Acts Wednesday: Chapter 15, Speak the Truth in Love

I can’t believe this!”

I can feel the steam rise up inside me, that empowering energy that comes from righteous indignation. My fingers fly across the keyboard, boy I’m really letting them have it! Or I open my mouth and out comes the rich, pointed rant they really deserve! Mmm it feels good, doesn’t it!

I’ve set someone straight on my corner of the planet. Maybe I used some well-placed sarcasm, a bon mot that both roundly humiliated my target and enlightened the audience surrounding us both. Everyone laughs, everyone nods their heads, go me.

Or, maybe I took the noble route, I unfurled my scriptural and scholarly citations, I made sure every point of error was addressed.

Or, maybe I tried a little of both, some humor, some well-placed logic, a few proof-texts or other facts.

Maybe all this only took place inside my mind.

But it happened.

And the one thing I didn’t do was invite the other to speak. This was no time for listening. They stated an untruth, and it was on me to correct them, so the truth would prevail, so that others would know the truth and not be taken in by lies.

Is that how Paul’s redressing of Peter seemed?

Afterall, isn’t that how Paul instructed the church in such passages as “for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest also may stand in fear,” (1 Timothy 5:20, NRSV) and “That testimony is true. For this reason rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound in the faith.” (Titus 1:13, NRSV)?

In fact, Paul himself, in his letters, seemed to correct, reprimand, and even discipline others. What about the time Paul urged the church in Corinth to “hand over to Satan” one of their members because of his sexual wrongdoing? Paul handed two others over to Satan for preaching blasphemy. We’re not sure what “handing over to Satan” means, but it sounds severe. Still, shouldn’t we be following Paul’s example, rooting out sexual sin, blasphemy, heresy, and other wrongs with just as keen a zeal for the purity of the faith, and of the church?

Even when we turn to the Gospels, we see the Lord Jesus known for His beatitudes, for turning the other cheek, for loving His enemies, for His tender treatment of Judas, for explaining that God loves and blesses the whole world … Even Jesus used strong and uncompromising language with the Pharisees, and tore through the temple in righteous and holy wrath.

And yet.

The bulk of Paul’s teaching was not about redressing wrongs and rebuking sinners. Instead, Paul talked about the vital necessity of protecting unity, building community, and caring for each other with such love, brothers and sisters in the Lord would rather absorb the cost for another than stand on their own rights.

Paul, as much as he may be known for rebuking and contending, also championed protection of the unity God Himself had given the church. In just a few samples of Paul’s letters to believers we find:

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love

making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:1-4 (NRSV)

  1. Paul outlined what made the church one, a very simple list found in Ephesians 4:1-6, and implored believers to protect and nourish the unity already given by God.
  2. Paul exhorted believers to be mindful about their varying levels of maturity, and tenderness of conscience, in such places as Romans 14:1-15:5, ending that particular passage by writing “May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus.”
  3. Paul urged believers to carefully consider what is best, in honor of God and in strengthening and building up the family of God, writing, “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say—but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.” 1 Corinthians 10:23-33
  4. Paul cautioned believers to think carefully about what the other person needs, in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. Often, a rebuke will only crush and harm, making matters worse.
  5. In nearly every one of his letters, Paul spoke of the supremacy of love. For instance,
  6. Paul wrote to the believers in Corinth that without love, nothing else is worth anything.
  7. Paul wrote to the believers in Philippi that wisdom is found in the growth of God’s love within us.
  8. In his letter to the believers in Rome, Paul devoted several chapters to this theme, saying, “Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord.”
  1. Paul admonished those who would stand for the truth to make sure their motivation was love, writing, “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.” Ephesians 4:15
  2. Finally, Paul enjoined only those who were spiritual to take on the work of correcting a brother or sister, in his instructions found in Galatians 5:16-6:5, urging them to “restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.

Core principles for correcting one another include:

  • Making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit
  • Seeking to live in in harmony with each other
  • Being willing to make the other person’s good the most important objective
  • Understanding what the other person needs
  • Being motivated by love for God, love for the brothers and sisters, love for the church, and love for the individual, all flowing from God’s love filling the heart
  • Couching the correcting truth in terms of love
  • Restoring the one being corrected in a spirit of gentleness

And that’s just a short list! I’m sure it would be easy to make it much longer, if I really dug into what the New Testament teaches on this topic.

Can I really pull that off?

Especially in the moment, when I feel the heat rising?

Is it possible, that’s actually what Paul was doing when he confronted Peter?

(tomorrow: understanding when to confront)

[Saints Peter and Paul | Anonymous: Unknown author (Roman School) [Public domain]

The Tower of Babel

Was God up in heaven somewhere not aware up till now about what was going on?

Was He relying on messengers – maybe angels – to travel back and forth to keep Him informed?

Did a message somehow finally reach God about humankind’s tower and the Lord decided to come down and see what was going on?

It is impossible to read it that way if you read it in light of what has already been said about God in the book of Genesis. Already God has been presented as the Maker of heaven and earth, the One concerned about the tiniest details of creation, the Omnipotent, Omniscient God who knows everything, sees everything and is all-powerful.

What this is, is irony.

It’s designed to show how ridiculous this situation really was. Here was this tower that people were in the process of building, thinking that it will take God’s breath away, it will threaten Him, thinking “Here we are, we fabulous inventors, awesome scientists, erectors of giant towers; we’ve dared to invade the heavens! You better watch out, God!” But up in the real heavens this tower is so little that God can’t see it. It is so teensy tinsy that God says, “I’ll have to come down there to see it.”

Then, in all seriousness, we are given God’s analysis of the situation, in parallel with the three reasons humanity had for building the tower,

God took note of three key characteristics of humankind

1. Humankind’s unity

And the LORD said, ‘Behold, they are one people, and they have all one language.'”

2. Humankind’s creativity

This is only the beginning,” God said, “of what they will do.”

This creativity is part of the image of God which He gave to people when He made them in His likeness; this inventiveness, this ability to think and reason, to deal in concepts and put them together and to come out with very practical applications.

Notice that God did not suggest humankind does everything at once. People build gradually. One person discovers an idea, another person improves on it, and a third person links it together with yet another idea. So, gradually there takes form inventive solutions to the technical problems of life. As a result of these two factors at work in society, God comes to a startling conclusion:

3. Humankind’s potential

Nothing that they propose to do will now be impossible for them.”

That sounds like now, doesn’t? “There’s nothing we can’t solve, nothing we can’t do.” The remarkable thing from the Scriptures is the truth in this claim. God Himself acknowledges it! He says it is true. If humankind puts its genius to any given, specific task, then people’s native creativeness and persistence will solve the problem eventually. Synthetic food, clothing, building materials, space travel, cloning …  Nothing will be prevented to us.

What does God do?

Hendrick van Cleve III [Public domain]

People were building a tower and a city in order to prevent being scattered abroad over the face of the earth. But the net result is, because they were building the tower and the city, they ended up being scattered all over the earth! 

What they had worked so hard to prevent … happened because they were opposing God’s will.

I had to pause after writing that down. How often have I worked a thing, from every possible angle I could think of, because I either didn’t trust God with it, or I was afraid what God wanted was not what I wanted?

What was behind God’s actions here?

Was God jealous of humankind’s obvious success?

Was God threatened after all by this tower of mud and tar?

Does it mean that God was afraid people would master all things and God wouldn’t be able to control them anymore, that the very foundations of the universe would be threatened by this creative, inventive people?

That may be the way some people would want to read this. We can do anything we want, if we want it badly enough! We don’t need God. Actually, we can become gods ourselves!

While it’s true that God has given humankind enormous potential, and people can do just about anything if they put their mind to it, the question is: can people -be- anything they want to be? That’s the fatal flaw in humanistic thinking, to glorify the self, to be the center of things, to be the master of the universe, to be God, in other words. God knows you and I are incapable of being all that. People are created beings, dependent on God just to be alive.

Humankind has great potential to do whatever we set out to do, so God sets limits.

God prevents humankind from getting in over our heads. People, in our inventiveness, think we can master the earth. But the very solutions we work out sometimes become the bigger problems which we can’t seem to control at all

House of Cards: Tower of Babel – Ground Zero *
Chris Bryant


Radiation coming through holes in the ozone layer.

Burning down the rain forests.

Pit mining that destroys the environment.

Climate change.

Antibiotics that have created super, untouchable bacteria.

Pesticides and herbicides that cause birth defects, yet are now losing their effectiveness on the pests they were designed to eliminate.

Nuclear waste, plastic mountains of garbage in the ocean, earthquakes from fracking, the poisoning of groundwater, and the list goes on and on and on.

So, it’s for your sake and mine, for humankind’s sake, not because God is afraid of humankind’s potential, but to protect humankind from itself, that God said, “Let us go down and confuse their language.”

Let us disperse humankind and keep them from doing what they are not God enough to handle when they are done.

God came down and suddenly, as the workers gathered for work one morning, they found they couldn’t communicate with each other anymore. The word “confusion” only begins to describe individuals’ personal terror, shock and isolation, and collapse of their society.

The Bible has a play on words with the name for Babel, linking it with the Hebrew word for confusion, balal. There was “bal al” in “Bab el.” It is interesting that the name Babel actually means “the gate of God.” They thought they were building a tower that would open the gates of God’s domain, but instead God opened the gates of confusion.

The people at Babel used their unity of language in an attempt to defy God and frustrate His plans for them, so God, by the power of His Spirit, brought disunity to their language to frustrate their plans of rebellion.

God brought down the proud.

When you no longer depend on anything in you, that’s when God is ready to give you everything He possesses.

God lifts up the humble.

That’s what happened on the day of Pentecost. God, by His Spirit, made communication unifying, spreading the gospel, God’s good news of salvation, to every person listening, though they had come from all parts of the world to Jerusalem, and spoke every language known. God brings true unity, and true community, through the gift of His Holy Spirit.

Knowing God is sovereign – God is in control – gives meaning to everything else you and I believe. Whatever temptation you and I are facing, whatever trouble is brewing, we can rest on the fact that nothing is outside the scope of God’s control and everything is going according to His purpose.

You and I will never be without resources to choose good, to obey God, to accomplish great things of lasting value, and to please Him.

Nothing of lasting value is accomplished apart from God

Yeah. I had to pause after that one, too. How often do I get a project in my head and plow forward, pell mell, with all my energy and creativity, all my determination and stamina, without hesitation, without a moment’s thought to whether this is something God also has in mind?

Or, how often have I set my hand to the urgent (as a procrastinator, sometimes that becomes my chief motivation) without taking a moment to assess whether it is also important to God?

If I want what I do to have lasting value, eternal value, then it must be a a project that has more than baked bricks and bitumen going for it. It must also be in line with what God wills and wants.

The first 11 chapters of Genesis continue to fascinate me, even after this months-long journey through their stories. In a way, these are the cave-painting chronicles, the prehistory of humankind, the foundational narratives that explain why and how all that we see around us came into being and is the way it is.

In praying about where to go next, I began thinking about what we call the minor prophets, that line-up of names coming after the major prophets. A lot of those books end up being rants and polemics, so … why are they in the Bible? I’m really curious about it, aren’t you?

That’s what’s coming next on Fridays, here at Grace and Peace

*A house of cards- A contemporary tower of Babel

Chris Bryant

“This project is a living monument to western capitalism. It is an interpretation of capitalism manifested into a theoretically inhabitable tower, presented as a parable much like the original Babel.

The playing card is used as the one building block to create this city. The obsession of the card, the grand yet flawed nature of the house of cards, and the fractal system are all parallels that can be drawn with a western economic system.

The card forms the element for a fractal modular architecture. A modular architecture that actively encourages both curves and immense detail while maintaining the properties of repetition and standardisation that allows it to flourish.

This is a grand, immensely dense and ornate architecture. It is essentially a cathedral to man.”

[Strasbourg Parliament, based on the Tower of Babel |

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 15, Unity

When you piece together Paul’s personal account with the later story Luke told, the picture unfolds. Paul had had just about enough with the ruptures the Pharisee party had caused in the Antioch church. After all his hard work teaching the truth, encouraging, training, and building up the believers in Antioch, after his long and arduous missionary journey, getting all those churches established, under very great strain and opposition, after all he and Barnabas had experienced together, and that Peter himself had experienced, after all that….

Yes. After all that, Paul had had just about enough.

I think it’s at that point that he threw himself down before the Lord Jesus, emotionally exhausted, spiritually spent, and prayed a wordless prayer that went something like, “I’m done in. I don’t know what to do.”

So, Jesus gave Paul a revelation. Go up to Jerusalem, and tell them about what I am doing among the “other flock.”

I think Paul was filled afresh with the dynamic power of the Holy Spirit, and went straightaway to the leaders of the various Antioch house churches and called for a prayer and fasting meeting very like the one they were having when the Holy Spirit moved them to appoint Paul and Barnabas as missionaries, back in Acts 13. They were already very disturbed by the sharp disputes and debates that were being stirred up in all their congregations, and readily agreed.

So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

Acts 15:2 (NRSV)

Who were the other believers? Well, we know for sure one of them was Titus.

Now, Titus was a very interesting choice. He was an uncircumcised Greek whom Paul trusted implicitly as a leader and teacher.

Originally from Antioch, Titus had early become a missionary, church leader, peacemaker, troubleshooter, administrator, and beloved coworker with Paul. Tradition has him becoming the bishop of Crete.

It was Titus who had gone from Ephesus to Corinth to straighten things out after Paul’s first letter and subsequent painful visit, bringing with him a second (now lost) letter from Paul. Titus’ good report to Paul in Macedonia precipitated Paul’s happy 2nd Corinthian letter.

It was Titus whom Paul sent to make a collection for the Jerusalem church.

Now, Just think about this for a minute. Titus wasn’t just a Greek convert. He wasn’t just an uncircumcised believer. And Titus wasn’t even just a teacher at one of the local churches. Titus was one of Paul’s closest coworkers, he was part of Paul’s inner circle. He was entrusted with the kinds of roles and ministry only the most high-up leaders would be entrusted with.

The fact that Titus was not circumcised was huge. He was representing Jesus Christ to all the churches, yet he was an uncircumcised Greek. To the circumcised priests so carefully selected and groomed for their work in the temple, for the circumcised Pharisees, after their long years of study and training, and their diligent and zealous observance of the Law, this had to have been anathema.

So, it is significant that Paul brought Titus to the Jerusalem church as one of the people he wanted them to see in light of this deep doctrinal divide. How Titus was received was going to be a very big deal indeed.

Paul had already confronted Peter, at this point, and I think Barnabas must have been there as well, during that public spectacle, because now, at the big meeting of everyone in Jerusalem, Barnabas and Peter were back on board.

First, Paul and Barnabas described all that had been going on in Antioch and their first missionary journey. For many these were sit-at-the-edge-of-your-seat stories. I picture them all gasping every five minutes at the astounding things that had happened. Can you imagine them listening to what happened to Paul in Lystra?

At some point, their missionary report was interrupted by representatives of this Pharisee party, who took the floor, and wouldn’t give it back, insisting, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.”

The dissension had to be addressed.

It appears that James, the brother of Jesus, who was the president of this council, dismissed the larger assembly for a while so there could be a private meeting between the apostles and elders.

Galatians 2 describes this more private meeting. Paul had received a revelation from God to go to the Jerusalem council, and to bring Titus with him as living proof of salvation by faith. The Pharisee party was, in effect, insisting Titus be circumcised.

Truth was a stake.

Paul was not going to give in to their demands, so the truth of the gospel would not be compromised. Paul did not have Titus circumcised because God Himself had accepted Titus without it. The old covenant requirements no longer applied.

Paul the Apostle

Now remember, Paul had belonged to the strictest sect of the Pharisees around. No Jew, not even those from the Pharisee party,  could stand on the same platform as Paul in terms of perfect Judaism.

  • Paul had been tutored by the one of the highest authorities of his day, Gamaliel.
  • Paul was a Hebrew of Hebrews, meaning he had grown up in a family that resisted Hellenization at every turn.
  • Paul was from the tribe of Benjamin, a fierce and zealous tribe, and one of the only two tribes that had any legitimate claim to Jerusalem, the holy city, as it had been given to them as their ancestral inheritance in the Promised Land.
  • As far as observance of the Law was concerned, Paul could say with a clear conscience, his record was absolutely spotless.  

Paul was untouchable. He used that weight to add gravity to what he was saying. All of it was utterly meaningless to new birth in Christ.

After Paul, Peter reminded the council about his vision of what God was now declaring clean. He reminded them of going to Cornelius and all his household, and how they had all agreed this was of the Lord.

Peter clinched it by saying,

Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Acts 15:10-11 (NRSV)

God was creating a new humanity – He was expanding the parameters of His chosen people to include all those who put their faith in Jesus. They would die with Christ and be born to new life, as a new person, a part of a new race of people who were all deeply connected to each other as brothers and sisters, beloved children of God. As God’s child, you are completely, thoroughly, consistently, unendingly loved by God. He delights in you as you.

The Pharisee party was saying all believers had to become Jewish before they would be accepted into God’s covenant family. Paul was saying no. Every believer becomes a part of God’s family purely by faith, just as Abraham was counted righteous by faith alone.

The list Paul had given, in his letter to the churches in Ephesus, is very short, really, that unifies in Christ:

  • God’s one Holy Spirit
  • One hope for eternal life through Jesus
  • One Lord
  • One faith
  • One baptism
  • One God and Father of all, Who is over all, through all and in all.

You and I have a lot to work with in preserving unity. How do you handle disagreements with other believers? What role does the Bible, prayer and really listening to each other have in resolving your disputes? How important is it to you to accept the other believers in your life, to love them and receive them in the same way God loves and receives them (as the Pharisees were unwilling to do)? How do you approach the ruptures that threaten to tear a community apart? Both sides on this issue made concessions in order for the community to be preserved, though on the core issue of salvation by grace, and inclusion into the new covenant by faith, there could be no compromise.

[A yoke | Pixabay]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 15, Dissension

What really gets your goat?

So much so, you’re apt to stand up and say something about it? Is it politics? Ethics? Religion? Is it the environment, or sex and gender issues, or taxes? Have you ever noticed what happens when people get really heated up on a subject?

Acts chapter 15 is about a real crisis of dissension. In the first dispute, It looked as though the church was going to be split into two camps – Jewish and Gentile. Eventually, the Jerusalem council, which was comprised largely of Jesus’ original disciples led by His brother James, was able to hammer out a clear doctrine on the teaching of salvation, and a compromise that could build a bridge between these two growing communities, Jerusalem and Antioch.

But, the core dissension had to do with a very deep divide between Jewish and non-Jewish believers: the issue of circumcision, which was itself symbolic of the whole of God’s law as given to Moses. This dissension on millennia-old doctrine would continue to divide believers up until the last pages of Luke’s account.

The second dispute cropped up between Paul and Barnabas, and I am inclined to pose it as a people versus task issue. Barnabas saw potential in Mark, Paul saw the weakest link in a chain he needed to be strong. Barnabas, ever the mentor, coach, and shepherd, was more interested in building up Mark. Paul, the evangelist with a burning zeal for God, was more focused on successfully fulfilling the divine mission entrusted to him.

We face the same tension today: how do we prioritize in ministry? Success of the project, or shepherding the people?

(Because this deserves a lot of time, combining Acts 15 and Galatians 2, I’ll break it up over several days this week and include illustrations, story, and dialogue.)

Let’s look at the growing picture of Paul’s Antioch and James’ Jerusalem. In Paul’s Antioch, there was a growing number of Gentile believers. Paul did not lay the Judaic law on them, but rather taught them principles of truth about character and spiritual attributes.

In James’ Jerusalem, the believers were almost exclusively Jewish, and devoted to God’s word, which is to say the Law and the temple and its practices. In fact, remember back in Acts 6:7 “a great many priests,” it says, “became obedient to the faith.” Many were also members of the Pharisee sect, becoming Christians.

God had clearly said, in the Old Testament, you could not belong to the people of God until you were circumcised. Without circumcision, you would instead be cut off from the people of God. There were no exceptions. Even Moses, the greatest of all prophets and leaders, almost lost his life when he tried to do the great work God had called him to, but without circumcision.

Indeed, up until this time every man who wanted to be counted as belonging to God invariably, even among the most nominal of Jews, was circumcised, including Jesus Himself.

Yet, after Paul and Barnabas’ missionary journey, uncircumcised Gentiles were literally flooding into the church, and Paul -seemed- not to be requiring even the most basic nod to the Law, beginning with circumcision. They were coming out of lifestyles where sexual immorality was the norm and though converted, they were not transformed overnight. There were many polluted practices associated with idol worship. When they entered the church, they did not at first understand God’s holiness, and His demand for purity and holiness in His people. They’d had little to no exposure to God’s word, or God’s teaching.

To most Jewish believers, this looked like a recipe for disaster, and the purity of God’s people was at stake.

Vision of Cornelius in Prayer
Gerbrand van den Eeckhout [Public domain]

Somewhere in the middle, and recent in memory, was Peter’s experience at Cornelius’ house, where a whole houseful of god-fearing gentiles had received the Holy Spirit after Peter had his vision from God about not calling unclean what God had called clean.

Somewhere in the middle was Barnabas as well, who was a good Jew, a Levite, a mentor to Paul but also to others, and a recognized leader among the apostles, especially to Peter. He was like a connection between the Jerusalem and Antioch churches.

Both churches had God’s blessing of spiritual growth, and growth in numbers. Both churches were experiencing God’s power and call to spread the gospel. They recognized that in each other. They also recognized they had very different ways of seeing things. Very different!

Their doctrines were growing in conflict.

Imagine that moment that feels like an impasse.

I can’t agree with where you’re going. And you can’t agree with where I’m going. But we both see God is at work in both our lives.

What to do, what to do.

The Jewish believers had not yet fully grasped the Holy Spirit Himself had already circumcised the hearts every believer.

They did not understand the whole Law had now been fulfilled in Christ. They did not realize trying can’t make us pure. Only God’s cleansing forgiveness can make us pure.

The Jews had also become more and more uncomfortable associating with the uncircumcised. The spiritual organism of Christ’s body was coming apart because of their repulsion. The Judaizers could not accept that baptism of the Holy Spirit was enough to be identified with Christ.

Even the eating the Lord’s supper together was at risk. At that time, it was a full meal enjoyed together, called love feasts. But the non-Jewish dietary habits were grossly unkosher, making it impossible for the Jews to feel comfortable eating together with non-Jews. That meant even the Lord’s supper could not be enjoyed together. Instead of being one in the Lord, the rift was deepening into two separate camps: the circumcised, and the uncircumcised.

So, now let’s take a deep dive and see what was happening at the ground level. (combining Galatians 2 with Acts 15)

It all started out when Peter came down from Jerusalem to see how things were going. He wasn’t the leader of the Jerusalem church because he needed to be free to evangelize. He wasn’t the leader of any church, really, for that very reason.

When he’d gone down to Samaria, he’d been overjoyed by the great work of Jesus there, and had laid hands on many Samaritans that they might receive the Holy Spirit. He had gone to Cornelius’ house and been overwhelmed by the mighty work of Jesus among those uncircumcised Roman god-fearers. So, he was the obvious candidate to go to Antioch to review the work of Barnabas and Paul, as they built up the church in Antioch.

At first, he had experienced the same wonder and the same joy, as he joined the very diverse gathering of believers in Antioch—Jews, non-Jews, Africans, slaves and freedmen, citizens of Rome, even, wealthy and impoverished, women and men, it was a beautiful portrayal of Jesus’ words to them on the Mount of Ascension. This was the gospel, spread to every corner of the earth.

But, then came some from the Pharisee group, those among the priests and scribes who had put their faith in Jesus. They had been deeply troubled by the increasing reports coming into Jerusalem: Paul was not only -not- requiring the feast days and other observances of the Law, he was even preaching against circumcision as the mark of inclusion with God’s people.

They arrived in high dudgeon, and they came with a damning message:

Paul is not a real apostle.

Nobody in Jerusalem ordained him.

He doesn’t have the support of the home churches.

He is not faithful to the Law God gave to Moses, and to the oral Law brought by angels.

If he were any real Jew, he would have given you these foundational truths taught by our rabbinical tradition.

He came to you with no authority at all, and taught you half-truths because he either doesn’t know, or doesn’t respect, the whole truth.

We, however, come by the authority of the Jerusalem leaders, we have the support of the home churches, we are faithful to the Law, and to the teachings, and we are concerned for you, that you do not have God’s favor nor peace with Him, because you do not keep His Law.

Their righteous zeal for God and His word affected even Peter, and then even Barnabas himself, as they drew back from eating with the rest of the Antioch church during the Love Feasts and the Lord’s Supper.

Paul was infuriated, left holding the bag, made to look like a renegade, off the rails, starting some sort of fanatical sect.

Jorge Elías
Jusepe de Ribera (called Lo Spagnoletto) Spanish, Játiva 1591–1652 Naples Saints Peter and Paul ca. 1612 Oil on canvas 48 x 37 3/4 in. (121.9 x 95.9 cm) Private collection, Europe L.2012.42 EP Gallery 621

When he couldn’t stand what he was seeing anymore, he publicly denounced Peter himself.

Peter!” he had roared. “You hypocrite!”

How can you do this?

“You know this is utterly and completely wrong!

“You, of all people. Did you learn nothing at all from Jesus when He told you not to treat as unclean what He has called clean? Have you so soon forgotten the outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit onto the gathering at the Centurion’s house? This is how you’re going to treat the beloved sisters and brothers of the LORD’S house? YOU?!

Koinonia, intimate fellowship which accepts each other as beloved family, accepts each other in a special way that means deep connection. In this case, the connection was Jesus’ Spirit Who filled them all, guided them, empowered them, and called them to their life work. Jesus had shown His clear approval and pleasure in both churches, and was well-pleased with their progress. They weren’t getting everything perfectly, but they were doing well, they were growing, and that’s what counts.

Peace at any price is conformity, not unity; it’s making the outside look the same. Unity is when hearts, minds and souls agree. When it means having to make a choice between sacrificing harmony and sacrificing the truth, then truth must prevail. Paul, confident in the revelation he had received from Jesus Himself and no other person, insisted that salvation and inclusion with the people of God by faith alone was true, it is a divine work of God marked by new birth.

Baptism, now, was the outward symbolic sign of inclusion, marking the very real seal of the Holy Spirit within. Circumcision, by the way, was a mark only half of the Jews could bear, as no woman could receive the mark of circumcision (as described in scripture). Water baptism, however, not only vividly illustrated the washing away of sin, descending into the death of the old life, and rising up into new life as one of God’s family, it was a symbol and rite every believer could equally participate in.

We, today, are in the same place. There are people who have very different doctrines even within our own churches, people we can’t agree with, but we see God is at work in them, as well as us.

What do we do with believers who are transgender, or transsexual, or homosexual, yet claim Jesus in their lives? What do we do with Republicans and “Make America Great Again”-ers? What do we do with Democrats? Christian who believe in guns? Christians who believe in climate change? Abortion? The death sentence?

The rift that existed between the Antioch church and the Jerusalem church was already causing such sharp dissension all the leaders of all Christendom had to talk it out and come up with some kind of way through the mess so they could have koinonia together. And, it didn’t last, not really. We know, from Acts and Paul’s letters, including Galatians, the dissension just got sharper.

We face the same kind of dilemma today. These divisions are pretty sharp. It’s hard to know how to keep integrity and still live in koinonia with our brothers and sisters in the Lord whom we sharply disagree with.

The best we can do is to keep Jesus’ words front and center. The core of our faith is to love God and love each other, as the leaders established in this passage of Acts, koinonia. And, in a broader sense, love God and love all others, trusting God will show you what that looks like when the time comes.

Baptism of Jesus | David Bjorgen [CC BY-SA (

The Plains of Shinar

Genesis chapter 11 opens up with the extraordinary claim “the whole earth had one language and the same words.” The meaning in Hebrew is very clear: literally “one language” and “one set of words,” “one way of talking.”

God told Noah and his family to be fruitful, to multiply, to increase in number and to fill the earth. As the family increased, they began to spread south and east from the mountains of Ararat, in Armenia, towards Shinar, an alluvial plain lying between two rivers, the Tigris and the Euphrates, the fertile crescent, where God had planted the Garden of Eden, and which was now still rich, lush and beautiful.

Durupınar site – The structure claimed to be the Noah’s Ark near the Mount Ararat or Judi in Agri, Turkey
Mfikretyilmaz [CC BY 3.0 (

Since they were all one big family, having not only the same language, but the same culture, they were not eager to move apart from each other.

They must have felt invincible in that beautiful, untrammeled world. There was no other people to oppose them, to persecute them, to compete with for resources.

Without rock to quarry they turned to making bricks out of dirt and clay. Eventually they discovered the process of firing them, first in the sun, and then in a furnace. They also lacked the right materials for mortar, but being inventive and creative, they discovered a tar pit, common throughout the mideast. Noticing the tar was sticky, they used this natural bitumen, this asphalt, for mortar.

You know how it is with new technology! They wanted to build.

They began to talk excitedly about building a city and a tower.

Remember when Cain went out and built a city? He had walked away from his godly community, cutting off all ties, and immediately set about making his own community. In Revelation, which is a companion book to Genesis, God describes the magnificent city waiting for all those who will go to live with God, more lovely than anything that could possibly be made here on earth, and God has designed into us a desire for that beautiful city.

The people in Shinar must have felt it too, wanting to build a city that would satisfy the desires of body and soul. But without God, their city, with its tower, would be just as wicked as Cain’s city.

The writer of Genesis recorded the three reasons the people in Shinar had for building:

1. Top in the heavens

Years ago, digging in the plains of Shinar, archaeologists discovered the remains of great towers, called ziggurats, built by the early Babylonians. Erech, in Genesis 10:10, is one place such a ziggurat has been excavated.

 Ruins of the ziggurat and temple of the god Nabu at Borsippa, Babylonia, Iraq. 6th century BC.
Osama Shukir Muhammed Amin FRCP(Glasg) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (

These ziggurats, or towers like the one in Babel, were built in a circular fashion with an ascending staircase that ended in a shrine at the top, around which were written the signs of the zodiac. They believed God’s heaven could be penetrated and they could enter it on their own terms, not through faith expressed in obedience, but through human creativity and ingenuity, through great deeds.

2. Make a name for ourselves

The fact that this was a religious tower and yet built to make a name for humankind reveals the master motive behind religion. It is a means by which people attempt to share the glory of God, which is rightfully God’s alone. This tower was a grandiose structure, but it was not really for the glory of God; it was a way of controlling God, a way of channeling God by using Him for humankind’s glory.

Let us make a name for ourselves,” is a fundamental urge of a fallen race. It reveals one of the basic philosophies of humanism: “Glory to me in the highest, for I am the master of all things.”

Revelation reveals that God -does- intend for us to have a name, in Jesus Christ. In the first three chapters Jesus says this about those who believe in Him: “I will give them a new name…I will confess their name before My Father and before His angels…I will write on them the name of My God and the name of the city of My God…and My own new name

3. Lest we be dispersed over the face of the earth

The people in Shinar wanted to all stay together, against God’s command. Yet, if God is not in the center of the unity of a group, it is not true community. Forced unity demands conformity to an outward sameness, not unity of mind and heart which is achieved only by having one spirit – the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit even conformity will not hold a group together for long.

What gave them this confidence to defy the command of the all-powerful, all-knowing, sovereign of the universe?

God’s sovereign permission of human wrongdoing is not His ignorance of human behavior, or His moral approval of transgression. God is not surprised by evil, God does not approve of evil.


God has sovereignly decreed that people exercise their ability to make moral choices – choosing between good and evil. This was all a process, that took place over a long course of time, of discovery, creativity, and invention.

At first, the invention of bricks, the discovery of bitumen, and the building of structures was all perfectly acceptable human activity. Nevertheless, as fallen individuals, people can’t help but have mixed motives, some part of us wanting to do what’s right and some other part wanting really to benefit our own selves, even if that involves what is wrong.

Human wrongdoing is proof God doesn’t control people the way you and I would control a puppet. God is all knowing and all powerful. God is able to work in, around, and through people to insure the outworking of His purposes. If God were any less sovereign, He wouldn’t be able to give people moral freedom because He would not be able to guarantee His will would be done.

God gives real choices and works out His will within them from the infinite possibilities that are raised.

From what I read in the Bible, from cover to cover, God is described—and even portrays Himself—as in complete control of His universe. I am not saying God is controlling in the way you and I wrinkle up when we hear some person characterized in that way.

God, for being sovereign, allows astonishing freedoms to His creation.

Nevertheless, I believe God determines the outcome of all things according to His own wise purpose.  God positions Himself as having absolute authority and rule over His creation. He proclaims there is nothing outside the scope of His reign.

That being the case, I see God guiding all events for His glory and indeed for the good of those whom He loves, and who love Him.

It means God is always on Plan A, and nothing can derail that plan.

So the descendants of Noah’s plan to build a colossal ziggurat in order to storm the gates of heaven and take over was not a surprise for God, and it didn’t force Him to scramble for some sort of Plan B to rescue His purposes for the cosmos, or for humankind.

It did, however, require His divine intervention.

[Tower of Babel |Hans Bol [Public domain]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 14, Disaster at Lystra

He’s a god!” someone shouted, whirling to address the crowd behind him.

Behold, Zeus has come!

He pointed to Barnabas, elegant and tall, his beard rich and thick, curling at his neck. It was true, Barnabas was handsome by any standard, and though a gentle man, was powerfully built, rising at least a head above most other men.

And he brought Hermes with him, messenger of the gods, to speak to us!

The man was now wildly gesticulating towards Paul, whose charismatic voice had been holding them rapt, and whose words had been stirring them with a sense of excited hope and strange joy.

They had been standing near Zeus’ temple, just outside the city gates, impressive with its sparkling white marble and showy columns. Already, Zeus’ priest was hurrying towards them, oxen in tow for sacrificing, garlands festooning their horns, soon to be draped around Barnabas and Paul.

Horrified, both Paul and Barnabas ran out into the crowd. To Jesus’ ambassadors this was a disaster. In the Jewish way of showing great distress and anguish, they grabbed the necks of their robes and tore them four to five inches down to symbolize how torn up their hearts were.  

No!” cried Paul, “You have to stop! We are mortals, just like you!

Paul hit his chest hard with his fists, and Barnabas pulled his arms out of his torn robe, pointing to a bruise he’d gotten from carrying his heavy travel bag.

…we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them.

In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.

Paul, in Acts 14:15-17 (NRSV)

Even still, Luke wrote, “they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

It was all too much for the Lycaonians to take in. They were a deeply religious people, and loyal to their gods. When the angry, unbelieving Jews arrived from Pisidian Antioch and Iconium, they were able to win over the crowds, and take them from one excess to the other, from worshiping love to murdering hate.

Paul was dragged from the city gate to the city’s edge where he was stoned and left for dead.

When you act for Christ, spiritual power is often followed by satanic opposition

There is a terrible irony in the Jews pursuing Paul, now a Christian, from town to town, and finally stoning him, just as Paul had earlier pursued Christians and approved of the stoning of Stephen. Paul was so bloodied and beaten and lifeless that his enemies thought he really was dead, so they dragged him to the garbage pit just of town.

“Oh my God,” Barnabas moaned.

Oh my God.

The newly healed crippled man, terrified to do anything before, now quietly came to stand with Barnabas as they both looked with horror and shocked grief at Paul’s crumpled body, his arms and legs broken and lying at odd angles, covered in blood, his tattered garments shredded about him.

Brothers and sisters from Iconium, twenty miles away, unsettled by the fury of the Jewish religious leaders rallying together their posse, had also come to Lystra. They thought, for moral support. Now they too stared through a glaze of tears at Paul’s ruined form.

Later, Paul would write,

…the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words.

And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

Romans 8:26-27 (NRSV)

Imagine the hairs pricking up on their arms and necks as Paul’s impossibly broken and bloodied body began to stir, his arms and legs now shifting in shape until they were true and straight again. Did they even breath as Paul’s eyes fluttered open, as he propped himself on an elbow, looking up at them with questioning eyes?

To the glory of God, Jesus worked through the prayers of His people as He brought Paul back from the brink of death.

Paul lifted himself to his knee, and then to his feet. With a wordless nod of his head, he invited the brothers and sisters to join him as he walked back into Lystra to tend his wounds, get some dinner, and a good night’s sleep.

What circumstances have knocked you flat? You feel like you’re down for the count.

“I give up, Lord.”

How willing are you to let the Lord surround and fill you with His resurrection power, so you can get up again and continue serving Him?

Some think it was during this time that God gave Paul a near-death vision, which he talked about in one of his letters to the believers in Corinth.

Incredibly, the next day Paul and Barnabas walked 25 miles to Derbe, also in the Lyaconian area of the Galatian province, where they, and the message they preached, were well-received, with many coming to a saving faith.

Paul and Barnabas at Derbe

As the saying goes, anyone can start strong … but the victory is not to those who startIt is to those who finish.

Paul and Barnabas turned around, revisited each place where they’d preached the gospel, to build up each believing community. Only then did they set sail for home. They knew it was going to significantly lengthen their trip, that they were going to face some pretty fierce opposition, but it was imperative to go back and strengthen the new believers in each of those towns.

[Paul and Barnabas at Lystra } Johann Heiss [Public domain]

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 14, Prelude to Disaster

I’m betting the chief reason you and I hesitate talking about Jesus, and “spreading the gospel,” is our fear of people’s reactions.

Am I right?

We start to talk about something we’ve heard preached to us, and all of a sudden it sounds a lot harsher outside in the broad daylight, than it sounded in the dimmed lights of the worship service. In there, everybody was nodding their heads, and if they weren’t, we didn’t worry a bit about it. We assumed that was the conviction of the Holy Spirit they were wrestling with.

But out here?

Out here with people we’ve only just met, who seem like nice, decent folks, who kindly gave us the time of day to tell our story? Doesn’t it seem a bit rude and judgy to start hammering a pleasant new acquaintance with how riddled they are with sin, and how desperately in need they are of a Savior?

Or, what about the neighbor who has only shown us grace and goodness, who brought us soup when we were sick, drove the kids to soccer practice (or piano, or whatever), who has always had a smile ready, and a good word? When will we feel comfortable getting our bony, pointy finger out to lay into them on the depravity of all humanity?

I just made your stomach hurt, didn’t I?

Hang onto that feeling.

Throughout Acts Luke had been illustrating this regular pattern in how God was growing the church.

  1. It began with prayer and prophesying (speaking forth the mind and counsel of God) which includes scripture.
  2. This led to power, lives were changed, something happened
  3. Which in turn led to opposition, which sometimes comes in circumstances, and sometimes comes in persecution
  4. Opposition drove the disciples back into prayer and the cycle began again

In chapter 14, a variation of this cycle appears, which is part of every vital spiritual work today:

  1. It begins with being empowered by the Holy Spirit to be effective – lives are changed, something happens, there is new life and growth.
  2. Inevitably there is opposition to the movement and work of God, division and persecution. Opposition is met with prayer that results in either removing the hindrance or experiencing deliverance during the suffering, but either way, opposition is not allowed to hinder God’s will being fulfilled.
  3. God gives His comfort to His servants – through people, through His fellowship and through the satisfaction of producing eternal fruit.

Paul and Barnabas left Pisidion Antioch, went to Iconium, then to Lystra, then to Derbe. There was one road that went to the Euphrates, and the other road that went to Iconium, southeast. Paul and Barnabas faced the choice – what’s the future of their mission? Tension was mounting between the angry unbelieving Jews and Paul and Barnabas. Wherever they went, riots were incited against them, so, led by the Spirit, they went to Iconium, leaving behind them a great many Gentile believers “filled with joy and the Holy Spirit” at the end of chapter 13

Roberto Reggi (sulla base di Yohanan Aharoni, Michael Abi-Yonah, Atlante della Bibbia, 1987, mappa 245.) [Public domain]

Iconium was mostly a Greek city in the Roman province of Galatia, in an area known as Phrygia, with a large population of Jews. Paul and Barnabas went into the synagogue, as was their habit, preaching first to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. Paul and Barnabas had no agenda of their own, they were all for Jesus, trusting Him for the words and for Him to be at work among the people. Their speaking was effective – in the power of the Holy Spirit – and many people came to believe in the Lord.

However, the unbelieving Jewish authorities poisoned the townsfolk against them. Has that every happened to you? Someone fills up your Twitter, Instagram, or Facebook with innuendo, or even outright accusations? You find yourself dreading to spend time with a certain group, or at work, or even church, because someone else has been saying things about you?

But instead of being intimidated, Barnabas and Paul on purpose stayed and preached. They knew the gospel was having an effect on people – winning converts and stirring up opposition were signs that God was at work here.

So the pattern Luke had pointed out time and again, this cycle began in Iconium with the Spirit’s empowering of Paul and Barnabas. The whole town became engaged. The cycle continued as the town was split – some believed, and some didn’t.

Whenever you act for Christ in the power of His Spirit, others will react

Just expect it – there will be a reaction.

Some are going to believe, others are going to not believe. There will be opposition, there will be miracles. People will be divided. Some will hate you, some will love you, and more importantly, love Jesus so much they will throw their hearts and souls into His cause and have no reservation in their passion to serve Him.

The unbelieving Jewish authorities were so concerned about this situation they even plotted against Paul and Barnabas, to kill them, so Paul and Barnabas prudently moved on, continuing to preach with boldness and great joy.

God drew the disciples to Lystra, 18 miles south of Iconium, still in the Roman province of Galatia, but in an area known as Lyconia, which had its own local dialect. Primarily a Roman colony, with strong ties to Pisidian Antioch, a large population of Roman veterans lived there, along with a few Greeks and Jews, but not enough Jewish men to form a synagogue.

So God gave Paul and Barnabas a different method to gather around people to hear the gospel. They struck up a conversation with some people in the town square—today it might be a Starbucks or an online forum. While they were talking, Jesus, through Paul, healed a congenitally crippled man.

Oh man! The crowd ERUPTED!

(Tomorrow, find out what happened next…)

[Paul and Barnabas at Lystra | Nicolaes Pieterszoon Berchem [Public domain]

Table of Nations: Japheth and Shem

Last week, I covered the migration of Ham’s descendents across the Middle East and through to the continents of Africa to the west and south, with one branch moving to the east and north. This week I’ll follow Japheth into Eurasia, over the top of the world and across to the other side of the globe, the Americas. Shem will settle largely in the Levant.

Hannes Karnoefel [CC BY-SA 3.0 (

Japheth produced seven sons and their descendants.

Early in the history of the world, the Japhethites split into two groups. One group settled in India and the other group in Europe. Together they form what is known as the “Indo‑European” family of nations.

The Indians have an account of the flood where the hero had three sons. The name of his oldest son was Iyapeti (you can see Japheth in that), and the other two were Sharma, and C’harma (Shem and Ham). The interesting thing about the Indian account is that C’harma was cursed by his father because he laughed at him when he got drunk.

Magog, Tubal, Meshech – were all north of the Black Sea and the Caucasian sea, eventually producing Russia and those northern countries. In fact, Tubal and Meshech can be traced to people groups just northeast of Israel.[1]

Madai – Medes and Persians.[2]

Tarshish – the farthest west you can go, the gateway to the west.[3]

Javan – Grecian empire, who said their ancestor was a man named Japetos (see the resemblance to Japheth?).[4]

Gomer – became the word Gaul, or Galatians, or Celts. They migrated to the north and settled in Spain, France and in Britain, northern and western Europe.[5]

Japheth and his descendants sort of recede in Biblical importance until the end of time. You and I read in both Old and New Testament prophecies about a war that has not yet taken place, when Gog and Magog will come against Israel and God will intervene—it seems this will all happen in the very last days. The prophet Ezekiel, in particular, described in detail this war to end all wars,

Mortal, set your face toward Gog, of the land of Magog, the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal. Prophesy against him… Gomer and all its troops; Beth-togarmah from the remotest parts of the north with all its troops—many peoples are with you…

…and come from your place out of the remotest parts of the north, you and many peoples with you, all of them riding on horses, a great horde, a mighty army; you will come up against my people Israel, like a cloud covering the earth. In the latter days I will bring you against my land, so that the nations may know me, when through you, O Gog, I display my holiness before their eyes…

On that day, when Gog comes against the land of Israel, says the Lord God, my wrath shall be aroused.

Ezekiel 38:2, 6, 15-16, 18 (NRSV)

The Plain of Megiddo, where the Battle of Armageddon is prophesied to take place
Thomasccnawiki [CC BY-SA 4.0 (

The record preserved in Genesis Chapter 10 regarding these ancient nations was an ingenious idea because as names and boundaries changed throughout history, the prophets, who foretold future events, used the venerable names in this chapter, enabling every generation to identify the nations involved in prophecy by their current names.

On that day,” whatever day that is, the final great battle will commence between Almighty God and the nations of the earth.

The last, and most significant, division is Shem, who had five sons and their descendants, but Shem’s most prominent descendant was Peleg

Eber – from which comes the word Hebrew. Abraham, who was really the founder of the Hebrew nation, was six generations beyond Eber, but is identified as an Eberite, or Hebrew.

Elam – Southern Mesopotamia.

Asshur – Assyria.

Peleg  – possibly during the time of Babel, Peleg in Hebrew means “Division,” but in Greek it means “Sea.” The word archipelago comes from  archi (first) ‑pelagos, (sea). The Greeks called the Aegean Sea “The Archipelago,” the first sea, drawing the name from this man, Peleg.

Peleg’s time may very well have coincided with the Ice Age, when sea levels were very low and land bridges, as well as narrow archipelagoes, connected most of the continents. This time lasted for a very short period, and ended abruptly when the ice sheets rapidly melted and filled the sea. “The earth was divided” could have a double meaning of division of languages of the people of earth, dispersion of people groups over the earth, and division of the earth itself as the land bridges quickly disappeared.

Two names possibly link Job to this time in history: Uz, is theland of Job, and Jobab could be a reference to Job himself, who trusted God and loved Him regardless of his circumstances.

Nimrod represented the elite of Ham’s descendents. His stature harkened back to Cain and the mighty civilization that rose up from Cain’s posterity. The Bible rightfully and mindfully portrays Nimrod as a great conqueror and establisher of the earth’s earliest postdiluvian empires.

As a counterfoil, Job characterized the best of Shem, just as Seth’s line counterposed the line of Cain. In response to his wife’s bitter invective, Job famously said,

Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?”

In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Job 2:10 (NRSV)

William Blake [Public domain]

So often you and I want to know why, but most of the time God doesn’t answer that question. Job was surrendered to God and His purposes, even though he didn’t understand why God was allowing all this suffering and disaster in his life. In a moment of truth and clarity, Job spoke for the people who would one day descend from him,

“I know that you can do all things,

    and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.

‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’

Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,

    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.

‘Hear, and I will speak;

    I will question you, and you declare to me.’

I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,

    but now my eye sees you;

Job 42:1-5

Job still didn’t understand why all these things had happened to him but he recognized something very important. The stream of God’s purpose had coursed through his life. If God’s purpose in your life, in my life, includes suffering, it is an opportunity to see the Lord.

It is so interesting to me that Genesis began with this test of love and faith portrayed in the Tale of Two Trees. God gives every person genuine moral choice, to choose between good or evil, His will or some other way.

What resulted was the first world destruction, when a nauseating wave of corruption and death erupted from the breach that rent through Genesis chapter 3. Two paths formed out of that horrific rupture: the Way of Cain and the Way of Seth. It seemed inevitable that Cain’s selfish, self-absorbed, self-serving, and ultimately heartless clan would eventually overwhelm the God-fearing clan of Seth, were it not for God’s eleventh hour rescue of the last eight left on earth.

Now, after this second destruction of the world, post Flood, a second migration, and a second parting of ways emerged as illustrated in the histories of Nimrod and Job. What does my life look like by the plumbline of Nimrod’s life, the mighty hunter, with lots of accomplishments, but little spiritual value, or by Job’s life, surrendered to the Lord no matter what, his love expressed in obedience and trust?

[A good number of facts and figures for this post  came from Archaeology and the Old Testament, by Merrill F. Unger. Copyright © 1954, 1982 by Zondervan Publishing House.]

[1] According to Ezekiel 38:2 and 39:1, Gog, prince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, was ruler of Magog.

[2] See, for example, 2 Kings 17:6 and Isaiah 21:2.

[3] Of all these place names, this one is possibly the most familiar, as it turns up throughout the Hebrew (Jonah 1:3, for example)  and Christian Bibles, and Isaiah used Tarshish to represent the unknown world (Isaiah 60:9).

[4] Biblical references include Isaiah 66:19 and Daniel 8:21, 10:20

[5] Ezekiel lists Gomer and Togarmah as residing “in the uttermost parts of the North,” in relation to Israel.

Shem’s Migration Throughout the Levant | No machine-readable author provided. MapMaster assumed (based on copyright claims). [CC BY-SA 3.0 (

Acts Wednesday: Chapter 13, Paul and Barnabas Commissioned

(This is a longish post, so I’ve added pictures to break up the wall of text)

A marked shift in Luke’s narrative begins in Chapter 13: Now it will become chiefly the trail-blazing story about Paul fulfilling the third stage of Jesus’ commission in Acts 1.

  • Stage 1 Was Acts 1-7 the Gospel spread in Jerusalem.
  • Stage 2 Happened in Acts 8-12, the Gospel spread in Judea and Samaria.
  • Stage 3 Now Acts 13 begins the missionary journeys, bringing the gospel to the rest of the world.

The church in Antioch was growing both spiritually and in numbers at a robust pace. Barnabas and Saul had been team-teaching and building up the church for a full year, and due to their large numbers, the church met at several assemblies located throughout the city. Prophets helped to lay the foundation for the church by proclaiming and speaking forth the word of God. Teachers helped to ground the new believers in the doctrines of their faith.

The leadership represented among these assemblies was quite diverse: Notice how integrated this church was with Africans, Jews, Romans, and Greeks.

1) Barnabas was a Levite and a Jewish priest, who was born on Cyprus, a Hellenistic Jew. A rich man, he gave his wealth away to the church, and gave his whole life to the Lord. Being listed first, we can think of him as the official representative of Jerusalem Headquarters.

2) Simeon the Niger, “Niger” means “black,” so Simon was probably of African origin. He is most likely the Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus carry His cross to Golgotha. Based on the gospel John Mark wrote, it’s possible Paul lived with Simon while he taught in Antioch, and became close with Simon’s sons, Alexander, and Rufus who later became a leader in the church

St. Luke the Evangelist
Vladimir Borovikovsky [Public domain]

3) Lucius the Cyrene, like Simeon, was of African origin. It was men from Cyprus and Cyrene who had first brought the gospel to the Greeks in Antioch, so possibly he was among them. Lucius is a Latin name, so he was probably brought up in a Roman culture. There is some speculation that Lucius might be the Luke who wrote the gospel of Luke and Acts.

4) Manaen, a Greek form of a Hebrew name, it has been suggested, was Jewish by birth, whose grandfather, Menahem, had been commended by the Herod the Great for prophesying his rise to power. Herod the Great may have invited Menahem’s grandson to be one of a few select boys to be brought up with the young Herod Antipas (who had John the Baptist killed) as a playmate, schoolmate and sometimes whipping boy. Manean was of noble birth and a Hellenistic Jew.

5) And finally Saul, the former fanatical Pharisee, Roman citizen, born and raised in Tarsus, a Hebrew of Hebrews from a wealthy and influential family, who would soon be known as Paul.

We find out later in the text that when Barnabas and Paul went together to Jerusalem to bring the famine-relief fund to the Jewish brothers John Mark came back with them as a helper to his cousin Barnabas and the great teacher Paul, who was still a young man himself, probably in his early thirties.

Mark’s mother Mary was well-to-do, and her home was the meeting place of one group in the Jerusalem church, the one including the Apostle Peter. Barnabas and Paul must have discerned John Mark’s potential, his gift of writing, and his place in the assembly where Peter worshiped and taught.

Luke depicted a vibrant church, teaching the truth and seeking God’s direction in the spread of the gospel, to raise up new gatherings, putting an emphasis on prayer: they set aside time for God, to include fasting, worship, and listening for God’s direction. During one of these prayer sessions, God guided them to take their two best leaders and send them out into the world.There was no hint of jealousy or resentment over whom God had chosen. The church recognized and obeyed God’s divine calling.

Barnabas and Saul humbly submitted to the laying on of hands, with hearty prayer, unity of spirit, and with a deep concern for those who had never heard the gospel. As the Holy Spirit sent them, so also would the Lord go along with them, to strengthen them, carry them on in their work, and make their work fruitful.

Paul’s Missionary Journeys
JWooldridge [CC BY-SA 3.0 (

As you trace their path, you see Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark went down from Antioch to the port town of Seleucia, about 15 miles, a one-day journey. From Seleucia they sailed 130 miles to the harbor city of Salamis on Cyprus island. Salamis to Paphos was 100 miles of walking, and that’s where the Roman proconsul came to a saving faith in Messiah Jesus, and Paul called down God’s judgement on the Jewish sorcerer.  

Island of Cyprus
NASA [Public domain]

It was logical to start their journey in Cyprus as this was home to Barnabas. Salamis was a great commercial center on the east end of the island, where they began to preach the gospel, and they made their way 90 miles across the island of Cyprus to Paphos, the capital city, known for its luxury, licentiousness, and the worship of Venus and Jupiter.  

Their evangelizing created enough of a stir to gain the attention of the Roman proconsul, Sergius Paullus, who sent for them to hear what they were saying. But there was active opposition that stood between the proconsul and the gospel: one of his advisors, a Jewish sorcerer and false prophet named Bar-Jesus.

If Satan opposed God in heaven, he will certainly oppose God on earth. Expect opposition! But we have the Holy Spirit to overcome evil, free people from bondage and bring them to Christ. As Paul would later write, “our battle is not against flesh and blood, but against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil.” Thank God, we have the Holy Spirit to win such battles.

Paul met opposition head on, denouncing the sorcerer as a child of the devil. He made a play on words: you call yourself Bar, or “son of,” Jesus, but you are really Bar, or “son of” Satan. But, who knew what was going to happen next!

The Conversion of the Proconsul
Raphael [Public domain]

And now listen—the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind for a while, unable to see the sun.

Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he went about groping for someone to lead him by the hand. When the proconsul saw what had happened, he believed, for he was astonished at the teaching about the Lord.

Paul, in Acts 13:11-12 (NRSV)

It was a heart-stopping, disturbing sign from God, no less rattling than Paul’s own blindness had been to him, on the road to Damascus. But what happened afterward was even more startling.

Sergius Paulus was the first recorded totally Gentile convert. He was not a God-fearer before his conversion. Yet now, as a Christian magistrate the proconsul did much to further the gospel throughout Cyprus.

This kind of demonstration of power is still happening today, in those places where the gospel is being heard for the first time, and Satan’s opposition is strong. Evil spirits are being cast out, and when people see God the Holy Spirit at work, they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s Spirit also works quietly, dispelling doubts and making people able to hear and understand the gospel, and to believe.

Nevertheless, it seems it was at this point that John Mark left them and turned home to Jerusalem. Paphos to Perga was 200 miles by boat. After this boat ride, John Mark headed straight back for Jerusalem. Scripture doesn’t say if he walked or sailed, but either way, it was quite a distance to go alone.

I think of the times in my own past when I began a work for God, but dropped it when the going got too hard. John Mark dropped out and lost the thrill of sharing in the reports of the first mission journey, the privilege of being a part of the spiritual heritage of all those came to saving faith. He missed out on some of the best training he could have ever received from two legendary leaders of the church, and he lost his reputation with Paul.

Because, whatever Mark’s reasons, Paul saw Mark’s departure as a desertion, and considered him a feckless man, without the grit and mettle to press forward in faith.

Of all the gifts and talents God has given you and me, our greatest ability will be our dependability. The one thing required of a servant is to be faithful—as Jesus said‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” 

Perga to Pisidian Antioch was another 100 miles on foot, and about a 3,600 foot climb up a mountain. Paul and Barnabas then walked 85 miles from Antioch to Iconium. They had to tackle a rugged climb, robbers, cold and exposure to weather, and arrived in Pisidian Antioch as two complete strangers. They looked for a place to stay in the Jewish quarter, once they arrived, and waited for the Sabbath because it was always customary for visiting rabbis to speak.


The seating arrangement in the synagogue reserved the highest honor in the front for those who were born Jews. Behind them sat the proselytes, who would never be counted the real thing until their family had been living and worship as Jews for several generations. In the very back sat the God-fearing Gentiles, who loved the Lord and honored His word, but didn’t want the circumcision and all the ceremonial laws.

So, at the beginning of his sermon, Paul looked directly at the Jews, emphasizing God’s provision for them, their ingratitude and God’s willingness to suffer them, as well as God’s preparation for the Messiah.

Then Paul vividly, richly, portrayed Jesus’ intense love for everyone in the room—Jews and Gentiles, Jesus’ love ultimately expressed in death, giving Himself up as a real sacrifice, not a symbolic one, but a real man dying a real, excruciating death. These were historical facts, fulfilling Scripture. But the incredible joy came not even from that ultimate expression of love, but from the eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ resurrection, and that having ascended to heaven, He now sends out the Holy Spirit to dwell in the hearts of those who believe in Him.

Let it be known to you therefore, my brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you; 

by this Jesus everyone who believes is set free from all those sins from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses. 

Paul, in Acts 13:38-39 (NRSV)

Paul’s voice rang out in the still air as stunned faces stared slack-jawed at him.

Now that’s the Gospel!

Paul was saying that no one can follow Moses’ law perfectly.

The demands are just too great.

If you and I try, then we will feel guilt and condemnation. This way of living will lead to anxiety and insecurity because you can never be sure that you are living up to standards sufficiently.

Paul told them that through Jesus Christ they could have two blessings the law could never provide:

  • The forgiveness of their sins.
  • And justification before the throne of God.

Justification is the act of God where He declares the believing sinner to be counted worthy in Jesus Christ.

Paul warned his listeners that if they didn’t believe the gospel, they would experience God’s judgement and perish.

The Jews followed Paul to hear more about this gospel. It was disturbing to them that the Covenant of Law was not enough to insure their place in the people of God, this flew against everything they had ever been taught. But it was the Gentiles who really responded to the good news. They told everyone they knew and brought back their families, neighbors and friends so nearly the whole town was there the following Sabbath to hear Paul’s message of love and forgiveness.

Imagine how unhappy the Jews were to find their synagogue full of Gentiles to hear Paul’s message on the Covenant of Grace, rather than to hear their own rabbi’s teaching on the Covenant of Law! 

They were jealous.

Tragically, the Jews refused to accept the Gentiles coming as Gentiles, without circumcision or the law, yet being received by God. They utterly rejected the message of God’s love, forgiveness, redemption, and reconciliation.

What’s more, they were not going to sit back and let Paul and Barnabas take over. After hotly disputing with them, the Jews brought legal action against them and had them expelled. But though Paul and Barnabas were persecuted, they were far from being discouraged.

Paul and Barnabas considered it a privilege to suffer in the name of, and for the sake of, their beloved Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

As a Bible teacher and leader of a large women’s Bible study, years ago, I used to brace the women I was bringing in to train as leaders. “Expect trouble,” I would say to them, “Once you make a commitment to lead in the cause of Christ, you will be opposed. Now that you have taken up God’s call you have put yourself into the sights of God’s enemy. Do not resent it. The Bible teaches that successful work for God will surely involve suffering and hardships. Opposition is usually a sign that you are doing well, and the enemy has noticed you.

There have been plenty of times when I have had to remember those words for myself. Has the Lord provided me with enough grit to trust Him in faith for what lies before me? Or will I pull a ‘Mark’ and bail out?

[Cyprus Larnaca Hala Sultan Tekke |]

Table of Nations: the Sons of Ham

It made sense to the ancient team of scribal redactors to insert this Table of Nations right after Noah’s remarkable prophecy.

Hannes Karnoefel [CC BY-SA 3.0 (

As it turns out, though, this is a stand-alone document among all other ancient writings. There is nothing like it in antiquity, tracing the origin of people groups and their migrations. Even more fascinating is the archaeological and anthropological support for what these authors outlined, several thousand years ago.

Though Noah’s sons are consistently listed as “Shem, Ham, and Japheth,” it seems this was not their actual birth order, but rather order of significance. Since Genesis chapter 10 acts as both an expansion and illustration of what Noah was prophesying, I’ll work through the Table of Nations using Noah’s prophecy as my guide—Noah dealt first with his youngest son, Ham, then moved on to prophecy over his other two sons, Japheth and Shem, so this week will be about Ham, and next week will be about Japheth and Shem.

Ham produced four sons and their descendants. All the first great empires came from Ham, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Aztecs, the Mayans and the Sumerians.

Cush – is associated with the peoples of Southern Arabia and Ethiopia, and now called Kish by archeologists. Excavations show it to be one of the oldest empires we know of, huge libraries, their rulers called themselves “kings of the world.”

Misraim – Egypt.

Put – North Africa, most notably Libya (or its more ancient name, Cyrenaica).[1]

Canaan – which included the infamous Sodom and Gomorrah.

Now, the Table of Nations zooms in on an individual named Nimrod

Cush became the father of Nimrod; he was the first on earth to become a mighty warrior. He was a mighty hunter before the Lord; therefore it is said, “Like Nimrod a mighty hunter before the Lord.”

The beginning of his kingdom was Babel, Erech, and Accad, all of them in the land of Shinar. From that land he went into Assyria, and built Nineveh, Rehoboth-ir, Calah, and Resen between Nineveh and Calah; that is the great city.

Genesis 10:8-12 (NRSV)

Note how Nimrod was called a mighty man, “a mighty hunter before the LORD.”  Initially, that might sound like an endorsement. Even today, in many archaeological sites throughout what was then Mesopotamia, there are inscriptions and place names reflecting his power and popularity. In fact, all of Nimrod’s cities are well-attested in archaeology as among the earliest city states on earth, indicating a sophisticated military complex of technology and might.

By founding Babylon and Nineveh we have a hint of Nimrod’s nature and character. Nineveh later became the capital of Assyria, whose very name cast dread in the hearts of the ancient near-east for their truly horrific torture and terrorism.[2] We are told here that he was “the first mighty man on earth,” in other words, after the Flood.

Intriguing, right?

That phrase, “mighty man,” takes us back to Genesis 6 to the Nephilim, who also appear later on in the Canaanite tribes, suggesting that Nimrod was one of this kind of “mighty men,” who introduced a perverted, degraded form of religion into the world.

Did you notice his first kingdom was Babel? The story of Babel, which concludes the Origin Narratives of Genesis, along with Erech and Accad, were cities in southern Mesopotamia, present-day Iraq.

The Jewish Talmud states he was “a hunter of the souls of men.” His name meant “we will revolt,” and the phrase “before the Lord” is thought to mean “against the Lord.” Put all together, a picture emerges of a magnetic, charismatic, ruthless man, dynamic and controlling, the kind of person everyone was both terrified of and fascinated by, held hopelessly in his thrall.

MARDUK — editor Austen Henry Layard , drawing by L. Gruner [Public domain]

In fact, if you drop the first consonant of Nimrod’s name and take the other consonants – M, R, D – you will have the basic root of the god of Babylon, whose name was Marduk, whom most scholars identify with Nimrod. In the Babylonian religion, Nimrod (or Marduk) and his goddess wife Semiramis had a son whom Semiramis claimed was virgin‑born. In other words, the Babylonians founded the mother and child cult. You can see Satan’s work, trying to subvert what would one day be the real Son of God, truly born of a virgin.

This age-old Babylonian cult of the mother and child spread to other parts of the earth.

  • You will find it in the Egyptian religion as Isis and Horus, and every Egyptian pharaoh.
  • In Greece it is Myrrha and Adonis (Myrrha was cursed by Aphrodite to lust after her own father, King Cinyras of Cyprus, again, a twisting of the truth to come).
  • In Hinduism it is Ushas and Vishnu.

In Jeremiah the Israelites are warned against offering sacrifices to “the Queen of Heaven.”  This idolatrous religion culminates in the book of Revelation.

Among Egypt’s sons are listed the Caphtorim, from whom come the Philistines. The Philistines, as recent genetic research and other archaeological finds have now established, were of Aegean descent, originating most likely on the island of Crete, called Caphtor by the Egyptians.

If we take what the scriptures attribute to themselves, then we accept the Genesis chronicles as having originally come through Moses, who may have worked with journals Joseph himself kept. Joseph, whose wife was from the priestly caste, and Moses, having grown up in the palace, would both have had access to all of Egypt’s annuls in which is found the earliest reference to the Sea Peoples, who invaded Egypt in around 1190 BC.

The Aegean peoples, interestingly, trace their history through Javan, son of Japheth. It presents an intriguing conundrum. Nevertheless, it is through the Philistines that Palestine was eventually given its name.          

The last of Ham’s sons, Canaan, was the progenitor of several well-known peoples.

Sidon — was a Phoenician city, present-day Sidon in Lebanon

Jebusites — Canaanites who lived in Jerusalem before David’s conquest.

Heth — is the father of the Hittite nation. Archeologist once thought the Bible’s accounts of the Hittites were all myth and legend, but since then Hittite relics have been unearthed in abundance, further outside proof of scripture’s reliability.

The Hebrew form of this word, Hittite, is Khettai and from this comes the word Cathay, which is a bygone name for China. Evidently, certain of the Hittites migrated eastward and settled in China. Another name, the Sinites, is also linked with China. They pushed eastward and toward the north over the land bridge into Alaska. That puts the Sinites among the people groups who settled the Americas in prehistoric days.

All told, Ham fathered famous sons with long-lasting impact on how the cultures of antiquity were formed.

[1] This literally puts Simon the Cyrene on the map, the man who helped Jesus carry His cross.

[2] Geographically, Assyria occupied what is today the nation of Iran.

[Global DNA map | Chakazul [CC BY-SA 3.0 (

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