Peter how it came to be that he sent for him. Peter now preaches the first message of Jesus to a Gentile audience. Peter presents the core Gospel message concluding with the surety of forgiveness of sin.
In Caesarea, a Gentile but God-fearing Roman centurion named Cornelius has a vision in which he is told to send for Peter who is staying in Joppa. As he prays before the noon meal, Peter also has a vision, the substance of which is God saying to him that no animal is unclean, much after the fashion of what Jesus taught in Mark 5. Peter is now prepared for the arrival of the centurion’s servants already sent to bring Peter to Caesarea.