2.4 – The Missions of Paul (22 min video)
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– So we did yesterday talking about the leadership of the church in Jerusalem and that unbroken line. Today we’re going to focus upon the leadership of the Gentile church in Acts. Now of course, takes us to the character of Paul. The church historian, Kenneth LaTourette says that Paul was sensitive. He was quick-tempered, and he was a mystic. He was deeply affectionate, and he was dependent on friendship, usually courteous, subject to depths of despair, but also to heights of exultation, capable of great joy, and yet haunted at times by fears and doubts.
He was constant, and a purpose once formed displayed great resourcefulness, presence of mind, sound judgment, physical endurance, and powers of recuperation, and he was a leader.
In fact, if you look at the quote, you can then see this whole series of references to the New Testament. He’s, every single one of those phrases, he’s referring to a specific verse of the New Testament. We’ve already talked a little bit about Paul, how he was a Pharisee, how he was educated by Gamaliel in Jerusalem, how he called himself a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
He was somebody who knew the Old Testament well. He was able to see Abraham as a father of the faithful. He was able to say that Habakkuk, that prophet of old, was the first to preach justification by faith. It was Paul who saw the Passover lamb as an early type or symbol of the Christ, or saw both the Red Sea crossing and the flood as early forms of baptism, or the manna in the wilderness as a type of the bread of life of Christ himself, which we commemorate in communion, or was able to see the characters of Hagar and Sarah as symbols of the law and the gospel.
He was, as I mentioned to you already, as somebody who knew Greek well, who had probably an extensive Greek education. He quotes from the Septuagint. He quotes from Greek poets on at least three occasions. He borrows imagery from Greek games. Farrar, one of the famous theologians of the 19th century argues that Paul uses 50 different Greek literary tropes. He seems to be a true scholar amongst the disciples and of course was also a Roman citizen which gave him certain privileges. He had a miraculous conversion outside of Damascus, a tale that is actually told three times in the book of Acts when it actually happens, and then two times later by Paul.
And he’s able to say in 1 Corinthians 15, by the grace of God, I am what I am. Meaning that Paul saw his conversion as truly something supernatural, which it clearly was. So probably around the year 47 AD, which is probably more than a decade after Paul’s conversion, we have the report of his first missionary journey, a journey that probably lasted well into the year 48 AD. It was on this journey that he and Barnabas took John Mark, Barnabas’s cousin, somebody who would go on to write the gospel of Mark, who might’ve actually written himself into that gospel as the guy who runs away naked when Jesus is being arrested because he really, really doesn’t want to be arrested himself. Well, it’s on this journey that they go to Cyprus, a place that Barnabas was from. It was there that they encounter the Roman governor, a guy by the name of Lucius Sergius Paulus. There’s the full name, which all Romans had three names, but he, somebody we’re told, actually believed their report. So they had success there. They then land on the shores of Asia Minor at Perga, where they go to the synagogue and Paul preaches a sermon that’s actually recorded for us. It’s reminiscent of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost. It’s reminiscent of Stephen’s sermon when he is about to be stoned. You can find it in Acts 13, but he recounts the old history of the Old Testament and shows how Christ has fulfilled what the Jews have longed for for millennia.
He then has success throughout much of Asia Minor, but often has to leave one community after another once the Jews object. But still you see the very beginning of churches happening and the spread of Christianity. At one such place known as Lystra, both Paul and Barnabas are mistaken as gods after they heal a lame man. In fact, they’re called Zeus and Hermes. They’re even confronted by one of the local priests bring sacrifices to come and sacrifice to them and so they tear their clothes to show that they’re really upset and then say we also are men of like nature with you but we bring you good news that you should turn from these vain things to a living God saying to the people of Lystra that God is the one who satisfies your hearts with food and gladness but of course a Jewish mob arrives there too to actually stone Paul while he’s there, but don’t finish the job. He just gets up and leaves. He then goes on to the town of Derby or the limit of the Roman empire before heading back through towns he’d already visited on his way to Antioch. Probably the very next year for this journey or 49 AD, Paul goes on his second journey. This time he splits with Barnabas who goes off with John Mark And he goes with Silas instead, who is a fellow Roman citizen. They focus their work at Asia Minor. They go back and they revisit Lystra, that place where they were confused as being Zeus, or they had been confused with being Zeus and Hermes.
It’s there that they meet Timothy, one of the early pastors of the church to whom Paul will write two epistles. They eventually meet Luke up at Troas, who follows along as a witness to what they do. When they cross over into Philippi, the site of one of the famous battles of antiquity, they meet several of the people that are known as God-fears, those who worship the one true God and are ready to hear the gospel message.
It’s there we get characters like Lydia, who is a seller of purple. It’s there also that they heal a demon-possessed girl who is the slave of a couple of owners who use her particular possession as a way to make money.
So of course they receive a complaint, they’re beaten, they’re arrested and thrown in jail, only to be apologized to by the leaders of the town when they reveal that, hey, we’re Roman citizens. And yet they keep going onward. Eventually, Paul and Silas make their way to Athens. It’s there at Athens that Paul comes the famous Oropagus, that place on the heights of the Athenian Hill where often the great philosophers and the great talkers and the great thinkers would come to discuss ideas, especially philosophy, which naturally leads you to theology.
It’s on his way there that Paul notices this very curious altar. It says on it, “Agnosto Theo,” to the unknown God. He then uses this to address the Athenians, saying that he knows who this unknown God is. He even actually cites some pagan authors. He cites, for example, the man named Eratus, who said, “We also are his offspring,” meaning that we as humans are God’s children. Or he also cites the Greek writer Epimidides of Crete, who said of Zeus, “You are not dead, forever you are living and risen, for in you,” and this is really about God, “we live and we move and we have our being.” He then warns the people that a day of judgment has been appointed. It’s going to happen at a certain point in history, and it’s going to be by this man, Jesus, who was crucified and who was raised from the dead because he is God, so therefore know him.
Most of the Athenians see this as ridiculous. They follow their old playwright, Aeschylus, who said about man that once he is dead, there is no resurrection. It was that short and to the point. But yet some do. For example, Dionysus the Arapagite actually converts, we’re told. And then Paul and Silas make their way to yet another famous city, the city of Corinth. It’s here that they probably arrive around the year 50 AD in a city that had once controlled all of the trade between northern and southern Greece based simply upon where it was located.
It was a city that was destroyed by the Romans in the year 146 BC, then rebuilt in the days of Julius Caesar. It was a city that also had quite a reputation. The Greeks simply referred to people who had poor morality as “behaving as they do in Corinth.” That was actually a phrase, and there was even a special Greek word to describe these people who were known especially for their sexual vices.
It was something that seemed to be common to their culture. Whenever Christianity comes in, it doesn’t do away with the pleasures of mankind, rather it shows them their proper context. And so you have the highlighting or really the praising of marital faithfulness, of the importance of the family and children, because after all, you have the relationship between Christ and his church, that is us, described as being like a marriage.
And of course you have a Bible and Revelation that ends with a marriage and the great wedding supper of the Lamb. Well, it was the same Corinth that worshipped Aphrodite, the goddess of love, or worshipped, for example, the ancient Near East God Melkart or Melkor.
This was the same Baal who Ahab and and Jezebel worshipped. Well, it’s there in Corinth that Paul and Silas encounter the Jews who are also called Godfears, and they begin actually teaching at the synagogues. They’re quickly joined by their characters. We have, for example, Aquila, who was a leather worker. We have his wife, Priscilla, who’s sometimes also called Prisca. They were people who had been exiled as Jews from Rome under the Emperor Claudius just four years before. They join with Paul and they’re curious about what he has to say. And we see the creation of a distinct Christian community or church happening. A distinct community because it doesn’t really emphasize distinctions between Jews and Gentiles. It doesn’t make distinctions between those who follow the old Jewish laws and those who don’t, but makes it clear that all are joined by baptism and by communion with the risen Lord. In fact, for much of the time, Christianity was protected because it was seen by the Romans as being a part of Judaism. But once Judaism, or once Christianity, I should say, was no longer about just a certain group of people, the Jews, once it was opened up to the Gentiles, the Romans began to see this isn’t just an ethnic or a racial thing. This is something that’s going to involve all cultures and it’s therefore a threat to our power. So therefore you begin to see some of the early persecutions of the Christians. That’s for Paul, when he writes to the Corinthians later, he remarks about what kind of people they were. He said, “Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards.” And he even admits that many of them were formerly sinners and actually list their sins, but then says in 1 Corinthians 6 that they have been cleansed, they have been sanctified, they have been justified.
In other words, he echoes what Jesus says in Mark 2, when Jesus says, “I came not to call the righteous, “but to call sinners.” It’s there in Corinth, the church begins, and actually has communal meals. And Paul’s able to write to them things like, “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, “You proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” He makes it very clear that they’re practicing not so much simply a code of conduct, but they’re actually celebrating the person and the work of Jesus Christ. He points out to them that he himself was a witness to the resurrection saying, “Last of all, as to one untimely born,” meaning me, “Jesus appeared also.” And he also does address issues of morality. All you have to do is read, say, 1 Corinthians, and you’ll see it throughout there. And it climaxes with this marvelous passage on love. That’s one of the most famous. I’m sure you’ve heard it, but let me read you the words of Paul here to Corinthians. He says, “Love is patient and kind. Love does not envy or boast. It is not arrogant, nor is it rude. is not insist on its own ways, is not irritable or resentful, it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, it believes all things, it hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away. As for tongues, they will cease. As for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, But when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” Of course, the problem was that Paul was not always well-received, and the Jews in Corinth charged him with preaching an unlicensed religion. At the time, the Romans required that all cults, all religions be licensed with the government. Christianity, so long as it was seen as a form of Judaism, was seen as being licensed. But once the Romans realized it was different, they realized that this was something that they needed to control if they could only do that.
And it’s there at Corinth, however, that the Roman governor, a man by the name of Lucius Junius Galla, who was actually the brother of Seneca, said that this Christianity thing was simply an internal Jewish affair and let Paul go on his way.
He’s joined by others in Corinth, like Apollos, who we’re told was one of the mightiest of orators. He was classically trained and is able to help expand the church as well. And when people complain that they either follow Paul or follow Apollos, Paul says that he’s happy so long as Apollos is watering the seed that he planted because Christ is being proclaimed and he cannot be divided. In fact, Corinth becomes a center of Christianity. We’re told that there were visitors from Palestine that might’ve actually been Peter. And we’re told that there were visitors from Rome. People came from Tarsus. There were people from Alexandria and Egypt, like Apollos. There were people from, of course, Palestine and Judea, as I’ve already mentioned. In other words, you have the ancient world together in one place. Then, probably around 52 AD, Paul goes on his third journey, this time focusing on Ephesus. Ephesus, like Corinth, was a major source of trade near the coast. It worshiped the goddess of Diana or Artemis. It had a massive temple to her that was one of the wonders of the world. It also had a large guild of silversmiths who crafted and made a lot of money off of silver idols to Diana. It’s there that Paul visits and confronts this worship, which sometimes happened in a massive theater that could actually seat some 25,000 people. It’s here also that Apollos comes, and we’re told that he powerfully demonstrated to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah based upon passages of the Old Testament. And yet Paul is imprisoned. Eventually, he makes his way back to Jerusalem where he is once again imprisoned, but this time he is saved by a Roman tribune from what would have been his assassination at the hands of the Jews.
And when he reveals his Roman citizenship and appeals to Caesar, he is sent off to Rome. That’s considered his fourth and final journey, a journey that was not without incident. There’s a shipwreck in there where he crashes on Malta for a time. What’s curious is that when he gets to Rome, Christianity was already there. We really don’t have a good account of who founded the church in Rome. We know, for example, that there were Jews and God-fearers from Rome and Jerusalem at Pentecost. We know that Jews were in the city of Rome from the second century BC onward. We know they were expelled by Claudius in the 40s. And we know that characters like Aquila and Priscilla came from there. We also have leaders who became Christians named people like Andronicus and his wife, Junia, or Rufus, for example. It’s also quite likely that Peter visited there with Mark sometime in the late 50s. We also think that Mark stayed there and actually wrote his gospel using the testimony of Peter. We also think, for example, that Peter wrote his first letter, what we know as 1 Peter, from Rome, which he calls Babylon in 1 Peter, probably in the early 60s, maybe even 63 AD, in which he warns of persecution.
As for Paul, he probably shows up there in 60 AD, meaning Peter was most likely already there or he came back sometime when Paul was there.
It’s there that Paul, under house arrest with the help of various fellow Christians, and Luke is in the picture too, writes his letters such as Philippians and Ephesians and Colossians.
He would later return and write his letters to Timothy as well as to Titus. Later on, and not even really that much later, characters like Ignatius, one of the early church leaders who comes after the apostles, refer to Peter and Paul as the leaders of the church in Rome.
Irenaeus would do the exact same thing. What we do know from history is that in the year 64 AD, a massive fire broke out in Rome, beginning at the Circus Maximus and consumed much of the city, especially the homes of common people.
The emperor Nero, who some have hypothesized may have started the fire because he wanted to rebuild Rome– we’ll talk about him later– decided to blame the Christians. They were easy scapegoats because, as the Roman historian Tacitus tells us, the Christians were, quote, “haters of humanity.” They were always talking about this other world. So therefore, clearly, they hate this world. That was the idea. Anyway, it’s because of that and because of the fact that they were not simply a people who were to be seen as a licensed cult that Nero ordered the persecution of Christians, having many of them crucified, having some of them dressed in the skins of wild beast and fed to lions while people watched in the Colosseum, or in some cases, having them turned into human torches, which were lit on fire to illuminate his garden parties in the evening.
As for Peter, not being a Roman citizen when he was eventually arrested and ordered to be executed, we know from the earliest accounts of history that he was crucified.
And most of the stories tell us that he did not see himself as being worthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. And so he requested to be crucified upside down. As for Paul, being a Roman citizen, when he was brought forth to be executed, he was most likely beheaded. It was something he was prepared for. In fact, all you have to do is read, say, for example, what he says in Philippians chapter one. “Yes, and I will rejoice, “for I know that through your prayers “and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, “this will turn out for my deliverance, as is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage, now as always, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.