The events of today’s chapter are as follows: the Jewish authorities go before Governor Felix with their grievances against Paul. Paul gives his defense, asserting his innocence of any crime except believing in the resurrection of the dead, which of course is no crime at all. Felix dismisses the charges under the pretense of postponing his judgment, and Paul remains in protective custody for two years, during which time he has several opportunities to discuss religion and morality with the governor. But when the governorship passes from Felix to Porcius Festus, Felix decides to give the Jews a freebie and leaves Paul in prison. Now, having stated the events of today’s chapter, let us dissect them.
Where we last left our hero, he had just
won a debate against the minds of Mount Rushmore begun to address the crowd in Jerusalem. He begins to tell his story, but he doesn’t get very far before things go kinda south.
In yesterday’s chapter, Paul preached his Mars Hill sermon, which we in our blog post for all intents and purposes ignored. Through the sermon, he won the interest of the Athenians and a non-trivial amount of converts, as well as a measure of scorn from some for believing that the dead can be raised. In today’s chapter, having made all the progress he can in Athens, he leaves of his own volition, for once not chased out by angry mobs, and goes to Corinth. And in Corinth, he finds a populace surprisingly receptive to the gospel.
You probably know Acts 17 for Paul’s sermon at Mars Hill. It’s a brilliant piece of apologetics, meeting the Greek population of Athens right where it is, starting from what’s laudable in their religious practices and leading those interested step-by-step to the truth of Christ’s resurrection. Here in Cincinnati, Mars Hill lends its name to a K-12 Christian private school, though when it comes to Mars Hill namesakes, you’re more likely to know of Mark Driscoll’s controversial and now-defunct Seattle-based megachurch. The earlier portions of Acts 17 really just kinda work the spotlight as the Mars Hill sermon takes center stage; after all, apart from the sermon, most of the chapter is just Paul going here and there. But let’s consider his here-and-there-going.
We’ve got a few different events that we could conceivably talk about from today’s chapter of Acts. Timothy makes his first appearance, the high-class fabric merchant Lydia becomes a Christian, Paul exorcises a spirit of divination and gets in trouble for it, and Paul and Silas go to and get out of jail. I could dig into any one of these events, and there’s a good chance I’ll hit more than one. But before I do, I want to hit an event so subtle you might easily miss it: the introduction of Luke.
As many of you know, that well-worn Bible from the photos with the occasional handwritten marginal notes is my dad’s. He’s had it for nearly as long as I can remember; the date in the front cover is 8/28/88. I was five then. I used to look at the maps in the back, with their bright colors tracing out the boundaries of geopolitical regions and the travels of Christ and Paul. Much of their information went right over my elementary-school head, but now I’m older and wiser, or at least better educated, and for today’s chapter, those maps might conceivably come in handy. Paul connects with Barnabas and gets his first major missionary voyage underway, and two major events occur at Paphos on the island of Cyprus and on the mainland at Pisidian Antioch.
If you were reading through the New Testament in canonical order, starting with Matthew and ending with Revelation, then Acts 8 would be the last you’d see of Philip. Even in the first half of the chapter, he ends up leaving the limelight as Peter handles Simon the Ex-Sorcerer’s attempt to purchase distribution rights to the Holy Spirit. But in the latter half of the chapter, Philip gets a solo adventure and an opportunity to do some big kingdom work, and it all starts with an angel and a eunuch.
Stephen’s death was a bit of a sucker punch to the early church. Not only did they have to cope with the loss of one of their most devout members, but also Jerusalem turned hostile to the faith. The majority of the new Christians had to disperse to other regions, and Saul spearheaded the persecution efforts, imprisoning many of those who stuck around. But you don’t get diamonds without pressure, you don’t get pearls without irritants, and it takes a lot of (ahem) fertilizer to make a rose.
Today’s passage: Mark 13:9-13. “The gospel must first be preached to all the nations.” That’s Mark 13:10. It comes in the middle of Jesus warning his apostles of upcoming persecution, courtroom trials, floggings, betrayal by family members, and death. It’s similar to a passage we’ve seen before, Matthew 24:9-14, but that passage emphasizes the bigger picture, while here we’re getting a focus on what the apostles will suffer.